- Stunning DEMO DISC sound throughout – Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and close to that on the first
- An original UK pressing with sound this good is a Must Own for all right thinking audiophile record lovers, not just Elton John fans
- No modern record ever sounded like this – these sides are HUGE, with sound that positively jumps out of the speakers
- Some of the most remarkable string arrangements (and Tubey Magical string sound) ever recorded for a pop album
- 4 1/2 stars: “Even with the strings and choirs that dominate the sound of the album, John manages to rock out on a fair share of the record. …Elton John remains one of his best records.”
Folks, if you’re looking for Classic Rock that still appeals to sophisticated adults forty plus years after it came out, this is the album for you. It’s one of the four Classic Elton John records (five if you count GYBR) that belong in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection.*
It’s full of analog Tubey Magic — the richness, sweetness, and warmth are nothing short of stunning. The transparency, clarity, texture, dynamics, energy, spaciousness, and three-dimensionality of this recording are really something to be heard. The piano has real weight, the vocals are breathy and full, and the string tone is some of the best we have ever heard on a pop album.
Drop the needle on Border Song. When it hits the big “Holy Moses” chorus, you can pick out and follow all the different voices. The sound of the harp on Sixty Years On is positively sublime.
This pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely 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 Elton and 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 the best sides of Elton’s self-titled album from 1970 have to offer is not hard to hear:
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
- 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 1970
- 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
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.
The Strings Are Key
What’s especially remarkable about this album is the quality of the string arrangements. I don’t know of another pop record that uses strings better or has better string tone. Strings are all over this record, not only adding uniquely interesting qualities to the backgrounds of the arrangements, but actually taking the foreground on some of the songs, most notably Sixty Years On. When the strings give in to a lovely spanish guitar in the left channel (which sounds like a harp!) just before Elton starts singing, the effect is positively glorious. It’s the nexus where amazing Tubey Magical sound meets the best in popular music suffused with brilliant orchestral instrumentation. Who did it better than The Beatles and Elton John? They stand alone.
The string tone is key to the best sounding copies. The arrangements are often subtle, so only the most transparent copies can provide a window into the backgrounds of the songs that reproduces the texture of the strings. Without extension on the top the strings sound shrill and hard, a common problem with many pressings and one that positively ruins any musical enjoyment.
Without a good solid bottom end the rockers (Take Me to the Pilot) don’t work either of course, but you can even hear problems in the lower strings when the bass is lightweight. String tone on a pop record is a tough nut to crack, even more so on a record like this where the strings play such a prominent role. It’s the rare copy that allows you to forget the recording and lets you just enjoy the music. For that you really need a Hot Stamper!
What We’re Listening For on Elton’s sophomore release
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- 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 for the keyboards, guitars, and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
- Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as 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 players.
- Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Robin Geoffrey Cable in this case — would have put them.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
There are three amazing-sounding Elton John records on our Top 100 list, one of them engineered by the estimable ROBIN GEOFFREY CABLE, Trident Studios’ house engineer in 1972. His work on this album and Tumbleweed Connection marks him as one of the All-Time Greats in my book. Madman, the album to follow, seems to be a more difficult recording to master properly. That said, the best copies — we call them White Hot Stampers – are very nearly as good sounding as the two titles mentioned above.
*The others are, in order of quality: Tumbleweed Connection (#1), Honky Chateau (#2), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (#3) and Madman Across the Water (#5).
I Need You to Turn To
Take Me to the Pilot
No Shoe Strings on Louise
First Episode at Hienton
Sixty Years On
The Greatest Discovery
The King Must Die
AMG 4 1/2 Star Review
Empty Sky was followed by Elton John, a more focused and realized record that deservedly became his first hit. John and Bernie Taupin’s songwriting had become more immediate and successful; in particular, John’s music had become sharper and more diverse, rescuing Taupin’s frequently nebulous lyrics.
“Take Me to the Pilot” might not make much sense lyrically, but John had the good sense to ground its willfully cryptic words with a catchy blues-based melody. Next to the increased sense of songcraft, the most noticeable change on Elton John is the addition of Paul Buckmaster’s grandiose string arrangements.
Buckmaster’s orchestrations are never subtle, but they never overwhelm the vocalist, nor do they make the songs schmaltzy. Instead, they fit the ambitions of John and Taupin, as the instant standard “Your Song” illustrates. Even with the strings and choirs that dominate the sound of the album, John manages to rock out on a fair share of the record. Though there are a couple of underdeveloped songs, Elton John remains one of his best records.