Mono 45rpm "Surrealistic Pillow" from Mo-Fi is the One to Have

Paul Kantner RIP. When is this parade of dead rock icons going to end? Can we at least have a short break?

Even before mono mixes again became desireable, Jefferson Airplane fans preferred the greater clarity and less reverberant atmposhere of "Surrealistic Pillow's mono mix.

The original mono record (RCA LPM-3766), not common to begin with, became quite collectible as did mono Stones albums on London and British Decca—including the mono Aftermath, which shares a very similar sonic signature in both mono and stereo.

That's not surprising since the late, great engineer Dave Hassinger, recorded both at RCA's Music Center of the World, in Hollywood, California. Hassinger also recorded Jascha Heifetz, The Grateful Dead and The Electric Prunes for that matter.

While he recorded a great deal of rock, those records, because of their tonal richness and transient delicacy indicate that his heart was into classical and acoustic music. Both had unique sonics in their respective catalogs.

Surrealistic Pillow broke the group internationally, which was kind of a miracle since RCA at the time (if ever) was not known as a rock label. But "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" became generational anthems and the album a '60s decade icon.

In 1967 this was one of those "get stoned, sit down in front of the stereo, turn the lights out and travel elsewhere for fifteen minutes" records along with Strange Days and Day's of Future Past not to mention Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

In retrospect it's really a mild folk-rock record enhanced by Marty Balin's haunting balladry. It holds up well almost fifty years later (scary!).

Balin and Kantner's "Today" is as poignant and moving as it was back then and it and the side-ender "Comin' Back to Me" threw a one two adult emotional punch in the face of a generation mostly looking for liberation—though of course the album and later Airplane records covered that too!

Jerry Garcia plays the guitar part on "Today", which Balin wrote for Tony Bennett, who never recorded it. It's not to late Mr. Benedetto!

How good is this reissue? Listen for yourself. Even dumbed down to an MP3 it's an astonishingly good reissue—better than the original mono in my opinion. The tape's rarely been used since the original release so its still fresh.

Recommended without reservation!

Music Direct Buy It Now

jblackhall's picture

I bought the Sundazed mono a couple of years ago (found it for $18 new in Milwaukee) and it's very good. I bought it based on your previous recommendation: . I much prefer the mono over an old stereo copy. However, this is a killer album. Think it's worth buying the reissue as my system improves? I see you rated the sonics 11 here and 10 in the old review. Also, I'm not sure if tape was used for the Sundazed reissue.

P.S. I LOVE the videos. Please keep up that fantastic work!

mraudioguru's picture

I bought this MOFI LP the day it came out. I totally agree, it's a fantastic copy.

elliotdrum's picture

Albums like Surrealistic Pillow were created for tripping
on LSD. My friends and I also listened at that time to the
Doors self titled-The Dead-Hendrix-Cream-Beatles Revolver
and Sgt. Pepper-Pink Floyd-Janis-Moody Blues.. Etc.
If you R E A L L Y wanted to hear how good your stereo sounded!
I asked Ray Manzarek did you guys take LSD at the time you were
recording your first album-he said "of course"

Kirby's picture

A sad side note to this story, the original female singer on their first album, Signe Toly Anderson, who Grace Slick replaced has just passed away on the 28th.

AnalogJ's picture

I have a really nice original mono. It sounds a bit tubey, and then there's the reverb on it. It's not audiophile, but it sounds relatively full, present, and fresh. I'd also say there's not a whole lot of bass extension on this.

The song clip above sounds lovely, though not 'night and day' better than my original. As it's vocal and guitar, it's not the most challenging cut.

In what ways do you think the MoFi sounds better than an original?

Michael Fremer's picture
45 1/2 speed cut is better and vinyl is dead quiet but if you have a clean original I would spend $50 on other vinyl....
AnalogJ's picture

Yeah, my copy is pretty clean. Acoustic guitars, by the way, come off as pretty punchy. But you still don't say how the MFSL sounds better. Could you expound please?

Michael Fremer's picture
Greater transient delicacy, depth and overall detail. Even though it's mono, the projection of greater depth is noticeable. I would say you can even hear it on the YouTube file....
wao62's picture

I have a clean mono original, but in many respects this reissue is better and well worth obtaining if you love this album? I think the more one loves an album, the more copies (different pressings, mono/stereo, etc.) he/she ought to have of it!

bigw0001's picture

I agree. I have found almost all 45's are better as a rule- bigger soundstage, more detail, etc. This record by MOFI is fantastic.

Jeffrey Lee's picture

The drums beg to differ.

Dukeandduke29's picture

About the sundazed blonde on blonde-- dylan and company sound like they're stuck in a heavy-felt non-surrealistic pillow. The 45-speed Mofi puts them in a room with oxygen and electricity. The sundazed version, even in mono, is really not that fun to listen to, which is crazy considering the material Sundazed had to work with.

thomoz's picture

Or does the mono version of this song run faster then the stereo? It sounds like it's almost a semitone higher.
I have not heard my mono LP in a while, but the stereo one pops up all the time because those tracks are on compilations and on my iPod on shuffle. I am assuming that this top-notch turntable is not at fault, but that the record is simply cut that way.

Michael Fremer's picture
Original mono to original stereo to reissued mono. You are making a lot of work here! :-)
kdl6769's picture

This album is, what, 34 minutes long? I love this record, but at just over 8 minutes a side, the 2 LP format is overkill (and a buzz kill). As Music Matters has demonstrated, it ought to be possible to produce a high quality AAA reissue at 33 1/3. I wonder what drives the MoFI decision on whether to go 45RPM or 33? For example, Blood on the Tracks and Kiko -- both fairly long -- were done as 33, not 45.

Michael Fremer's picture
There's a good chance Mo-Fi was only able to obtain the rights to release it at 45rpm.
Brother John's picture

Purchased the QRP pressed Crown of Creation and It blew away my favorite early 80's mofi pressing In almost every area. However Bass and highs were the most noticeably present on the Sundazed are totally shaved off on the mofi!. Recently upgraded from Shelter 501MKII to SoundSmith The Voice and the Cartridge is a sonic revelation when It comes to Audio truth.

Kirby's picture

I just got my copy yesterday and Michaels 10/11 rating is right on the money! The old cliché "heard it for the first time, really is true for this one. There is no comparing it to the Sundaze, this one is soooo much better. I would even go as far as saying this is one of the better jobs Mofi has done and I have lots of them Ten thumbs up!

762rob's picture

These reason I like the stereo better with all the reverb is that when I heard The Airplane at The Fillmore and Avalon in the 60's that is what they sounded like in those rooms.
However I bought the MoFi mono anyway and the Friday Music stereo that just came out.

Roscoe's picture

Sorry, if this has already been discussed. Michael, could you or any owners please opine on the "sound quality" of this pink vinyl pressing. I believe it is a Friday release. Yes, I am occasionally a sucker for colored vinyl.
PS: Whether digital files or not, the JS Red Octopus - Friday release sounds outstanding, compared to the original. Thanks

Michael Fremer's picture
I have not liked any of their previous releases but perhaps they have stepped it up.
Muso's picture

...even over youtube video on my crappy computer speakers that sounds good!

jeffpartyka's picture

After reading this and checking out that video, I just ordered my copy of the MoFi. I have a few originals, but both have noise (mostly tick/pop) issues, and I also have the Sundazed but I'm sure this will be an improvement.

Yes, I love this album. :]

Michael Fremer's picture
Sundazed cut from tape, I still think Mo-Fi's reissue will sound better but that's because of their "tricked out" mastering system.
G-man's picture

Hey Mike,
I didn't see any mention of how the DCC mono reissue compares to this new reissue.
I'm not sure how much better the sound will be considering 1/2 of the songs sound like they were recorded in a garage. As much as I love the record there's a lot to be desired re: the actual recording.

Gardo's picture

Not much to add except an enthusiastic Amen. This is one of my favorite albums, and I've never heard it so full, dynamic, and textured as on this remaster. The depth in this mono recording is truly beguiling. But it's the resolution that slays me, especially in "Comin' Back To Me," where I hear nuances in Balin's vocal, and layers in the arrangement, I'd simply never heard before.

This record is worth every penny. The short sides focus the experience, and MoFi's grouping of tracks turns the album into four mini-suites. A great experience. Recommended to all fans of this great album.

AnalogJ's picture

I love picking up 12" singles of pop and rock songs for their often superior sonics. I think of 45rpm pressings as that opportunity to hear great records with the most superior sonics possible (if the mastering is equal to it).

Regarding Music Matters putting out great sounding records at 33, that's true. But most who own both the same MM record at 45 and 33 generally prefer the sonics of the 45. More dynamic, more spacious, more relaxed. MM admits that more compression is used on the 33s. They will sound more punchy, but that's not to everyone's liking.

AZ's picture


AnalogJ's picture

The 33s will sound a bit better in relatively lower end systems compared to the 45s in those same systems because of it. YMMV, of course.

AZ's picture

The EQ is different, that's for sure. But I'm not sure about the compression. Is it really confirmed by MM?

AnalogJ's picture

I did a shootout between the MoFi and my original mono, focusing on the top end. There are those in another forum who feel that the original has much more sparkle than the MoFi, that the MoFi sounds subdued in comparison in the high frequencies. I opined that it could be due to VTA. So I did my own shootout, concentrating on the top end.

I played both copies at the normal VTA I had found most acceptable for both thicker profile vinyl as well as for lower profile vinyl, the best compromise. I also lowered and raised the VTA for both, trying to see how that affected the sound.

There is no doubt, comparing my copies, that the original's high end is more pronounced and seems to have more air than the MoFi. There's certainly more pluck and transient impact on the top end with the original. The MoFi sounds much duller and/or more laid back in that regard.

I could dull the "sparkle" of the original by lowering the VTA. I could not replicate that top end "sparkle" in the MoFi, no matter how high I raised the VTA. It just doesn't seem to be there.

The MoFi goes deeper and has richer resolution of inner detail. I can hear more of the room ambience, as most of room ambience is in the lower frequencies. The best song to show off the MoFi's strengths is "White Rabbit", where the song really opens up, and gets fuller larger as it goes along, quite dramatically. On the original, it flattens out, not getting nearly as big.

But the original can sound more exciting than the MoFi. It could be due to fresher tapes, or it could be the mastering choices. For whatever reason, they sound different, and I can see some preferring the "freshness" of the original mono vs. the depth and richness of the MoFi.