Top Artists – Cat Stevens

Letter of the Week – “This one is great; involving, NOT smeared, 3D — most of all it invites me in…”

More of the Music of The Rolling Stones

Reviews and Commentaries for Sticky Fingers

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

I bought the Sticky you suggested (seemed like a dare). Like I said, I have several pressings, including the horrible MFSL. This sounds better than all of them, by far. My sense is that it’s a tough album, deliberately a bit muddy and smeared and inconsistent from track to track, which made the quest even more appealing. This one is great; involving, NOT smeared, 3D — most of all it invites me in, instead of saying “OK, this may be a bit cloudy, but try to enjoy anyway.”

I’m on my 5th listen. And Catch Bull at Four is also seriously good. Such an underrated album. I’ll be back, inasmuch as most of my other vinyl sounds flaccid compared to these.

John

John,

Thanks for your letter. You are spot on with your observation about the sound being deliberately muddy. Glyn Johns loves his tube compressors. They can make some tracks murkier than many of us would like, but they work positive wonders most of the time.

A lot of the smearing you reference is from uncleaned or improperly cleaned vinyl. Once we got our cleaning regimen dialed in, a lot of the smear we used to hear so often stopped being a problem.

3-Dimensionality also greatly improves with clean, fully restored vinyl. A lot of old records just sound like old records until you learn how to clean them right.

 

Cat Stevens and the Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

Our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame listings totaled more than 40 back in 2010, and we noted at the time that the real number would be at least double that and probably more than triple that figure if we took the time to make listings for all the bad records this label has released, It stands at 50 or so as of 2022.

In case you don’t already know, one of the worst sounding, if not THE worst sounding pressing of all time, of our beloved Teaser and the Firecat is the Mobile Fidelity Anadisq pressing that came out in the ’90s.

If you own that record, you really owe it to yourself to pull it out and play it. It’s just a mess and it should sound like a mess, whether you have anything to compare it to or not.

If I were in charge of the TAS Super Disc List, I would strike this record from it in a heartbeat.

Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

We offer a number of Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that actually have audiophile sound quality, guaranteed. And if for some reason you disagree with us about how good they sound, we will be happy to give you your money back.


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

Here’s a good question:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

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Cat Stevens – Yes, Sometimes There Is Only One Set of Magic Stampers

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Stamper and Pressing Information

More Albums with Stampers that Consistently Win Shootouts

As is sometimes the case, there is one and only one set of stamper numbers that consistently wins our Catch Bull At Four shootouts. We stumbled upon an out-of-this-world copy of the right pressing about two years ago, a copy took the recording to a level we had no idea could even be possible. (We were going to give it Four Pluses, and probably should have, but cooler heads prevailed.)

Since then we have had many copies come in, but none that could compete with the Magic Stamper pressings. And the best part of this story is that, no, the best stampers are not 1U, or 2U, or even 3U.

As a matter of fact, they are far from the stampers found on the earliest pressings. That’s one reason it took us so long to discover them, because they are much less commonly found than pressings with the earlier stampers. By the time these later pressings were mastered, pressed and released, the album’s biggest selling days were over.

For all we know this cutting may have been done just to keep the record in print, possibly undertaken many years after its initial release.

Who knows? Who cares? What difference does it make?

Well, it does serve to make a point near and dear to our hearts: that the idea (and operational premise of most record collectors) that the Original Is Always Better is just a load of bunk. It might be and it might not be. If you want better sounding records, you had better open your mind to the idea that some reissues have the potential to sound better than even the best original pressings.

Of course this is nothing but bad news for the average audiophile collector, who simply does not have the time or money to go through the hassle of buying, cleaning and playing every pressing he can get his hands on.

But good news for us, because we do.

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Cat Stevens – Making Progress in Audio from 1984 to 2004

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Tea for the Tillerman

The following comments were written in 2004.

Hard Headed Woman is a song that has evolved dramatically over the last 20 years. If you’ve been making regular upgrades to your equipment and taking advantage of all the new technologies available at the front end, such as: vibration control, electromagnetic stabilization, better arms, better cartridges, better phono stages, better motors, fly wheels, Synchronous Drive Systems, better power cords, better power conditioning, to name just a few, you are no doubt able to reproduce this song much better than you were in the old days. Speaking of congestion, it had previously been our experience that every copy of the record had at least some congestion in the loudest parts, typically the later parts of songs where Cat is singing at the top of his lungs, the acoustic guitars are strumming like crazy, and big drums are pounding away and jumping out of both speakers. 

I used to think that Cat’s voice got hard and harsh when he got loud on the passage that starts with “I know… [big drums here] many fine feathered friends…”. Now he gets even louder, the drums are much more powerful, and yet he still sounds like a real person, not an overdriven recording. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “It murders my Pink Island original UK copies.”

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Tea for the Tillerman

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he had purchased (bold added by us):

Hey Tom,  

I want to say a big THANK YOU for the Hot Stamper’s you sent to me. Two of them are now top ten titles in my collection: Cat Stevens Tillerman.

I’m so amazed and lucky – I can’t describe it. The sound is so natural and beat my expectations in many ways – it sounds out of this world. This copy has sweet, breathy vocals, well-defined bass (!!), stunning clarity, warmth and richness, immediacy, astonishing transparency (it burns direct in your DNA – I’ll never forget!) and loads of ambience and more.

It murders my pink Island original UK copies. It was a privilege to be able to hear this copy – a HIGHLIGHT event. It’s a Demo Disc of the highest order. And it’s worth the price.

The other big winner is CSN’s first album. This is one of the few LP’s with sound that you won’t soon forget. I live since a week with this good feeling and I can’t hear or rate any other LP at this time (‘til Tillerman arrived).

Erik S. 


FURTHER READING

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Letter of the Week – “The WHS stamper just pulled you into those songs, so you could feel every little dynamic shift and tonal change…”

More of the Music of Steely Dan

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently. [The bolding has been added by us.]

Hey Tom,   

A friend and I just did a shootout of 16 copies of Aja, plus one of your White Stampers, which easily trounced them all (including some DJ 12″ singles from the album) [1], and in exactly those areas that you cover in some of the WTLF descriptions you have for that album. Just a great big, open and lovely-sounding record–what a thrill!. And thanks very much for those notes–they help clarify the critical listening process.

We also listened to 16 copies of Tea for the Tillerman. Among those (UK pink rims, German, Japanese, and many US labels) were two excellent early brown label A&M pressings, which I saved for the end of the shootout.

And we had the Analogue Productions 33 rpm pressing, which has been a big disappointment since I first heard it. [2] Those two original A&Ms both sound so much more natural, with more delicacy, extension, air, presence and energy than the AP version. My listening buddy said they sounded as if they were cut at 45 rpm; and neither of us really expected your White Hot UK pink-rim pressing could be a significant improvement over those.

But, as good as those are, it was also obvious that your WHS brought the music several steps closer. The A&M brown labels both added some thickness and over-emphasized the low range of his voice–which (until we heard your WHS) was a pleasant coloration.

But as you frequently mention, the biggest issue, once you’ve heard a great copy, is how much more energy and flow the music has. The WHS stamper just pulled you into those songs, so you could feel every little dynamic shift and tonal change that the musicians were bringing to the table. It allowed that music to breathe in a way I’ve never heard before. What a record!

The BIG thing your Hot Stampers do is present the music in a perfectly balanced way–no frequency range is emphasized, which also means none are compromised. I think this is why you can always turn up the volume on a Hot Stamper. If you’ve got a bad mastering or bad pressing, at some point, turning up the volume only make parts of the recording more unlistenable. Turning up a Hot stamper makes it a bit louder, sure. But it also brings you further into the studio, and closer to the music–and that’s we really want, right?

Ivan

Ivan,

Quite a shootout! I see you learned a lot. That’s what shootouts are for, to teach you what the good copies do well that the other copies do not do so well. As you well know, going deep into the sound the way you did is a thrill, one we get to enjoy on a regular basis. Maybe not every day — not every record is as good as Tea for the Tillerman – but multiple times a week. It’s what make the coming to work every day fun for those of us on the listening panels.

Thanks for your letter.

P.S.

[1] I remember playing those Aja 12″ records back in the ’80s. I never thought they were all that good sounding. DJ appeal, not audiophile appeal.

[2] We couldn’t stand the AP pressing either, as you may have guessed by the title of our review: Tea for the Tillerman – This Is Your Idea of Analog? It’s the poster boy for records with No Tubey Magic Whatsoever.

Without Tubey Magic you might as well be playing a CD. The well known reviewer who has so many nice things to say about this pressing — I quote him at length in my review — apparently cannot hear that the new Heavy Vinyl pressing sounds more like a CD than the actual CD of Tea for the Tillerman does.

This self-described “champion of analog” is single-handedly guilty of more reviewer malpractice than anybody I can think of this side of Julian Hirsch, so it should come as no surprise to anyone — especially anyone who reads this blog — that the Heavy Vinyl Tillerman is yet another in a very long line of records he has been dead wrong about.

If your goal is to promote vinyl, at the very least you should know better than to do it with a record as lacking in analog virtues as this one is. We listed them chapter and verse in our lengthy review. We had no trouble identifying and calling them out, and we frankly still don’t understand why so many analog devotees have such a difficult time with the kind of in-depth critical listening that shows up the faults of junk vinyl such as this misguided remaster.

And just in case you are wondering, I happen to know that the Sterling mastered CD from many decades ago sounds better, because I still own mine and play it in the car from time to time.

If you are stuck in a Heavy Vinyl rut, we here at Better Records can help you get out of it. We did precisely that for these folks, and we can do it for you.

(You may of course not be aware that you are stuck in a rut. Few audiophiles are. The best way out of that predicament is to hear how mediocre these modern records sound compared to the vintage Hot Stampers we offer. Once you hear the difference, your days of buying newly remastered releases will most likely be over. Even if our pricey curated pressings are beyond your budget, you can avail yourself of the methods we describe to find dramatically superior killer pressings on your own.)


Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

Reviews and Commentaries for Tea for the Tillerman

Listening in Depth to Mona Bone Jakon

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Mona Bone Jakon

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 genre. I don’t know of ANY other album that has more LIFE and MUSICAL ENERGY than this one. 

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.


In-Depth Track Commentary

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 a little bright.

Maybe You’re Right
Pop Star
I Think I See the Light (more…)

Cat Stevens – Two Tracks Are Key

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

Just ran across the following in an old listing. We’re nothing if not consistent here at Better Records!

And if you are ever tempted to pick up one of those recently remastered versions on heavy vinyl, don’t do it. There is simply no one alive today making records that sound like these good originals. Not to these ears anyway. We may choose to indulge ourselves in the audacity of hope, but reality has to set in sooner or later. After thirty years of trying, the modern mastering engineers of the world have nothing to show for their efforts but a pile of failures. The time to call it quits has come and gone. Let’s face facts: when it comes to Teaser and the Firecat, it’s the Real Thing or nothing.

If you’re looking for an amazing Demo Quality Rock Recording, you’ve come to the right place.

If you want a timeless Classic Rock Record, it’s here too.

They just don’t know how to make them like this anymore. Those of you waiting for audiophile vinyl reissues with the kind of magic found on these originals will be in your graves long before it ever comes to pass.

Analogue Productions tried and failed — more than once — to produce a good sounding Heavy Vinyl pressing of Tea for the Tillerman.

You can be sure there is little chance they would have better luck with Teaser and the Firecat.

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Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon

More Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Mona Bone Jakon

  • 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 before are now front and center
  • 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
  • One of the most underrated titles on the site – you owe it to yourself to see just how good the album that came out right before Tillerman can be when it sounds this good
  • 4 stars: “A delight, and because it never achieved the Top 40 radio ubiquity of later albums, it sounds fresh and distinct.”
  • 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,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Red Clay is a good example of a record most audiophiles may not know well but should.
  • If you’re a fan of Folky Pop, this Cat Stevens album from 1970 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

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, 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 – Tea For The Tillerman on A&M

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Tea for the Tillerman

  • 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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