"What's Going On" One-Step Long Ago Souled Out But....

Mobile Fidelity's One-Step reissue of Marvin Gaye's groundbreaking album What's Going On is long out of print but still deserving of a short review.

Berry Gordy founded Motown Records to produce pop hits that would appeal to young people across the racial and ethnic divide and of course he succeeded. But by the early 1970s world events, especially the war in Vietnam had become the focus of the generation called upon to fight it and the music makers of the time took note. At around the same time the record business's "studio system" had also begun to break down as musicians demanded greater control over both the music and the production.

Marvin Gaye already had almost a dozen albums to his credit but here for the first time he assumed complete creative control of the music and the production. Created as a song cycle with one song segueing into the next, and backed by a lush string section with added sound effects and "walla", the album was more Sergeant Pepper's... than the usual Motown formula of a few chart hits with filler. The subject matter ranged from the war in Vietnam, to police brutality to drug addiction, to ecology and the environment. In other words it was a protest album that could have been written last year. Gaye had got through a "rough patch" and had turned introspective.

The multi-layered music mixed soul, funk, jazz, gospel and even classical. Despite Berry Gordy's dislike for the album, it resonated with all of the music buying audience, reaching the Top Ten (Gaye's first to do so) and remained on the charts for almost a year, selling over two million copies.

I compared my original RCA mastered and pressed original (Tamla TS310) with Mobile Fidelity's 2008 1/2 speed mastered reissue (MFSL 1-314) and then with this "1 Step" version (UD1S 2-008) pressed on the new MoFi "Supervinyl" manufactured by NEOTECH and it's difficult to believe these are sourced from the same tape. The "one step" destroys the others by a wide margin.

The resolution of musical and spatial detail that's smeared on the other versions is huge. I've heard complaints about there being "too much bass" but I think that's what's on the tape that's previously been rolled off. This reissue is a major sonic step forward both for Mobile Fidelity and for vinyl reissues generally. It would be interesting to compare it to the master tape.

The only downside was the need to split up one of the segue ways ala 8-track tape (!), but it was done artfully and doesn't really detract from the presentation, which for fans of this album who have lived with the original, has probably proven to be mind-blower (to borrow an expression from that era), though this was never an "audiophile spectacular" to begin with.

Given the quality of the production, I just wish Mo-Fi would be more adventurous in its reissue choices. It's starting to sound like going to an audio show.

Here's where it all started for Motown: in this cramped little studio barely big enough to fit the piano (though there are small side isolation rooms).

Chemguy's picture

Nice review. Yes, the fade-outs are of real concern to me, and I immediately thought of 8 track as well. I appreciate you saying it was artfully done, but I’m really hesitant.

Hackmartian's picture

The one point I disagree with you on here (and it's a biggie) is your statement that splitting up the sides was handled artfully and doesn't detract from the listening experience. The edit that ends Side 1 of this set ("Flyin' High"'s segue into "Save The Children") is very oddly done and jarring to the point that it undid all of the immersive magic of the improved sonics. I can't understand why they waited until "Save The Children" begins and THEN faded out, cutting off the song just as Marvin utters the first line of that song's spoken introduction. There's a natural break/breath between those two tracks already (they were edited together rather than recorded as one continuous take) and all of the digital versions put the break between those songs at that moment.

Honestly, it made me question the decision to take an album so thoroughly conceived and executed as two self-contained suites and break it up across 4 sides at all. I get the improvement in sound that comes with the move to 45RPM, but is that worth sacrificing Gaye's intent and part of the experience that makes What's Going On so groundbreaking and immersive as a piece of music? After listening to my copy, I really wished MoFi would have applied this one-step process to a 33RPM cut and left the flow of the album intact (or perhaps just given this treatment to the equally astounding Let's Get It On, which could be broken up without altering the character of the album).

Final complaint is the packaging: The outer box is beautiful, but the album art inside is pretty muddy (especially the inner-gatefold art, which is dark with blurry text) compared to the original and other reissues that have been done since. It's too easy to get this stuff right to justify why they couldn't have executed the artwork with as much attention to quality and detail as they gave the sonics. At $125, I think it's fair to hold the package to the same standard as the pressing itself.

AnalogJ's picture

I don't think the cut between side 1 and side 2 was done well. I can live with the one between sides 3 and 4, though.

Anton D's picture

We played two different copies of the one step, two of the MFSL 33 1/3 and one copy of the original US pressing.

Our over-all vote was that none of the pressings are so great.

Our next vote was that the sound of the One Step was superior to the 33 1/3 MFSL, but that some of the treble on the 33 1/3 was more airy than on the One Step. The triangle sound was superior on the 33 1/3 MFSL.

However, the 33 /13 was found to be fatally flawed in quality of sibilants and fricatives. Once you catch it, it renders the record essentially too distracting to listen through to catch the music. This was heard on both copies.

There was a sort of pervasive grittiness to all the sonics on all pressings.

We even played with absolute phase and decided that the different intra-recording tracks might not all match up in that regard.

Heck, we even went up and down on the VTA at 'one click' intervals and couldn't find bliss with this pressing.

I liked Hackmartian's post, I think he gets it spot on...I wonder if MFSL could only get permission for 45 RPM One Step and not 33 1/3?

Thanks for the review, this One Step kinda let me down.

Also interesting, Donald fagen's "The Nightfly" on regular old Quiex vs. the One Step was revisited at that meeting, and nobody felt compelled to go search for the One Step.

Played back on a VPI Classic 3 with printed arm, Dynavector Karat 17DX, into an Audio Research ref 3 phono pre, into an Audio Research Ref 6, into a pair of PS Audio BHK 300 amps, to Mageplanar 3.7 speakers...with about a small house worth's value in freaking interconnects, cables, cable elevators, room treatments, etc.

Our amuse bouche was that glorious Duke Elington Masterpieces LP and almost equally great "Ella and Louis" and they sounded fantastic.

AnalogJ's picture

I think the OneStep WGO? is actually quite good, but it's not great in an absolute sense. There's too much shmoosh. There's so much layering of tape to begin with before it got to the master tapes that you can only get improved here, never jaw-dropping, the way the OneStep Abraxas or even the Sunday At The Village Vanguard are to my ears (even the latter is flawed, but what the OneStep brought out amazing!).

The Nightfly is one that I have real misgivings about. The original Robert Ludwig 33 is more cohesive. The OneStep is harmonically richer, more detailed, and has more depth, but its greater resolution only shows the more primitive digital recording as, well, more digital sounding, more clinical. Sonically, it renders the instrumental picture as more the individual parts rather than the sum of the whole.

Even the OneStep Bridge Over Troubled Water, while great on certain songs, illuminates the overproduction on others. "The Only Living Boy In New York" and "Song For The Asking" sound wonderful. On the other hand, "The Boxer" starts out great until the explosions and reverb set in, and then the soundstage collapses. Art Garfunkel's voice is buried in the over the top reverb of "Frank Lloyd Wright".

At the $125 level that these OneSteps retail for, I'd prefer for MFSL to find albums that are both musically and sonically great. Mingus' Ah Um may make for a great buy. Perhaps LeGrand Jazz could be one they'd do down the road. Impex did a 33 a couple of years ago, but the OneStep, with its built-in buyers, would bring the album a wider audience.

Could you imagine the demand if they were able to get the rights to do Abbey Road, a wonderfully recorded album?

But how about MFSL taking on one of Stephen Sondheim's masterpieces such as "A Little Night Music"? Another opportunity to reach out to a wider audience, Sondheim is akin to Leonard Bernstein and Rodgers and Hammerstein. The Original Broadway Cast album was recorded really well.

I'm just brainstorming, but there ARE records more deserving of a reissue that could be blockbusters in this format. Sure, I understand that they need to sell. But the catalog bin is starting to smell a bit musty.

AndreC.'s picture

... in Europe 200,00 Euro! ... no longer acceptable.

Dr Freejazz's picture

...and will kill our hobby in the not so long run.

Analog Scott's picture

"Given the quality of the production, I just wish Mo-Fi would be more adventurous in its reissue choices." Not sure I agree with you with this particular title. Yes there is a previous Mofi reissue but beyond that I think this is pretty much it for this title in the audiophile vinyl reissue world. It's not like Yes Fragile, Muddy Waters Folk Singer, Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman, anything Roy Orbison or RCA Scheherazade/Reiner CSO. No matter what titles Mofi or any other reissue label choose there will always be some chorus of boos from audiophiles. But IMO anytime any audiophile reissue label can take a classic recording and make substantial sonic improvements on any other version of that title they made a great choice.

Tullman's picture

I too would like to see something different from MOFI. Art Garfunkel has some nice AAA titles that would be great using the one step process.

Analog Scott's picture

I think this is the tricky thing with audiophile reissues. Is there really a market for Art Garfunkel solo recordings at $125.00 a pop? That is the question they have to ask themselves with every choice they make.

Tullman's picture

Sure there is a market for $125. a pop for Art Garfunkel. 1. This has become a collectors thing. I mean Bill Evans? 2. They don't have to press 7500, they could press less.

Analog Scott's picture

Bill Evens Trio is a proven seller in the audiophile reissue market. That was a "safe" choice. Art Garfunkel is not a proven seller in the audiophile market. Which is why I suspect Mofi won't touch any of those recordings for a One step reissue. And yes they could press less. But I suspect given how well they are doing pressing 7,500 copies of Marvin Gaye and selling out in less than two weeks after the release would not give Mofi much motivation to do Garfunkel titles with lower runs to accommodate lower demand.

Chemguy's picture

...10 copies. That’s a silly choice.

You want an instant sell out?...Aja. We’d trample over each other for this one.

Tullman's picture

No way will the license holders release this to MOFI.

mraudioguru's picture

...has had the AJA tapes at least once before, (MFSL 1-033). I would think that they have a pretty decent chance if they wanted it again? Now whether they can afford it or not, is another matter...

Chemguy's picture

Already did Aja back in the day. I have a copy.

Analog Scott's picture

That would fall under the category of safe unimaginative choices. The thing Mr. Fremer is pointing out here. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Would it surprise me if they did Aja? Not at all. But I can hear the chorus of "not another Aja for **** sake!" looming over the very idea.

Chemguy's picture

And it's a fine one under any business model. "Not another Aja" is not something anyone would complain about that's in the know: one MFSL, one Cisco, and after that not a lot of desirable pressings...the ABC reissues/retreads were nothing to talk about-standard fare. We'd all line up to get one.

Sorry, but "adventurous" and "outside the norm" can't really apply to albums that are going to go for $125 US.

Analog Scott's picture

"Sorry, but "adventurous" and "outside the norm" can't really apply to albums that are going to go for $125 US." You might want to explain that to The Electronic Recording Company who are selling records at around $450.00 a pop. Are you familiar with "Music for Viola & Cello Played by Herbert Downes and Jacqueline Du Pre"? How about "Bach & Mozart Violin Concertos Played by Gioconda De Vito"? Or maybe "Chopin
Nocturnes Played by Yura Guller"? Would you call these titles "warhorses"? These are the sort of titles ERC are reissuing and they sell out every single title. And I do know a number of audiophiles that would cry about "another Aja." Doesn't matter what is released, there is a group of audiophiles there to cry over it. And they all think they are "in the know." They are audiophiles.

Chemguy's picture

...of those titles, because I read this website! Totally different crowd. If you’re going to do the $125 One Step and sell it it the pop/rock crowd, accessibility’s important. No one’s picking up a Phil Ochs One Step, but Who’s Next would sell like hotcakes.

Analog Scott's picture

Both cater to the audiophile crowd. In fact they actually share a common title. Bill Evans Sunday at the Village Vangard. ERC does prove there is a market for "adventurous choices." They succeed because they really know the material and choose adventurous titles with substantial pedigree. and they offer a unique approach to making records (as does the Mofi One step Series). But now that Mofi is looking to do 7,500 copies per One Step title then yeah, they will definitely need to do titles that are well enough known and hot enough to sell. We already know what the next batch will be. Yes Fragile and Mingus Ah Hum. Neither fall into the "adventurous" category and I have seen a lot of online crying over Yes Fragile. So audiophiles will piss and moan about their title choices and Mofi will rake in profits. Both ERC and Mofi do seem to know what they are doing.

Roy Martin's picture

..."I ain't marching anymore," to "won't get fooled again."

drummerguy's picture

Since there's MANY good/great reissues of "Aja" of which I've acquired 7 over the years. To name a few my original Canadian pressing, Japanese, US, MFSL 1/2 speed mastered why not "Gaucho"? It was also a huge seller and the sonic's are superior to "Aja" musically it's quite amazing not a "klinker" on the whole album. I have my original, a Japanese "promo" and a 1/2 speed MCA "Masterdisk". I enjoy both albums very much as well as all of the other Steely Dan albums.
Just food for thought.

Chemguy's picture

...a superb selection! Nice one. I have the MFSL Aja and an AB-1006, so I’m quite happy on the Aja-front.

Aja and Gaucho are number 1 and 1A in my Steely faves, and both are in my top 10 albums ever.

Tullman's picture

the same old "audiophile" titles

Tom L's picture

If the old warhorses aren't relevant any more, what do you think should replace them? Must be great performances of demanding music, preferably analog recordings, with no distracting audible flaws and enough popular appeal that they will sell a reasonable number of copies. Avoid synthesizers and sampling. No brickwalling! And the original masters must be available and in good condition.
Personally, I'm having trouble coming up with anything.

Tullman's picture

Perhaps other titles from the old war horses. Instead of Take 5 by Brubeck, How about Gone With The Wind. Perhaps the Foreigner Suite by Cat Stevens.Jon Luc Ponty. Chris Squire.

Analog Scott's picture

I would love to see someone do an Ivan Moravec Connoisseur Society series. Excellent recordings. A very well known and highly regarded artist. Performances that consistently rank among the best in classical music. Seems like an easy choice. Of course I pitched that idea to Chad Kassem years ago and he laughed and told me no one buys classical music. Shortly after that he came out with the RCA reissue series. Petty much duplicating what Classic Records released. I could easily come up with a pretty long list if I had to.

Anton D's picture

This is a great ongoing thread!

I agree about discontinuity on this release!

It was made, intentionally, as a two sided LP with the expectation that each side was part of a continuous experience. There is something “abominable” about these discontinuities!

This realease is solidly for audiophiles over music lovers, for sure.

Which is OK! I hadn’t thought about it so much until people so insightfully pointed it out. Now, so obvious.

estimatedprophet's picture

This record, like so-many great albumsfrom the 70’s, should not be broken into four sides. MoFi, if you’re listening, please consider 33rpm versions.

cdvinyl's picture

How does the Japanese pressing compare to the other reissues?

john75's picture

I think the goal of the One Step is to achieve maximum sound quality. All other factors are less important. And I agree with that. This reissue program is not about making rare(r) titles available on AAA vinyl. Rare is mostly synonymous with: hard to sell enough copies to regain the costs (Art Garfunkel). Off course there are exceptions but then the licensing is often the problem (Steely Dan, Zeppelin, Bowie, Beatles). Otherwise there would have been (recent) reissues on AP, MFSL or another boutique label.
In these discussions about too obvious choices for reissued titles I often have the feeling that the rather selfish collector mentality "I've got mine" is in the room. There are still a lot of new collectors who don't have or can afford original pressings or rare reissues. Great for those to have the opportunity to own a great sounding AAA pressing.


The split is too bad but there's no way around it. This record is a game changer and the fact no one is talking about it is an indication the the "Audiophile" community is mostly into "Equipment". It's 125 dollars (I pre-ordered and paid 99) but it sounds like it. Go back and listen to it. This thing is AWESOME. I wish people where into music more.

Hackmartian's picture

The reason I'm so frustrated by this version is exactly because I care more about the music than the equipment. Having an incremental increase in sound quality at the expense of the flow of the album and the artist's very specific intent isn't a worthwhile trade-off for an album beautifully realized as a two-sided suite. I was amazed by how good this pressing "sounds" but was snapped out of the experience by the side breaks. As a result, I'll probably only listen to this version when I want to show off my system, but when I want to fully experience this masterpiece, it'll be at 33 1/3.

RichPeopleHaveAllTheFun's picture

Don't kid your self MSFL AND NOW QRP making these One Step and now Clarity Vinyl ( which QRP is doing Aqualung AGAIN ) All for over 100 bucks !!! I call this the Ultimate since it's vinyl not a pricey that will barely make any money SACD that will make enough copies EASY SELL ALL WILL BUY... money making mostly in the packaging and next MFSL will make a EASY SELL OUT A MILLION COPIES
Bob Dylan 125.00 pressed at RTI LOL making 9000 probably more copies with a lot more quality control.............. Total
SCAM ONE STEP ON THIS LOL... I know I just threw words around. Just put them together you'll see it.

ArizonaBob's picture

This is a great discussion. I've been away for awhile but couldn't help wanting to throw in my two cents worth. Many valid points here, tough to balance sales vs. costs. I too would like to see human played instrument selections. The Beatles issues would be a no brainer, then again so would Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John and U2. The Moody Blues come to mind as well as Cat Stevens and Stevie Wonder. Haven't sat down and worked up a specific list, I'd need some time for that. Maybe some Jack White or Soul Asylum. Given time there would be hundreds. Acquiring the rights for the use with margins for profit is precarious. Early Stones, Tommy and Quadrophenia, Zep, Eagles, Coltrane, Floyd, Ronstadt, Pearl Jam and the list goes on and on. From the 60's thru the teens. So much music so little time! ArizonaBob

Bob Henneberger's picture

i want roxy musics avalon 1 step,,, or coltrane giant steps