Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon – Live and Learn

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When we said this album was not the sonic equal of Teaser and the Firecat or Tea for the Tillerman, boy, We Was Wrong and then some. Read all about it in this White Hot Stamper copy review below.

It’s been about a year since we last found Hot Stampers of this album, and having made a number of improvements to the stereo over that time, I’m here to report that this album got a WHOLE LOT BETTER, better than I ever imagined it could get. Mona Bone Jakon now ranks as a DEMO DISC of the highest order, every bit the equal of Teaser and Tea.

To think that all three of these records came out in one fifteen month period is astonishing. The only other artists to have produced music of this calibre in so short a time would have to be The Beatles, and it took four of them to do it.

Which is not what we used to think, as evidenced by this paragraph from a previous Hot Stamper listing.

This album is one of Cat’s top four titles both musically and sonically. Tea and Teaser are obviously in a league of their own, but this album and Catch Bull At Four are close behind. The music is WONDERFUL — the best tracks (including I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light) rank right up there with anything from his catalog. Sonically it’s not an epic recording on the scale of Tea or Teaser, but with Paul Samwell-Smith at the helm, you can be sure it’s an excellent sounding album — on the right pressing.

That last line is dead wrong. It IS an epic recording on the scale of Tea and Teaser. This copy proves it! Now that we know just how good this record can sound, I hope you will allow me to borrow some commentary from another classic Cat Stevens album listing, to wit:

Right off the bat I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folk-pop, Mona Bone Jakon, 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.

When you hear I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on a Hot Stamper copy you will be convinced, as I am, that this is one of the greatest popular recordings in the history of the world. I don’t know of ANY other album that has more LIFE and MUSICAL ENERGY than this one.

Two Magical Sides

Both sides of this copy are The Real Deal. The clarity is ABSOLUTELY MINDBLOWING. The sound is rich, warm, sweet, full-bodied, and exceptionally dynamic. The vocals are PERFECTION — breathy with lots of texture and uncanny presence. The overall sound is so transparent, open, and spacious, that nuances and subtleties that escaped you before are now front and center. Just drop the needle on I Wish I Wish and listen to how ALIVE the percussion sounds!

So many copies excel in some areas but fall flat in others. This one has it ALL going on — all the tubey magic, all the energy, all the presence and so on. The sound is high resolution yet so natural, free from the phony hi-fi quality that you hear on many pressings.

The Imports — Are You Kidding Me?

None of the later pressings I have ever heard sound remotely as good as the right originals. The original French, British and German imports, of which I have had a few over the years, are decent, but they don’t sound as good as the good original domestic copies. They tend to be either too smooth, or too bright and therefore spitty on the vocals.

In an issue of The Absolute Sound from a few years back Harry revisited some favorite records from the old days. This was one of the ones mentioned, and he made the point that only the British originals sound any good. At one time there were four Cat Stevens albums on the TAS List, all British pressings EXCEPT for Mona Bone. Why? Because Mona Bone never sounds good on import vinyl, at least not on the dozen or so early imports I’ve come across. The brown label A&M copies just plain murder them. How Harry can be so wrong is almost shocking, almost because it happens a lot if you’re the kind of record person who plays lots of different pressings, not just the ones on lists.

Quiet Vinyl

We used to have the worst luck trying to find quiet copies of this album. We naturally blamed the vinyl for the noise we heard, but in this latest shootout so many copies were so quiet that we now know better. It’s the CLEANING that makes the difference. This is of course one of the most important  Revolutionary Changes in Audio of the last decade, along with too many others to mention here. Check out the link above to take advantage of the newest discoveries that can make your stereo sound better and your records quieter.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Lady d’Arbanville

This track will always be a little bright. It was supposed to be a hit song, and hit songs are frequently mixed bright.

Maybe You’re Right
Pop Star
I Think I See the Light

The real test for side one. This track should really rock. The bass should be very punchy. The piano should be full-bodied and the voice, although straining in places, should be relatively correct throughout. At the end of this song, there’s a big piano chord accompanied by an acoustic guitar, almost a kind of a coda, that is very dynamic and full-bodied. If that sound doesn’t startle you, you don’t have a good copy.

Trouble

A sweet acoustic guitar number — one of the best tracks on the album. The guitars and the voices should have that Tea For The Tillerman quality. On the best pressings they always do.

Side Two

Mona Bone Jakon
I Wish, I Wish

The most telling track on side two. The band is at its most energetic. There are powerful piano chords and bass notes which anchor the song, but what you most often find on potentially good copies is that the high hat and cymbal work on this track are a little dull. On the good copies, the drums really cut through the mix and jump out at you. There will be some pressings on the site that will have this shortcoming and be noted as such. The really good pressings are alive in a way that the duller side two copies only hint at.

Katmandu
Time
Fill My Eyes
Lilywhite

AMG Review

Under the production aegis of former Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith, he introduced a group of simple, heartfelt songs played in spare arrangements on acoustic guitars and keyboards and driven by a restrained rhythm section. Built on folk and blues structures, but with characteristically compelling melodies, Stevens’ new compositions were tentative, fragmentary statements that alluded to his recent “Trouble,” including the triviality of being a “Pop Star.