Steve Winwood – Back In The High Life

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  • Both sides of this UK copy of Steve Winwood’s Solo Masterpiece earned outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER
  • This early British pressing is guaranteed to be dramatically bigger, richer, fuller and smoother than anything you’ve heard
  • Higher Love with better than Double Plus sound? You’re gonna love it! And there’s really not a bad track on the album
  • “The first undeniably superb record of an almost decade-long solo career … the passion long smoldering in his finest work explodes in the album-opening duet with Chaka Khan, Higher Love…” — Rolling Stone

On the best copies, the sound is spacious and high-resolution. The bright, dry, grainy, analytical sound is replaced with something warmer, richer, fuller, sweeter, smoother — in other words, more ANALOG sounding.

What The Best Sides of Back in the High Life 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 1986
  • 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.

No Sacrifice Necessary – You Can Have It All

On some of the copies we played, richness and warmth seemed to have been sacrificed for the sake of greater clarity. That’s never been our sound, one of the reasons we do relatively few albums from the ’80s, and we noticed that on the copies with that tonal balance it was much more difficult to become involved in the music.

The richer, warmer, smoother, more balanced copies presented no such problem. Their sound transported us into the world of music Winwood had created in these songs.

If you clean and play enough copies you too might get lucky and find a copy that sounds as good as this one, where the obvious analog qualities are much more pronounced and neither clarity or space is compromised.

Of course, you might. We say it all over the site: it ain’t a magic trick to find a copy of Back In The High Life that sounds as good as this one does. All you need is a reliable source for large numbers of British pressings, the right cleaning techniques, and the time to painstakingly shoot out your copies one by one. We recommend scheduling the better part of a day. It’s how we found this outstanding pressing, and it’s how we found every other title you see on our site.

We find great sounding records like this every day, and we do it the only way it can be done, the old-fashioned way: by working at it.

What We’re Listening For on Back in the High Life

  • 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.

Brit Vs Domestic

It’s no contest. The British early pressings are the only way to go. The domestic pressings are clearly made from dubs and sound dull, smeary, flat and small.

Winwood’s Best Solo Album

We consider this release from 1986 the man’s Masterpiece.


Side One

Higher Love
Take It as It Comes
Freedom Overspill
Back in the High Life

Side Two

The Finer Things
Wake Me up on Judgement Day
Split Decision
My Love’s Leavin’

AMG Review

Turning to involved percussion tracks and horns, Winwood turns another musical corner on this sophisticated album, which contains echoes of everything from gospel to Caribbean music. Contains the number one hit Higher Love.

Rolling Stone Rave Review (1986)

With ‘Back In The High Life,’ Steve Winwood has created the first undeniably superb record of an almost decade-long solo career, and the news of its arrival is as momentous as its protracted deferment was disturbing. Indeed, the passion long smoldering in his finest work explodes in the album-opening duet with Chaka Khan, “Higher Love,” as Winwood cuts through their lustrous harmony to intone, “I could light the night up with my soul on fire/I could make the sun shine from pure desire!” This kinetic anthem to the sensuality of faith makes good on every one of Winwood’s soul-stirring boasts as it rises, breaks and then surges again to a still-loftier crest. Grand stuff – so why the frustrating delay?

From his audacious debut in the Spencer Davis Group, Winwood has starred as an instrumentalist and composer, and his abilities as a distinctively soulful vocalist are legendary. Yet Winwood is either by instinct or habit a loner, a perfectionist who has often seemed embarrassed by the dazzle of his natural talent. His last solo effort, 1982’s Talking Back to the Night, suffered from the isolation of a one-man effort and came off as an unnecessary sequel to his near-exquisite 1980 paean to triumph over solitude, Arc of a Diver.

The Prophet 5 electronic-keyboard signatures and other alluring control-room devices that Winwood developed on his solo records are in sparing but effective evidence on Back in the High Life, and he’s traded the sterile autonomy of the studio for the give-and-take of a band, a diverse group of players including the guitarists Nile Rodgers and Joe Walsh and the dexterous Quincy Jones session drummer John Robinson. But the real collaboration is with coproducer Russ Titelman, who has carefully framed Winwood’s singing in all its reedy-to-radiant brassy splendor. On tracks like “Higher Love,” “Take It As It Comes” and “Wake Me Up on Judgment Day,” Winwood’s phrasing is so sharp he rises far above everything else in Titelman’s mix, even the Earth, Wind and Fire-inspired synth-horns.

And just when you think you’ve got another Phil Collins-like case of Brit soul larceny, these songs slip out along delightfully unanticipated avenues. No track onHigh Life is less than five minutes in length, and each unfolds with deliberate precision. Even the casually synchronized backing harmonies by James Ingram on “The Finer Things” and James Taylor on the title track become springboards for Winwood to jump to the upper reaches of his vocal range, and the shadings he himself provides on keyboards and mandolin deftly advance these vibrant narratives of self-discovery. By the time Winwood’s keyboards begin parrying with Joe Walsh’s frisky guitar figures on the propulsive “Split Decision,” it’s plain that the reluctant star has finally found the knack of shining without awkwardness or apology.

-Timothy White