The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus to EX++
Side Three: Mint Minus Minus to EX++*
Side Four: Mint Minus Minus (often quieter than this grade)
- A stunning copy of Stevie Wonder's epic double album with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last
- This copy won our shootout but the vinyl is not as quiet as we would have liked, but in our experience it's rare to find a copy that plays much quieter
- Tubey Magical Richness, and the immediacy and transparency that so many copies lack - all qualities essential to getting the best sound from Stevie's Magnum Opus
- A true musical genius (according to everyone including Eddie Murphy) here joins forces with other legends, the likes of Herbie Hancock, George Benson, and Deniece Williams
- 5 stars: "...Stevie Wonder's longest, most ambitious collection of songs... that — just as the title promised — touched on nearly every issue under the sun, and did it all with ambitious (even for him), wide-ranging arrangements and some of the best performances of Wonder's career. "
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- On side three, a mark makes 4 moderate pops at the end of Track 2, Joy Inside My Tears, and 1 loud pop at the beginning of Track 3, Black Man.
Sometimes the copy with the best sound is not the copy with the quietest vinyl. The best sounding copy is always going to win the shootout, the condition of its vinyl notwithstanding. If you can tolerate the problems on this pressing you are in for some amazing Stevie Wonder music and sound. 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.
Double albums are usually tedious work for us, but this one had us smiling and tapping our feet all the way through to the end of the last side. I'm sure you don't need a rundown of why this is such a great album, but the 5-star AMG review is an excellent read for those who want to be reminded. (Click on the tab above.)
These early Tamia pressings have the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to "see" the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with Stevie, this is the record for you. It's what vintage all analog recordings are known for -- this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, 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 maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What the best sides of Songs In The Key Of Life 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 1976
- 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.
Four Stunning Sides
All four sides here have the kind of big, wide soundstage and see-into-the-recording transparency we go nuts for around here. They've also got the big, solid bottom end and full, rich mids that only a fraction of pressings we played could show us. No one wants a thin, shrill Songs in the Key of Life, least of all us.
So many copies are lacking in so many different ways. If anyone should know we should, we've played stacks of them. And just to be clear, no copy is ever going to be perfect.
That said, the best copies do a lot more things right in a lot more places than we ever expected would be the case. Since 2009, when we first started doing shootouts for the album, our Hot Stamper pressings have revealed to us a great sounding Stevie Wonder record we never knew existed.
That has to count as a major thrill, even for those of us who listen to great sounding records all day.
What We're Listening For on Songs In The Key Of Life
- 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.
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.
- Love's in Need of Love Today
- Have a Talk With God
- Village Ghetto Land
- Sir Duke
- I Wish
- Knocks Me Off My Feet
- Pastime Paradise
- Summer Soft
- Ordinary Pain
- Isn't She Lovely
- Joy Inside My Tears
- Black Man
- Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing
- If It's Magic
- Another Star
AMG 5 Star Rave Review
Songs in the Key of Life was Stevie Wonder's longest, most ambitious collection of songs, a two-LP (plus accompanying EP) set that — just as the title promised — touched on nearly every issue under the sun, and did it all with ambitious (even for him), wide-ranging arrangements and some of the best performances of Wonder's career.
The opening "Love's in Need of Love Today" and "Have a Talk with God" are curiously subdued, but Stevie soon kicks into gear with "Village Ghetto Land," a fierce exposé of ghetto neglect set to a satirical Baroque synthesizer. Hot on its heels comes the torrid fusion jam "Contusion," a big, brassy hit tribute to the recently departed Duke Ellington in "Sir Duke," and (another hit, this one a Grammy winner as well) the bumping poem to his childhood, "I Wish."
Though they didn't necessarily appear in order, Songs in the Key of Life contains nearly a full album on love and relationships, along with another full album on issues social and spiritual.
Fans of the love album Talking Book can marvel that he sets the bar even higher here, with brilliant material like the tenderly cathartic and gloriously redemptive "Joy Inside My Tears," the two-part, smooth-and-rough "Ordinary Pain," the bitterly ironic "All Day Sucker," or another classic heartbreaker, "Summer Soft."
Those inclined toward Stevie Wonder the social-issues artist had quite a few songs to focus on as well: "Black Man" was a Bicentennial school lesson on remembering the vastly different people who helped build America; "Pastime Paradise" examined the plight of those who live in the past and have little hope for the future; "Village Ghetto Land" brought listeners to a nightmare of urban wasteland; and "Saturn" found Stevie questioning his kinship with the rest of humanity and amusingly imagining paradise as a residency on a distant planet.
If all this sounds overwhelming, it is; Stevie Wonder had talent to spare during the mid-'70s, and instead of letting the reserve trickle out during the rest of the decade, he let it all go with one massive burst.