Original U.S. pressing T319L
Evaluated by Claude Lemaire
Rating: 8.0 / A (CAN. Motown)
Rating: 7.7 / A (U.S. Tamla)
Rating: 6.6 / A (MoFi)
Category: Soul / Funk
Format: Vinyl (140 gram LP at 33 1/3 rpm)
- Produced, Arranged and Written by: Stevie Wonder
- Programming, Engineer, Associate Producer: Malcolm Cecil
- Engineer, Associate Producer: Robert Margouleff
- Engineered by: Austin Godsey
- Assistant Engineers: Joan Decola
- Recorded at Air Studios in London, Electric Lady Studios in New York, Crystal Studios in Los Angeles, and Record Plant in Los Angeles.U.S.A.
- Originally Mastered by: George Marino
- Remastered and Lacquer-Cutted by Paul Stubblebine for Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, Sebastol, CA, U.S.A.
- Pressed at RTI, CA, U.S.A.
- Cover Design:
- Photography: Robert Margouleff
That's when Wonder founded Taurus Productions and Black Bull Music publishing to assert future control of music and financial rights. Those early years at parent company Tamla and its subsidiary Gordy was a veritable who's who of what was to become the biggest names in (Detroit) soul music in the nineteen-sixties and early-seventies; The Temptations, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Junior Walker, Marvin Gaye and of course Little Stevie Wonder as he was known at that time. Of that list - and not in the least discarding the great musical contributions of the remainders - the latter two, stand out as the true pioneer 'rule breakers' from the 'Berry Template'.
In effect it is immediately clear that we are in another universe as far as the Motown Sound is concerned; there is nary a hint of the famous Holland-Dozier-Holland nor Smokey signature. As for his later period; like so many of his contemporaries, the 'creative juices' did not seem to be 'au rendez-vous' so much. While still retaining commercial success in the 1980s, the rich multilayered compositions and musical advances of the previous decade were no longer - the low point being no doubt the perennial wedding favorite "I Just Called to Say I Love You" from - you guessed it - 1984 (there's that year again) and 1982's 'wishy-washy' duet with Paul McCartney, "Ebony and Ivory"; quite ivory indeed when juxtaposed against a song like "Living for the City".
Opening the jacket, the 'sunset picture' along with the usual credits are faithfully reproduced.
Mobile's slightly heavier rigid carton is both reassuring for long time preservation and gladly surprising considering the lower price of this series; no cutting corners packaging wise (some of the competing labels should take note). Inside, the record is housed in their flexible anti-static rice paper 'Original Master Sleeves'. In addition, a folded light carton with twelve album covers taken from the 'Silver Label Series' adorning one side and various products on the flip side, brings further record protection. The standard-weight LP appeared a bit lighter than 150 grams plus seemingly more flexible than the KC & The Sunshine Band of the same series - probably closer to 140 grams; the original vinyl is sturdier and a bit thicker. It is an unfortunate fact that pressing plants will exhibit from time to time, small variants in vinyl weight, strength and surface noise due to so many variants; vinyl pellets, temperature, humidity, release times and stamper quality just to name a few (artistic, technical and environmental aspects all come into play). Pressed at RTI in California; it was shiny and black with a few light visual - almost tangential - scuff marks mainly on Side 2 on the second and third track; these are common enough under good lighting conditions but not that worrisome. As per usual with MoFi, the new label does not try to reproduce the original (in this case the yellow+brown Tamla) but instead is plain black with a top rim of white. The groove spacing is close to the original U.S. Tamla pressing, but in reverse; where the original utilized just over 3 1/8 inches on side A and 3 1/4 inches on side B of width modulation, the MoFi is modulated 3 1/4 on A and 3 1/8 on B, leaving an adequate dead-wax margin. With roughly 21 to 23 min./side, there could be some compromise regarding cutting level versus frequency bandwidth for the chosen speed. The original was mastered and cut by George Marino at The Cutting Room while the MoFi was handled by Paul Stubblebine.
Already working as a duo under the name Tonto's Expanding Head Band, the three would later collaborate on Billy Preston's 1975 album It's My Pleasure [A&M] with ex-backup Motown singer, friend and former wife Syreeta Wright lending voice on one track. Margouleff often served as a bridge between the creations of electro-whiz Robert Moog and adventurous musicians. Their elaborate keyboard programming enabled Wonder to expand the sonic landscape encompassing urban ghetto-soul, P-Funk and electronic sounds; opening up doors for future black musicians to integrate more electronic sounds in their music. The sonic differences between both copies remained pretty much the same, with the original pushing the lower fundamentals of the vocals upfront with a nice warm densely sustain on the electric guitar blending in the mix and more in the background; again everything a bit veiled and muffled. The MoFi was less veiled with the cymbals more pronounced, this widening a bit the soundstage. The vocals pushing more the harmonics, sounded as if higher pitched a bit. Too bad the diminished bottom robbed some of the bass power of the song. Nevertheless this is probably the track to come out the strongest or balanced in sound regarding the MoFi version.
I remembered a friend who had a mid-1970s 'indigo' Motown pressing (gatefold with squared maple leaf emblem but pre-barcode [T 319L B5 RS-8106/07]). As luck would have it, while still not perfect, it nevertheless fit the bill for navigating right in the middle between bottom heavy-shelved top and shelved lows-ascending treble. Surprisingly transparent for a Canadian (most probably) second pressing; usually the Canadian counterparts have a bit less top end detail than the U.S. and imports. The cutting level fell in between also and compensated for.