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- A superb pressing of the band’s third studio album with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- It takes years to get a shootout for this album going – three to five is my best guess, so get while the gettin’s good if you’re a fan of the most muscular rock album this band ever recorded
- Both sides of this (very specific and hard to find) import pressing were richer, clearer and more energetic than virtually any of the others we played
- With Robbie McIntosh having joined the band, this is first and foremost a guitar rock record – his brilliant, jangly, grungy riffs drive every song
- 5 stars: “Three albums into her recording career, Chrissie Hynde found herself having to put the past to bed and carve out a new beginning for herself with Learning to Crawl, but she pulled it off with a striking mixture of courage, strength, and great rock & roll; with the exception of the instant-classic debut album, it’s the Pretenders’ finest work.”
This is where Chrissie Hynde matured into a top-class songwriter; every track is good and many are brilliant. With Robbie McIntosh having joined the band, this is first and foremost a guitar rock record; his jangly, grungy riffs drive every song. Great songs and great guitar work — what more do you need in a rock record?
Think of Middle of the Road — everything that’s good about this band on this album is there in that song: it’s uptempo, with a driving beat, a rock solid rhythm section and a beautifully distorted guitar out front and high up in the mix.
This vintage Real Records import pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely 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 the Best Sides of Learning to Crawl 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 even as late as 1984
- 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.
German Pressings? Why Not British?
We discovered that only the best German pressings convey the energy and enthusiasm of the band while avoiding the grunge, flatness and hardness that make the typical pressing all but unlistenable at loud volumes.
Isn’t this a British band that just happens to be led by an American? And wasn’t the album produced by the clearly British Chris Thomas and recorded at George Martin’s AIR studios in London? How is it possible that the best German pressings consistently sound better than the best British pressings?
Your guess is as good as mine. And, if you stop to think about it, who in his right mind would think that any answer they might give to such a question is anything other than a guess?
But that’s not the half of it. It’s not simply the fact that the Germans seem to be the only ones able to work their magic on this title. Most German pressings are not nearly as good sounding as this one. It is only this specific German pressing that does everything right. It has won every shootout for the last five years if that tells you anything.
What We’re Listening For on Learning to Crawl
- 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.
More of What to Listen For
In the chorus of Time the Avenger, the best copies do not get harmonically distorted, edgy or hard, a common problem we heard on many of the pressings we played. The best really “bloom,” but they are few and far between.
A Tough Record to Play
It also ranks fairly high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale. Do not attempt to play it using anything other than the highest quality equipment.
Unless your system is firing on all cylinders, even our hottest Hot Stamper copies — the Super Hot and White Hot pressings with the biggest, most dynamic, clearest, and least distorted sound — can have problems . Your system should be thoroughly warmed up, your electricity should be clean and cooking, you’ve got to be using the right room treatments, and we also highly recommend using a demagnetizer such as the Walker Talisman on the record, your cables (power, interconnect and speaker) as well as the individual drivers of your speakers.
This is a record that’s going to demand a lot from the listener, and we want to make sure that you feel you’re up to the challenge. If you don’t mind putting in a little hard work, here’s a record that will reward your time and effort many times over, and probably teach you a thing or two about tweaking your gear in the process (especially your VTA adjustment, just to pick an obvious area most audiophiles neglect).
Middle of the Road
Back on the Chain Gang
Time the Avenger
Watching the Clothes
My City Was Gone
Thin Line Between Love and Hate
I Hurt You
AMG 5 Star Rave Review
Chrissie Hynde took a long, hard road to rock & roll stardom, but when her band, the Pretenders, finally broke through in 1979, they wasted no time, growing from promising newcomers on the British music scene to major international stardom with a pair of smash albums to their credit in a mere three years.
But the Pretenders’ meteoric rise came to a crashing halt in 1982, when drug abuse claimed the life of guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and forced Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers to dump bassist Pete Farndon, who would also succumb to an OD in April 1983. Hynde was forced by circumstance to reinvent the Pretenders for their third album, 1984’s Learning to Crawl, but if the new edition of the group lacked some of the spark of the band that made the first two LPs, through sheer force of will Hynde created a masterpiece.
While Hynde hardly held back in her emotionally potent songwriting in the Pretenders’ early work, on Learning to Crawl there’s a gravity to her lyrics that blended with her tough but wiry melodic sense and streetwise intelligence to create a set of truly remarkable tunes. “Back on the Chain Gang” is a touching tribute to her fallen comrades that still sounds bitterly rueful, “Middle of the Road” is a furious rocker that explores the emotional and physical toll of a musician’s life, “Time the Avenger” is a taut, literate examination of a businessman’s adulterous relationship, “My City Was Gone” deals with the economic and cultural decay of the Midwest in a manner both pithy and genuinely heartfelt, and “2000 Miles” is a Christmas number that demonstrates Hynde can be warm without getting sappy.
As a guitarist, Robbie McIntosh brought a simpler and more elemental style to the Pretenders than James Honeyman-Scott, but his tough, muscular leads fit these songs well, and bassist Malcolm Foster’s solid punch fits Chambers’ drumming perfectly. Three albums into her recording career, Chrissie Hynde found herself having to put the past to bed and carve out a new beginning for herself with Learning to Crawl, but she pulled it off with a striking mixture of courage, strength, and great rock & roll; with the exception of the instant-classic debut album, it’s the Pretenders’ finest work.