- 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 original Columbia pressing of JT’s 1981 release boasts incredible Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from first note to last, just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- Both of these sides are exceptionally rich, Tubey Magical and spacious – thanks, Val Garay!
- We were knocked out at how good this album sounds on a great pressing like this one – one of the more impressive ’80s pop recordings we’ve played in some time
- The sound may be heavily processed, but that kind of sound works surprisingly well on the best sounding pressings
- 4 stars: “James Taylor bounced back from the spotty Flag with this all-original album led by his collaboration with J.D. Souther on ‘Her Town Too,’ his biggest pop hit since ‘Handy Man,’ and his biggest non-cover hit since his first, ‘Fire And Rain’…”
- If you’re a fan of JT’s, or Folky Pop in general, this has to be seen as a Top Title from 1981.
- 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. Dad Loves His Work is a good example of a record many audiophiles would benefit from knowing better.
The soundstage and depth on our best Hot Stamper copies is HUGE — this is without a doubt the most spacious recording by James Taylor we’ve ever heard. If you want your speakers to disappear, replaced by a huge studio full of musicians playing their hearts out, this is the album that can do it.
- Both sides of this vintage copy were doing pretty much everything right, earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades
- The best sides have Tubey Magical acoustic guitars, sweet vocals, huge amounts of space, breathtaking transparency, and so much more
- Credit the engineering chops of Val Garay – the guy makes these sort of Demo Disc Quality Pop Records about as good as they can be made
- Musically this is one of JT’s most underrated albums – it’s a Better Records Top Recommendation and Must Own LP
From the opening notes you will be amazed at how good this album sounds. As far as JT’s recordings go, it’s right up there at the top. Like his album JT, which came just before this one, the best copies of this record are smooth, rich, punchy and have great bass.
The average copy of this record is dreadful. All the recuts that were done by Columbia that I’ve ever heard are garbage. There are a number of different stampers for both sides one and two and it’s almost impossible to find two good sides on the same album.
- Soulful JT at his best, an underappreciated album by the man who single-handedly created a new genre of music
- “Mexico,” “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and “I Was A Fool To Care” are standouts – but, honestly, there simply are no weak tracks to be found on either side
- Rolling Stone notes, “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”
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. Gorilla is a good example of a record audiophiles may not know well but might just benefit from getting to know better
- If I were to compile a list of Must Own Rock and Pop Albums from 1975, this album would definitely be on it
This is soft rock at its best, made up primarily of love songs, and helped immensely by the harmonically-gifted backing vocals of Graham Nash and David Crosby.
To be honest, the recording of Gorilla itself cannot compete with the likes of Sweet Baby James or JT, both of which are Top 100 Titles. It can be a good sounding record, not a great one, certainly not in the same league as those two.
- This STUNNING copy of Taylor’s breakthrough album from 1977 boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
- It’s a superb recording – a member of our Top 100, in fact – but it takes a pressing like this to show you just how BIG and LIVELY it can sound
- The big hits “Your Smiling Face” and “Handy Man” both sound great here – thanks Val Garay!
- This and Sweet Baby James are the man’s best recordings, and his best albums too, but he has so many great albums that it almost seems unfair to him to point that out
- 4 stars: “JT was James Taylor’s best album since Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon because it acknowledged the darkness of his earlier work while explaining the deliberate lightness of his current viewpoint, and because it was his most consistent collection in years.”
The good copies REALLY ROCK on songs like Honey Don’t Leave L.A. or I Was Only Telling A Lie, yet have lovely, delicate vocals on ballads such as Another Grey Morning or There We Are (two of our favorite songs on the album).
Just turn up the volume and play the opening to Honey Don’t Leave L.A. — this is James Taylor and his super tight studio band at the peak of their powers. Russ Kunkel hits the drum twice, then clicks his sticks together so quickly you can hardly notice it, then goes back to the drums for the rest of the intro. On the best copies, the subtleties of his performance are clearly on display. Until copies like this one came along, we had never even noticed that stick trick. Now it’s the high point of the whole intro!
One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:
As a newcomer to your business, and to the entire concept of “Hot Stamper” records, I was naturally skeptical. Many of us have invested in a wide variety of vinyl that simple failed to live up to expectations. Initially I was going to order one and only one record from you, and test your bold promises. Instead, I ended up ordering a nice variety to truly put it to the test… investing a couple thousand dollars on faith. In short, I am now your customer for life.
As a point of reference, my system includes a pair of Wilson Audio Alexia powered by 2 monoblock McIntosh tube Amps and a Mc-tube preamp. Most importantly, a Brinkmann mag drive turntable with a Sumiko low output moving coil cartridge. So, not the world’s best system, but enough to discern what is to follow.
I ordered the following:
* Carole King Tapestry, ((White Hot Pressing)
* The Doobie Brothers, What Were Once Vices (White Hot Pressing)
* James Taylor, Sweet Baby James (White Hot Pressing)
* Paul McCartney, McCartney (Super Hot Pressing)
* Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy (Super Hot Pressing)
* Steely Dan, Countdown to Ecstasy (Super Hot Pressing)
* Donald Fagen, The Nightfly (White Hot Pressing)
I warmed up my amps with the tuner for an hour or so and then sat and listened to some of my other records and reacquainted myself with the music from my system. First up was “What Were Once Vices…”. It was immediately apparent that I was getting a range as wide, if not wider than anything I had ever heard from my stereo. Then when I got to the last song on side one, “Road Angel” the guitar and drum interplay in the instrumental jam completely blew me away. Midway through I took the volume from loud to louder, and it exposed nothing but pure, sweet rock and roll. Literally gave me goose bumps.
I then listened to “Countdown to Ecstasy” and in this instance I owe a clean original copy, so I put it to the test. Back to back. I did not have to go past “Bodhisattva” to know it was no-contest. If I had to apply a percentage, something like 20% more music comes from the Hot Stamper, and this (like all of my orders) is one of my all time favorite albums.
I won’t go on and on, suffice to say that the experience repeated itself on all of the above.
Even the Fagen copy was WAY better than the 1982 MoFi copy I paid an arm and a leg for. I have always thought that record had a true analog quality, was surprised the first time I learned it was laid down on a digital track. The Hot Stamper even adds to this great sounding record.
Oh and one last… JT’s voice is so unbelievably warm matched perfectly with the clear reverberating guitar, followed by lingering cymbal crashes. For me it is like the difference between 2-D and 3-D. Depth.
Before I go, where I am as a customer going forward. I will always be a visitor to the web site. Obviously, I cannot replace my record collection, but I can supplement it with the occasional gem of a record.
In closing, Thank you to you and your crew. You are doing God’s work! 🙂 Seriously, nothing pleases me more than to relax and listen to my music the way it was meant to be heard.
Thanks for your letter. We love to hear from our happy customers. We’ve spent a lifetime getting to the place where our favorite music sounds the way it should, so we know exactly how you feel when you say “nothing pleases you more than to relax and listen to my music the way it was meant to be heard.”
Play Chili Dog here, one of our favorite tracks, and note not only the clarity and spaciousness, but the PUNCH and LIFE of the music. This song is supposed to be fun. The average somewhat compressed and dull copy only hints at that fact.
Then skip on down to the hit at the end of the side, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, another favorite track for testing.
There’s a lot of bass in the mix on this track, but the best copies keep it under control.
When it gets loose and starts blurring the midrange, the vocals and guitars seem “blocked.” The best copies let you hear all that meaty bass, as well as letting you hear into the midrange too.
One Man Dog, like many early WB pressings, has a tendency to be dull and opaque. (Most side twos have a real problem in that respect.) When you get a good, with more of an extended top end, it tends to come with much more space, size, texture, transparency, ambience and openness.
Of course it does; that’s where much of that stuff is, up high. Most copies don’t have nearly enough of it, but thankfully the best copies do.
- Records that Are Good for Testing Bass and Whomp
- Records that Are Good for Testing Bass Definition
- Records that Are Good for Testing Energy
- Records that Are Good for Testing the Lower Midrange and Mid-Bass
Mud Slide Slim is one of those albums that we think should be more popular with audiophiles, at least the ones looking for timeless music with top quality sound.
It has some of the man’s strongest material:
- You’ve Got a Friend;
- You Can Close Your Eyes;
- Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox, and one of his best and most underrated,
- Love Has Brought Me Around.
If you’ve got a top copy of the album, this song, the leadoff on side one, can really rock. It’s yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.
Love Has Brought Me Around
One of my all-time favorite James Taylor tracks. When you get a good copy, this music comes ALIVE! This is not your typical sad sack, touchy feely James Taylor song. This song ROCKS!
You’ve Got a Friend
Listen to Carole King’s piano. On the best copies the transparency allows her playing to be heard clearly. Her style is unmistakable. (more…)
The good copies REALLY ROCK on songs like Honey Don’t Leave L.A. or I Was Only Telling A Lie, yet have lovely transparent, delicate sound on the ballads, songs such as Another Grey Morning or There We Are.
Just turn up the volume and play the opening to Honey Don’t Leave L.A. — this is James Taylor and his super tight studio band at the peak of their powers. Russ Kunkel hits the drum twice, then clicks his sticks together so quickly you can hardly notice it, then goes back to the drums for the rest of the intro. On a superb copy like this one, the subtleties of his performance are clearly on display.
Until copies like this one came along, we had never even noticed that stick trick. Now it’s the high point of the whole intro.
Sound Equals Music
As audiophiles, we all know that sound and music are inseparable. In our shootout, after dropping the needle on a dozen or so copies, all originals by the way, we KNOW when the music is working its magic and when it’s not.
As with any pop album, there are always some songs that sound better than others, but when you find yourself marvelling at how well-written and well-produced a song is, you know that the sound is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s communicating the Musical Values of the material.
The most important of all these Musical Values is ENERGY, and boy do the best copies of JT have it going on.
Val Garay is the man behind so many of our favorite recordings: JT (a Top 100 title), Simple Dreams (also a Top 100 title), Andrew Gold, Prisoner In Disguise, etc.
They all share his trademark super-punchy, jump-out-the-speakers, rich and smooth ANALOG sound.
With BIG drums — can’t forget those. (To be clear, only the best copies share it. Most copies only hint at it.)
I don’t think Mr Garay gets anything like his due with audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them. This is a shame; the guy makes Demo Disc Quality Pop Records about as good as those kinds of records can be made.
If you have a Big System that really rocks, you owe it to yourself to get to know his work. This is truly a KNOCKOUT disc if you have the equipment designed to play it.
We do, and it’s records like this that make the effort and expense of building a full-range dynamic system worthwhile.
[This commentary was written in 2007 or thereabouts.]
Today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making as a budding audiophile more than thirty years ago. [Make that 45+ years ago, ouch].
Heavy Vinyl, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads, each with a track record more dismal than the last?
Was Devo right? Is everything in audio getting worse?
Our Story Begins
One Man Dog has long been a favorite James Taylor album of mine. It didn’t catch on too well with the general public when it came out but it caught on just fine with me. I used to play it all the time. As a budding but misguided audiophile back in the early ’70s, I foolishly bought the import pressing at my local record store, The Wherehouse, assuming it would sound better and be pressed on quieter vinyl. The latter may have been true, probably was true, but the former sure wasn’t. Turns out even the average domestic original is far better sounding, but how was I to know?
Back in those days it would never have occurred to me to buy more than one copy of a record and do a head to head comparison to see which one sounded better. I approached the subject Platonically, not scientifically: the record that should sound better would of course sound better, so what is the point of testing?
Later on in the decade a label by the name of Mobile Fidelity would come along claiming to actually make better sounding pressings than the ones the major labels put out, and — cluelessly — I bought into that nonsense too.
(To be fair, sometimes they did — Touch, Waiting for Columbus and American Beauty come to mind, but my god, Katy Lied, Year of the Cat and Sundown have to be three of the worst sounding records I’ve ever played in my life.)
[Obviously, we no longer agree with much of that except for the one MoFi record that has stood the test of time, Touch.]
The Audiophile of Today
From our point of view, today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making thirty years ago. The Audiophile Heavy Vinyl Remaster, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads, each burdened with an equally dismal track record?
And isn’t it every bit as true today as it was in the past that the audiophiles who buy these “special” pressings rarely seem to notice that many of them don’t actually sound any good?
The Learning Curve Is Looking Awfully Flat
Pardon my pessimism, but it seems to me the learning curve these days is looking awfully flat. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of learning going on. If such learning were actually going on, how would most of these audiophile labels still be in business?
Don’t get me wrong: some progress has been made. Reference, Chesky and Audioquest thankfully no longer burden us with their awful LPs. But is the new Blue or Fragile really any better than the average MoFi from 1979? Different yes, but better? I know one thing: I couldn’t sit through an entire side of either of them. And I love both of those albums.
Compared to the real thing, can any of these records really compete sonically? A few, I guess, but too few, and they seem to be pretty darn far between.
Easy Answers and Quick Fixes
Turns out there are no easy answers. There are no quick fixes. In audio there’s only hard work and more hard work. That’s what gives the learning curve its curvature — the more you do it, the better you can do it.
And if doing all that work is also your idea of fun, you just might get really good at it. If you actually enjoy playing fifteen copies of One Man Dog to find the few that really sound good — because hearing such wonderful music the way it was meant to be heard is a thrill you cannot deny — then you just might end up with one helluva great record collection, worlds better than one filled with audiophile pressings from any era, most especially the present.