- This early UK Apple pressing of James Taylor’s debut LP boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from first note to last
- Side one is big, rich and solid, with a more relaxed, musical quality, as well as the clarity that was missing from most other copies we played (and side two is not far behind in all those areas)
- We do this shootout about once every ten years, so if you are James Taylor fan, this may be your last chance to get a killer copy of this album in audiophile playing condition from us
- 4 1/2 stars: “The absolute conviction that runs throughout this music takes the listener into its confidence and with equal measures of wit, candor, and sophistication, James Taylor created a minor masterpiece…”
- If I were to make a list of my Favorite Rock and Pop Albums from 1968, this album would definitely be on it
We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” with an accent on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.
James Taylor’s first album is a good example of a record audiophiles probably don’t know well, but we think they might really enjoy getting to know it better
This vintage Apple import pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.
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 maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What The Best Sides Of James Taylor’s Debut 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 1968
- 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.
Learning the Record
For our shootout of JT’s debut album we had at our disposal a variety of pressings that had the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for side two.
If you have five or more 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 other pressings do not do as well, using a few carefully chosen passages of music, it quickly becomes obvious how well a given copy can reproduce those passages. You’ll hear what’s better and worse — right and wrong would be another way of putting it — about the sound.
This approach is simplicity itself. First, you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle — or fail — to reproduce as well as the best. 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.
It may be a lot of work but it sure ain’t rocket science, and we’ve never pretended otherwise. Just the opposite: from day one we’ve explained step by step precisely how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection. Not the good sounding pressings you happen to own — those may or may not have Hot Stampers — but the records you actually cleaned, shot out, and declared victorious.
What We’re Listening For On James Taylor
- 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 — Barry Sheffield and Malcolm Toft in this instance — 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.
Don’t Talk Now
Knocking ‘Round The Zoo
Taking It In
Something In The Way She Moves
Carolina In My Mind
Brighten Your Night With My Day
Rainy Day Man
Circle Round The Sun
Blues Is Just A Bad Dream
AMG 4 1/2 Star Review
James Taylor was the first artist to be signed to record on the Beatles’ short-lived vanity Apple label. In late 1968, Taylor’s sophisticated self-titled disc foreshadowed the introspective singer/songwriter genre that dominated pop music in the early and mid-’70s. Although often touted as his debut, this release is chronologically Taylor’s second studio outing. James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine — an EP recorded a year earlier — contains rudimentary versions of much of the same original material found here.
The album is presented with two distinct sides. The first, in essence, presents a unified multi-song suite incorporating several distinctly Baroque-flavored links connecting the larger compositions.
The second is a more traditional collection of individual tunes. This unique juxtaposition highlights Taylor’s highly personal and worldly lyrics within a multidimensional layer of surreal and otherwise ethereal instrumentation.
According to Taylor, much of the album’s subject matter draws upon personal experience. This is a doubled-edged blessing because the emphasis placed on the pseudo-blues “Knocking ‘Round the Zoo” and the numerous other references made to Taylor’s brief sojourn in a mental institution actually do a disservice to the absolutely breathtaking beauty inherent in every composition. Several pieces debuted on this release would eventually be reworked by Taylor several years later. Among the notable inclusions are “Rainy Day Man,” “Night Owl,” “Something in the Way She Moves,” and “Carolina in My Mind.”
Musically, Taylor’s decidedly acoustic-based tunes are augmented by several familiar names. Among them are former King Bees member Joel “Bishop” O’Brien (drums) — who had joined Taylor and Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar in the Original Flying Machine — as well as Paul McCartney (bass), who lends support to the seminal version of “Carolina in My Mind.”
The album’s complex production efforts fell to Peter Asher — formerly of Peter and Gordon and concurrent head of Apple Records A&R department. The absolute conviction that runs throughout this music takes the listener into its confidence and with equal measures of wit, candor, and sophistication, James Taylor created a minor masterpiece that is sadly eclipsed by his later more popular works.