- This UK pressing of Bowie’s pre-Ziggy Folk Rock masterpiece earned outstanding Double (A++) grades for their preternaturally Tubey Magical sound – thanks Ken Scott, you da man!
- The best tracks on the album are Demonstration Quality – Oh You Pretty Things is a KNOCKOUT here
- Rich, spacious and sweet, with a HUGE soundstage – drop the needle on Changes and listen to how dynamic it is
- 5 stars: “On the surface, such a wide range of styles and sounds would make an album incoherent, but Bowie’s improved songwriting and determined sense of style instead made Hunky Dory a touchstone for reinterpreting pop’s traditions into fresh, postmodern pop music.”
The amazing Ken Scott (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century (all Top 100), as well as All Things Must Pass, Truth, Birds of Fire, Son Of Schmilsson, America’s debut and many more is the man responsible for the sound here (he also produced the album, replacing Tony Visconti). It should go without saying that this is one seriously talented guy.
The kind of Tubey Magical richness and smoothness that he achieved at Trident in the early ’70s, not to mention sound that is remarkably spacious and practically free from distortion — qualities that are especially important to us Big Speaker guys who like to play their records good and loud –has rarely been equaled by anyone in the years that’ve followed (even by Ken).
As noted above, many of his best recordings can be found in our Rock and Pop Top 100 List of Best Sounding Albums, limited to the titles that we can actually find sufficient copies of with which to do our Hot Stamper shootouts.
What outstanding sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1971
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
What We’re Listening For on Hunky Dory
Pressings of Hunky Dory typically suffer from one major shortcoming: a severe lack of presence in the midrange. Bowie sounds like he has a blanket over his head on 90% of the copies you might run into, import and domestic. I always just kind of expected to hear it that way for the rest of my life. Now I know better. Both sides of this copy show you the Hunky Dory that you always dreamed could exist, but had somehow proven elusive in the real world. Well, here it is!
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Ken Is The Man
In 2008 I had the opportunity to hear Ken speak at an AES meeting here in Los Angeles. This is the man who recorded some of the All Time Great Rock Albums, the likes of Crime of the Century, Ziggy Stardust, The White Album, Honky Chateau, All Things Must Pass, Son Of Schmilsson, America’s debut… this is one seriously talented guy!
I won’t bore you by trying to recap his talk, but if it ever comes out on youtube or the like, you should definitely check it out. The Behind-The-Scenes discussion of these artists and their recordings was a thrill for someone like me who has been playing and enjoying the hell out of most of his albums for more than thirty years.
Oh! You Pretty Things
Eight Line Poem
Life on Mars?
Fill Your Heart
Song for Bob Dylan
The Bewlay Brothers
AMG 5 Star Rave Review
Hunky Dory is a kaleidoscopic array of pop styles, tied together only by Bowie’s sense of vision: a sweeping, cinematic mélange of high and low art, ambiguous sexuality, kitsch, and class. Mick Ronson’s guitar is pushed to the back, leaving Rick Wakeman’s cabaret piano to dominate the sound of the album. The subdued support accentuates the depth of Bowie’s material, whether it’s the revamped Tin Pan Alley of “Changes,” the Neil Young homage “Quicksand,” the soaring “Life on Mars?,” the rolling, vaguely homosexual anthem “Oh! You Pretty Things,” or the dark acoustic rocker “Andy Warhol.” On the surface, such a wide range of styles and sounds would make an album incoherent, but Bowie’s improved songwriting and determined sense of style instead made Hunky Dory a touchstone for reinterpreting pop’s traditions into fresh, postmodern pop music.