Top Artists – Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens – Tea For The Tillerman

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Tea for the Tillerman

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  • This superb Brown Label A&M pressing of TFTT – The Pinnacle of British Folk Rock from 1970 – earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • It was mastered by the same guy who cut the British pressings – Lee Hulko – and we guarantee the sound will hold its own against any copy you’ve ever played
  • The emotional power of the songs is communicated completely – we can assure you the experience will be like playing the album for the first time (so this is your chance!)
  • 5 Stars on Allmusic, a stunning Demo Disc, and a permanent member of the Better Records Top 100

Hearing this Hot Stamper is a PRIVILEGE that affords the listener insight into Cat Stevens’ music that is simply not possible any other way. The emotional power of these songs is communicated so completely through our better copies that we can assure you the experience will be like playing the album for the first time.

This is, I hope it goes without saying, one of the greatest Folk Rock records of all time, the kind of music that belongs in any collection. I’ve been playing this album for 40 years and I can honestly say I’ve never once tired of hearing it. I do get tired of hearing bad copies.

Cat’s mixes are full of subtle elements that may require many listening sessions over the course of years, even decades, to recognize and appreciate. Consider them an extra reward for having played the record so many times. I’ve played hundreds of copies over the last thirty plus years and never tired of it once. As every music lover knows, the best albums only get better with time.

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Cat Stevens Wants to Know How You Like Your Congas: Light, Medium or Heavy?

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

During the shootout for this record a while back [the late 2000s would be my guess], we made a very important discovery, a seemingly obvious one but one that nevertheless had eluded us for the past twenty plus years (so how obvious could it have been?). It became clear, for the first time, what accounts for the wide disparity in ENERGY and DRIVE from one copy to the next. We can sum it up for you in one five letter word, and that word is conga.

The congas are what drive the high-energy songs, songs like Tuesday’s Dead and Changes IV.

Here is how we stumbled upon their critically important contribution.

We were listening to one of the better copies during a recent shootout. The first track on side one, The Wind, was especially gorgeous; Cat and his acoustic guitar were right there in the room with us. The transparency, tonal neutrality, presence and all the rest were just superb. Then came time to move to the other test track on side one, which is Changes IV, one of the higher energy songs we like to play.

But the energy we expected to hear was nowhere to be found. The powerful rhythmic drive of the best copies of the album just wasn’t happening. The more we listened the more it became clear that the congas were not doing what they normally do. The midbass to lower midrange area of the LP lacked energy, weight and power, and this prevented the song from coming to LIFE the way the truly Hot Stampers can and do.

Big Speakers

For twenty years Tuesday’s Dead has been one of my favorite tracks for demonstrating what The Big Speaker Sound is all about. Now I think I better understand why. Big speakers are the only way to reproduce the physical size and tremendous energy of the congas (and other drums of course) that play such a big part in driving the rhythmic energy of the song.

In my experience no six inch woofer — or seven, or eight, or ten even — gets the sound of the conga right, from bottom to top, drum to skin. No screen can do it either. It’s simply a sound that large dynamic drivers reproduce well and other speaker designs do not reproduce so well.

Since this is one of my favorite records of all time, a true Desert Island Disc, I would never want to be without a pair of big speakers to play it, because those are the kinds of speakers that play it well. (more…)

Cat Stevens – The World of Cat Stevens

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More Folk Rock

  • Cat Stevens 1970 compilation album returns with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish and British Decca vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find it
  • These sides are doing most everything right — the sound is rich, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, Cat’s vocals are present, and there is plenty of studio space on the recording
  • Everything you want in a Folky Pop Star recording are here
  • Not an easy record to find in audiophile playing condition with top quality sound – it took us years to get this shootout going

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

Cat Stevens / Teaser & Tillerman “The dynamic range is almost shocking on my rig.”

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Tea for the Tillerman

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

This letter from our good customer Gary references the Hot Stampers he bought from us and subsequently played for a CD-only audiophile friend with a megabuck stereo. This is his story, followed by my commentary about the sound of Cat Stevens’ music on disc.

The Cat Stevens Hot Stampers are just amazing. The dynamic range is almost shocking on my rig. It’s like a car with the ability to go from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds… It is so cool to turn up the music really loud and still converse with people if you want. The quiet is dead quiet. That is the sign of a good record.

I had a visitor from Chicago with more money in his system than most houses, no vinyl. He is now looking into it. Teaser busted him. I think I might have cried when I heard Father and Son on Tillerman, just beautiful. Thanks and keep up the good work.

Gary, I have a long history of challenging audiophiles who hold that the CDs of those albums do them justice sonically. Prove it I say. The difference between the good LP pressings and the best CDs is NIGHT AND DAY. Anyone playing the CDs of those albums is in the presence of a pale shadow of what’s really on that tape.

We written page after page of commentary on the sound of Cat’s classic recordings, but you sure won’t know what we’re talking about by playing those damn CDs.

If you don’t have a good turntable, just learn to live without this music. You really can’t hear it right on CD, so why even bother?

P.S. A CD-only audiophile with more money than sense? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Most of the ones I’ve met are more in love with the technology than with the music it is supposed to be reproducing. Like most modern audiophile gear, it’s almost always very clean, very clear and very BORING.

Acoustic Sounds Was Selling This Ridiculously Bad “TAS List” Record Back in the ’90s

I remember 15 years ago when Acoustic Sounds was selling the then in-print 25th Anniversary Island pressing (7U, as I recall) for $15, claiming that it was a TAS list record. If you’ve ever heard the pressing, you know it has no business going anywhere near a Super Disc List. It’s mediocre at best and has virtually none of the magic of the good originals.

I refused to sell it back in those days, for no other reason than it’s far from a Better Sounding Record. I don’t like misrepresenting records and I don’t like ripping off my customers.

That pressing was a fraud and I was having none of it.

Chad probably didn’t even know the difference. When you don’t know much about records, you can say all sorts of things and not get called out for them. Audiophiles are a credulous bunch and always have been. They still believe the same nonsense that I foolishly believed back in the ’80s (and even as late as 2000).

Over the last twenty years we’ve figured a few things out. Most of what we learned you can read right here on this blog.

We’re still waiting for most of the audiophile community to catch up with us. Excessive amounts of credulity make it hard for audiophiles to approach audio problems scientifically. They believe things that are easily disproven, but when you want to believe as badly as most audiophiles do, why make the effort to find out whether what you believe is true or not?

It sure is hard to hear what you don’t want to hear.

When your theory is this good, why bother to test it?

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Cat Stevens / Teaser & The Firecat – A Top Ten Title

  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner
  • If you want to know what the best stampers for this album are, you are more than welcome to buy this copy and read them for yourself
  • This British Island Pink Rim pressing has sides that will rock your world with their size, richness, clarity and ENERGY, the likes of which you may have never experienced on vinyl
  • A Brilliant Classic Folk Rock recording – the right pressings offer Demo Disc Quality sound and then some
  • AMG 5 Stars and a Top 10 album – in some ways it’s surely the Best Sounding record Cat Stevens ever made
  • Tuesday’s Dead, Morning Has Broken, Bitterblue, Moonshadow, Peace Train – and that’s just side two! What side of any album has five songs of such quality?

In 1971 Cat Stevens released what we consider to be one of the Ten Best Sounding Rock and Pop Albums in the history of recorded media: Teaser and The Firecat.

Before I get further into the sound of this record, let me preface my remarks by saying this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made two records which belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folky pop, 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 The Wind, Changes IV, or If I Laugh on this 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. (more…)

Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Mona Bone Jakon

  • 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…)

Cat Stevens on 2 Heavy Vinyl 45 RPM Discs, Part 2 – Is This the Truest Tillerman of Them All?

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Cat Stevens / Tea for the Tillerman on Two 200 Gram Discs Cut at 45 RPM

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this story, please click here.

Back to our real story. I listened to my good original pressing. I call it White Hot at least!

Then I put the new pressing on the table, set the SDS for 45 RPM, and got the volume just right. I proceeded to carefully adjust the VTA by ear, going up and down with the arm until the sound was right, which is simply standard operating procedure for every record we audition.

These are my actual notes for But I Might Die Tonight.

This is what I heard as the song worked its way through the various sections, in real time.  The first thing I heard at the start was Zero Tubey Magic for the first verse. One of the last things I heard at the end was No Real Space. Space is what you hear at the end for the big piano and drums finish.

Let’s take it line by line. First up:

Zero Tubey Magic

I didn’t hear much Tubey Magic on the new pressing. The best early pressings — domestic A&M Browns, Pink or Sunray UK Islands — often have simply phenomenal amounts of the stuff. It’s a hallmark of the recording.

If a new pressing comes along without it, that’s a problem. I guess that George Marino‘s cutting system at Sterling could probably do some things well, but it sure doesn’t seem to be able get the sound of tubes right. His 33 RPM cutting had no Tubey Magic, and this one has no Tubey Magic. If I had hired him to cut a record for me and it came out sounding like this, I would find somebody else to cut records for me.

He’s dead now, rest in peace. I would doubt that anyone at Sterling has a better cutting system, and therefore no one should expect any records that have been mastered there to sound very good.

Vocal Is Clear, Clean and Dry

This is the sound you sometimes get with modern, super-clean transistor cutting equipment. It’s low distortion, like a CD is low distortion. We don’t think we should have to put up with dry vocals on records when the good pressings we have been playing all our lives have noticeably richer vocals.

Not rich like Dream With Dean, nothing is that rich, but rich and full-bodied the way the good pressings of this album always make them sound.

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Cat Stevens on 2 Heavy Vinyl 45 RPM Discs, Part 1 – Is This the Truest Tillerman of Them All?

About ten years ago we auditioned and reviewed the 2011 edition of Tea for the Tillerman pressed by Analogue Productions, the one that came on a single Heavy Vinyl 33 RPM LP.

I wrote a very long commentary about the sound of that record, taking it to task for its manifold shortcomings, at the end of which I came to the conclusion that the proper sonic grade for such a record is F as in Fail. My exhaustive review can be found under the not-very-subtle title This Is Your Idea of Analog?

Our intro gave this short overview:

Yes, we know, the folks over at Acoustic Sounds, in consultation with the late George Marino at Sterling Sound, supposedly with the real master tape in hand, and supposedly with access to the best mastering equipment money can buy, labored mightily, doing their level best to master and press the Definitive Audiophile Tea for the Tillerman of All Time.

It just didn’t come out very well, no matter what anybody tells you.

Recently I was able to borrow a copy of the new 45 cutting from a customer who had rather liked it. I would have never spent my own money to hear a record put out on the Analogue Productions label, a label that has an unmitigated string of failures to its name. But for free? Count me in!

The offer of the new 45 could not have been more fortuitous. I had just spent a number of weeks playing a White Hot Stamper Pink Label original UK pressing in an attempt to get our new Playback Studio sounding right.

We had a lot of problems. We needed to work on electrical issues. We needed to work on our room treatments. We needed to work on speaker placement.

We initially thought the room was doing everything right, because our Go To setup disc, Bob and Ray, sounded super spacious and clear, bigger and more lively than we’d ever heard it. That’s what a 12 foot high ceiling can do for a large group of musicians playing live in a huge studio, in 1959, on an All Tube Chain Living Stereo recording. The sound just soared.

But Cat Stevens wasn’t sounding right, and if Cat Stevens isn’t sounding right, we knew we had a Very Big Problem. Some stereos play some kinds of records well and others not so well. Our stereo has to play every kind of record well because we sell every kind of record there is. You name the kind of music, we probably sell it. And if we offer it for sale, we had to have played it and liked the sound, because no record makes it to our site without being auditioned and found to have excellent sound.

But I Might Die Tonight

The one song we played over and over again, easily a hundred times or more, was But I Might Die Tonight, the leadoff track for side two. It’s short, less than two minutes long, but a lot happens in those two minutes. More importantly, getting everything that happens in those two minutes to sound not just right, but as good as you have ever heard it, turned out to be a tall order indeed.

I could write for days about what to listen for in the song, but for now let me just point the reader to one of the most difficult parts to reproduce correctly.

At about 50 seconds into the track, Cat repeats the first verse:

I don’t want to work away
Doing just what they all say
Work hard boy and you’ll find
One day you’ll have a job like mine, job like mine, a job like mine

Only this time he now has a multi-tracked harmony vocal singing along with him, his own of course, and he himself is also singing the lead part louder and more passionately. Getting the regular vocal, call it the “lower part,” to be in balance with the multi-tracked backing vocal, call it the “higher part,” turned out to be the key to getting the bottom, middle and top of the midrange right.

When doing this kind of critical listening we play our records very loud. Live Performance level loud. As loud as Cat could sing, that’s how loud it should be when he is singing his loudest toward the end of the song for the final “But I might die tonight!” If he is going to sing loudly, I want my stereo to be able to reproduce him singing as loud as he is actually singing on the record. No compression. No distortion. All the energy. That’s what I want to hear.

The last fifteen seconds or so of the song has the pianist (Cat himself) banging out some heavy chords on the piano. If you have your levels right it should sound like there is a real piano at the back of the room and that someone is really banging on it. It’s a powerful coda to the song. (more…)

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

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Tea for the Tillerman

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

This commentary was written many years ago, circa 2005 I would guess.

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:

Lee Hulko, who cut all the Sterling originals, of which this is one, cut this record many times and most of them are wrong in some way. A very similar situation occurred with the early Cat Stevens stuff that he cut, like Tea & Teaser, where most copies don’t sound right but every once in a while you get a magical one.

Lee Hulko cut all the original versions of this album, on the same cutter, from the same tape, at the same time.

Some of them went to England to be pressed and given pink labels, some of them stayed right here in America to be pressed and were given orange and black labels. People that collect records based on their labels are not paying attention to information that differentiates individual pressings, which of course involves stamper numbers and pressing plants.

The famous Pink Label Island Tea For The Tillerman is a case in point. As good as that record is, I have a Brown Label A&M that is noticeably better. Why shouldn’t it be? Like John Barleycorn, it’s cut by the same guy, from the same tape, around the same time. Is there some reason LH can’t cut a good record for A&M? Of course not!

HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN

Brown Label versus Pink Label

This is a superb sounding original Brown Label A&M pressing. If you didn’t know better you might think you were listening to a Pink Label copy: it’s that good! In fact, having just played a Pink label Island 3U/3U original, I’m going to say that this pressing actually sounds better on side one than that famous import. This will no doubt shock many of you. But I have known of a better sounding brown label domestic pressing for close to 10 years. I even played it for Steve Hoffman once, who remarked that it clearly had less harmonic distortion than the Pink label copy we were doing the shootout with.

But what surprised me in this case was that these particular stampers are different from the domestic original that I discovered all those years ago. This is an entirely new finding. Dropping the needle on side one of this record and hearing the delicate strumming of the guitar and the smoothness and sweetness of the vocals, I knew immediately that I was hearing a Hot Stamper. A VERY Hot Stamper. Listening to it all the way through a few times and playing some other copies convinced me that indeed it was As Good As It Gets. On side one anyway.

Side two is excellent, but the bass is not quite as well defined and there is a slight loss of transparency in comparison to the best copies I have heard. The song Father and Son can be a bit sibilant. On the ultimate copies the sibilance is under control. This one has a little more of that sibilance than the best stampers I have heard. It’s not bad, but it’s not the equal of the best pressings.

Another track I like to play on side two is Into White. With this song, you hear into the music on the best copies as if you were seeing the live musicians before you. The violinist is also a key element. He’s very far back in the studio. When he’s back where he should be, but the sound of the wood of his violin and the rosin on the strings is still clearly audible, without any brightness or edginess to artificially create those details, you know you are hearing the real thing.

STOP THE PRESSES — WE WAS WRONG

Brown Label versus Pink Label, Part 2

I have to admit that I was dead wrong when I said that the best copies of this album were the Brown Label A&M pressings. I see now how I made this error. We played four pink label copies and our best A&M LP is better than three of them.

But it sure isn’t better than this one! I’ve heard a good dozen or so Pink Labels and this is the first one that ever blew my mind. I thought I knew this record, but this copy changes everything.

Including our previous pricing structure. No non-audiophile record on our site has ever been priced above $500. When we put the $500 price on Teaser and the Firecat awhile back, we ended up selling five of them — because we could FIND five copies that sounded like $500 records. We played Tea For The Tillerman all day long today — White Labels, Pink Labels, British Sunrays, Brown Labels with every Hot Stamper we know of — and we ended up with ONE copy that was quiet and had amazing sound.

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