Which "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs"?

After the messy "supergroup" hype surrounding Blind Faith—more a one-off money maker than a group formed to last—Eric Clapton decided to downplay his fame and so was born in 1970 Derek and the Dominoes and the Layla... double LP that initially flopped. Many people today forget that, but flop it did. It didn't help that it was a costly double LP by an "unknown" group.

Few had heard of Derek and Dominoes nor did many know that "Derek" was Eric The album stiffed until word spread on "the street" and Atlantic Records began taking a more active role promoting it. Actually, the record was a Polydor U.K. production licensed to Atlantic and that too might have hindered the initial promotion drive. Even after corrective action had been taken, the album peaked at No. 16 on The Billboard album charts, which is kind of pathetic for an album that has become a well-deserved classic and contains some of the most compelling and heartfelt singing by anyone ever in rock.

You have Duane Allman on most of it plus the true "all-star" rhythm section of Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock and Jim Gordon. And of course Eric singing his heart out about "Layla", and enough has already been written about that so not going to again.

So how good is Mobile Fidelity's reissue? I compared it to two original Atco pressings ( SD 2-704) pressed at Presswell) and to the DirectDisk Labs "Super Disk" 1/2 speed re-master (SD-2-16629) cut at the JVC Cutting Center in Hollywood, CA and pressed (according to the jacket) at Direct Disk Labs. Did Direct Disk really have its own pressing plant? I doubt it.

In any case, here's what I found: a clean original cut at Atlantic Studios from the then fresh master tape (or from a copy thereof) is difficult to find (almost all on Discogs were VG or at best VG+), that's in part due to the poor quality vinyl used in America during that period of time, exacerbated a few years later by an oil shortage caused by the OPEC embargo. However, by the early '70s as vinyl record consumption skyrocketed, quality really began to deteriorate. And of course those fold down Silverstone changers did not help!

The two original copies I have definitely have a transparency (within what is a murky recording) on top lacking in the Mo-Fi reissue but otherwise the new Mo-Fi reissue stomps all over the original in terms of background quiet, dynamics and especially bottom end drive and timbral accuracy. The original's bottom end is a thuddy, timbrally indistinct mess compared to the Mo-Fi's clarity.

Clearly the Mobile Fidelity mastering team of Krieg Wunderlich and Rob LoVerde put in the hours to lock in the bottom end of this recording, particularly Jim Gordon's toms, that have never before sounded this convincing. The entire bottom end, somewhat rolled on the original and definitely anemic on the Direct Disk edition (which also loses points for sequencing the record 1-4/2-3 for changers!), is ideal on the Mo-Fi reissue, while everything else is as good as can be expected from a 45+ year old tape that was reputed to have not been in great shape to begin with. Either the tape was in better condition than has been reported or the Mo-Fi boys worked miracles or maybe both.

There's genuine mastering artistry in these grooves both musically and technically. Look, this was never a sonic spectacular and while the original may be somewhat airier and more expansive on top, that difference is more at the margins while everything else on this Mobile Fidelity reissue is far and surprisingly better .

With Clapton and Duane Allman wailing on guitars propelled by a spectacular rhythm section (parts of which even those very familiar with the album will be hearing as if for the first time), you are guaranteed to play your best air guitar. And knowing what everyone now knows about Clapton's love-obsession, if side 3's lineup of "Tell the Truth", "Why Does Love Have to Be So Bad", and "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" doesn't break your heart, you haven't got one.

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COMMENTS
mraudioguru's picture

I have each version that you state above. While I haven't spent the time you have comparing them and sonic memory is short lived, but I agree with you that this MOFI reissue is superb...

Roy Martin's picture

"Eric Clapton decided to downplay his fame and so was born"...Delaney and Bonnie and Friends.

bent river music's picture

when I saw them in Phoenix the show was stopped because bonnie fell off the rotating stage. almost as bad as the Led Zep concert there when they had to end the show early because Jimmy Page got 'sick'. There were no refunds for either show sadly.

mrl1957's picture

Side 3, track 2: Why Does Love GOT to be so SAD. Sorry to be nit-picky.

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

There was a 40th anniversary edition of Layla mastered by Miles Showell a couple of years and the reissue was done from the original UK tapes. Here is a link to a very interesting interview with Bill Levenson about the UK and US tapes of Layla. The 40th edition is very close to the UK original.

http://www.whereseric.com/eric-clapton-news/303-laylas-40th-wheres-eric-...

James, Dublin, Ireland

AnalogJ's picture

I pretty much heard what you did, Michael. I wrote up a shootout I did a couple of months back in a Steve Hoffman forum between a George Piros Atco, a Al Brown Atco, a German Polydor, and the new MoFi.

The MoFi had, by FAR, the most precision in the midrange and lower end. The German was close in terms of lower end presence, and even sounded a bit airier. But the conclusion I came to is that the original recording probably didn't have a whole lot of top end naturally. The Al Brown mastering sounded terribly boosted on top and quite harsh, the George Piros reasonably boosted on top, and the German mildly boosted. The German copy might be the most balanced sounding, but it sounds like it's from at least a 2nd generation tape. The George Piros had more top end excitement, which made the guitars sound like they had more cutting edge to them, but overall, the vocals and instruments sounded very 2-dimensional. The reason I say "boosted" is that they all seem to sound like they have a sort of blanket over some part of the upper midrange. The boosted treble on the Atcos as well as the very slight boost on the German sound almost disconnected from the rest of the frequency spectrum.

Only the German and the MoFi had any sort of dimensionality to the images. Clearly, however, the image focus and lower end and midrange resolution was superior on the MoFi. That's the version I will likely go for.

Meanwhile, musically speaking, the album is one stunning piece after another, with Bobby Whitlock's impassioned vocals really standing out.

The MoFi is not an absolute masterpiece of sonics as they could only do so much, but the midrange is so superior to the other pressings, and that midrange really gives unparalleled access to the humanity in this recording. Yes, other pressings may initially sound more exciting, but, as you point out, the heartbreak is really revealed in the MoFi.

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