A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.
Before we start discussing this record, let’s talk about the price for a moment. I have never put a used rock record on this site at this price. I’ve sold other records directly to my best customers for this kind of money, but this is the first $500 rock record of its kind to go on this website. This is the result of three factors. First, it’s the best sounding copy of this record I have ever heard (on side two anyway). Second, this is Teaser and the Firecat, one of the most important recordings in the history of popular music. Third, it’s amazingly quiet. The confluence of these three factors makes this copy practically unique.
For years I have been telling people that one day I would put up on the Web site some Hot Stamper copies of Cat Stevens greatest albums. Today is that day.
Before I get further into the sound of this record, let me preface my remarks by saying this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made two records which belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folky pop, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.
The above comments were written for the last Hot Stamper which went up early in 2005, and of course, my sentiments have not changed. Not only do I think this record can’t be bettered, I have now found copies that are superior to even the best pressing I had heard back then.
Of course, I own a much better stereo than I did in 2005. I’m now using the DynaVector 17D cartridge, which is more correct than the 20X I had before. Also, I’ve improved phono stages quite a bit, incorporating the EAR 834P (and a very special vintage tube complement which makes ALL the difference in the world) into the system, balancing tubey magic with the speed and dynamics of the best transistor systems.
I’ve been acquiring and evaluating superb copies of this album for a couple of years now, waiting for just the right time and the right stereo to shoot them out with each other. The changes I mention above gave me the confidence to tackle this project. I can tell you in all honesty that I have NEVER heard better sound than I heard last night while doing these comparisons. It is my contention that there is no audiophile pressing on the face of the Earth that can compete with the best sounding original Teaser and the Firecats. Of ANY music. This is a sound I simply don’t experience when playing modern mastered records. There is a magic in these grooves that seems to be impossible to recapture. Perhaps one day I’ll be proven wrong, but that day is not upon us yet. Until then, this is the king.
Last night I listened to at least fifteen of the best pressings of this album that I had available to me — we’re talking some heavy hitters here, all top quality British and American original pressings — and this pressing took top honors. In my opinion, it’s one of a handful of the best records we have EVER put up on the site. It is without a doubt the best sounding record I have ever played.
As I have remarked previously about pricey records such as this, if nobody cares to spend the money, this album has a happy home here at Better Records. It’s the benchmark against which the best copies would be judged, so in that respect, it has a utilitarian value. And if nobody loves this record as much as I do it’s not a problem. I’m happy to keep it and enjoy it for the rest of my life. This album will always have a happy home here at Better Records.
Let’s talk about this specific copy:
The key track I played on side two is Tuesday’s Dead. There is a group of singers behind Cat Stevens that back him up when he says “whoa.” What separates the best copies from the also-rans is how clearly all those singers can be heard, assuming the tonal balance is correct. This copy is so transparent, I could hear the individual singers more clearly than ever before. After playing fifteen suberb copies, this was the one that allowed me to hear INTO the music in a way that no other copy could. Some were close, but this one simply could not be beat. The ENERGY and LIFE of the music were found on side two of this pressing were unequaled by any other copy. I could go on for days about the sound, but suffice to say, this will be the best sounding pop record you will ever play, or your money back.
Side one is very quiet and has silky, transparent, smooth vocals to rival the best. I did find one copy that was about two to three percent better on side one. I would be shocked if that were not the case because, in my experience, the ultimate sides can never be found on the same record. Speaking of stereo improvements, a record like this is the reward for for the endless hours of effort and huge expense an audiophile must invest over the course of years — if not decades — to achieve the kind of reproduction a recording like this demands.
This record, on the right system, is a thrill that can not be experienced any other way.
This is an Original Island Sunray pressing. As good as the best domestic originals are, none of them could compete with the amazing British copies that I played. I can’t explain it, but that’s the way it worked out.
These are the comments for a Hot Stamper copy we had on the website recently (1-10-05):
DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND of the HIGHEST ORDER!
(For pop music anyway.)
As you may have read elsewhere on the site, Lee Hulko cut all the original Cat Stevens records at Sterling for both the domestic and British Import versions. Some of that metalwork went to England to be pressed on Pink and Sunray Labels and some stayed in America and were pressed with A&M Brown labels.
Interestingly enough, on this title anyway, the Brown labels are all over the map sonically. They vary like crazy. Conversely, I have never heard a British 3U/3U Sunray label pressing that did not sound amazing, so the British must have much better quality control than the Americans. I have no other way to explain it.
[I take that back! I just played (09/06) the worst sounding 3U Island pressing I’ve ever heard, one of those ebay “steals” that turns out to be something less than a good deal, as is so often the case. An absolute piece of garbage, on fairly quiet vinyl no less. Records are records; nobody has a magic wand that can make them all sound good. Mediocrity is the rule and good sound is the exception. How could it be otherwise?]
But there are amazingly good Brown label pressings. They are not common and they are hard to find quiet, but they are 99% as good as my best British copy and better than almost all the later British copies, which often do not sound very good at all. I should know. I’ve made the mistake of buying many 4U, 5U, 6U, 7U, etc. pressings only to find the sound left much to be desired.
I remember 15 years ago when Acoustic Sounds was selling the then in-print 25th Anniversary Island pressing (10U, as I recall) for $15, claiming that it was a TAS list record. If you’ve ever heard that pressing, you know it has no business going anywhere near a Superdisc List. It’s mediocre at best and has virtually none of the magic of the good original pressings. I refused to sell it back in those days, for no other reason than it’s far from a Better Record. I don’t like misrepresenting records and I don’t like ripping off my customers. That pressing was a fraud and I was having none of it.
In case you don’t already know, one of the worst sounding, if not THE WORST SOUNDING VERSION OF ALL TIME, is the Mobile Fidelity Anadisq pressing that came out in the ’90s. If you own that record, you really owe it to yourself to pull it out and play it. It’s just a mess and it should sound like a mess, whether you have anything else to compare it to or not.
The recently remastered CDs are pretty awful as well. In fact I don’t know of any good CDs for Cat Stevens’ material. I think they all leave a lot to be desired and have very little of the midrange magic that makes his recordings so special.
So if you’re looking for an amazing demo quality recording, you’ve come to the right place. If you want a timeless Classic Rock recording, it’s here too. They just don’t make them like this anymore and those of you who are waiting for audiophile vinyl reissues of records like this, with all the magic of the originals intact, will be in your graves long before it ever comes to pass. (Note that the Universal heavy vinyl Cat Stevens pressings were three of the worst sounding so-called audiophile records ever made.)
Enough about bad records. Let’s talk about this record. These are stampers that I was not familiar with when I picked up this copy. Of course, anything that looks clean and is on a Brown label I will buy. (The Silver label pressings are generally not very good. Even the best of them never rate better than a ‘B’ and many of them are terrible.)
I knew right away this was a great sounding copy when I dropped the needle on side two and heard the strumming of the guitar at the opening of Tuesday’s Dead. As Dr. Frankenstein so famously shouted, “It’s alive!” When those guitars jump out of the speakers, you know you have a Hot Stamper. Of course, you have to be on guard for any hi-fi-ishness on the top end, which can initially be exciting but wears thin before long. This side does not have that problem. This side is 95% as good as the best copies I’ve ever heard. Since my favorite song on the album is Tuesday’s Dead — you may have read elsewhere on the site that it’s my favorite demo track of all time, mostly because it sounds so good on big speakers — this to me makes this copy worth owning, even if side one were blank.
Side one is very good. It’s a little flat sounding compared to side two. If you didn’t have an amazing side two to compare it to you would probably think it sounds better than it does. But compared to side two the most we can give it is a something like a ‘B’ or ‘B+’. I’m a tough grader when it comes to Teaser and the Firecat because I know how good the album can sound.
Which is a long way around of saying this record is very quiet — I would grade it NM to M- — but it is certainly not pressed on audiophile vinyl and those who are counting tics and pops will find more than a few here. You will also find some of the most glorious sound and music on any piece of vinyl in the world, for what that’s worth.
If I Laugh
Changes IV Key Track
On this song there is a tremendous amount of energy in the grooves. On a copy I had a while back it sounded good to start with, but an intense cleaning regimen made it sound so alive I could hardly believe my ears. Listen to it VERY LOUD (as it was meant to be played) and then notice how quiet the next solo guitar intro is, with lots of space between the notes. Never heard it like that before. That’s when audio is FUN.
It’s always a roller coaster ride around here, as one day the system is cooking, and the next it ain’t, and nobody knows why. But the night that Teaser sounded great is one I will remember for a long time. Those big bass drum thwacks and that high hat being slapped to the point of abuse way out in front of the mix just blew my mind.
How Can I Tell You
Morning Has Broken