Labels We Love – Island

King Crimson – The Young Persons’ Guide To King Crimson

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  • Forget the Polydor and EG reissues (and anything that’s come along lately) – these early British pressings are the only way to hear this album sound the way it should
  • Contains the rare pre-Crimson Robert Fripp demo of I Talk To The Wind, recorded with a female lead vocalist [which can be found at the end of side one]
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…rounded up an excellent, if somewhat idiosyncratic, survey of the group’s seven years together, its contents ranging from the unimpeachable classics to unimaginable rarities… the definitive study of the original King Crimson.”

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Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Mona Bone Jakon

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  • With Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second, this copy of Cat Stevens’ brilliant third album will be very hard to beat
  • So transparent, open, and spacious, nuances and subtleties that escaped you are now revealed as never before 
  • When you play I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on this vintage pressing, we think you will agree with us that this is one of the greatest Folk Rock albums of them all
  • “A delight, and because it never achieved the Top 40 radio ubiquity of later albums, it sounds fresh and distinct.”

So many copies excel in some areas but fall flat in others. This side one has it ALL going on — all the Tubey Magic, all the energy, all the presence and so on. The sound is high-rez yet so natural, free from the phony hi-fi-ish quality that you hear on many pressings, especially the reissues on the second label.

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 Folk Pop recordings that are as good but we know of none that are better.

Mike Bobak was the engineer for these sessions from 1970. He is the man responsible for some of the best sounding records from the early ’70s: The Faces’ Long Player, Cat Stevens’ Mona Bone Jakon, Rod Stewart’s Never a Dull Moment, The Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One, (and lots of other Kinks albums), Carly Simon’s Anticipation and more than his share of obscure English bands (of which there seems to be a practically endless supply).

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this album. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with the richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and remasterings). (more…)

Bob Marley – Live!

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Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

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  • This Killer Island British import copy of Live! boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • As you can imagine, any Reggae Island UK import is very hard to come by – not to mention expensive – with audiophile playing surfaces, but here’s one
  • You won’t believe how big and rich this music can sound (especially if all you know is domestic or modern pressings)
  • Recorded in 1975 and released between Natty Dread (1974) and Rastaman Vibration (1976), Marley was at the peak of his powers at the time
  • A real contender to make the next update of our Top 100 list – it’s that impressive
  • 4 1/2 stars: “One of the most memorable concert recordings of the pop music era.”

This copy gives you EXCELLENT LIVE SOUND, not to mention KILLER PERFORMANCES of many of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ reggae classics. We were absolutely BLOWN AWAY by the sound of the better copies. The Hot Stamper pressings we found were so darn good that this title almost made our Rock and Pop Top 100 list.

Audiophiles don’t seem to be much into reggae, but we had a blast doing shootouts for some of the classic Marley albums. The music is wonderful (check out the All Music Guide review, where they call this “one of the most memorable concert recordings of the pop music era”) and the sound on the best pressings can be truly spectacular.

None of us here had any idea what an amazing live recording this album was until we threw a copy on the table just for kicks and heard an extremely well-recorded live reggae concert jumping out of the speakers.

The domestic pressings are not bad, but they are clearly made from copy tapes and can’t hold a candle to the better imports from across the pond. (more…)

Richard and Linda Thompson – Hokey Pokey

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  • Excellent sound for this classic Richard and Linda Thompson album with both sides earning seriously good grades of Double Plus (A++) or BETTER – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Clearly one of the better copies in our shootout – much more body, punchier bass and more detail than most pressings
  • Everything you want in the sound of a good British Folk Rock album is here in abundance – enjoy!
  • Allmusic 4 Stars: “The Thompsons, from the opening Irish fiddle derivation of a Chuck Berry riff, through Linda’s exquisite performance of “A Heart Needs a Home,” to their cover of Mike Waterson’s “Mole in a Hole” which closes the record, once again create a timeless amalgam of folk and rock…”

This is one of Richard and Linda Thompson’s better releases, their second in fact, following the luminous I Want to See the Bright Lights Shine from a year earlier. Rich and full-bodied, with big bass and gobs of studio ambience, this pressing presents the music the way it was meant to be heard (more…)

King Crimson – Lizard

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  • Stunning sound throughout for this vintage Island Sunray pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to them
  • Every bit the sonic equal of the first album – if colorful Big Production Jazzy Prog Rock (with mellotron!) is your thing, you can’t go wrong here
  • 4 stars: “Lizard is very consciously jazz-oriented — the influence of Miles Davis (particularly Sketches of Spain) being especially prominent — and very progressive, even compared with the two preceding albums.”

This is probably the last White Hot Stamper pressing you will see on the site for many years to come. Our sources for records such as this — really, anything by the band — have dried up. It is unlikely we will find many new ones. For the time being this is it. Fans of rare records such as this one may want to get while the gettin’ is good. (more…)

Free / Tons Of Sobs – A Classic of British Blues

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  • Crazy good Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close it from start to finish, this was clearly the best copy from our shootout – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • This early UK Island pressing gave us exactly what we were looking for from these British Blues Rockers – it’s smooth, weighty, and overflowing Tubey Magical richness
  • It’s tough to find these imports in audiophile condition, which is why they only hit the site at most every two years or so
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…a blistering combination of youth, ambition, and experience that, across the course of their debut album, did indeed lay the groundwork for all that Zeppelin would embrace. …Tons of Sobs has a density that makes Zeppelin and the rest of the era’s rocky contemporaries sound like flyweights by comparison.”

Here is just the kind of sound you want on an album like this — Big and Bold!

If you’ve got the full range dynamic speakers to play Tons of Sobs good and loud, you will discover, as we have, what a powerful British Blues Rock album this is. No hits, just heavy electric blues played with feeling, months before Zeppelin would come along and take the genre to a whole new level.

Years ago — in 2011 to be exact — we said the following in a listing for a very good sounding domestic pressing:

Solid bass, present vocals, plenty of energy — the only thing missing here is the Tubey Magical richness and sweetness that only the British originals (in our experience) have, and in spades by the way. But try to find one. Over the last two or three years I think we’ve managed to get hold of exactly one clean copy.

Fast forward a number of years and we’ve only had a couple more! I personally have seen the original British pressing of this album sell on the web for more than 1000 dollars, which explains why we rarely have them. (more…)

Bob Marley & the Wailers – Burnin’

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    • Burnin’ returns to the site after more than 6 years, with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
    • Bigger and bolder, with more bass, more energy, and more of that “you-are-there-immediacy” of VINTAGE ANALOG that set the best pressings apart from reissues, CDs, and whatever else you care to name
    • Features some of the band’s most legendary releases, including Get Up, Stand Up and I Shot The Sheriff
    • 5 stars: “… [these] songs illuminated the desperation of poor Jamaican life, but they also looked forward to religious salvation, their themes accentuated by the compelling rhythms and the alternating vocals of the three singers.”

Two killer sides for this Island pressing. We’ve been auditioning quite a few Bob Marley records lately and this is one of the better sounding recordings he ever made.

This is widely regarded as one of the most essential reggae albums ever recorded. There are two big hits here — Get Up, Stand Up and I Shot The Sheriff — but there’s plenty of other great songs as well.

We’re always searching for more copies, but it takes time to acquire enough for a good shootout. Bob Marley vinyl tends to get snatched up pretty quickly no matter where you are, probably because he’s one of those artists who seems to endear himself to each new generation of music lovers. You can see teenagers wearing Bob Marley shirts in just about every part of the world to this day, so it’s no wonder that his records don’t sit in the bins for long. (more…)

Bob Marley and the Wailers – Exodus

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Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

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  • Exodus makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound of our early Island UK press is dramatically richer, smoother and sweeter, than practically any other copy we played
  • There is practically no edge on Marley’s vocals, and a great deal more Tubey Magic than on any copy you are likely to have heard
  • 4 1/2 stars: “His gifts as a vocalist were near their peak on these sessions, bringing a broad range of emotional color to his performances, and this lineup of the Wailers — anchored by bassist Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, drummer Carlton Barrett, and guitarist Julian ‘Junior’ Murvin — is superb, effortlessly in the pocket throughout. . . this is one of the finest albums in his stellar catalog.”

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Phil Manzanera / Diamond Head – Sonically As Big and Bold as They Come

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More of Our Best Art Rock Records

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  • This superb pressing of Phil Manzanera’s debut album boasts Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Two excellent sides – Demo Disc quality sound barely begins to describe the size and power of this recording
  • This album is an amazing SONIC BLOCKBUSTER, with sound that will positively leap out of your speakers
  • A shockingly well-recorded album from the ultra-talented Rhett Davies – this is his Engineering Masterpiece

The wind is at your back here because this is one seriously well-recorded album. If this copy doesn’t wake up your stereo nothing will.

Like its brother, 801 Live, this album is an amazing sonic blockbuster, with sound that positively leaps out of the speakers. Why shouldn’t it? It was engineered by the superbly talented Rhett Davies at Island, the genius behind Taking Tiger Mountain, the aforementioned 801 Live, Avalon, Dire Straits’ first album and many many more.

If we could regularly find copies of this Audiophile Blockbuster (and frankly if more people appreciated the album) it would definitely go on our Top 100 Rock and Pop List. In fact, it would easily make the Top Twenty from that list, it’s that good.

Looking for Tubey MagicRhett Davies is your man. Just think about the sound of the first Dire Straits album or Avalon. The best pressings of those albums — those with truly Hot Stampers — are swimming in it. (more…)

Cat Stevens’ Albums – Lee Hulko Cut Them All – Good, Bad and Otherwise

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Is the Pink Label Island original pressing THE way to go? That’s what Harry Pearson — not to mention most audiophile record dealers — would have you believe.

But it’s just not true. And that’s good news for you, Dear (Record Loving Audiophile) Reader.

HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM JOHN BARLEYCORN

Since that’s a Lee Hulko cutting just like Tea here, the same insights, if you can call them that, apply. Here’s what we wrote: (more…)