- Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout for arguably Joni’s greatest album
- Full-bodied and balanced with the kind of smooth musicality that’s not always easy to find for Blue
- A Better Records Top 100 title that belongs in any audiophile music collection worthy of the name
- 5 stars: “Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell’s songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity…”
This vintage Reprise pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (For proof just check out the mediocre Blue Steve Hoffman mastered for Rhino on Heavy Vinyl.
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.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Joni Mitchell singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 47 years old), 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 can serve as a guide.
What the Best Sides of Blue 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 1971
- 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.
Breathy Vocals and Hot Stampers
The best copies bring out the breathy quality to Joni’s voice, and she never sounds strained. They are sweet and open, with good bass foundation and transparency throughout the frequency range.
The best pressings (and our better playback equipment) have revealed nuances to this recording — and of course the performances of all the players along with it — that made us fall in love with the music all over again. Of all the tough nuts to crack, this was the toughest, yet somehow copies emerged from our shootouts that made it easy to appreciate the sonic merits of Blue and ignore its shortcomings.
Hot Stampers have a way of doing that. You forget it’s a record; it’s now just Music. The right record and the right playback will bring this music to life in a way that you cannot imagine until you hear it. That is our guarantee on Blue — better than you ever thought possible or your money back.
What We’re Listening For on Blue
- 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.
Mids and Highs
You’ve probably heard us say this before, but top-quality copies of Blue are few and far between. It’s not just the toughest nut to crack in Joni’s catalog, it’s one of the most difficult albums in ALL of POP MUSIC to get to sound right.
The main reason it’s so difficult to find a good sounding pressing of this record is that most copies have a tendency towards hardness, shrillness, and aggressiveness. There is a great deal of mid to high-frequency information in this recording, and the problems arise when you take all that energy and try to stamp it into a piece of domestic vinyl.
If the vinyl wasn’t good on the day they pressed the record, it doesn’t matter how good the mastering is. The result is grain and grunge. Since Joni pushes her voice hard into her higher registers on many of these songs it’s often enough to make you leave the room. At the very least you would have to turn down the volume.
That’s on the copies that are mastered right! The copies that are mastered with thin and aggressive sound to start with can only get worse. Those are the rule, not the exception.
All I Want
This is a do-or-die song for side one. When Joni sings “traveling, traveling, traveling, traveling” she really pushes on the last couple, and even the best copies have a hard time dealing with it. When a copy of this record comes in, that first line often tells me that there is no hope for side one. If an LP can get through that first line properly, it’s at least a ‘B’ and often times a Hot Stamper.
My Old Man
Notice that Joni’s voice is much smoother on this track as well. If the whole album sounded like this it wouldn’t be so hard to find a good sounding copy.
This is a tough track for a number of reason. Joni really pushes her vocal; it’s at the end of the record where inner groove distortion is at its most problematical; and her voice is quite naked. When you add up these three factors, you have some real hurdles to overcome.
The best copies “survive” this track. Everything before this song on side one can sound awfully good. This song we try to do the best we can with, but it’s the rare copy that won’t have problems of one kind or another.
This Flight Tonight
A Case of You
Something happens at the beginning of this track which is interesting from an audiophile/ recording point of view. See if you can hear it on the copy you own. If you think you know what it is, drop me an email. It takes an exceptionally good copy and exceptionally good equipment to bring it out. You can be sure that no one in the control room ever heard it.
The Last Time I Saw Richard
AMG 5 Star Rave Review
Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell’s songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity; even tracks like “All I Want,” “My Old Man,” and “Carey” — the brightest, most hopeful moments on the record — are darkened by bittersweet moments of sorrow and loneliness.
At the same time that songs like “Little Green” (about a child given up for adoption) and the title cut (a hymn to salvation supposedly penned for James Taylor) raise the stakes of confessional folk-pop to new levels of honesty and openness, Mitchell’s music moves beyond the constraints of acoustic folk into more intricate and diverse territory, setting the stage for the experimentation of her later work. Unrivaled in its intensity and insight, Blue remains a watershed.