The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus
- A vintage Columbia Red Label pressing that boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
- As a rule the reissues from the '70s are too thin and bright, perhaps equalized in an attempt to bring out more presence in Dylan's vocal, making this copy one of the very rare exceptions
- Here is the bass, richness and vocal presence that allow John Wesley Harding to retain its power to move the listener more than fifty-five years after it was recorded
- The title track, "Dear Landlord," "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," "All Along the Watchtower" and "I Pity The Poor Immigrant" are but a small sampling of the many memorable songs here
- 5 stars: "The music is simple, direct, and melodic, providing a touchstone for the country-rock revolution that swept through rock in the late '60s."
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While Dylan's albums may not be big-production sonic spectacles, hearing these great songs sound so intimate and lifelike on a top quality pressing is surely a sublime experience when played on a modern, high-quality system. We should know; we have one and we enjoyed the hell out of this very copy.
Testing for Balance
The trick to the best sound on John Wesley Harding is to find a copy that achieves the right balance between Dylan's vocal and his harmonica.
His vocal should be rich, smooth and somewhat reserved. In the other area of the midrange, Dylan prefers a lively harmonica sound, which means it will typically be somewhat "hot" relative to his voice and the other instruments.
If the frequency balance is shifted up even a very small amount on your pressing or in your system, the sound of the harmonica will be, at least to some degree, edgy, bright and unpleasant.
When we sit down to play a stack of six or eight or ten copies of the album, we fairly quickly find out what the "right" mix is. It's the mix where everything is balanced, including the two elements that are the most difficult to balance, the vocals and the harmonica.
The voice should be full-bodied and rich, and it must -- must -- sound right for a recording of country-tinged music recorded by Columbia in 1967. It is not Brothers in Arms, and it is definitely not supposed to sound like 1985. In all the shootouts we do, the one thing we know is that the sound must be appropriate for the music and the recording era.
Our top Hot Stamper pressings will have the two main elements properly balanced with each other, along with all the other instruments in the mix of course. If your system is highly resolving and tonally correct, simply keep adjusting your VTA until you hear the the most correct midrange reproduction, both high and low. Everything else should fall into line.
This may not be a perfect record or a Demo Disc, but you'll have a very hard time finding a copy that presents the music as well as this one does.
What The Best Sides Of John Wesley Harding Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1967
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
The Dylan Catalog Is Tough
Believe us, John Wesley Harding is one of the tougher nuts to crack in the Dylan canon. Most pressings are a veiled, smeary nightmare. The harmonica sounds noticeably squawky and unpleasant on the bulk of the copies we've played over the years. You really have to work to find a copy with the warmth, smoothness and correct tonality to get Dylan's voice to sound right.
Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Bob Dylan singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 56 years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we've played can serve as a guide.
What We're Listening For On John Wesley Harding
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks for the guitar, piano and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
- Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering -- which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren't "back there" somewhere, way behind the speakers. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
- John Wesley Harding
- As I Went Out One Morning
- I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
- All Along the Watchtower
- The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
- Drifter's Escape
- Dear Landlord
- I Am a Lonesome Hobo
- I Pity the Poor Immigrant
- The Wicked Messenger
- Down Along the Cove
- I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
AMG 5 Star Rave Review
Bob Dylan returned from exile with John Wesley Harding, a quiet, country-tinged album that split dramatically from his previous three.
A calm, reflective album, John Wesley Harding strips away all of the wilder tendencies of Dylan's rock albums — even the then-unreleased Basement Tapes he made the previous year — but it isn't a return to his folk roots. If anything, the album is his first serious foray into country, but only a handful of songs, such as "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," are straight country songs.
Instead, John Wesley Harding is informed by the rustic sound of country, as well as many rural myths...
The music is simple, direct, and melodic, providing a touchstone for the country-rock revolution that swept through rock in the late '60s.