Top Producer/Engineer – Gus Dudgeon

Elton John – Just the Right Amount of Tubey Magic Is the Key

More of the Music of Elton John

More Titles Only Offered on Import Vinyl

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elton John

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on the best copies of Madman. 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 the album.

The problem is that most British copies — the only ones that have any hope of sounding good in our experience — don’t have all the Tubey Magic that can be heard on the best copies. They are simply not as rich, tubey, and LUSH as the best that we’ve played.

This is the one quality that separates the winners of the shootout from the copies that came in second or third. Lushness isn’t the only thing to listen for of course. The rich copies can’t be too rich, to the point of being murky and muddy.

Achieving just the right balance of Tubey Magical Madman Sound with other qualities we prize such as space, clarity, transparency and presence is no mean feat.

It’s the rare copy that will do well in all these areas, and even our best Shootout Winning sides will have to compromise somewhere. There is always a balance to be struck between richness and clarity, with no copy able to show us the maximum amounts of both that we know are possible.

You’ll Know

Having said all that, it has been our experience that one copy in the shootout will make clear what the ideal blend of all the elements is — the right balance of Tubey Magic, clarity, space, weight, top end and much, much more.

When you find yourself lost in the music of Madman because the copy playing has the right sound, it shouldn’t be all that hard to recognize it. When the record is not only doing what it’s supposed to do, but doing more than you ever expected it could do, with more energy, more dynamics, more bass, more clarity, on a stage that’s wider, taller and deeper than you thought it could be, that’s when you know you have reached the highest level of sound.

Seeing All Sides

This will happen on each side independently of the other. That’s just the way records work. Sometimes a copy has two matching sides with that ideal blend — we jump for joy and happily award them our rare Triple Triple grade — but on a ridiculously difficult record to master and press properly such as Madman chances are good that one copy of the record will win for one side and a different copy will win for the other.

Engineering and Production

Elton John is one of the handful of artists to produce an immensely enjoyable and meaningful body of work throughout the ’70s, music that holds up to this day. The music on his albums, so multi-faceted and multi-layered, will endlessly reward the listener who makes the effort and takes the time to dive deep into the sound of his classic releases.

Repeated plays are the order of the day. The more critically you listen, the more you are sure to discover within the exceedingly dense mixes favored by Elton and his bandmates. And the better your stereo gets the more you can appreciate the care and effort that went into the production of the recordings.

Elton John albums always make for tough shootouts. His producers’ (GUS DUDGEON being the best of them) and engineers’ (KEN SCOTT and ROBIN GEOFFREY CABLE likewise the best) approach to recording — everything-but-the-kitchen-sink as a rule — make it difficult to translate their complex sounds to disc, vinyl or otherwise.

Everything has to be tuned up and on the money before we can even hope to get the record sounding right. Careful VTA adjustment could not be more critical in this respect.

If we’re not hearing the sound we want, we keep messing with the adjustments until we do. There is no getting around sweating the details when sitting down to test a complex recording such as this. If you can’t stand the tweaking tedium, get out of the kitchen (or listening room as the case may be). Obsessing over every aspect of record reproduction is what we do for a living. Pink Floyd’s recordings require us to be at the top of our game, both in terms of reproducing their albums as well as evaluating the merits of individual pressings.

When you love it, it’s not work, it’s fun. Tedious, occasionally exasperating fun, but still fun nonetheless.


Further Reading

Records that Sound Best on the Right Early Pressing 

Records that Sound Best on the Right Import Pressing

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

  • An excellent early British pressing with big, bold Double Plus (A++) sound on all FOUR SIDES
  • Finding a copy with no marks or issues is no easy task these days, and the DJM vinyl on this pressing is about as quiet as these UK LPs ever are
  • 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 outstanding 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.”
  • If you’re an Elton John fan, this has to be considered a Must Own Title of his from 1973
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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 / 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.

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Elton John’s Caribou Is Usually Noisy and Sounds Bad – But Why?

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elton John

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.

Speaking of 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? (More on unproductive speculation here.)

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.

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Elton John / Honky Chateau – A Must Own Classic

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Reviews and Commentaries for Honky Chateau

  • Honky Chateau contains some of the most Tubey Magical High-Production-Value rock music ever recorded – thanks Ken Scott!
  • Not the quietest copy we’ve ever played – Mint Minus Minus to EX++ on both sides – but obviously one of the better sounding
  • 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.” 

If you doubt that Elton John was an unusually gifted Pop Music Genius for much of the ’70s, just play this record. These eleven tracks should serve as all the proof you could possibly need. There’s not a dog in the bunch, and most of these songs are positively brilliant. Drop the needle on any track, you simply can’t go wrong.

Honky Chateau has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a prized spot on our Rock and Pop Top 100 List. It’s a shining example of just how good High-Production-Value rock music of the ’70s can be.

The amount of effort that went into the recording of Honky Chateau is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, The Who, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and far too many others to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

The sides that had sound that jumped out of the speakers, with driving rhythmic energy, worked the best for us. They really brought this music to life and allowed us to make sense of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music.

Big Production Tubey Magical British Rock just does not get much better than Honky Chateau. (more…)

Elton John / Tumbleweed Connection and the Tubey Magical Top Ten

More Records with Exceptionally Tubey Magical Sound

Reviews of Tubey Magical Demonstration Quality Discs

The Tubey Magic Top Ten

You don’t need tube equipment to hear the prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic that exist on Tumbleweed Connection. 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 Elton John’s Masterpiece, 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 / Self-Titled (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.

Elton John / Captain Fantastic… – Number Six of Seven Consecutive Chart Topping Albums

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The Classic Elton John

Besides being the most commercially successful period, 1970–1976 is also held in the most regard critically. Within only a three-year span, between 1972 and 1975 John saw seven consecutive albums reach number one in the US, which had not been accomplished before. Of the six Elton John albums to make Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” in 2003, all are from this period, with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road ranked highest at number 91; similarly, the three Elton John albums given five stars by Allmusic (Tumbleweed Connection, Honky Château, and Captain Fantastic) are all from this period. – Wikipedia

After 1975, good Elton John music is hard to come by. A few songs scattered among a few albums — pretty slim pickins. But the four or five albums he made in the early ’70s are nothing less than AMAZING (when you get the right pressings of course).

The albums that went to Number One are listed below in bold.

Three of his best, including his absolute best album, Tumbleweed, did not go to Number One, although they did make the top ten.

1969 Empty Sky 
1970 Elton John 
1971 Tumbleweed Connection
1971 11-17-70 [live] 
1971 Madman Across the Water 
1972 Honky Chateau 
1973 Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player
1973 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 
1974 Caribou 
1975 Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
1975 Rock of the Westies 

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Elton John – Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player

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More Titles Only Offered on Import Vinyl

  • A KILLER copy of Elton John’s 1973 release with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish
  • Forget the dubby, closed-in and transistory domestic pressings – here is the relaxed, rich, spacious, musical, lifelike sound that only the best imports can show you
  • Thanks to Ken Scott’s brilliant engineering and Gus Dudgeon’s production savvy, every song here sounds better than you imagined, because finally you are hearing it right
  • 4 stars: “His most direct, pop-oriented album… a very enjoyable piece of well-crafted pop/rock.”

The amazing engineer Ken Scott (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century, Truth, Birds of Fire) is the man responsible for the stunning sound here.

The kind of Tubey Magical richness, smoothness and fullness he achieved at Trident in the early ’70s, as well as here at a certain French country estate, have never been equaled elsewhere in our opinion. (more…)

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

More of the Music of Elton John

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

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.)

Elton John / Tumbleweed Connection


  • A KILLER copy of Elton John’s classic with top 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…”
  • If you’re an Elton John fan, this is a classic from 1970 that belongs in your collection
  • We consider this Elton John album a Masterpiece. It’s a recording that should be part of any serious popular Music Collection.
  • Others that belong in that category can be found here.

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