The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus Minus*
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus (barely)
- With KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout, this Pretender is guaranteed to outrock them all or your money back
- The best pressings are Rock / Pop Demo Discs -- they're so rich and full-bodied they make most of the competition sound positively anemic
- Five Stars in Rolling Stone, one of their Top 500 Albums, and a true classic from 1976
- One of the best sounding records Jackson Browne ever made, along with his debut - this is the pressing that backs up everything we say and more
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*NOTE: On side one, a small mark makes 8 to 10 very light ticks at the end of Track 1, The Fuse.
As I'm sure you know by now, especially if you own a copy or two, pressings of The Pretender don't usually sound like Demo Discs. In fact, most copies of this record are mediocre at best -- thin, grainy, and flat sounding.
This copy is none of those things. And it positively kills the famous MoFi pressing.
This vintage Asylum pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to "see" the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It's what vintage all analog recordings are known for -- this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What the Best Sides of The Pretender Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1976
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Problems to Watch For
Some of the more common problems we ran into during our shootouts were slightly veiled, slightly smeary sound, with not all the top end extension that the best copies have.
You can easily hear that smear on the guitar transients; usually they're a tad blunted and the guitar harmonics don't ring the way they should.
These problems are just as common to the original Asylum pressings as they are to the later LPs. Smeary, veiled, top-end-challenged pressings were regularly produced over the years. They are the rule, not the exception.
What We're Listening For on The Pretender
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren't "back there" somewhere, lost in the mix. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass -- which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Records We've Played Vs. Records We've Heard
Please note that we should but too often don't make a vitally important distinction between two words we use interchangeably on the site. There is a difference between the sound of records that we've played and the sound that we've heard.
The stereo, the listening room, our cleaning technologies and who knows what else are all undergoing constant changes. This means that we may have played a better pressing in the past but couldn't hear it sound as good as it does now. The regular improvements we make in all areas of playback make sonic comparisons over time all but meaningless.
Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
- The Fuse
- Your Bright Baby Blues
- Linda Paloma
- Here Come Those Tears Again
- The Only Child
- Daddy’s Tune
- Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate
- The Pretender
A songwriting prodigy since his teens, Jackson Browne had already reached a zenith in confessional writing with 1974's Late for the Sky, a song cycle of his guitar and piano based anthems, reveries, and rockers, distilling themes of disillusionment, apocalypse, friendship, and fragile romances.
Teaming with Bruce Springsteen's producer, Jon Landau, Browne himself clearly sought to up the ante with more epic settings, while Landau worked on pumping up the star's vocal attack. But personal tragedy, in the suicide of his partner and mother of his young son, cast an unplanned shadow across these songs, giving The Pretender a darker, heartbroken edge and an authentic, scarred toughness.
Fatherhood, mortality, and resignation inform brilliant songs like "Your Bright Baby Blues" (featuring Lowell George's plangent slide guitar and vocal counterpoint), "Here Come Those Tears Again" (with Bonnie Raitt), and the prayerful, desolate "Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate," but it's the title tune that remains the haunting highlight.
Rolling Stone Review
Dave Marsh, 1977
Like most performers who transcend their genre, Jackson Browne often seems more a symbol than an artist. Singer songwriter fans find in him the fulfillment of the style’s promise: Browne’s songs really do merge poetic vision and rock. But there are also those (like my friend who suggested that this album’s proper title is The Pretentious) who find the genre symptomatic of all of rock’s current weaknesses. Browne is the epitome of everything they find disagreeable, both lyrically and musically.
It is odd that Browne is surrounded by such certainty of opinion, for ambivalence is the hallmark of his style. He has managed to make confusion an advantage, partly because he never hedges: he knows he doesn’t know. The Pretender, the most complete development of his music, is bounded by contradiction. In “The Fuse,” the record’s first song, Browne professes: “There’s a part of me …/Alive in eternity/That nothing can kill.” In “The Pretender,” the final number, he dismisses such spiritual hope: “I’m going to be a happy idiot/And struggle for the legal tender.” Both of these statements are naive; for Browne they are equally true and false. So he admonishes his son, in “The Only Child”: “Let your illusions last until they shatter.”
If Browne has been heralded as a songwriter, this is due mostly to his lyric gift. The music itself has usually been ignored (at least by his admirers) and for good reason. His three earlier albums are sluggish and cluttered, a hodgepodge of California studio effects, without a solid center.
The Pretender uses identical rudiments, but focuses them. The results are often moving and compelling. The album’s spareness is accentuated by passages of almost dreamy lushness (the strings on “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate”) and echoing vocals, which are a recurrent mannerism. Part of the improvement can be attributed to producer (and Rolling Stone contributing editor) Jon Landau, although it is also indicative of the artist’s increased maturity. Browne’s voice is notoriously weak, for instance, but the strength of the rhythm section forces the singing past its limits. On “Sleep’s Dark,” “The Pretender” and “The Only Child,” the vocals have a new passion, equal to the themes.
Still, much of this album is the mellow California rock of which the Eagles are the alternate prototype. If Browne’s music has more backbone than the rest, the genre itself is not very challenging. There is a tendency to blandness, even in a song as strong as “Your Bright Baby Blues.” So “The Pretender,” which uses the same musical conventions to achieve the dramatic force of Rod Stewart’s “The Killing of Georgie” or Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” is all the more remarkable.
If Browne were a different sort of performer, one might think he’s outgrowing his environment. But all his music, perhaps even the singing, is functional. The focus is always lyrical. The arrangements and performances are successful precisely to the degree that they bring our full attention to the emotions and ideas he articulates.
And it is Browne the lyricist who is often taken as a symbol, and most often misunderstood. He has been condemned as a rampant sexist, and with good reason: co writing the Eagles’ chauvinistic anthem, “Take It Easy,” was inexcusable. But his romantic perspective is considerably more complicated. His affairs are never casual, not even when he’s dismissive, as in “Linda Paloma.” And in “Here Come Those Tears Again,” he uses his confusion to greatest advantage. The role of the singer isn’t clear: is he anticipating the return of a lover who has jilted him, or is he imagining the reaction of a lover he’s just jilted? Perhaps both. For this song, at least, his vision of love turns on something rare: friendship.
Browne may also be the apocalyptic visionary, the questing hero in search of the Big Bang of final romance that his hard-core cult sees him as. But as someone who’s always had reservations about admiring him, I find that Jackson Browne touches me most deeply when he’s most specific, least cosmic. Writing about mortality and parental roles, he is as mature as any writer in rock, and more cogent than most. The metaphysics are there, all right, but it is the characters and experiences on which they are based that make them compelling.
The most striking songs on The Pretender are concerned with death and parenthood, subjects not necessarily unrelated (see the earlier “For a Dancer”). Often, his apocalyptic imagery is merely a way of getting at his feelings of mortality — the crumbling towers of Babylon in “The Fuse” are as much about the inevitable erosion of time as anything else. And parenthood is seen as a symbol of the middle-class life he has experienced: it’s both a joy and a trap. In “Daddy’s Tune,” he reaches out to his father, long ago alienated, in order to share with him the turmoil of advising his son in “The Only Child.” In a way, this is his ultimate dilemma — to be a father, or to be a son. And his ultimate triumph is to realize and reconcile the parent and the child in each of us.
Such song-to-song concordances are not unusual. Lines and images overlap: the drum in “The Fuse” and “Daddy’s Tune,” and the opening lines of “Your Bright Baby Blues” and “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate,” which is about both the horror of a marriage gone bad and man at his most mortal: “The only thing that makes me cry/Is the kindness in my baby’s eye.” And all of these cross-references come rushing to a climax in “The Pretender.”
“The Pretender” is a breakthrough. Browne has always had traces of cynicism in his writing, but about romance he has remained firm. Love can make a difference, all of his songs say. But “The Pretender” is a song about why even that won’t work, in the long run. In its most shattering moment, the hero imagines what he and his dream-lover will do, if ever they manage to meet:
And then we’ll put our dark glasses on
And we’ll make love until our strength is gone
Daniel Blank, the irrational murderer of Lawrence Sanders’ novel, The First Deadly Sin, also made love wearing sunglasses. This is what he found: “For me, it was a revelation, a door opening … I can never forget it. It was the most sexually exciting thing I’d ever done in my life. There was something primitive and exciting about it. But it shook me. I wanted to do it again.” The next week, he begins strolling the streets, murdering strangers with an ice ax.
“The Pretender” cruises a similar street, but with a different aim. As a romantic he wants only love, but as a modern, middleclass southern Californian, he’s unsure what to do with it. Clawing at the world, trying to make sense of something, one choice seems almost as good as another. The happy idiot who struggles for the legal tender is finally as free as the romantic fool who waits for love to change everything — and both are equally trapped. Each has only one certainty: “Get up and do it again, Amen.”
This is the prayer we are asked to say for the Pretender, “who started out so young and strong/Only to surrender.” It is a prayer for Everyman, as much as any other prayer. What makes the song work, though, are its specifics, the way that even the junkman, pounding his fender, becomes a part of this cosmic cycle. The images are tied to a time and a place, as the best of any writer’s work is — and the horror is in just such detail: the house beside the freeway, the packed lunch, the work, the endless evenings. Getting up and doing it again, seen this way, is not so very mystical, but simply the way each of us — even the artist — lives his life.
Repeating this inhumane cycle, which defines humanity, we are left with very little. Perhaps only that particle: “Alive in eternity/That nothing can kill.” Jackson Browne’s contradictions, his ambivalence, are not resolved, but they are reconciled. One might say that this is the end of the hero’s quest. But there is no end to searches such as this. They repeat themselves from generation to generation, year to year, day to day. Just as all of our illusions last, until they shatter.