The entire letter can be found below, along with our general notes about the recording.
Got a chance to try your Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road hot stamper, and wow! EJ has never been one of my favorite artists, my liking his earlier output to some degree, but in my opinion GYBR is his magnum opus and his high water mark, down from which he slid rapidly into mediocrity.
I have tried a number of pressings of this record and always found it to be a good, but not great, recording, which is a shame considering it is one of the few double LP’s extant without anything approaching filler material. So I tried my Direct Disk Labs version, which was OK, but sounded veiled compared to the MFSL version, actually not bad for one of their efforts.
But the cinemascape evolved entirely with the hot stamper, bringing these great songs to life in my listening room like few others I have heard. If you want to hear a demo disk performance of this record you won’t find it outside a hot stamper in my experience. EJ’s voice is front and center, rich and full, allowing me to hear every vocal inflection. I swear I could tell what EJ had for breakfast–eggs and chutney, even! Pianos were arrayed in space with the correct surface loudness, guitars crunched on Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, the drums on Jamaica Jerkoff were massive and dynamic, and the bass drum whacks on I’ve Seen That Movie Too had that sock-in-the-gut punch.
This hot stamper shows off the difference between a recording and a performance. Great job on finding what for me is a new reference disk.
Hot Stamper Commentary…
for a copy similar to the one Roger bought
The most obvious problems with the sound of this album are those common to most rock records of the era: lack of presence and top end, too much compression / congestion, smear, lack of weight from the lower mids on down — we hear tons 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 properly and the result is a rough collection 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. (We can help you with cleaning if you feel you need it. Just drop us a line.)
We Like To Rock
GYBR has the best rocker Elton and Bernie ever wrote: Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. Of course it’s one of the tracks on side four we used to test with — if you’re going to listen to GYBR all day, why not play the songs that are the most fun to play? On the good pressings the song just KILLS (assuming that you have the kind of big speaker system required to play it).
Half Speed Masters — From Bad to Worse
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 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 us to want to play. It’s compressed and sucked-out like practically every record they ever made, just not as badly as the DD Labs version.
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.)