Elton John’s Too Low For Zero – The Last in a Great Run

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  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides of this early British import LP – quiet vinyl too
  • There’s some real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals and plenty of rock and roll energy 
  • I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues – the best song Elton’s done in the last 35 years – is killer here
  • One of engineer Bill Price’s best efforts behind the boards in the ’80s, and Chris Thomas’s production is State of the Art as usual
  • Allmusic 4 1/2 Stars: “Happily, this is a reunion that works like gangbusters, capturing everybody at a near-peak of their form.” 

Much of the production — the smooth, sweet harmony vocals, the rich, grungy guitars, the solid, warm piano — reminds me of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, one of the classics from back in the day when Gus Dudgeon was running the show.

Caribou (1974) and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975) have a similarly glossy, perfectionist approach to production as well of course. It was 1975’s Rock of the Westies that went off in another direction.

The next six albums, from Blue Moves to Jump Up, at least to these ears, don’t sound good enough or have the kind of consistent material that was the hallmark of the six albums recorded from 1970 to 1973. Four of those are in our Top 100 Rock and Pop album list, and all four are Must Owns in my book. Pop music just doesn’t get any better.

So if Too Low For Zero reminds us in any way of those albums, especially in the songwriting department now that Bernie Taupin has rejoined team Elton after a too-long hiatus, that is all to the good.

Tubey Magic in 1983

This early British pressing (forget the dubby domestic vinyl) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot 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 the band, 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 to Listen For (WTLF)

Here are some of the things we specifically listen for in late ’70s / early ’80s Pop/Rock records.

Our hottest Hot Stamper copies are simply doing more of these things better than any of the other copies we played in our shootout.

The best copies have:

  • Greater immediacy in the vocals (most copies are veiled and distant to some degree);
  • Natural tonal balance (many copies are at least slightly brighter or darker than ideal; those with the right balance are the exception, not the rule);
  • Good solid weight (so the bass sounds full and powerful);
  • Spaciousness (the best copies have wonderful studio ambience and space);
  • Tubey Magic, without which you might as well be playing a CD;
  • And last but not least, transparency, the quality of being able to see into the studio, where there is plenty of musical information to be revealed in this sometimes simple, sometimes complex and sophisticated recording.

The Players and Personnel

Davey Johnstone – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, backing vocals
Dee Murray – bass guitar, backing vocals
Nigel Olsson – drums, backing vocals

Bill Price – engineering
Chris Thomas – production

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 import or domestic pressings, or — even worse — the Heavy Vinyl reissue, 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 LISTING

Side One

Cold As Christmas (In The Middle Of The Year) 
I’m Still Standing
Too Low For Zero
Religion
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues

Side Two

Crystal
Kiss The Bride
Whipping Boy
Saint
One More Arrow

AMG 4.5 Star Review

Elton John began inching back into the mainstream with Jump Up, an uneven but strong record highlighted by “Empty Garden.” Its success set the stage for Too Low for Zero, a full-fledged reunion with his best collaborator, Bernie Taupin, and his classic touring band. Happily, this is a reunion that works like gangbusters, capturing everybody at a near-peak of their form.

John hadn’t been this engaging in years, not since Gerald Ford was in office. Why does this work so well? Well, the question isn’t just consistency, since records like A Single Man were strong, but it’s because each cut here showcases John at a peak… While this may not be as rich as his classic early period, it’s a terrific record, an exemplary illustration of what a veteran artist could achieve in the early ’80s.