Top Producers – Chris Thomas

Elton John – Too Low For Zero

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides of this early British import LP – exceptionally quiet viny too
  • There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals and plenty of rock and roll energy
  • I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues – the best song Elton’s done in the last 35 years, produced by none other than Chris Thomas – is a good reason to own the album
  • One of engineer Bill Price‘s best efforts behind the boards in the ’80s, and Chris Thomas’s production is State of the Art as usual
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Happily, this is a reunion that works like gangbusters, capturing everybody at a near-peak of their form.”
  • If you’re an Elton John fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1983 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1983 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Much of the production – the smooth, sweet harmony vocals, the rich, grungy guitars, the solid, warm piano – reminds me of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, one of the classics from back in the day when Gus Dudgeon was running the show.

Caribou (1974) and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975) have a similarly glossy, perfectionist approach to production as well. It was 1975’s Rock of the Westies that went off in another direction.

The next six albums, from Blue Moves to Jump Up, at least to these ears, don’t sound good enough or have the kind of consistently high-quality material that was the hallmark of the six albums recorded from 1970 to 1973. Four of those are in our Top 100 Rock and Pop album list, and all four are Must Owns in my book. Pop music just doesn’t get any better.

So if Too Low For Zero reminds us in any way of those albums, especially in the songwriting department now that Bernie Taupin has rejoined team Elton after a too-long hiatus, that is all to the good.

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The Pretenders / Why Are We Guessing (Again)?

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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 to Listen For

In the chorus of Time the Avenger, the better copies do not get as harmonically distorted, edgy and hard as most. The best really “bloom,” but they are few and far between.

A Top Pretenders Title

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.

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Bryan Ferry – Let’s Stick Together

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  • For material and sound I consider this to be the best of Bryan Ferry’s solo albums – it’s a blast from start to finish
  • The energy, presence, bass, and dynamic power (love that horn section!) place it well above his other side projects
  • 4 Stars: “The title track itself scored Ferry a deserved British hit single, with great sax work from Chris Mercer and Mel Collins and a driving, full band performance. Ferry’s delivery is one of his best, right down to the yelps, and the whole thing chugs with post-glam power.”
  • If you’re a Roxy fan, this title from 1976 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1976 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Bryan Ferry’s third solo album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should get to know better.

We shot out a number of other imports and this killer copy is As Good As It Gets. The presence, bass, and dynamics place it head and shoulders above the competition. It has what we like to call Master Tape Sound — right in every way.

As for material, he covers some early Roxy songs (brilliantly I might add); Beatles and Everly Bros. tunes; and even old R&B tracks like ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’. Every song on this album is good, and I don’t think that can be said for any of his other solo projects. Five stars in my book. (more…)

Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) or BETTER sides, this UK copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout
  • Roxy and their engineers and producers manage to capture a keyboard sound on their first two albums few bands in the history of the world can lay claim to
  • We’ve been working on this shootout for over ten years – here is one of the better copies we have to show for our effort
  • 5 Stars: “… another extraordinary record from Roxy Music, one that demonstrates even more clearly than the debut how avant-garde ideas can flourish in a pop setting.”
  • If you’re a Roxy fan, For Your Pleasure has to be considered a Must Own Title of theirs from 1973.
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Spacious, dynamic, present, with HUGE MEATY BASS and tons of energy, the sound is every bit as good as the music. (At least on this copy it is. That’s precisely what Hot Stampers are all about.)

Strictly in terms of recording quality, For Your Pleasure is on the same plane as the other best sounding record the band ever made, their self-titled debut.

Siren, Avalon and Country Life are all musically sublime, but the first album and this one are the only two with the kind of dynamic, energetic, powerful sound that Roxy’s other records simply cannot show us (with the exception of Country Life, was is powerful but a bit too aggressive).

The super-tubey keyboards that anchor practically every song on the first two albums are only found there. If you want to know what Tubey Magic sounds like in 1972-73, play one of our better Hot Stamper Roxy albums.

Roxy and their engineers and producers manage to capture a keyboard sound on their first two albums that few bands in the history of the world can lay claim to. I love the band’s later albums, but none of them sound like these two. The closest one can get is Stranded, their third, but it’s still a bit of a step down. (more…)

Roxy Music – The First Two Albums Are the Band’s Best Sounding

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This album is a MASTERPIECE of Art Rock, Glam Rock and Bent Rock all rolled into one. Spacious, dynamic, present, with HUGE MEATY BASS and tons of energy, the sound is every bit as good as the music. (At least on this copy it is. That’s precisely what Hot Stampers are all about.)

Strictly in terms of recording quality, For Your Pleasure is on the same plane as the other best sounding record the band ever made, their first.

Siren, Avalon and Country Life are all musically sublime, but the first album and this one are the only two with the kind of dynamic, energetic, POWERFUL sound that Roxy’s other records simply cannot show us (with the exception of Country Life, was is powerful but a bit too aggressive).

The super-tubey keyboards that anchor practically every song on the first two albums are only found there. If you want to know what Tubey Magic sounds like in 1972-73, play one of our better Hot Stamper Roxy albums. Roxy and their engineers and producers manage to capture a keyboard sound on their first two albums that few bands in the history of the world can lay claim to.

I love the band’s later albums, but none of them sound like these two. The closest one can get is Stranded, their third, but it’s still a noticeable step down.

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Pretenders – Pretenders II

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  • The right original British pressings are an audiophile dream when they have this kind of punchy bass and pile-driving energy
  • Bill Price engineered and Chris Thomas produced, brilliantly of course – you know them from the Sex Pistols’ debut and The Clash’s London Calling
  • 4 stars: “What’s more the unique American voice of Hynde matched with the tribal beat of Martin Chambers and spangly guitar of Honeyman-Scott was as close to perfect as a band could get in the late 70s.”
  • If you’re a fan of these hard-rockin’ Brits (with an American frontwoman), this classic from 1981 surely belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1981 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

If any of this commentary looks familiar there’s a simple explanation for that fact; it’s lifted practically wholesale from our listings for the first Pretenders album.

The two albums are twins, with the same engineer, the same producer, even the same band members, something that was regrettably and tragically to change soon enough. (more…)

Roxy Music / Country Life – A Killer Arty Rock Album from ’74

  • This killer early British Island import pressing had two amazing sides, each rating a Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it
  • This one is simply bigger, richer, more clear and more Tubey Magical than almost every other copy we heard in our shootout
  • As quiet as any Island original we’ve ever heard – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – they don’t come quieter
  • AMG raves that “…Country Life finds Roxy Music at the peak of their powers, alternating between majestic, unsettling art rock and glamorous, elegant pop/rock. Roxy Music rarely sounded as invigorating as they do here.”

Many of the best songs Bryan Ferry ever wrote and Roxy Music ever played are on this album. Musically it’s right up there with the first album and Siren. All three represent the high watermark of early- to mid-’70s Arty Rock. (more…)

Roxy Music / Siren – The Atco Pressings Are the Only Game in Town

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  • The sound here is richer, with much less transistory grain, and more of the All Important Tubey Magic than most other copies we played
  • Some of Bryan Ferry’s strongest and most consistent songwriting – Love Is The Drug, End of the Line, Sentimental Fool and more
  • 5 stars: “Abandoning the intoxicating blend of art rock and glam-pop that distinguished Stranded and Country Life, Roxy Music concentrates on Bryan Ferry’s suave, charming crooner persona for the elegantly modern Siren.”

Siren is one of our favorite Roxy albums, right up there with the first album and well ahead of the commercially appealing Avalon. After reading a rave review in Rolling Stone of the album back in 1975 I took the plunge, bought a copy at my local Tower Records and instantly fell in love with it.

As is my wont, I then proceeded to work my way through their earlier catalog, which was quite an adventure. It takes scores of plays to understand where the band is coming from on the early albums and what it is they’re trying to do. Now I listen to each of the first five releases on a regular basis. Even after more than thirty years the band’s music never seems to get old. That seems to be true of a lot of the records from the era that we offer on our site. Otherwise, how could we charge so much money for them?

Imports? Not So Fast

The British and German copies of Siren are clearly made from dubbed tapes and sound smeary, small and lifeless.

To be fair, Siren has never impressed us as an exceptionally good sounding recording. Like other middle period Roxy, records such as Country Life and Manifesto (the albums just before and after), it simply does not have Demo Disc analog sound the way For Your Pleasure, Stranded or the eponymous first album do (the latter two being the best sounding in their catalog).

One would be tempted to assume that the import pressings of Siren would be better sounding, the way the imports of the first four Roxy albums are clearly better sounding. There has never been a domestic Hot Stamper pressing of any of those titles and, since we never buy them or play them, there probably never will be.

But in the case of Siren it’s the imports that are made from dubs. It may be a British band, recorded in British studios with a British producer, but the British pressed LPs are clearly made from sub-generation tapes, whereas the domestic copies sound like they’re made from the real masters.

Go Figure. And another thing: when it comes to records, never assume anything.

The typical domestic pressing is flat, bass-shy and opaque, sounding more like compressed cardboard than analog vinyl. Unsurprisingly, the CD, whether imported or produced domestically, is clean and clear and tonally correct but lacks the warmth and richness of the better vinyl pressings. (more…)

The Pretenders / Self-Titled

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  • An outstanding UK pressing of the band’s debut studio album, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from top to bottom
  • Here are the full-bodied mids, punchy lows, and clear, open, extended highs that let this Pretenders Classic come to life, and beat the pants off the dubby domestic pressing, and anything else you care to put up against it
  • One of engineer Bill Price’s better efforts behind the boards, and Chris Thomas’s production is State of the Art
  • 5 stars: “Few rock & roll records rock as hard or with as much originality as the Pretenders’ eponymous debut album. A sleek, stylish fusion of Stonesy rock & roll, new wave pop, and pure punk aggression, Pretenders is teeming with sharp hooks and a viciously cool attitude.”

Forget the dubby domestic vinyl, these Brit pressings are the only way to go. (more…)

Roxy Music – Import Vinyl? Not So Fast

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More of the Music of Roxy Music

Siren is one of our favorite Roxy albums, right up there with the first album and well ahead of the commercially appealing Avalon. After reading a rave review in Rolling Stone of the album back in 1975, I took the plunge, bought a copy at my local Tower Records and instantly fell in love with it.

As is my wont, I then proceeded to work my way through their earlier catalog, which was quite an adventure. It takes scores of plays to understand where the band is coming from on the early albums and what it is they’re trying to do. Now I listen to each of the first five releases on a regular basis.

Somehow they never seem to get old, even after more than forty years.

Of all the Roxy albums (with the exception of Avalon) this is probably the best way “in” to the band’s music. The earlier albums are more raucous, the later ones more rhythmically driven — Siren catches them at their peak, with, as other reviewers have noted, all good songs and no bad ones.

Imports? Not So Fast

The British and German copies of Siren are clearly made from dub tapes and sound smeary, small and lifeless.

To be fair, Siren has never impressed us as an exceptionally good sounding recording. Like other middle period Roxy, records such as Country Life and Manifesto (the albums just before and after), it simply does not have Demo Disc analog sound the way Avalon, Stranded or the Self-Titled albums do (the latter two clearly being the best sounding in their catalog).

One would be tempted to assume that the import pressings of Siren would be better sounding, the way the imports of the first four Roxy albums are clearly better sounding. (There has never been a domestic Hot Stamper pressing of any of those titles and, since we never buy them or play them, there probably never will be.)

But in the case of Siren it’s the imports that are made from dubs. It may be a British band, recorded in British studios with a British producer, but the British pressed LPs are clearly made from sub-generation tapes, whereas the domestic copies sound like they’re made from the real masters.

Go Figure. And another thing: when it comes to records, never assume.

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