- Stunning sound throughout for arguably Joni’s greatest album with both sides earning shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
- Stunning immediacy and presence coupled with superb richness and warmth – this is the right sound for Blue
- A Better Records Top 100 title that belongs in any audiophile music collection worthy of the name
- 5 stars: “Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell’s songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity…”
You’ve probably heard us say this before, but top quality copies of Blue are few and far between. It’s not just the toughest nut to crack in Joni’s catalog, it’s one of the most difficult albums in ALL OF POP MUSIC to get to sound right.
Mids and Highs
The main reason it’s so difficult to find a good sounding pressing of this record is that most copies have a tendency towards hardness, shrillness, and aggressiveness. There is a great deal of mid- to high-frequency information in this recording, and the problems arise when you take all that energy and try to stamp it into a piece of domestic vinyl.
If the vinyl wasn’t good on the day they pressed the record, it doesn’t matter how good the mastering is. The result is grain and grunge. Since Joni pushes her voice hard into her higher registers on many of these songs it’s often enough to make you leave the room. At the very least you would have to turn down the volume.
That’s on the copies that are mastered right! The copies that are mastered with thin and aggressive sound to start with can only get worse. Those are the rule, not the exception.
Breathy Vocals and Hot Stampers
The best copies bring out the breathy quality to Joni’s voice, and she never sounds strained. They are sweet and open, with good bass foundation and transparency throughout the frequency range.
The best pressings (and our better playback equipment) have revealed nuances to this recording — and of course the performances of all the players along with it — that made us fall in love with the music all over again. Of all the tough nuts to crack, this was the toughest, yet somehow copies emerged from our shootouts that made it easy to appreciate the sonic merits of Blue and ignore its shortcomings.
Hot Stampers have a way of doing that. You forget it’s a record; it’s now just Music. The right record and the right playback will bring this music to life in a way that you cannot imagine until you hear it. That is our guarantee on Blue — better than you ever thought possible or your money back.
The Track Listing tab above will take you to a select song breakdown for each side, with plenty of What to Listen For (WTLF) advice.
All I Want
This is a do-or-die song for side one. When Joni sings “traveling, traveling, traveling, traveling” she really pushes on the last couple, and even the best copies have a hard time dealing with it. When a copy of this record comes in, that first line often tells me that there is no hope for side one. If an LP can get through that first line properly, it’s at least a ‘B’ and often times a Hot Stamper.
My Old Man
Notice that Joni’s voice is much smoother on this track as well. If the whole album sounded like this it wouldn’t be so hard to find a good sounding copy.
This is a tough track for a number of reason. Joni really pushes her vocal; it’s at the end of the record where inner groove distortion is at its most problematical; and her voice is quite naked. When you add up these three factors, you have some real hurdles to overcome.
The best copies “survive” this track. Everything before this song on side one can sound awfully good. This song we try to do the best we can with, but it’s the rare copy that won’t have problems of one kind or another.
This Flight Tonight
A Case of You
Something happens at the beginning of this track which is interesting from an audiophile/ recording point of view. See if you can hear it on the copy you own. If you think you know what it is, drop me an email. It takes an exceptionally good copy and exceptionally good equipment to bring it out. You can be sure that no one in the control room ever heard it.
The Last Time I Saw Richard
Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell’s songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity… Unrivaled in its intensity and insight, Blue remains a watershed.
What To Listen For
This copy has the kind of sound we look for in a top quality Singer Songwriter album. A few qualities to listen for:
Immediacy in the vocals (so many copies are veiled and distant);
Natural tonal balance (most copies are at least slightly brighter or darker than ideal; ones with the right balance are the exception, not the rule);
Good solid weight (so the bass sounds full and powerful);
Spaciousness (the best copies have wonderful studio ambience and space);
And last but not least, transparency, the quality of being able to see into the studio, where there is plenty of musical information to be revealed in this simple but sophisticated recording.
Problems to Watch For
Some of the more common problems we ran into during our shootouts were slightly veiled, slightly smeary sound, with not all the top end extension that the best copies have.
You can easily hear that smear on the guitar transients; usually they’re a tad blunted and the guitar harmonics don’t ring the way they should.
These problems are just as common to the white label original pressings as they are to the later LPs. Smeary, veiled, top-end-challenged pressings were regularly produced over the years. They are the rule, not the exception.