- With Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second, this copy of Cat Stevens’ brilliant third album will be very hard to beat
- So transparent, open, and spacious, nuances and subtleties that escaped you are now revealed as never before
- When you play I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on this vintage pressing, we think you will agree with us that this is one of the greatest Folk Rock albums of them all
- “A delight, and because it never achieved the Top 40 radio ubiquity of later albums, it sounds fresh and distinct.”
So many copies excel in some areas but fall flat in others. This one has it ALL going on — all the tubey magic, all the energy, all the presence and so on. The sound is high resolution yet so natural, free from the phony hi-fi-ish quality that you hear on many pressings.
Right off the bat, I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of Folk Pop, Mona Bone Jakon, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other Folk Pop recordings that are as good but we know of none that are better.
This copy has the kind of sound we look for in a top quality Folk Rock record: 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 sophisticated recording.
What superb sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments (and effects!) having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is, of course, the only way to hear all of the above.
Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much in the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Cat Stevens singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 48 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.
What to Listen For (WTLF)
Copies with rich lower mids did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.
Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural ambience and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.
Tube smear is common to pressings from every era and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.
This track will always be a little bright. It was supposed to be a hit song, and hit songs are frequently mixed bright.
Maybe You’re Right
I Think I See the Light
The real test for side one. This track should really rock. The bass should be very punchy. The piano should be full-bodied and the voice, although straining in places, should be relatively correct throughout. At the end of this song, there’s a big piano chord accompanied by an acoustic guitar, almost a kind of a coda, that is very dynamic and full-bodied. If that sound doesn’t startle you, you don’t have a good copy.
A sweet acoustic guitar number — one of the best tracks on the album. The guitars and the voices should have that Tea For The Tillerman quality. On the best pressings they always do.
Mona Bone Jakon
I Wish, I Wish
The most telling track on side two. The band is at its most energetic. There are powerful piano chords and bass notes which anchor the song, but what you most often find on potentially good copies is that the high hat and cymbal work on this track are a little dull. On the good copies, the drums really cut through the mix and jump out at you. There will be some pressings on the site that will have this shortcoming and be noted as such. The really good pressings are alive in a way that the duller side two copies only hint at.
Fill My Eyes
Cat Stevens virtually disappeared from the British pop scene in 1968, at the age of 20, after a meteoric start to his career. He had contracted tuberculosis and spent a year recovering, from both his illness and the strain of being a teenage pop star, before returning to action in the spring of 1970 — as a very different 22-year-old — with Mona Bone Jakon. Fans who knew him from 1967 must have been surprised.
Under the production aegis of former Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith, he introduced a group of simple, heartfelt songs played in spare arrangements on acoustic guitars and keyboards and driven by a restrained rhythm section. Built on folk and blues structures, but with characteristically compelling melodies, Stevens’ new compositions were tentative, fragmentary statements that alluded to his recent “Trouble,” including the triviality of being a “Pop Star.”
But these were the words of a desperate man in search of salvation. Mona Bone Jakon was dominated by images of death, but the album was also about survival and hope. Stevens’ craggy voice, with its odd breaks of tone and occasional huskiness, lent these sometimes sketchy songs depth, and the understated instrumentation further emphasized their seriousness.
If Stevens was working out private demons on Mona Bone Jakon, he was well attuned to a similar world-weariness in pop culture. His listeners may not have shared his exact experience, but after the 1960s they certainly understood his sense of being wounded, his spiritual yearning, and his hesitant optimism. Mona Bone Jakon was only a modest success upon its initial release, but it attracted attention in the wake of the commercial breakthrough of its follow-up, Tea for the Tillerman.
The Imports — Are You Kidding Me?
None of the later pressings I have ever heard sound remotely as good as the right originals. The original French, British and German imports, of which I have had a few over the years, are decent, but they don’t sound as good as the good original domestic copies. They tend to be either too smooth, or too bright and spitty on the vocals.
In an issue of The Absolute Sound from a few years back Harry revisited some favorite records from the old days. This was one of the ones mentioned, and he made the point that only the British originals sound any good. At one time there were four Cat Stevens albums on the TAS List, all British pressings EXCEPT for Mona Bone.
Why? Because Mona Bone never sounds good on import vinyl, at least not on the dozen or so early imports I’ve come across. The brown label A&M copies just plain murder them.
How Harry can be so wrong is almost shocking, almost…
This is, after all, the man who put those godawful Classic Records on his Super Disc list. If you’re like us, the kind of record lovers who play all sorts of different pressings, not just the ones on lists, you will have no difficulty recognizing the errors of HP as well as those of other audiophile record reviewers who play bad pressings and never seem to notice.