Harry Belafonte – The Midnight Special

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  • Belafonte’s 1962 release finally arrives on the site, with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • Lively, balanced and vibrant, with a healthy dose of the Tubey Magical richness these recordings need to sound right (and which is rarely evident on the modern reissues made from these kinds of recordings)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Known to rock collectors as being the first album to feature Bob Dylan (he plays harmonica on the title track), The Midnight Special is also a record that best exemplifies Harry Belafonte’s uniqueness as a recording artist… Combining blues, big band, gospel, and soul, Belafonte utilizes mainly traditional material on one of his best programmed albums of the sixties.”

The album that introduced Bob Dylan to the world, highlighting his harmonic skills on “Midnight Special.”

This vintage RCA Living Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

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.).

Hot Stamper sound is rarely about the details of a given recording. In the case of this album, more than anything else a Hot Stamper must succeed at recreating a solid, palpable, real Harry Belafonte singing live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

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 less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played over the years can serve as a guide.

What the best sides of Midnight Special 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 1962
  • 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 space of the studio

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.

What We’re Listening For on Midnight Special

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • 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 common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as 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 players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Golden Age Living Stereo

Here is a list of Living Stereo Hot Stamper pressings that are currently in stock.

Here is a complete list of our Living Stereo titles sorted by artist or composer.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Midnight Special
Crawdad Song
Memphis Tennessee
Gotta Travel On
Did You Hear About Jerry?

Side Two

On Top Of Old Smokey
Muleskinner
Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad
Michael Row The Boat Ashore

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Known to rock collectors as being the first album to feature Bob Dylan (he plays harmonica on the title track), The Midnight Special is also a record that best exemplifies Harry Belafonte’s uniqueness as a recording artist. Belafonte’s main strength as a performer has been his ability to effect unique interpretations of traditional material. Combining blues, big band, gospel, and soul, Belafonte utilizes mainly traditional material on one of his best programmed albums of the sixties.

The folk warhorse “On Top of Old Smokey” becomes a bluesy, supercharged six-minute epic which generates excitement as it increases in intensity, only to fade away in its denouement. “Muleskinner” is country music legend Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 8,” made all the more exciting by the Belafonte Folk Singers’ whistles, shouts, and slaps. Other highlights include “Makes a Long Time Man Feel Bad,” a prison work song transformed into an after hours blues and the folk standard “Crawdad Song,” which becomes a rousing big band stomp.

Belafonte’s notorious perfectionism in the studio apparently didn’t sit well with the 20-year old Dylan, who walked out on the session after recording only one title.

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