Sonic Grade: F (DD Labs) / D (MoFi)
If you have the Direct Disc Labs half-speed you have one truly awful record in your collection, so sucked out in the midrange, so compressed everywhere, what the hell were they thinking making this rockin’ album sound like that? It’s positively disgraceful. It makes MoFi look like they knew what they doing, and we know that sure isn’t true.
In truth we did not actually have a copy of the MoFi handy for this shootout, but in our defense let us just say that we’ve heard their pressing many times over the course of the last twenty years. It’s better than the DD Labs version but not good enough for me to want to play it — compressed and sucked-out like practically every record they ever made, just not as badly as the DD Labs version.
The most obvious problems with the sound of this album are ones common to many if not most rock records of the era: lack of presence, too much compression, smear, lack of weight from the lower mids on down — we hear lots of Classic Rock records with this litany of shortcomings. But it’s not the fault of the master tape, it’s probably not even the fault of the mastering engineer most of the time. It’s just plain bad pressing quality. The sound simply doesn’t get stamped onto the vinyl right and the result is one or more of the problems above. And if you don’t know how to clean your records properly, forget it, you have virtually no chance of hearing good sound on GYBR.
The Average Copy
Years ago we discussed how tough a nut to crack this one has been for us:
It should be noted that good sounding Brit copies of this record are almost IMPOSSIBLE to find! If you find a copy with even one good sounding quiet side you should consider yourself very lucky. Most copies are noisy and dull as dishwater.
And that was strictly for the Brit copies. The domestic copies we played were bright, transistory, spitty and aggressive as all get out. If you had one of those bad domestic pressings and bought the half-speed at least you could play the record without your ears starting to hemorrhage. But you would run the danger of falling asleep somewhere in the middle of a side, always a danger with the kind of lifeless sound that labels using half speed mastering seem to find attractive. This, it should go without saying, is not our sound here at Better Records.
Modern Reissue Sound
Some copies on some sides sound too much like a modern reissue; they tend to lack weight and be “clean” sounding. We take serious points off when records sound modern, a sound the current spate of reissues cannot get away from and one of the main reasons we gave up on them. Not our thing, sorry. All the other major audiophile record dealers sell that junk, so if you like that sound you will have no trouble finding plenty of titles that offer it. It frankly bores us to tears. Why do audiophiles like the sound of records that sound like good CDs? We like to play records that sound like good records. It sounds so real that it lets us forget we’re even listening to a record.
GYBR Listening Exercises
As you’re playing your copy at home, or maybe this one if you end up with it, listen for the Abbey Road guitars; they are everywhere on this album, along with some Abbey Road arrangements and chord progressions. Caleb Quaye’s wah wah from all of Elton’s classic early albums is gone; he wouldn’t return until Rock of the Westies, an album I love but one that nobody else seems to care for. (Admittedly the sound is dreadful.)
Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Candle in the Wind
Bennie and the Jets
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
This Song Has No Title
Jamaica Jerk Off
I’ve Seen That Movie Too
Sweet Painted Lady
The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-34)
Dirty Little Girl
All the Girls Love Alice
Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll)
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was where Elton John’s personality began to gather more attention than his music, as it topped the American charts for eight straight weeks. In many ways, the double album was a recap of all the styles and sounds that made John a star. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is all over the map, beginning with the prog rock epic “Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)” and immediately careening into the balladry of “Candle in the Wind.” For the rest of the album, John leaps between popcraft (“Bennie and the Jets”), ballads (“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”), hard rock (“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”), novelties (“Jamaica Jerk-Off”), Bernie Taupin’s literary pretensions (“The Ballad of Danny Bailey”), and everything in between… its individual moments are spectacular and the glitzy, crowd-pleasing showmanship that fuels the album pretty much defines what made Elton John a superstar in the early ’70s.