- Both sides of this early DJM import pressing have killer sound for Elton John’s 1970 Masterpiece, earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them
- The sound here is richer, with much less transistory grain, and more of the All Important Tubey Magic than most other copies we played
- An incredible recording and longtime member of our Top 100 — our pick for Elton’s very best music and sound
- Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
- 5 stars: “….[Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s] 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.
The Classic Elton John According to Wikipedia
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.
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 (and amazing sounding, 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
1975 Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
1975 Rock of the Westies
Elton John Shootouts
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.
Obsessed? You Better Believe It
Many of the Elton John albums you see listed above are records we admit to being obsessed with.
Currently we have identified about 150 that fit that description, so if you have some spare time, check out what we have to say about them.
- With two excellent Double Plus (A++) sides, this early Decca import pressing will be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- Big, rich, energetic, with tons of Analog Tubey Magic, this UK copy has exactly the right sound for this music
- We shot out a number of other imports and this one had the presence, bass, and dynamics that were missing from most other copies we played
- “The Zombies’ obvious appreciation for adeptly crafted melodies and rich vocal harmonies likewise made them favorites of pop fans as well as more discerning listeners.”
The World of the Zombies is for all intents and purposes a reissue of their 1965 debut album, Begin Here, with a few track changes, the most important of which is the addition of “Tell Her No.”
The drums here are clear and punchy and the bottom end is solid.
The vocals do not get too bright as they have a tendency to do on some copies.
When you get a Tubey Magical copy like this, that Hammond B-3 sound is glorious.
Smooth sweet vocals and dead on tonality complete the sonic picture here.
Just for fun sometime go to popsike.com and check out what the original first Zombies record on Decca sells for. Try $1500 and up! And people think our prices are high — we ain’t never charged that kind of bread.
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 Tumbleweed Connection on our list of Most Tubey Magical Rock Recordings of All Time, right up there with, in alphabetical order (limited to one album per artist or band):
- The Beatles / Sgt. Peppers (1967)
- David Bowie / Ziggy Stardust (1972)
- Dire Straits / Self-Titled (1977, and clearly the outlier in this group)
- The Doors / Self-Titled (1967)
- The Eagles / Self-Titled (1972)
- Pink Floyd / Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
- Cat Stevens / Tea for the Tillerman (1970)
- Ten Years After / A Space in Time (1970)
- The Who / Tommy (1969)
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 rich, big and powerfully dynamic as Tumbleweed Connection.
Many of the albums you see here played an important role in helping me improve my stereo , some of them starting as far back as the mid-’70s.
By the 2000s, we had a heavily-treated, dedicated room, and later still a custom built studio. The challenges posed by these recordings were instrumental in helping us make improvements to the quality of the playback in both.
The better the stereo got, the more these records showed us just how amazing the right pressings — we call them Hot Stampers — could sound.
I have been playing some of these albums for more than fifty years. They are responsible for helping me learn much of what I know about records and equipment.
 Here are some links to other records that were instrumental in helping make me a more critical listener and motivated me to improve the quality of my stereo, room, setup, electricity and all the rest.
Were it not for my desire (obsession may be the better word) to get the wonderful music on these albums to sound better with each passing year, there would be no Hot Stampers. Hot Stampers are hard to find. No one would go to all that trouble for music that was not overwhelmingly powerful and all but irresistible. If you have records you can’t wait to play every time you do something to improve your stereo, you know what I am talking about.
The albums listed here not only informed my taste in music, but helped guide the progress of the stereo equipment I use to play that music on. I’ve had large scale dynamic speakers for close to five decades, precisely in order to play demanding recordings such as these, the music I fell in love with as a budding audiophile in my twenties (and sometimes even earlier, as in the case of The Beatles).
There is no question that the artists that recorded these albums, in concert with their remarkably talented producers and engineers, sweated every detail of these exceptional recordings. Year after year, we have done everything we could think of to get these recordings to sound their best. We know how good they can sound on systems that have what it takes to play them.
The more tweaking and tuning you do — on your system, room and electricity — the more progress you will make in this hobby, and the bigger and bolder these recordings will come to sound. They are the most difficult-to-reproduce albums we know of, the ones that can help you make real, demonstrable progress in this hobby.
Again and again it was meeting the challenge of reproducing recordings such as these that allowed us to get to the next level, and they can do the same for you.
- This vintage UK import pressing boasts superb Tubey Magical British Rock sound, with excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
- A monster Demo Disc – the bottom end is huge, the top is open and extended, and the overall tonality rich and balanced
- An amazing recording and a founding member of our Top 100 – it’s a shame we rarely find them with sound this good and audiophile quality surfaces (DJM see-through vinyl being what it is)
- 5 stars: “The most focused and accomplished set of songs Elton John and Bernie Taupin ever wrote.”
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…)
- This DJM import pressing was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning superb Double Plus (A++) sonic grades
- Forget the domestic pressings, forget whatever lousy reissues have come or will come down the pike – if you want to hear this album right, a killer Hot Stamper early 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.”
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. 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. [We no longer give Four Pluses out as a matter of policy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t come across records that deserve them from time to time.)
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 final, biggest chorus, hitting his peak an octave higher and taking the song to an emotional level neither one of us had ever experienced with it before.
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 us, 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…)
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.
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.
- 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…)
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.