- This stunning copy boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
- The vocals are breathy and clear, and the overall sound is rich, full and Tubey Magical with especially lovely guitar tone
- Our favorite early Joni Mitchell album by far – as good as her others are, this one has a special charm we can find on no other record, by Joni or anyone else
- “What sets this release apart from those of other confession-style singer/songwriters of the time is the craft, subtlety, and evocative power of Mitchell’s lyrics and harmonic style… “
I loved this album from the minute I first heard it; all of side one is magical in a way that no other Joni album is. Is it the particular guitar tunings she was using? The minor key melodies? Whatever she did, however she did it, the result is an absolutely SUBLIME folk album, as unique in its own way as Leonard Cohen’s debut.
I put this one right up with her best, which are of course the ones we’ve done Hot Stamper shootouts for, of course, and on any given day I would rather play side one of this album than any of the others.
This vintage Reprise pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, 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 maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What outstanding sides on Song To A Seagull 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 1968
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments 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 the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Transparency Is Key
Joni will never sound like she’s in the room with you the way she can on Blue or For the Roses. David Crosby’s production didn’t want her there or know how to put her there. (You’ll have to take that up with him.) Be that as it may, on the best copies she can have lovely presence to her voice and guitar; the intimacy and emotion of these songs is communicated beautifully. This is late night listening at its best, especially on side one.
Only the most transparent pressings let you appreciate all the nuances of her performance, and you had better have a top quality front end to resolve subtle information of that kind. Clarity is key here, not the sound of tubes. There’s already plenty of Tubey Magic in the studio; we don’t need to bring more to the party. Only the best phono stages, carts, arms and tables can shine a light on that lone figure standing in the shadows at the back of the studio.
With proper cleaning and good reproduction (equipment, setup, room, electricity) the result is an album whose best copies are warm, sweet and rich, with breathy full-bodied vocals, clear guitar transients and a solid-sounding piano. These, as well as the other instruments captured in the grooves, are beautifully arrayed on a three-dimensional, wide and deep soundstage.
This is the sound that makes all the hard work you’ve put into your system worth the trouble. It’s a thrill to hear the album finally sound this good.
What We’re Listening For on Song To A Seagull
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t too far “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix.
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to most LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
I Had a King
Michael from Mountains
Night in the City
Nathan la Franeer
Pirate of Penance
Song to a Seagull
Joni Mitchell’s debut release is a concept album. Side one, subtitled “I Came to the City,” generally exhibits songs about urban subjects that are often dour or repressed in some way. “Out of the City and Down to the Seaside,” by contrast, is a celebration of nature and countryside, mostly containing selections of a charming, positive, or more outgoing nature.
What sets this release apart from those of other confession-style singer/songwriters of the time is the craft, subtlety, and evocative power of Mitchell’s lyrics and harmonic style… This excellent debut is well worth hearing.
I’ve been trying to get this album to sound good for more years than I care to remember. If you own a copy you know what I’m talking about — the sound is typically drenched in echo, with Joni sounding like she’s standing at the back of a cave. Harmonically-challenged acoustic guitars. Vocals with no breathy texture (much like practically all the heavy vinyl reissues we’ve suffered through over the course of the last decade or two).
In its own way, it’s every bit the challenge that Blue is, just reversed. Blue tends to be bright, shrill, thin and harsh. Song to a Seagull is usually dark, veiled, smeary and dull. What’s an audiophile to do?
Simple. Commit the relevant resources. Find more copies of the record, clean them and play them. Upgrade your system with some of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio that have come along in the last ten years. The recording may have its faults — you’ll get no argument from us about that, we just finished playing a big pile of copies so we are intimately aware of just how problematical the recording can be — but what holds it back from sounding musical, and in its own way, magical, is often the reproduction part of the equation.
We couldn’t get the album to sound right for ten years. Now we can. Something changed, and it wasn’t us simply lowering our standards. The magic in the grooves of the best copies has to have been there all along. It was up to us to figure out how to get the muck out of the vinyl with better cleaning technologies, then get the stereo to unlock and reveal the wonderful music in those nearly forty-year-old grooves.