Earth, Wind & Fire – I Am

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this excellent EWF title from 1979; exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • If you like Pop Music, Soul Music, or EWF’s groundbreaking hybridization of the two, you have to love these classic albums from the ’70s
  • “Maurice White makes music whose quality is as high as its market appeal, as accessible as it is innovative…” – Rolling Stone

Every track Maurice White ever produced was a testimony to his deep understanding and prodigious talent for crafting the perfect pop song, complete with arrangements for nine pieces as tight as the matching sequined suits the band wore. Fortunately for us analog types, EWF was an audiophile-oriented band, producing some of the best sounding ’70s multi-track recordings of the day. After the Love Is Gone is killer on this copy.

There may in fact be a few too many tracks, causing the typical copy of the record to get strident and congested in the loud vocal passages, contributing to the somewhat hot upper mids in most of the mixes (which may be the fault of George Massenburg, whose engineering on even his best days tends to be somewhat sparkly).

Even though we are not in the business of selling typical copies — what we offer are very good ones at the very least, and superb ones at the upper ends of our price range — we should be clear that these problems can be heard to some degree on even the best copies we auditioned.

What we are looking for is sound that is as rich, smooth, sweet, and tonally correct as we can find. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it really can’t be anyway. It just has to be the best we can find after going through a big pile of copies, because if we can’t find it I don’t know how anyone else could. It’s the same process no matter who does it, and who else does it but us?

Fortunately we did manage to find copies in which the sound was big, wall to wall as we like to say, and on the best of them the presence of the vocalists puts them right in front of you. For the most part you can clearly make out each of the voices that make up the harmonically-complex choruses. What a sound! Nobody harmonizes better than these guys, partly because no other band has anyone remotely as talented as the preternaturally gifted Philip Bailey to sing the superhuman falsetto parts the way he does.

For audiophiles with big speakers who like to play their music loud, the sound can be GLORIOUS!

What amazing 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 1979
  • 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.

What We’re Listening For on I Am

  • 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 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.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

In The Stone
Can’t Let Go
After The Love Is Gone
Let Your Feelings Show

Side Two

Boogie Wonderland
Star
Wait
Rock That!
You and I

Rolling Stone Review

Maurice White, Earth, Wind and Fire’s presiding genius, ranges across popular music like a robber baron, selecting only the tastiest artifacts for his collection. He adapts be-bop horn charts and soul-group harmonies in ways that make the clichés revelatory. He takes simple dance formulas like “Boogie Wonderland” and finds fresh possibilities within them. White even uses big-band allusions that ought to sound fey, but by the time he strips them down, they’re absolute muscle and bone.

White sometimes does all this in a single song, and he does it consistently throughout the Earth, Wind and Fire LPs he produces. He also plays drums, sings and writes a fair share of the group’s material. As a result, Maurice White makes music whose quality is as high as its market appeal, as accessible as it is innovative.

Rolling Stone Review, 1979

Maurice White, Earth, Wind and Fire’s presiding genius, ranges across popular music like a robber baron, selecting only the tastiest artifacts for his collection. He adapts be-bop horn charts and soul-group harmonies in ways that make the clichés revelatory. He takes simple dance formulas like “Boogie Wonderland” and finds fresh possibilities within them. White even uses big-band allusions that ought to sound fey, but by the time he strips them down, they’re absolute muscle and bone.

White sometimes does all this in a single song, and he does it consistently throughout the Earth, Wind and Fire LPs he produces. He also plays drums, sings and writes a fair share of the group’s material. As a result, Maurice White makes music whose quality is as high as its market appeal, as accessible as it is innovative.

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