Labels We Love – DJM

Elton John / Self-Titled – In Audio, We Live and Learn, Or At Least We’re Supposed To

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Reviews and Commentaries for Elton John’s Self-Titled Second Album

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A classic case of Live and Learn.

Scroll down to read what we learned from our from a while back. To illustrate how the game is played we’ve copied some of the previous commentary into this listing to show the change in our understanding from 2004 to about 2010 or so, which is when all this was probably written.

Live and Learn, Part One

These domestic original pressings have the very same stamper numbers as the British pressings. It appears that the metalwork was produced in England and shipped to America for pressing on domestic vinyl. What’s strange is that the American pressings are consistently brighter than the British pressings. Why this should be is a mystery, but I have a theory to explain it. The British stampers are used to make British LPs on that lovely see-through purple vinyl, and I’m guessing that that compound is a little smoother sounding than the vinyl that Uni uses. Either that or there is some other way that Uni produces their records so that they end up being brighter, even using the exact same stampers as the British ones.”

Partly true. We have five British copies in stock, and the reason they don’t sound as good probably has less to do with British vinyl and more to do with the fact that the British ones we have are not the stampers we like the best. The domestic pressings with our favorite stampers have more highs and better highs and just plain sound better to us now.

Notice how I completely contradict myself below, yet both listings were up on the site all this time and nobody, especially me, seems to have noticed.

Live and Learn, Part Two

These original British pressings, with the lovely see-through purple vinyl, are the only good sounding versions of this album that I have ever heard. As you can imagine they are extremely difficult to come by in clean condition.

What is there to say about such a bald-faced turnabout? Simple. We make our judgments based on the records we have on hand to play. When better pressings come along, or our equipment improves to the point where we can appreciate other pressings, we will happily and unhesitatingly report what we hear.

There is not now, nor can there ever be, an absolutely correct answer to the question, “Which is the best version of Record X?”

All knowledge is provisional. We do the best we can, and we think we do it better than anybody else. That said, we keep our minds and our ears open to new and better pressings whenever they come our way. (If the remastered Blue had sounded good, I would have been perfectly happy to say so and sell them to all our customers like crazy. But that was not to be, not for any reason other than the record just didn’t sound right to us. Maybe someday I will come to appreciate it more — can’t say I won’t — but I’m sure not holding my breath until then.) (more…)

Elton John’s Caribou Is Usually Noisy and Sounds Bad – Why Do You Suppose That Is?

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There’s a good reason you’ve practically never seen this album for sale on our site. In fact there are quite a number of good reasons.

The first one is bad vinyl — most DJM pressings of Caribou are just too noisy to sell. They can look perfectly mint and play noisy as hell; it’s not abuse, it’s bad vinyl. Empty Sky is the same way; out and out bad vinyl, full of noise, grit and grain.

The second problem is bad sound. Whether it’s bad mastering or bad vinyl incapable of holding onto good mastering, no one can say. Since so many copies were pressed of this monster Number One album (topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic), perhaps they pressed a few too many after the stampers were worn out.

Or pulled too many stampers off the mother.

Or made too many stampers from the father.

Or used crap vinyl right from the start.

Of course there’s not an iota of evidence to back up any of these assertions, but I just thought I would throw them all out there as a topic for speculation.

Have you noticed how much audiophiles and audiophile reviewers love to talk about things that they have no empirical evidence for, one way or the other?

Very little of that sort of thing can be found on our site. We like to stick to the sound of the records we’ve played and leave most of the “reasoning” about the sound to others. (more…)

Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s Co-Masterpiece – Tumbleweed Connection

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  • A KILLER copy of Elton John’s classic with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides of this original DJM pressing
  • The sound here is richer, with much less transistory grain, and more of the All Important Tubey Magic than every other copy we played
  • An incredible recording and longtime member of our Top 100 — our pick for Elton’s very best music and sound
  • 5 stars: “….their most ambitious record to date… A loose concept album about the American West… draws from country and blues in equal measures…”

The Tubey Magic Top Ten

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on this recording. For those of you who’ve experienced top quality analog pressings of Meddle or Dark Side of the Moon, or practically any jazz album on Contemporary, whether played through tubes or transistors, that’s the luscious sound of Tubey Magic, and it is all over Tumbleweed Connection

Ranked strictly in terms of Tubey Magic I would have to put this album on our list of Most Tubey Magical Rock Recordings of All Time, right up there with, in no particular order:

  • Sgt. Pepper (1967),
  • Meddle (1971),
  • Dark Side of the Moon (1973),
  • Dire Straits (1977, and clearly the outlier in this group),
  • The Eagles (1972),
  • Tommy (1969),
  • The Doors (1967),
  • Ziggy Stardust (1972),
  • A Space in Time (1970)

This has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a Top Ten spot on our Top 100 list. Engineered by Robin Geoffrey Cable at Trident, there is no other Elton John recording that is as big and powerful as Tumbleweed.

A copy like this really tells you why we love this album so. The highs are silky sweet, the vocals are full-bodied and breathy, and the tonal balance is perfection from top to bottom. And big drums, monstrously big, can’t forget those. (more…)

Elton John / Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy

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  • A stunning UK pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • Forget the domestic pressings, forget whatever lame reissues have come or will come down the pike — if you want to hear this album right, a killer Hot Stamper British pressing like this one is the only way to go
  • Includes two of our favorites: (Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket and the massive hit Someone Saved My Life Tonight
  • 5 stars: “Elton John and Bernie Taupin recalled their rise to power in Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, their first explicitly conceptual effort since Tumbleweed Connection. It’s no coincidence that it’s their best album since then, showcasing each at the peak of his power, as John crafts supple, elastic, versatile pop and Taupin’s inscrutable wordplay is evocative, even moving.”

(more…)

Elton John – Self-Titled

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Reviews and Commentaries for Elton John’s Self-Titled Second Album

  • 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. (more…)

Elton John / Honky Chateau – Our Thoughts Circa 2007

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This British Import Honky Chateau is THE BEST SOUNDING COPY WE’VE EVER HEARD — BY FAR! We just finished a big shootout for this wonderful album, and this copy took top honors with MASTER TAPE SOUND!

This has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a spot on our Top Rock LPs List. A Hot Stamper copy like this really tells you why. The highs are silky sweet, the vocals are full-bodied and breathy, and the tonal balance is perfection from top to bottom.

If you have any doubts that Elton John was a pop music genius, just play this record. It’s all the proof you will need. Drop the needle on any track — you just can’t go wrong.

There’s no need to go on and on about the sonic qualities of this copy. Everything you’d ever want from this record is here in abundance. Folks, this copy is the epitome of what we call Master Tape Sound — on both sides.

Two mastering approaches

The original British copies of this record, with the leatherette cover, have two distinctly different mastering approaches.

The earliest pressings tend to be very lively, but a bit hi-fi-ish and aggressive in places. I used to think these were the best.

The later British originals tend to sound dull and muddy.

It’s been almost two years since we’ve done a shootout for this album. It’s beyond difficult to find clean copies of this album, let alone ones that have Hot Stamper sound. There was a time when we liked a certain British stamper that we thought split the difference between the mastering approaches mentioned above. The copies we played this time around with that stamper were practically unacceptable this time around.

Our best domestic pressings actually bettered many of the Brit copies with our old favorite stamper. Improvements in our stereo and evaluation process have allowed us to discover the stampers with The Real Sound.

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Elton John – Empty Sky

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Top Shelf Pressings

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  • This outstanding pressing of Elton John’s debut solo album boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • With plenty of energy, killer bass, and clear, present vocals, this pressing has all the key qualities we look for in an Elton John record
  • About as quiet a copy as we can find, they’re usually pretty beat which is why you so rarely see them on the site
  • “… it also marked the beginning of his long and fruitful collaboration with lyricist Bernie Taupin. Empty Sky is quite indicative of the post-Sgt. Pepper’s era. With its ambitious arrangements and lyrics, it’s clear that John and Taupin intended the album to be a major statement…”

The undiscovered gem in the Elton John catalog! This original British Import demonstrates just how good a recording this is. The sound is excellent and the music is surprisingly good — and weird in a fun way! It certainly bears little relation to the middle-of-the-road pop songs Elton’s been making since the ’80s. These guys were young and figuring out their sound here, and this album takes Elton to some pretty interesting places. A fun debut album that is certainly worth a listen if you’re a fan of the classic albums that were soon to follow.

We’ve had dozens of these on our shelves for years but struggled to get this shootout done until recently. The main thing holding us back was how noisy most copies are, even the minty looking ones. Anyone who’s played DJM Brit pressings knows those guys had a very hard time pressing quiet vinyl.

This isn’t the best sounding Elton John album, but it’s certainly one of the best sounding copies of his debut we could find out of the dozen or so we played. While it varies a bit from track to track, the overall sound here is wonderful.

This is a bunch of young guys figuring things out — some of it works very well and some of it not so well — but I think any Elton fan is going to enjoy hearing this early material with sound that’s always correct and often wonderful. It’s been a long time coming, but we think in the end the music is worth all the trouble we went through to find quiet enough vinyl with good sound. (more…)

Elton John – Rock of the Westies

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  • An amazing early British pressing, with both sides rating a Triple Plus (A+++) – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This copy rocks like crazy with serious weight down low, huge size and space, and plenty of driving energy
  • The better copies like this don’t get too congested in the choruses, a typical problem with the album
  • Best bets: Medley (Yell Help, Wednesday Night, Ugly); Island Girl; Street Kids and Hard Luck Story
  • “Rock of the Westies appears in retrospect to be his last great rock album. It certainly does rock consistently harder than any other John album…” – Amazon

Here’s a record you practically never see on the site, and for one simple reason: it’s too difficult to find copies that sound good and play quietly enough, the kind without scratches or groove damage. As you may know from reading the site, British DJM vinyl is almost always somewhat noisy, but that’s pretty much the only way to go for most Elton albums, this album especially. The domestic pressings of ROTW are a joke as you surely have figured out by now if you’ve ever played one. (more…)

Elton John – Honky Chateau

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  • An insanely good QUADRUPLE PLUS (A++++) side two backed with a stunning Triple Plus (A+++) side one for this Elton John classic – this pressing takes side two to another level (hence the four plus grade) 
  • Reasonably quiet for the most part on both sides – it’s not easy finding British pressings with the right stampers that play as well as this one does
  • Honky Chateau contains some of the most Tubey Magical High-Production-Value rock music ever recorded – thanks Ken Scott!
  • 5 stars: “The most focused and accomplished set of songs Elton John and Bernie Taupin ever wrote … It’s one of the finest collections of mainstream singer/songwriter pop of the early ’70s.”

NOTE: *On the last track on the second side, there is a mark that plays for four or five seconds at the very end of the record.

We award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side two here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus.

When I hear a record with a side this phenomenally good, with the stereo tuned-up and tweaked within an inch of its life to reproduce the album at the highest level I can manage, I will sometimes sit my wife down and play her a track or two. I did it for a Four Plus Deja Vu earlier this year as a matter of fact, playing Country Girl: Whiskey Boot Hill on side two, with that crazy HUGE organ blasting out of the right speaker — what a thrill!)

For this record I played her Salvation, with one huge chorus following another, like powerful waves crashing on the shore, until Elton takes a deep breath and belts out the last, biggest chorus, hitting his peak an octave higher and taking the song to a level neither one of us had ever experienced. We followed it up with the lovely Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, and that was about as much Elton John live in my listening room at practically concert hall levels we could take in one sitting.

Hearing Elton with such energy, standing right in front of use, with instruments and singers encircling him from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, was so powerful and immersive it left us both with tears in our eyes.

That’s what gets you a Fourth Plus around these parts. (more…)

Elton John – Caribou

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Not the most consistent of Elton’s albums in the ’70s, but the best tracks — Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me and The Bitch Is Back spring to mind — are killer, right up there with the best work the man was doing at the time.  

This Super Hot Stamper original British DJM pressing has some of the best sound we have ever heard on Caribou. There’s a good reason you’ve practically never seen this album for sale on our site. In fact there are quite a number of good reasons.

The first one is bad vinyl — most DJM pressings of Caribou are just too noisy to sell. They can look perfectly mint and play noisy as hell; it’s not abuse, it’s bad vinyl. (Empty Sky is the same way; out and out bad vinyl, full of noise, grit and grain.) (more…)