Four 70s Classic Albums Get Quadio Upgrades – Blu-ray Disc Review

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Following Rhino’s release of Quadio sets from Chicago in 2016 and the Doobie Brothers in 2020 comes four more albums from the 70s mixed in quadrophonic sound. Out of print for decades, Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, J. Geils Band’s Nightmares… And Other Tales From The Vinyl Jungle, and Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus have now been restored and brought up to 21st century surround standards. Place any one of these Blu-ray Discs on your home surround system and prepare for a sonic blast that will take you back in time.

Quad is actually 4.0 surround sound in that it plays across four audio channels connected to four speakers, optimally placed and positioned. It’s pretty much 5.1 surround without the center channel and the sub-woofer (aka LFE noted in the Blu-ray’s liner notes), though chances are there’s something coming through those speakers as well.

You can peg songs like “I’m Eighteen,” “Under My Wheels” and “School’s Out” as show-stoppers, but in the early 70s — a time when albums ruled — it was 1973’s Billion Dollar Babies that literally put Alice Cooper on top with his first Long Player Number One. The Quadio mix lifts the Bob Ezrin production to new heights. The strings on “Hello Hooray” rise to the mood of the piece, while the horns on “Elected” are so bright and full you’ll think you’re sitting next to the brass section.

The title track, a duet with Donovan, swarms over a whole other dimension. Sustained on drummer Neal Smith’s calculating “tribal” beat pattern and the double guitars of Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton (or Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, depending on who you ask), it’s Cooper at his vocally best. After hearing the piano sway through both “Mary Ann” and “I Love Dead,” it’s difficult to not want to play back this Blu-ray Disc more than once.

Black Sabbath’s Paranoid receives a real upgrade on the Quadio Blu-ray. The album was “a defining moment” for the four-piece. Both the song and the album it was titled after helped to catapult the group from scruffy working-class schlubs to progenitors of a new form of hard rock that would come to be known as heavy metal. You can really hear the sizzle of the high-hats on the “War Pigs” breaks. Tony Iommi’s sharp and heavy riffs roar, while Ozzy Osbourne’s voice balances the reverb bridge through the side fills. The bass drum thud of “Iron Man” shakes the floorboards. There may be this misconception that the song is about a superhero, though the real superhero is Bill Ward and his tempered, heavy drumming, which really punches through on the Quadio mix. The extra crunch this mix provides to Iommi’s guitar and Geezer Butler’s bass throughout is worth the price admission alone.

J. Geils Band’s Nightmares …And Other Tales From The Vinyl Jungle, released in 1974, is an album that takes listeners on a wild and unpredictable ride through the band’s energetic and sometimes chaotic musical landscape. The Quadio mixes showcases the group’s raw energy and instrumental prowess, characterized by Peter Wolf’s dynamic vocals and Magic Dick’s scorching harmonica solos. Opener “Detroit Breakdown” certainly helps to get the party in raucous and rambling style. The superb piano and organ work of Seth Justman takes front and center here and on the album’s hit single “Must Of Got Lost.” The Blu-ray taps into the refined chemistry and musicianship between the players that only those who saw J. Geils Band live would understand.

Some have cited the album’s production quality to be a mixed bag, simultaneously contributing to the raw and live feel of the band’s performance, while also at times, sounding muddled or overly compressed. You can do A/B comparisons on the DTS-HD Quadio and stereo mixes featured on each release if you so desire. Nightmares is unhinged at times, though you have to appreciate the brevity and spirit of the title track. “Stoop Down #39” doesn’t seem to benefit from the Quadio mix, but if you’re home alone, “I’ll Be Coming Home” will likely feel like you have company. You can take or leave “Funky Judge,” but don’t think for a minute you’ll be able to escape the clutch of “Gettin’ Out” without wiggling your money-maker.

Red Octopus, Jefferson Starship’s second album released in 1975, is a fusion of rock, psychedelic, and progressive elements, that transcend the old Airplane model with asserted pliability and experimentation. The album captures the essence of the era and shows a musical maturity. Grace Slick sheds her “White Rabbit” ears for the lively “Fast Buck Freddie.” And she takes total command on “Ai Garimasu (There Is Love)” and “Play On Love.”

Marty Balin’s hit “Miracles” is sweetened up with a new shine on the strings, keys and Craig Chaquico’s elegant guitar work. The aural qualities of Quadio are called to task on “Git Fiddler” and “Sandalphon” as the instrumental prowess of violinist Papa John Creach, drummer John Barbata, guitarists Chaquico and Paul Kantner, plus instrumentalists (on either bass or keys) David Freiberg and Pete Sears blows through without a scratch. Jefferson Starship’s journey has had its up and downs over the years, but Red Octopus stands as a highwater mark in their story.

Transferred from their original half-inch four-channel masters and optimized in both Quadio and stereo 192:24 resolution, Billion Dollar Babies, Paranoid, Nightmares… And Other Tales From The Vinyl Jungle, and Red Octopus Quadio Blu-ray Disc sets are available exclusively at Rhino.com.

~ Shawn Perry

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