A Steely Dan Steal!

Steering clear of vinyl "greatest hits" packages is normally a good idea. The packages are often assembled by a disinterested producer at the label's behest as an easy money maker. For the most part when you compare the same tunes on the original releases and on the greatest hits package, the latter suffers sonically.

However, that's not always the case. For instance, Paul Simon's Negotiations and Love Songs 1971-1976 compilation (Warner Brothers 9 25789-1 2 LPs) was lovingly assembled using the original master tapes by engineer Roy Halee and mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound. Yes, it was cut DMM in the "early days" but it's a fine sounding, well-pressed compilation of great tracks and you get a Robert Mapplethorpe cover thrown in for good measure.

1978's Steely Dan's Greatest Hits (ABC Records AK-1107/2) is a neglected treasure for a few reasons. When first released it was dismissed as unnecessary. For one thing, fans already had the original albums and most thought there was little if any filler on any of them plus ABC stingily put but four tunes on two sides and five on the other two sides for a total of eighteen, and there were no unreleased bonus tracks either so who needed it but the goobers who weren't fans in the first place?

What prompted me to pull out the album today was Janet Maslin's book review of Donald Fagen's recent book "Eminent Hipsters", which is a tour memoir of his curious outing with Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs, which opens with this line "If you like Steely Dan’s greatest hits too much, Donald Fagen of that band probably hates you already."

So did he hate the audience for the final night of the recent Steely Dan tour dedicated to the greatest hits? I doubt it, but maybe. I was there and he and Walter seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. I know we did!

So I pulled out the long-neglected greatest hits album realizing now that the original tapes that probably no longer exist for most if not all of the older Steely Dan albums did exist back in 1978. I had forgotten who produced the package but Fagen is a sound stickler so it wasn't all that surprising to read that the reissue was "engineered" by Elliot Scheiner at Automated Sound Studios in New York City and right below that credit it read "Mastered by Bob Ludwig at Masterdisk Corporation, New York".

I played the two discs through (easy assignment) and the sound is uniformly superb. Whatever the source tape and however it was assembled the sonics are dynamic, wide-band and the music just plain erupts from the grooves. I saw copies all over Ebay for under $20. That's a steal. You can find the track listing online but obviously given the release date, it goes from the debut album through Aja. Cisco did an admirable job with its Aja reissue but it didn't have a master tape and probably not even a safety copy. Such is the state of the Steely Dan tape legacy. If you have that Cisco, reissue play "Peg" and then play the one here.

If you're a fan of Aja you should try to track down an original (ABC AB-1006). It beats the Cisco and especially the thuddy Mobile Fidelity from way back when. There are two catalog numbers here: AA-1006 and AB-1006. AA is actually a later catalog number but both editions were mastered by Bernie Grundman (though you won't see "BG" in the inner groove area) and I can't hear much of a difference between the two.

COMMENTS
Stu Morgenstern's picture

...Donald Fagan's "The Nightfly" as one of my reference albums. It's just a plain Jane regular old album that I bought when it was released but it sounds great.

Michael Fremer's picture

Nightfly was recorded using 3M's R2R 50kHz sampling rate 16 bit system. Whatever the recording methodology it's a great sounding record.

FormatOmnivore's picture

I agree; for some reason and despite the technology, 'The Nightfly' sounds remarkably good.

I have the same Steely Dan compilation as Michael, but also the 4CD 'Citizen Steely Dan' compilation, which has tracks from later albums (up to 1980) and just more songs overall. This is a career overview which is worth getting, if you like the band but don't want to buy every single one of their albums. 

In the liner notes, either Donald or Walter confesses that there's virtually nothing in existence that they could include as unreleased bonus tracks. The only unreleased track on 'Citizen' is a demo version of 'Everyone' gone to the Movies'.

'Eminent Hipsters' is a slim but enjoyable read, although Fagen is quite the curmudgeon, especially in his tour diary.

forshac's picture

Mike--Care to opine re the merits?

WaxtotheMax's picture

I could not agree more. Masterdisk RL no less and sounds so very nice.

DanFan74's picture

In this 2013 article you mention that Cisco didn't have the master tapes nor a backup for it's remaster of the Steely Dan album Aja. But in your 2004 article review for that very same edition, you claim they did. Which is it? can you clarify please? thanks.

Rudy's picture

I stupidly gave away my Nightfly LP to my buddy--I'd played it hundreds of times but with my V15VMR cart giving it minimal abuse, it still sounded like new.  I got the CD the week it came out and it just totally lost that "magic".  Turns out I had the legendary "-2" version that was recalled!  So much for Perfect Sound Forever.  In recent years I picked up a cheap West German vinyl pressing and it is as good as I remember it.  I've been told the recent 180g release is not as good, but that was only one opinion.

sunderwood's picture

Back when this first came out I bought the CD version.  I enjoyed listening to it several years. My brother had bought the vinyl version, but age had got to his turntable and he hadn't listened to it for a long time. It is in mint condition. After  I bought another turntable when I became interested in listening to my records again he asked me if I would like to have any of his albums. Of course this was one that I wanted. As all of you know who have heard it, there is just no comparison in the sound quality. The vinyl version is just so much more lifelike and you also get an extra track. 

Billf's picture

ABC made it enticing for us goobers with all the Steely Dan records. Although the unreleased stuff stopped coming in the remasters, Here At the Western World made its first appearance on this album.

vinyl listener's picture

i remember your first review of negotiations and love songs way back in your tas/roy halee interview.

looks like tom port was right about aja 

haha 

;)

Michael Fremer's picture

Listen, that guy absolutely hates me. I couldn't care less. I have never said anything other than that if he's willing to go through hundreds of copies of a record, pick out the best and sell it for a lot of money, more power to him. And I've heard some of his choices are they are very good. It's a worthwhile service.

However, there is no such thing as a "hot stamper". That is pure marketing B.S. I have spoken to press men at the major pressing plants throughout the world and they just laugh when you bring up "hot stamper"s. 

Port basically believes that originals are always better. My experience is that they often are but not always and in fact, more often than not reissues sound different but not necessarily better or worse and it's partly a matter of how your system has been set up. If it's to make murky old RCAs or bright Mercurys sound optimal, well then the reissues won't sound as good.

In any case my only bone to pick with Port was his original accusation that my opinions on the subject are suspect because I work for magazines that take advertising so I have a "conflict of interest". This from a guy whose "interest" is in selling used records for hundreds of dollars above "book value." Like he has no "conflict of interest" there!

The bottom line is, I don't think he has a "conflict of interest" in his advocacy or his opinions nor do I. He can write all the crap about me he wants, I couldn't care less. It doesn't stop me from saying the used records he sells sound very good because I've heard them and they do.

 

vinyl listener's picture

you're not mellowing in old age are you ?

:)

i'm with you, originals are often better sounding but there are always exceptions.

cheers,

 

 

 

 

jkingtut's picture

comments;

If you pay that much for a record your ears will damn well make it sound good.

I saw the Atlanta show on an absolutely perfect summer evening with absolutley perfect draft beverages. They sleep walked through AJA  but picked it up for the rest. I danced so hard for reelin' in the years one of the ushers tried to hit on me after the show, but thanks to the beverages I did not quite figure it out.

I have an AA-1006 but have not played it yet, I meant to before the show but I will enjoy it more now that I know its a hot stamper!!

Steve Edwards's picture

go figure

JC1957's picture

A later MCA reissue of Greatest Hits cut by Kevin Gray that's no slouch either. I have it and the RL original issue.

So what's happened with the original Steely Dan master tapes?

Michael Fremer's picture

No one really knows. One rumor was that the late Roger Nichols transferred them to digital when that first appeared and then destroyed the originals. Just a rumor. Another is that no one really knows. How's that for "are you ...ing me"?

charliex's picture

Why is it whenever someone speaks of Steely Dan, no one mentions their producer Gary Katz, effectively the 3rd member of the group?

EMichaels's picture

I have both the Cisco reissue and the original ABC AB-1006. I think I bought the album within the first week it was released. I have always taken good care of my records and had a good turntable back in that era B&O 4004.

I will have to make the comparison you mentioned as I thought the Cisco reissue was glorious. I am currently using a VPI Classic 1 with an Ortofon 2M Black. I am beginning to think all of my original records I purchased in the 70s are worth more than I thought.

Thanks

Paul Boudreau's picture

...for the tip on the Greatest Hits.  I thought I might have it but I don't.  However, I do have five copies of "Aja" (AA-1006, two MoFis, the Canadian colored-vinyl edition and a Japanese copy).  Funny thing about longtime record collections - there are probably some surprises in there!

tlat.com's picture

I agree, the longtime collector and I mean those who've been collecting for the last 40 years all have many jems in their collections...Trouble is to find the time to critically listen to them and what to pull out and place on the turntable. My usual method of choosing  now is reading one of Mikey's LP reissue reviews and seaching my collection for the original and if I have playing that baby. I've never been let down. Of course Aja was and  always will be one of my reference records. I just found, at a yard sale, a mint copy of Katie Lied pressed in Japan that is incredible and at a yard sale price....now that sounds sweet all the way around.

Paul Boudreau's picture

...about the time problem plus there's also the restaurant-menu conundrum:  Too many choices can be paralyzing.

My comment was about my not remembering that I had five copies of "Aja" - I figured it was more like two!

rdh79730's picture

I have the Cisco reissue, but not the original of Aja.  I picked up this Greatest Hits collection several years ago from a guy that was dumping his record collection on Craiglist for $2 a copy, $3 for double LP's.  I think I haggled him down on the 30 or so records I bought from his collection.

Now I need to compare the Aja tracks on the GH.  The GH copy I have is near mint condition with respect to the vinyl.  I play it on occasion for the earlier tracks that I don't have on vinyl (Reelin' in the years, etc).  I bought the reissue of Gaucho several years ago and then picked up a promo copy from a radio station collection that looks like it was never played.  It blows away the reissue.  The $30 "audiophile" copy is now on the "sell" shelf.

sharris55's picture

My first girlfriend's PARENTS gave me the first four Steely Dan on vinyl for Christmas one year.  I have all of them through Gaucho.  Have the CIsco AJA and a MFSL vinyl pressing of Katylied from many years back. Have them all on CD too but I always go back to the vinyl.  Time to pull some of these out and try on the new-ish Classic 3.

Bigrasshopper's picture

I've  been buying vinyl for only the past five years or so. So no, I guess I'm not a real audiophile.  For me the prospect of combing through decades of used stuff, without any past experience was overwhelming and unproductive.  Fortunately the reissue engine was just reving up and audiophile reissues became the obvious choice for me.  I feel well rewarded for the cash kindling  I toss onto the this fire and only wish I could have stepped into the circle of light a little sooner.  But I'll readily take Mickey up on both his suggestions which I've just ordered from Discogs.  I have a JAP and CISCO Aja for  comparison but am really looking foreword to Negotiations as the only other vinyl I own is the CLASSIC RECORDS Bridge Over Troubled Water and a SUNDAZED Parsley Sage and Rosemary.  I heard that those tapes are gone.  Would appreciate any suggestions on S and G.  

--and here is the UPS man with APOs Living Stereos!

Michael Fremer's picture

"Parsely, Sage, "etc. was remixed from multitrack all-analogue some years ago for S&G box set. "Bridge" is another story. Roy Halee says masters are gone but Classic's reissue at 45rpm is spectacular regardless of source and the 33 1/3 is pretty good. However, for "Parsely...." try to find an original Columbia "360 Sound", prefereably 1A- or through single letters. It will be stunning for sure... actually ditto "Bridge..." 

forshac's picture

>for "Parsely...." try to find an original Columbia "360 Sound, prefereably 1A- or through >single letters. It will be stunning for sure

Any thoughts re the mono version of this indispensable classic?

Michael Fremer's picture

It was not a "fold down" so it will sound different. I think I have one but haven't played in a long time so I don't remember...

Paul Boudreau's picture

...a real music lover is much more important than being a real audiophile, whatever that might mean (to some it's pejorative!).

Michael Fremer's picture

Roy Halee says the "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" masters are "shot" but Classic's 45rpm edition still sounds spectacular and the 33 1/3 is very good. Finding an original 1A,B,C,D etc."360 Sound" label original shouldn't be too difficult. So many were sold. As for P,S,R&T, if you can find an original of that on Ebay (Columbia "360 Sound" label, low lacquer number, you will not believe the transparent sonics. I haven't heard the Sundazed. Now that they are pressing at QRP the pressing quality will be superb but Sundazed mostly cuts from digital sources according to my contacts, though their Dylan monos apparently were "AAA". Does your PSR&T have WG/NRP in the lead out groove area?

samman's picture

On my system with the two original AB and AA pressings that I have, one can clearly hear the difference between the AA (not so good) and the AB (outstanding!) pressings. On the Steve Hoffman forums, Mr. Hoffman himself stated that the only pressing to use the master tape was indeed the AB-1006. Quite superior to the Cisco, MFSL and other non-AB pressings.

Michael Fremer's picture

The inner groove areas on both are written in the same scrawl. Both are credited to Bernie Grundman so I don't understand why the original tape would be used on one but not the other or how Steve would know which Bernie used for the AA one. However, pressing variations could account for what you heard, not tape differences, although I'm open to different tapes being the case. My two copies didn't sound significantly different.

Shayne's picture

I have this greatest hits 2 lp set on yellow wax. I've never seen another one. Anyone else?

Paul Boudreau's picture

...copy, maybe?  My Canadian "Aja" is yellow transparent vinyl.

Mark Evans's picture

I also noticed the increased definition and spacial quality on the Greatest Hits LP. My copy was pressed by RCA Indianapolis (I) and I bought it used for $8. It was a record club release. It sounds soooo good.

ebuzz's picture

 I agree Mickey.  Got my copy off ebay when a famous NYC DJ was selling his collection. 

tlat.com's picture

Since we're on the subject of Simon and Garfunkel- I just played my P, S, R and T

matrix 1A side 2 and 1G side 1 and Mikey's correct, its stunning. I also have same record 1AC side 1 and 1J side 2 also incredible sonics and stereo separation but this one has a label ( 2 eye columbia 360) that reads Freedoms Sons The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

A mix up on the line no doubt. The Clancy Brother's LP number is CS 9336, the Simon and Garfunkel LP number is CS 9363. Found this one at a thift shop in Trenton NJ and did not catch the printing error untill I went to clean it. A nice find.

transloveairways's picture

Was Nightfly the first domestically released CD that was labled DDD and therefore being the first digital recording to be commercially available on a digital format? I remember an AES convention in NY about the time of its release. It was the only time I can remember that disc being the only one played by the manufacturers throughout the show touting their first generation CD players! Gary Katz was a true pioneer!!

Michael Fremer's picture

I don't know but guess what? Virtually NONE of the CDs labeled DDD were DDD in those early years. The only ones that were, were ones recorded and not in need of being mixed because in those days there were NO digital mixing boards. Therefore, the digital recordings had to be converted to analog, fed into analog boards, mixed, and then transferred again to digital.  So they were really DADD.

hi-fivinyljunkie's picture

Re the Hoffman thread I checked my 'original' US copy of Aja and was disappointed to find it is the AA. However always thought it sounded terrific and heard nothng close until the Cisco came out. Cisco is close and I would say different rather than better/worse. Strangely the Japanese 200 grm from about the same time sounds very good in spite suspicions of digital source. Also the Speakers Corner 'Can't Buy A Thrill' is excellent and superior to my UK ABC (2nd press?). So with the masters missing what is the explaination for the quality of these reissues? - there appears to be a lot of secrecy about the actual sources being used. Only thing I do know is the Japanese 200g Gaucho was from a DSD transfer and that is surprisingly good. Perhaps it's sadly significant that we have never had an audiophile release of Pretzel Logic.

mb's picture

It's long been known that the Ludwig cut Steely Dan Greatest Hits had a reputation for sounding great, so unfortunately this isn't news to many.  However if memory serves me, there were a lot of non-US pressed copies floating around in budget racks in the early 80's that probably weren't from the Ludwig metal...so buyer beware.

FWIW, my Ludwig cut copy is quite underwhelming.  I have no reason to doubt the many who like it.  I probably just have a "non-Hot Stamper" (which I do believe exist although I agree that Tom Port's ever evolving system, opinions, and conflicts diminish his general credibility).

MusicNut612's picture

Hot stampers are just as real as say, clean coal! Just a marketing gimmicks used by scumbags that will rot in hell when their time comes.

tfaison's picture

I looked in the dead wax on my AA copy and the original AB designation was scratched through to add the hand scribed AA number. Should be the same stamper/master, yes?

Ben Adams's picture

When I was searching for a decent Aja recently, I found at least one source online that stated that copies which have had the original AB prefix altered so that the "B" was etched out and a new A added in front to create a new "AA" prefix are pressed from the original stampers with the Grundman mastering.

This makes total sense.  Remember, the AA- and AB- prefixes denoted the LP's list price.  When they realized what a hit they had on their hands, ABC would have quickly raised the list so they could charge a higher wholesale price.

WaxtotheMax's picture

This collection is a must have in my view. I have two excellent copies that I play more often than the separate regular releases of each albums representative cuts. Again, a must have in my view.

Paul Boudreau's picture

...a decent copy of "SD - Greatest Hits" on eBay and today scrubbed it up and listened to it.  It sounded great and it was nice to hear those songs again, a lot of which I hadn't heard in ages.  Thanks again for the tip!

sluggobeast's picture

I've had an original pressing of Aja since it's original release—still in great shape. In 2007 Michael reviewed the Cisco—and I picked up a copy, which I love.

This new Cisco reissue is vastly superior to both the original pressing (ABC AA 1006) and to Mobile Fidelity’s ½ speed mastered reissue (Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-0333).h.

Let me tell you why this new reissue is easily the best sounding Aja yet.

Now he says to stick with he original. I think the Cisco beats it...but have not A/B ed it in a while.

What gives?

Fretless VI's picture

I have 3 copies of Aja, the original Cisco, a Japanese , and my original Canadian copy(9022-1006) that I  bought in 1977. While doing some comparisons among the three I realized to my surprise that the stereo image of my Canadian copy is reversed! For example at the beginning of the track Aja the electric piano fills are on the right channel and the guitar fills are on the left channel. And it's not just this track, the whole album is reversed.How is this possible and has anybody ever noticed something like this before?Michael, I would love to know what you think of this.

BadEditPro's picture

When I jumped back into binyl a few years ago, I imediately started looking for SD's '72 to '78 compilation along with original pressings of Aja and Gaucho and Fagen's The Nightfly.  I found all of the above, thank you. I've heard most of the reissues at one time or another and I think that the original ABC pressings have an earthy reality to them that has beeen lost somehere along the way. Nice to see them getting some love here...

vinyl_lady's picture

Just picked up a mint copy of the Robert Ludwig mastered 2 lps in Santa Fe today for $10.I wouldn't have bought if I had not read Michael's posting. Thanks Michael.

Laura

drbrowning's picture

I know that the Steely Dan catalogue has been re-issued on MCA records in 1980. If I were to find a copy of a re-issue of Steely Dan Greatest His on MCA #2-6008 would this pressing be inferior to the ABC pressing AK-1107. I know I haven't been very happy with MCA pressing of Elton John's Greatest Hits. What is your thoughts on the re-issue on MCA?

762rob's picture

Picked up an ABC version of this--- truly mint copy eBay for $2.50 plus shipping total investment less than $6. The seller did not know how to grade, just said "good condition no scratches", well we all know what GOOD means by Goldmine standards, so I took a chance and it paid off.
Very enjoyable! So glad I stumbled over this post...

jazz's picture

http://www.analogplanet.com/content/ciscos-iajai-reissue-exclusive-first... :

"This new Cisco reissue is vastly superior to both the original pressing (ABC AA 1006) and to Mobile Fidelity’s ½ speed mastered reissue (Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-0333)."

...and here in this Review:

"If you're a fan of Aja you should try to track down an original (ABC AB-1006). It beats the Cisco and especially the thuddy Mobile Fidelity from way back when. There are two catalog numbers here: AA-1006 and AB-1006. AA is actually a later catalog number but both editions were mastered by Bernie Grundman (though you won't see "BG" in the inner groove area) and I can't hear much of a difference between the two."

If the AA and the AB original don't differ much for you, why does it then beat the Cisco on the one side and is beaten by the Cisco by far on the other?

BusterDukes's picture

One of the things I really respect about Michael is that he's willing to have an opinion and says what he thinks in the moment about a given release. Music is an emotional thing and opinions are subject to revision and I think that's perfectly Ok.

jazz's picture

I also respect this and we all develop slightly changing perceptions how something sounds with the time.

On the other hand my expectation of how the perception of a professional reviewer should be a matter of a complete change from time to time or not is different from my picture of just any Audio consumer. I read about such changes here or there in this Forum i.e. also in terms of a noticable change in rating some Grundman masterings.
Initially I would have expected that reviewers deliver a judgement more or less independent of specific System or room subjections and that they detect any treble tweaking, cutter amp distortion or what's a natural sound or not more on a quite objective Basis that doesn't totally change after a System upgrade and is more than a matter of personal taste with a current Setup and more than a strong but temporary opinion.
But we're all humans and my expectation might be too high here.

BusterDukes's picture

I think your expectation is too high. If you want follow a reviewer who hardly says anything because what they do write is their Final Word on the subject and because they're afraid of people on the Internet dissecting everything they write, there are lots of guys like that out there. Michael's a cool cat. He loves music and his passion shines through. He writes what he feels and he is not afraid to continue to have a conversation about it in the forums. His opinion is not carved in granite and inflexible. It changes occasionally and I have no problem with that. Give him a break, there are plenty of people on the Internet who are more worthy of having you hold their feet to the fire.

Michael Fremer's picture
I made a mistake. Overall the original is better.
jazz's picture

Did Michael Review Nightfly and is there a link available?

Would be interested how the Warner 180g by Chris Bellman, the Quiex Vinyl (which should be similar to the Original) and the Mofi compare.

SansuiStef's picture

Chiming a bit in on the late, but, have been searching for what seems to be the elusive needle in a haystack ABC AB 1006.
Seems to be a multitude with ABC AK 1107/2, some called "masterdisk". Regarding this pressing, anyone have experience, is this one worth of a try or hold out for the 1006, thoughts ??

Gruppe-B's picture

Hello AP folks,
i picked up a copy of the Steely Dan greatest hits from a local flea market seller that i had had good luck with (i have no idea where he finds stuff in such good condition?!?) .i paid $8 or 10 for it about 3 years ago.
i was blown away by the quality of this recording.i recently made a copy of it on my Tascam CD-R deck~~it was one of the most difficult recordings to copy because of its extreme dynamics;just when you thought you had the levels set right a new track would start and you'd be jumping to turn down the levels :O (it clipped a few times,but thankfully the Tascam has a bit of extra overload margin built in)
i never really cared for SD when i was a kid in the late'70s,but they have grown on me in recent years.

nlgbbbblth's picture

The main problem I have with this compilation is the lack of single edits. Album versions should NEVER be included on Singles compilations, Greatest Hits etc.

Wimbo's picture

AK1107..D version of SD's Greatest Hits and it's very good.
Another one to look out for is ELO's Greatest Hits, HBL-46310-1AB.
This is a Half Speed Master and while I have heard some bad one's, this Half Speed Master is excellent.

Hermanenmonja's picture

Morning! I curiously overlooked my lp collection, because i knew i had this one (greatest hits) also, but it is a Portugese version (ABC Records MP 99002). Any thoughts on how it compares with the one you discribed?

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