Top Producer/Engineer – Gus Dudgeon

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

  • An outstanding early British pressing with big, bold Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on three sides and superb Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on the fourth
  • There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals, in-your-listening-room midrange presence and no shortage of rock and roll energy
  • Overflowing with great songs, way too many to list – Candle In The Wind, Bennie And The Jets, and GYBR all sound killer here
  • A Top 100 Title: “…its individual moments are spectacular and the glitzy, crowd-pleasing showmanship that fuels the album pretty much defines what made Elton John a superstar in the early ’70s.”

GYBR has the best rocker Elton and Bernie ever wrote: Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. Of course, it’s one of the tracks on side four we used to test with — if you’re going to listen to GYBR all day, why not play the songs that are the most fun to play? On the good pressings, the song just KILLS. (more…)

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…)

David Bowie – Space Oddity

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  • An outstanding copy of Bowie’s sophomore release with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • The sound here is huge, full-bodied, punchy and relatively smooth throughout, with real space and ambience around the vocals and instruments
  • “Abandoning both the mod and Anthony Newley fascinations that marked his earlier recordings, Bowie delves into a lightly psychedelic folk-rock, exemplified by the album’s soaring title track. . .”

One of the reasons the song “Space Oddity” sounds so amazing is that it was produced by none other than Gus Dudgeon, the man behind all the best Elton John records. It has Paul Buckmaster doing the string arrangements as well. His work on Elton’s self-titled album is awe-inspiring; we know of none better. (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 – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – What to Listen For

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

The richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality is most obvious where you often hear it on a Pop Rock Big Production like GYBR: in the loudest, densest, most climactic choruses.

We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly become without crossing the line into distortion or congestion.

On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record.

On Breakfast in America the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is bigger and louder than anything on the record, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-tracked screaming “Who I am” about three quarters of the way through the track. Those, however, are clearly exceptions to the rule. Most of the time it’s the final chorus of a pop song that gets bigger and louder than what has come before.

A pop song is usually designed to build momentum as it works its way through the verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a good recording — one with real dynamics — that part of the song should be very loud and very powerful.

Testing the Climaxes

The climax of the biggest, most dynamic songs are almost always the toughest tests for a pop record, and it’s the main reason we play our records loud. The copies that hold up through the final choruses of their album’s largest scaled productions are the ones that provide the biggest thrills and the most emotionally powerful musical experiences one can have sitting in front of two speakers. Our Top 100 is full of records that reward that kind of intense listening at loud levels.

We live for that sound here at Better Records. It’s precisely what the best vintage analog pressings do so brilliantly. In fact they do it so much better than any other medium that there is really no comparison, and certainly no substitute. If you’re on this site you probably already know that.

Two to Listen For

Number one: Too many instruments and voices jammed into too little space in the upper midrange. When the tonality is shifted-up, even slightly, or there is too much compression, there will be too many elements — voices, guitars, drums — vying for space in the upper part of the midrange, causing congestion and a loss of clarity.

With the more solid sounding copies, the lower mids are full and rich. Above them, the next “level up” so to speak, there’s plenty of space in which to fit all the instruments and voices comfortably, without piling them on top of one another as so often happens. Consequently, the upper midrange “space” does not get overloaded and overwhelmed with musical information.

Number Two: edgy vocals, which is related to Number One above. Almost all copies have at least some edge to the vocals — the boys want to really belt it out in the choruses, and they do — but the best copies keep the edge under control, without sounding compressed, dark, dull or smeary.

The highest quality equipment, on the hottest Hot Stamper copies, will play the loudest and most difficult-to-reproduce passages with virtually no edge, grit or grain, even at very loud levels. (more…)

Elton John / Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – A Heavy Vinyl Winner!

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Sonic Grade: B (or better)

[I think these are the labels for the copy we played, It came out around 2000-2005. It’s not Speakers Corner, Simply Vinyl or Back to Black. Those are labels best avoided in our experience.]

Hey, they really did a good job with this one. We are going to listen to it again at a later date to see if our initial impressions were correct [I guess by now it should be clear that we are never going to do that, sorry], but it sure sounded good to us when we played it recently during our big GYBR shootout. 

I’m guessing no domestic copy can beat it, and certainly no audiophile half-speed mastered pressing can hold a candle to it. Those records are pretty awful. (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.

(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…)