Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed and Delivered

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side one and a better than Double Plus (A++ to A+++) side two, this copy is killin’ it – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Much more natural and relaxed, this is what finding the right mastering with the right EQ is all about – it’s the only way to hear tonally correct, distortion-free sound for the album
  • Has anyone ever done a better cover of a Beatles’ tune than “We Can Work It Out” here?
  • Christgau noted that the album was “still the most exciting LP by a male soul singer in a very long time, and it slips into no mold, Motown’s included.” Rolling Stone said that the album “holds more creative singing than you’re likely to find in another performer’s entire body of work.”

Those of you who are familiar with this record will not be surprised to learn that these shootouts are TOUGH. Very few copies are any better than mediocre.

Many copies were gritty, some were congested in the louder sections, some never got big, some were thin and lacking the lovely analog richness of the best — we heard plenty of copies whose faults were obvious when played against two top sides such as these.

What the best sides of Signed, Sealed and Delivered 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 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.

Richness Is Key

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.

What We’re Listening For on Signed, Sealed and Delivered

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • 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 these 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.

Best Practices

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that the others do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given pressing reproduces those passages.

The process is simple enough. First you go deep into the sound. There you find something special, something you can’t find on most copies. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.


Side One

A1 Never Had A Dream Come True 2:59
A2 We Can Work It Out 3:05
A3 Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours 2:46
A4 Heaven Help Us All 2:59
A5 You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover 2:32
A6 Sugar 2:51

Side Two

B1 Don’t Wonder Why 4:45
B2 Anything You Want Me To Do 2:24
B3 I Can’t Let My Heaven Walk Away 2:50
B4 Joy (Takes Over Me) 2:25
B5 I Gotta Have A Song 2:32
B6 Something To Say 3:15

Allmusic Review

Stevie Wonder was beginning to rebel against the Motown hit factory mentality in the early ’70s. While he certainly hadn’t lost his commercial touch, Wonder was anxious to address social concerns, experiment with electronics, and not be restricted by radio and marketplace considerations. Still, he gave the label another definitive smash with the title track, while sneaking in a cover of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” and penning more intriguing tunes like “I Can’t Let My Heaven Walk Away” and “Never Had a Dream Come True.”

More Reviews

Reviewing for The Village Voice in 1970, Robert Christgau said Signed, Sealed & Delivered has flawed moments, but Motown albums are rarely consistent. He concluded the album is “still the most exciting LP by a male soul singer in a very long time, and it slips into no mold, Motown’s included.” Rolling Stone magazine’s Vince Aletti said that the album “holds more creative singing than you’re likely to find in another performer’s entire body of work.” Aletti felt that, although not all of the songs match the energy of the title track, the album does not have a bad song and includes an “extraordinary” cover of “We Can Work It Out” that shares the other songs’ “tasteful, unencumbered” arrangements.

In his list for The Village Voice, Christgau named Signed, Sealed and Delivered the eleventh best album of 1970, and later called it the best soul album of the year. In a retrospective review, Allmusic’s Ron Wynn gave the album three out of five stars, noting that Wonder’s focus seemed to be more on social issues than commercial concerns, and found songs such as “I Can’t Let My Heaven Walk Away” and “Never Had a Dream Come True” as intriguing as the hit title track and “We Can Work It Out”.

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