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White Hot Stamper - Cat Stevens - Catch Bull At Four - (UK Island)

The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.

White Hot Stamper

Cat Stevens
Catch Bull At Four

Regular price
$149.99
Regular price
Sale price
$149.99
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per 
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Sonic Grade

Side One:

Side Two:

Vinyl Grade

Side One: Mint Minus Minus*

Side Two: Mint Minus Minus**

  • With Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, this very specific UK pressing is absolutely amazing - the vinyl has issues though
  • Bigger, more dynamic, more lively, more present and just plain more EXCITING than anything we heard - that's why it won our shootout
  • This British pressing with the right stamper can show you the sweeter, tubier Midrange Magic that we is the hallmark of all the best Cat Stevens' recordings
  • "Though some of the lyrics retain Cat’s fanciful imagery... he shows a new emotional directness, especially on side two, the albums "down" side. This is reflected in Cat’s singing, which becomes more assured and more emotive with each album."
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NOTE: *There is a small mark on side one, track five, that makes five light ticks.

**On side two, the first quarter inch of the record has a repeating swoosh that can be heard in the quiet intro of the song under the music, and occasionally intermittently under the vocal later on.

If you want to hear how amazing a Shootout Winning copy of the album can sound and don't mind a surface problem or two, this is the copy to get. If for any reason you are not happy with the sound or condition of the album we are of course happy to take it back for a full refund, including the domestic return postage.

If you're familiar with what the best Hot Stamper pressings of Tea for the Tillerman, Teaser and the Firecat or Mona Bone Jakon can sound like -- amazing is the word that comes to mind -- then you should easily be able to imagine how good the best copies of Catch Bull at Four sounds.

All the ingredients for a Classic Cat Stevens album were in place for this release, which came out in 1972, about a year after Teaser and the Firecat. His brilliant guitar player Alun Davies is still in the band, and Paul Samwell-Smith is still producing as brilliantly as ever. Silent Sunlight sounds UNREAL -- silky, warm, and delicate.

There's no shortage of deep, well-defined bass either, allowing the more dynamic songs to really come alive. Can't Keep It In rocks on this pressing. There are plenty of other very dynamic tracks as well. The ones that get loud without becoming hard or harsh are the ones that tend to get everything else right at the lower volumes. Freezing Steel really ROCKS on this copy, with super low distortion and virtually no strain in the vocals.

What amazing sides such as these 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 1972
  • 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 Magic Stampers

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. In other words 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 pressing of the album.

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 damn pressing he can get his hands on.

But good news for us, because we do.

What do the best Hot Stamper pressings of Catch Bull At Four give you?

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren't "back there" somewhere, lost in the mix. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • 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, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass -- which ties in with good transient information, also 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 instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

This copy has the kind of sound we look for in a top quality Cat Stevens record: immediacy in the vocals (so many copies are veiled and distant); natural tonal balance (most copies are either bright or dark; ones with the right balance are the exception, not the rule); good solid weight (so the piano and toms sound full and powerful); spaciousness (the best copies have studio ambience like you would not believe); and last but not least, TRANSPARENCY, the effect of being able to see INTO the soundfield all the way to the back, where there is plenty going on in this remarkably sophisticated studio recording.

Huge Size and Space

One of the qualities that we don't talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record's presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small -- they don't extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don't seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies -- my notes for these copies often read "BIG and BOLD" -- create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They're not brighter, they're not more aggressive, they're not hyped-up in any way, they're just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy that does all that, it's an entirely different listening experience.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better 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 later 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 originals.

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.

Track Commentary

The Track Listing tab above will take you to an extensive song by song breakdown for each side, with plenty of What to Listen For (WTLF) advice.


Side One

Sitting

This track often sounds a bit flat and midrangy, and it sounds that way on most domestic pressings and the "wrong" imports.

The best imports and domestic pressings are the only ones with the sweeter, tubier Midrange Magic that we've come to associate with the best Cat Stevens recordings.

Boy With a Moon & Star on His Head

Another very difficult track to get to sound right. The better copies have such amazingly transparent sound you can't help feeling as though you really are in the presence of live human beings. You get the sense of actual fingers -- in this case the fingers of Cat's stalwart accompanist Alun Davies -- plucking the strings of his Spanish guitar.

Angelsea

This is one of the best sounding tracks on the album, right up there with Cat's most well recorded big productions such as Tuesday's Dead, Changes IV, Where Do The Children Play and Hard Headed Woman. On Hot Stamper copies this is a Demo Track that's hard to beat.

The midrange magic of the acoustic guitars is off the scale. Some of Catch Bull At Four has the magic and some of it does not, unlike Tea and Teaser, which are magical all the way through.

Silent Sunlight
Can't Keep It In

On the best copies this track is as Huge and Powerful as anything the man ever recorded. It's another one of the best sounding tracks on the album. On our top copies this is a Demo Track that's hard to beat.

The midrange magic of the acoustic guitars is off the scale. Some of Catch Bull At Four has the magic and some of it does not, unlike Tea and Teaser, which are magical all the way through.

Side Two

18th Avenue

This track is a great test for side two. The strings should sound silky yet also have nice texture to them. Without proper mastering, the kind that results in midrange clarity and extension on the top, they'll never sound right.

There's also a lot going on with the percussion on this track; you'll need a dynamic copy to really get the full effect. If you have the kind of speaker that can really move some air you are in for a treat with this one.

Freezing Steel

Another great test for side two. The huge drums and chorus at the end of the song are going to be tough to get right if you're playing the album at the good and loud levels we do.

Again, you'll need a dynamic copy with plenty of solid deep bass to get the full effect. If you have big speakers that can really move air this track might just rock your world.

O Caritas
Sweet Scarlet
Ruins
Rolling Stone Review

Catch Bull is impeccably produced. Its musical contents are like those of Teaser and the Firecat—simple, short-phrased melodies and spare and vibrant arrangements. There are, however, notable differences between Catch Bull and its predecessor. The instrumental repertoire has been widened somewhat: three cuts make minimal use of a synthesizer, and on four cuts Cat plays piano.

...Happily, the greatest difference between Teaser and Catch Bull lies in the lyric themes of the songs. Though some of the lyrics retain Cat’s fanciful imagery— word poems so dreamily obscure as to defy interpretation—he shows a new emotional directness, especially on side two, the albums "down" side. This is reflected in Cat’s singing, which becomes more assured and more emotive with each album.

Stephen Holden
Rolling Stone Magazine
November 23, 1972

Amazon Review

Celebrated and adored for his sanguine lyrics and irresistible hooks, Cat Stevens was one of the rare singer-songwriters capable of composing genuinely optimistic songs that didn't leave a sappy residue in listeners' ears.

However, even a cursory listen to 1972's Catch Bull at Four proves that the Cat had seen darkness, too, and that those darker elements had become more pronounced than they'd been in the past. His vocal style shifts from the cool croon that made Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat top sellers to a harsher, almost growling delivery.

The album's standouts--the wistful reverie "Sitting" and the delightfully infectious "Can't Keep It In"--are resolute in lyric and melody. Rambling, mystical odes such as "The Boy with a Moon & Star on His Head," "Angelsea," and "Sweet Scarlet" offer quaintly romantic imagery and lavishly undulating melodies.

But it's the mercurial dynamics and driving melody of "18th Avenue (Kansas City Nightmare)" and the bitter conviction of "Ruins" that give the album a backbone and a sense of balance. -- Sally Weinbach