Most people have familiar records and tracks to put their system through its paces and give it a thorough workout. For the team at What Hi-Fi?, however, these go-to tracks and albums become a vital part of the reviewing process.
Of course, different people use different music, and everyone has their own preferences as far as style and form are concerned – but here are some of our old faithful go-tos from around half a century ago. 1970s, here we come...
Bitches Brew by Miles Davis (1970)
This revolutionary album, released at the start of a new decade, changed the face of jazz. It's not always an easy listen – especially for those of us who aren't jazz aficionados – but, as with a classic novel (once you get past the first hundred pages or so...), Miles Davis's genius shines through and has the listener gripped.
And, of course, a good hi-fi system is a must if you want to sort out the musical strands in what can, in the care of poor electronics, become a confusing, disengaging disappointment.
- Bitches Brew by Miles Davis vinyl (opens in new tab)
What's Going On by Marvin Gaye (1971)
One of the seminal albums of the 70s, What's Going On is a politically charged, soulful and sad response to the Vietnam War and the state of the nation at the time.
A wonderful mixture of soul and jazz, with haunting melodies and thought-provoking lyrics, this album has stood the test of time better than most, and deserves a place in any record collection.
- What's Going On by Marvin Gaye vinyl (opens in new tab)
Tapestry by Carole King (1971)
Tapestry is one of the best selling albums of all time – and it seems only fair that Carole King should reap some recognition outside the industry from a career in song-writing that, up until that point, had meant monster hits for other people.
King, with co-writer Gerry Goffin, wrote such classics as Take Good Care Of My Baby by Bobby Vee, The Drifters' Up On The Roof, and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, made famous by Aretha Franklin. And plenty more.
Tapestry, was King's own, however, and is packed with beautiful melodies – including her own version of A Natural Woman, of course.
- Tapestry by Carole King vinyl (opens in new tab)
Ege Bamyasi by Can (1972)
Another acquired taste, perhaps. But, again, one worth persevering with. A heady mix of musical genres, Ege Bamyasi is hard to define – but Krautrock is too simplistic, and certainly doesn't give it the gravitas it properly deserves.
Tricky, complex rhythms and beats will certainly put your speakers to a proper test – especially once you've taken the time to get to know this remarkable piece of work.
- Ege Bamyasi by Can vinyl (opens in new tab)
Paul Simon by Paul Simon (1972)
By setting himself free from his angel-voiced partner of many years, Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon could finally embrace a variety of musical genres that the previous collaboration somehow prohibited.
And this, his eponymous first solo album, is a trailblazer on that journey, influenced by and referencing as it does a variety of musical genres from all over the Americas – from folk to blues, via South America and the Caribbean.
- Paul Simon by Paul Simon vinyl (opens in new tab)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John (1973)
Elton John had any number of hit albums throughout the 70s of course, but few of them have as many belters as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
This album contains some of his and lyricist Bernie Taupin's very greatest hits, from the title track, through Candle In The Wind, Bennie And The Jets and Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting. Winners, all.
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John vinyl (opens in new tab)
The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd (1973)
The iconic cover imagery still adorns millions of t-shirts and bedroom walls. And, of course, if spaced-out students were to be believed, it's imperative to listen to it alongside a viewing of The Wizard Of Oz.
And yet, strip all the cliche and legend behind this album away, and there it is: a remarkable piece of work from one of the greatest bands to have graced a recording studio. Dark Side Of The Moon marked a change in direction for the group and was immediately a great influence on the music creation and production industry.
Another must for any collection.
- The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd vinyl (opens in new tab)
Songs In The Key Of Life by Stevie Wonder (1976)
Stevie Wonder had well and truly broken away from the "Little" moniker by now, and along with it the Motown machine that was perhaps restricting him.
Songs In The Key Of Life is a triumphant double album, with every one of the tracks written (or at the very least co-written) by Wonder. It's a soulful, funky delight of a record with a number of singles chart hits, including Isn't She Lovely and the joyous Sir Duke.
- Songs In The Key Of Life by Stevie Wonder vinyl (opens in new tab)
Parallel Lines by Blondie (1978)
A smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic when it was released in 1978, Parallel Lines ended up delivering so many single chart hits from its 12 tracks that it was almost a greatest hits album in its own right.
Blondie made a mighty artistic leap from the New York punk scene with this entertaining mix of pop and rock, and while the hardcore may lament the band abandoning their punk roots, the rest of the world rejoiced.
With such classics as Hanging On The Telephone, Heart Of Glass, Sunday Girl, One Way Or Another, and so many more, this is one of the classic must-own albums of the 70s.
- Parallel Lines by Blondie vinyl (opens in new tab)
London Calling by The Clash (1979)
The Clash's third record is a double album released in December 1979, so just sneaks in at the end of the decade.
While The Clash were known as a punk band, London Calling is a riotous mix of many genres, and not really much like anything else 'punk' at the time. The band borrowed from reggae, rockabilly and more and – what was this? – there were some beautiful melodies in there among the politics and protest.
Unashamedly political, yet witty and tuneful at the same time, London Calling was The Clash confirming themselves at the top table.
- London Calling by The Clash vinyl (opens in new tab)
That is why, at the most basic, recording studios run a test tone of just one frequency through the system to balance everything up.
In the words of Captain Beefheart on Trout Mask Replica "The following tone is a reference tone, recorded at our operating level... "
I have been fortunate enough to have been at the recording of an album, at the stereo mix-down, the mastering for vinyl, the re-mastering for CD and own 12" and CD versions. That is my reference.
The article says nothing about vinyl and even has screenshots of the albums from a streaming service.
Dreamboat Annie by Heart was one I liked to try out speakers with.