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Ambrosia - Life Beyond L.A.

Which Stampers Sound the Best?

  (Item #: ambrolifeb_stampers) 

Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings.

There's a unique story behind this title, which goes something like this. I recount it because it's a classic and hopefully instructive case of Live and Learn.

More Ambrosia

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Audiophilia 101

What Kind of Audio Fool Was I?

  (Item #: audiophile101) 

Today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making as a budding audiophile more than thirty years ago. Heavy Viny, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition -- aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads, each with a track record progressively more dismal than the next?
See more commentaries on Record Collecting

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Straight Shooting with Bad Company

Check Out the Punch in the Snare

  (Item #: badcostrai_snare) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

In late 2009 we had just finished a shootout for this hard-rockin’ album, our first since January of ’08, and what we were hearing this time around BLEW OUR MINDS. This record got a whole lot better over the course of the last twenty months or so. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the drum sound on this record is the right up there with the most present, punchy and realistic I have ever heard on record.

I saw a friend’s band play recently in a small club and remember thinking how amazingly punchy the snare sounded (the sound coming from the live instrument itself and the club’s speakers) and this record has that kind of drum sound!.

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Badfinger - Straight Up

What to Listen For

  (Item #: badfistrai_wtlf) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate the album.

The best sides have the kind of PRESENCE in the midrange that most copies can't begin to reproduce. The sound on the right pressings just JUMPS out of the speakers, which is exactly what the best copies are supposed to (but rarely) do.

This is Power Pop, plain and simple. The basics are what count: punchy drums, grungy guitars, present vocals, clear but full bass lines -- just the meat and potatoes of rock, no fancy sauces.

More Badfinger

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Advances in Playback Technology

More Than Blind Faith

  (Item #: blindblind_advances) 

In a 2007 commentary for the Hot Stamper pressing of Blind Faith we noted that

When it finally all comes together for such a famously compromised recording, it’s nothing less than a THRILL. More than anything else, the sound is RIGHT. Like Layla or Surrealistic Pillow, this is no demo disc by any stretch of the imagination, but that should hardly keep us from enjoying the music. And now we have the record that lets us do it.

More on Progress in Audio

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Our DOR (Difficulty of Reproduction) Scale

  (Item #: brewedowni_dors) 

We’ve mentioned how difficult some records are to reproduce: how the Revolutions in Audio of the last decade or two have profoundly changed the ability of the seriously dedicated audiophile to get records that never sounded good before to come to life musically in a way previously understood to be impossible.

This is one of those records. But you have to have done your homework if you want to play a record like this, as the commentary below explains.

See more records that rank high up on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

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Yes, You Too Can Get an Old Buffalo Springfield Record to Sound This Good!

  (Item #: buffalastt_commentary) 

Not long ago we found a White Hot Stamper pressing of Last Time Around that really blew our minds. We were surprised to hear
...some of the breathiest, silkiest vocals we’ve ever heard on ANY Buffalo Springfield album, with startling presence and immediacy to boot! This side two had BY FAR the most energy and life of any side of any copy we've ever played. Man, does it ROCK.

Even as recently as 2010 we would not have expected to find that kind of sound on a vintage '60s pop/rock album. We know better now.

More Buffalo Springfield

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Buffalo Springfield - Last Time Around

Listening for Tubey Magic Down Low

  (Item #: buffalastt_wtlf) 

On even the best copies there's a bit too much Tubey Magic in the bass I regret to say. Tubbiness and bloat were par for the course. This may explain why so many copies have rolled off bass; the engineer cut the bass because he heard how tubby it was and figured no bass is better than bad bass.

Which is just not true. Cutting the bass leans out and "modernizes" the sound, making the voices sound thin and dry. This pretty much ruins everything on this album just the way it ruins everything in practically every modern recording I hear. Having your bass under control on the playback side isn't easy -- in fact it's probably the hardest thing to achieve in audio -- but it can be done, and with good bass control the slightly wooly bass is just part of the sound you learn to accept.

More Buffalo Springfield

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Creedence Clearwater Revival - Cosmo's Factory

Our Shootout Winner from 2015

  (Item #: creedcosmo_2015) 

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Clean copies of the album are rare enough as it is; good sounding clean copies are as rare for this title as for practically any we offer.

Fortunately we've made some strides of late finding the "right' pressings for this band, and with better cleaning technologies we are finding that the better copies such as this one are sounding the way we want our Creedence records to sound.

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Our Audiophile LP Scorecard

  (Item #: debunk1) 

Visit this link to see how some of the Audiophile Vinyl (147 and counting!) we played scored against our famous Hot Stamper pressings.

Check back for all the latest entries because this section is very much a work in progress. It will take years to round up all the bad (and good) Audiophile Vinyl and make listings for them, a task that doesn’t generate a nickel in revenue but one that we feel the audiophiles who visit our site can certainly put to good use.

More Commentary Sections of Interest

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Derek and The Dominos - Layla

Listening in Depth

  (Item #: dereklayla_listen) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

The best copies of Layla are Tubey Magical, energetic, and tonally balanced. Most importantly, they sound CORRECT; you get the sense that you are hearing the music exactly as the band intended. The best sounding tracks have presence, clarity, and transparency like you have never heard -- that is, unless you've gone through a pile of copies the way we do.

More Eric Clapton and Cream

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The Doors - The Doors

MoFi Debunked

  (Item #: doorsdoors_mofi) 

Sonic Grade: D

Another MoFi LP debunked.

If anyone still thinks that pressing is anything but a bad joke played on the audiophile public -- so sucked out in the midrange, bass-shy and compressed to death -- that person has a way to go in this hobby. A very long way. You can hear how bad it sounds from another room.

But wait a minute. I liked the MoFi just fine when it came out. I guess I had a way to go in this hobby too. That was back in the early ’80s. I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two in the last twenty five plus years. I’m pretty sure we can offer you a better record now.

See more of The Doors' albums

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Fleetwood Mac - Bare Trees

A Long Time Coming

  (Item #: fleetbaret_audio) 

Until not that many years ago we simply were not able to do successful shootouts for Bare Trees, Fleetwood Mac's wonderful album from 1972. The pressings we were playing just didn't sound very good to us. British, German, Japanese, domestic originals, domestic reissues; all of them left much too much to be desired.

Thankfully we can tell you that the best copies sound a whole lot better now than they did then.

It's always true, and needs to be remembered, that most of the shortcomings you hear in the sound of a record are caused by your equipment (which includes record cleaning equipment), your room, and your electricity.

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Michael Jackson - Thriller

Thoughts on Thriller, Circa 2006

  (Item #: jacksthril_2006) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

This pressing has a side two that is so amazing sounding that it COMPLETELY CHANGED my understanding and appreciation of this album. The average copy is a nice pop record. This copy is a MASTERPIECE of production and engineering.

After playing a bunch of these we noticed some recurring shortcomings on most of the pressings. Either they lacked extension on the top end or they lacked bass definition and weight, or both. When this copy hit the table, the first thing we noticed was that the top end was Right On The Money and the bottom end was also Right On The Money. Not surprisingly, the middle fell right into place.

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Mahavishnu Orchestra - Birds of Fire

We Just Weren't Ready in 2013

  (Item #: mahavbirds_2013) 

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This WHITE Hot Stamper Birds of Fire has a side one that will blow your mind. Turn this one up and prepare yourself for the kind of sound that perhaps one out of fifty records has to offer, with cymbal crashes that really crash, bass that threatens to move your house off its foundation, and the kind of jazz rock fusion POWER that few groups in the history of music have ever been capable of. It’s 100% guaranteed to bring your stereo to its knees. Was it really possible to encode this kind of energy onto a slice of vinyl decades ago? This side one proves it was.

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Henry Mancini - Our Man In Hollywood

Making More Progress in Audio

  (Item #: manciourma_vta) 

The story of our recent shootout is what real Progress in Audio is all about.

In our previous listings we noted:

This is one of those odd records in which the variation in sound quality from track to track is dramatic. Take the first two tracks on side one -- they suck. They sound like your average LSP Mancini album, the kind I have suffered through far too many times. And that means bad bad bad.

See all of our Henry Mancini albums in stock

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Shelly Manne & His Friends - Bells Are Ringing

What to Listen For

  (Item #: mannebells_wtlf) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak my stereo and many of those that were owned by friends.

More Shelly Manne / More Andre Previn

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Sergio Mendes on LP

Diminishing Returns in Audio?

  (Item #: mendesergi_diminishing) 

Diminishing returns? Sez who? In our opinion, it's another Old and Pernicious Myth.

I often read this comment in audio magazines regarding the piece of equipment under review, as if to say that we are so close to audio perfection that a gain of a few percent is the most we can hope for from this or that new megabuck amp or speaker. In my experience the exact opposite is true.

More Sergio Mendes

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A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers

The More Mistakes the Better, Part One

  (Item #: mistakes_part_1) 

I was reading an article on the web recently when I came across an old joke Red Skelton used to tell:

All men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner.

Now if you're like me and you play, think and write (hopefully in that order) about records all day, everything sooner or later relates back to records, even a modestly amusing old joke such as this. Making mistakes is fundamental to learning about records, especially if you, like us, believe that most of the received wisdom handed down to record lovers of all kinds is more likely to be wrong than right.

If you don't believe that to be true, then it's high time you really started making mistakes.

Thinking About Hot Stampers

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A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers

The More Mistakes the Better, Part Two

  (Item #: mistakes_part_2) 

Wise men and women throughout the ages have commented on the value of making mistakes. Here is one of our favorite quotes on the subject.

If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner.

We can thank Tallulah Bankhead for that one. When I think of the 20 odd years (early '70s to early '90s) I wasted trying to figure out how audio works before I had learned to develop critical listening skills, it brings to mind that old Faces' song, "I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger."
Thinking About Hot Stampers

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A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers

The More Mistakes the Better, Part Three

  (Item #: mistakes_part_3) 

"The essence of success is that it is never necessary to think of a new idea oneself. It is far better to wait until somebody else does it, and then to copy him in every detail, except his mistakes."
~Aubrey Menen

Indeed, if only that were practical. Our approach to Hot Stampers and How to Find Them is certainly a revolutionary new idea, and undoubtedly the only way of discovering records with superior sound quality.

But even if we were to publish all of our secrets, the stamper numbers and labels and countries of origin of all the best pressings we've ever played, every last one, that would still not be the answer.

Thinking About Hot Stampers

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Joni Mitchell - Song To A Seagull

Our Shootout Winner from 2012

  (Item #: mitchsongt_2013) 

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

It took two records to make this White Hot Stamper 2-pack, with INCREDIBLE A+++ SOUND FROM START TO FINISH. The result? One of the best sounding, if not THE best sounding copy to ever hit the site. If you're a Joni fan this is one of her strongest records, and one that definitely belongs in your collection. If you own any other pressing we're confident that this copy will positively blow your mind.

These two sides have the kind of sound quality you probably never imagined would be possible -- but it is! We played it, we heard it for ourselves, and now we offer it to you, the Joni Mitchell (nee Roberta Joan Anderson) fans of the world.

More Joni Mitchell

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White Hot Stamper

Wes Montgomery
California Dreaming

  (Item #: montgcalif_2006) 

Our Price: $299.99

  • This excellent Wes Montgomery title returns to the site for the first time in two years with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one and outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on side two
  • Both sides here are OUT OF THIS WORLD, incredibly big, bold, clear, rich and dynamic - this is DEMO DISC Quality Big Production Guitar-led Jazz
  • Credit goes to Rudy Van Gelder once again for the huge space that the superbly well-recorded group occupies
  • Forget the critics, this is one of Wes's Best Albums of All Time I tell you!
More Wes Montgomery

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Super Hot Stamper

Wes Montgomery
California Dreaming

  (Item #: montgcalif_2006_1) 

Our Price: $149.99

  • An outstanding copy of this excellent Wes Montgomery title with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • Both sides here are superb, incredibly big, bold, clear, rich and dynamic - this is DEMO DISC Quality Big Production Guitar-led Jazz
  • Credit goes to Rudy Van Gelder once again for the huge space that the superbly well-recorded group occupies
  • Forget the critics, this is one of Wes's Best Albums of All Time I tell you!
More Wes Montgomery

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Testing New Paradigms and Old

with The Beatles

  (Item #: paradigms) 

It is our strongly held belief that if your equipment (regardless of cost) or your critical listening skills do not allow you to hear the kinds of sonic differences among pressings we describe, then whether you are just getting started in audio or are a self-identified audio expert writing for the most prestigious magazines and websites, you still have a very long way to go in this hobby.

Purveyors of the old paradigms -- original is better, money buys good sound -- may eventually find their approach to records and equipment unsatisfactory (when it isn't just plain wrong), but they will only do so if they start to rely more on empirical findings and less on convenient theories and received wisdom.

See more commentaries as well as our in-stock copies of Rubber Soul

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Tom Petty - Damn the Torpedoes

The Best Sounding Heartbreakers Album We've Ever Played

  (Item #: pettydamnt_2015) 

Damn the Torpedoes is the best sounding Tom Petty album we have ever played.

Credit must go to SHELLY YAKUS, someone who we freely admit, now with a sense of embarrassment, has never been one of our favorite engineers. After hearing this beyond-White Hot Stamper side two and a killer copy of Animal Notes we realize that we have seriously underestimated the man, and for that we deeply apologize.

If your Damn the Torpedoes doesn't sound good (and it probably doesn't), you sure can't blame him -- the master tape is mind-boggling in its size, weight, power and rock n' roll energy.

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Revolutionary Changes in Audio

What Works for Us Can Work for You

  (Item #: revolution) 

This listing, like the stereo itself (mine and yours), is a work in progress. Please check back for the commentary we expect to be adding in the future.

Our reason for having this kind of commentary on a site ostensibly devoted to the selling of records is simple: the better your stereo sounds, the better our records sound, and, more importantly, the bigger the difference between our records and the copies you already own. Also those LPs recommended by "audiophile" record dealers, which tend to be on Heavy Vinyl, at 45 RPM, half-speed mastered or, even worse, Japanese pressed. We have no interest in any of them. Why? On our system they rarely sound better than second-rate.

More on The Stereo

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Still Crazy About Records After All These Years

Why Not? They Keep Getting Better!

  (Item #: simonstill_better) 

Still Crazy is the perfect example of an album that now sounds far better than we thought would ever be possible, not in this life anyway, due mostly to changes to the stereo, the quality of the electricity that feeds it, and last but far from least, the listening room itself.
More Still Crazy After All These Years

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Sinatra At The Sands on Dahlquist DQ-10s

My Neophyte Mind Is Blown

  (Item #: sinatatthe_progress) 

The story of our latest shootout is what real Progress in Audio is all about.

Back in the early '70s this was actually the album that first introduced me to honest-to-goodness "audiophile" sound.

I was at my local stereo store listening to speakers one day, and the salesman made a comment that the speakers we were listening to (the old Infinity Monitors with the Walsh tweeter) sounded "boxy". I confessed to him that I didn't actually know what that meant or what it would sound like if it weren't boxy.

More Sinatra at the Sands

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Spirit - Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus

Our Shootout Winner from 2013

  (Item #: spiritwelv_2013) 

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

This copy has the kind of sound I always dreamed the album could have, but it took years of listening -- mostly to one flat, grainy, smeary copy after another -- to get here.

This and Spirit's first album are absolute Rock Classics in my book, records that belong in any popular music lover's collection.

More Spirit

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Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On The Edge Of Town

Cleaner and Clearer than You Might Think

  (Item #: sprindarkn_wtlf) 

We used to say that Springsteen recordings from this era always suffered from some grit and grain. With the better cleaning technologies we employ now, and dramatically better playback quality as well, much of that gritty, grainy sound is simply no longer a problem. That change and the others like it come under the general heading of Revolutionary Changes in Audio. It's what real Progress in Audio is all about.
More Bruce Springsteen

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Steely Dan - Can’t Buy A Thrill

A Classic Case of Live and Learn

  (Item #: steelcantb_wrong) 

Years ago, starting with our first shootout in 2007 for the album, we had this to say:

This isn't Aja, Pretzel Logic or Gaucho (their three best sounding recordings). We doubt you'll be using a copy of Can't Buy A Thrill to demo your stereo.

We happily admit now that we got Can't Buy a Thrill all wrong. It's actually a very good sounding record - rich, smooth, natural, with an especially unprocessed sound. In that regard it is superior to most of their catalog; better than Countdown to Ecstacy, Katy Lied, Royal Scam and maybe even Gaucho.
More Steely Dan / More Can't Buy a Thrill

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Cat Stevens Catch Bull at Four

Congestion? What Congestion?

  (Item #: stevecatch_progress) 

The story of our latest shootout is what real Progress in Audio is all about. Many copies were gritty, some were congested in the louder sections, some never got big, some were thin and lacking the lovely analog richness of the best -- we heard plenty of copies whose faults were obvious when played against two top sides such as these.

Speaking of congestion, it had previously been our experience that every copy of the record had at least some congestion in the loudest parts, typically the later parts of songs where Cat is singing at the top of his lungs, the acoustic guitars are strumming like crazy, and big drums are pounding away are jumping out of both speakers.

More Catch Bull at Four

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Traveling Back in Time with Cat Stevens on MoFi

To Hear It on Vintage Equipment

  (Item #: steveteafo_badstereo) 

Our good customer Roger wrote us a letter years ago about his MoFi Tea for the Tillerman, in which he remarked, "Sometimes I wish I kept my old crappy stereo to see if I could now tell what it was that made these audiophile pressings so attractive then."

It got me to thinking. Yes, that would be fun, and better yet, it could be done. There are actually plenty of those Old School systems still around. Just look at what many of the forum posters -- god bless 'em -- are running. They've got some awesome '70s Japanese turntables, some Monster Cable and some vintage tube gear and speakers going all the way back to the '50s.

See more commentaries as well as our in-stock copies of Tea for the Tillerman

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Cat Stevens - Tea for the Tillerman

Making Progress in Audio

  (Item #: steveteafo_progress) 

The following comments were written in 2004.

Hard Headed Woman is a song that has evolved dramatically over the last 20 years. If you've been making regular upgrades to your equipment and taking advantage of all the new technologies available at the front end, such as: vibration control, electromagnetic stabilization, better arms, better cartridges, better phono stages, better motors, fly wheels, Synchronous Drive Systems, better power cords, better power conditioning, to name just a few, you are no doubt able to reproduce this song much better than you were in the old days.

More Cat Stevens

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Supertramp - Even In The Quietest Moments

Making Progress in Audio

  (Item #: supereveni_progress) 

The story behind this record is what real Progress in Audio is all about.

We wrote up this album in 2005 as a Hot Stamper Stalled listing. We just could not find anything that sounded right to us. The imports were a smeary mess, the half-speed was and is a complete joke (we used to like it but that just goes to show how wrong you can be), and the domestic copies were so grainy and phony-sounding we knew there was no way to make the case that this was an actual audiophile-quality recording.

Even in the Quietest Moments

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Making Audio Progress

Step One: Weed Out the Heavy Vinyl

  (Item #: weeding) 

In his latest letter Dan tells us of his disappointment with the new reissues he's been trying:

... And thanks again for that amazing "Who's Next" record. It was startling to hear the difference between that and the Classic - and that was one of the better modern audiophile records!

I can't tell you how many modern reissues I've bought over the past couple months that have lost, and lost badly, to just my one single original or early pressing of an album. Reissues by AC/DC, The Who, ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones, and Patti Smith have all failed miserably against my merely average sounding originals.

More Who's Next

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Neil Young - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

Live and Learn

  (Item #: youngevery_wrong) 

Below you will see our old Hot Stamper commentary from 2004 as part of the discussion of EKTIN in an older shootout (9-08), comments which we now renounce, disown, reject, repudiate and disavow with extreme prejudice. Huh? Here's part of our mea culpa.

Our latest shootout this time around left us with a fairly large serving of egg on our face concerning the commentary we had written for our previous shootout, a textbook example of We Was Wrong. We rarely try to make excuses for our mistakes, but give us a break, that last shootout was more than four years ago (September 2004)!

More Neil Young

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