Side One: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus*
- An outstanding copy, earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides
- A monster Demo Disc - the bottom end is superb, the top open and extended, 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 vinyl being what it is)
- 5 stars: "The most focused and accomplished set of songs Elton John and Bernie Taupin ever wrote."
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NOTE: On side two, Track 4, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, plays Mint Minus Minus to EX++.
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.
What outstanding sides such as these 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 1972
- 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
We go years between shootouts for Honky Chateau. It's beyond difficult to find clean British copies of this album with the right stampers, let alone copies that have Hot Stamper sound. Few albums we play are tougher for us to find with great sound and quiet vinyl. Most of the copies we buy from record dealers in England are noisy and only a fraction of them have the kind of sound that serious audiophiles are going to pay good money for.
What We're Listening For on Honky Chateau
- 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.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better 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 later 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.
Ken Scott, Engineer Extraordinaire
In 2008 I had the opportunity to hear Ken Scott speak the night before at an AES meeting here in Los Angeles. This is the man who recorded some of the All Time Great Rock Albums, the likes of Ziggy Stardust, The White Album, Crime of the Century, All Things Must Pass, Son Of Schmilsson, America's debut ... this is one seriously talented guy! (I won't bore you by trying to recap his talk, but if it ever comes out on youtube or the like, you should definitely check it out. The Behind-The-Scenes discussion of these artists and their recordings was a thrill for someone like me who has been playing and enjoying the hell out of most of his albums for more than thirty years.)
Credit must also go to producer Gus Dudgeon for the full-bodied, rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies of this title. He's recorded or produced many of our favorite albums here at Better Records, most notably the classic Elton Johns from the self-titled album onward. You can find many of them on our site and on our Top 100 list. (One is even a member of our very exclusive Top Ten list, Elton's Masterpiece, Tumbleweed Connection.
I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Honky Chateau is a rollicking collection of ballads, rockers, blues, country-rock, and soul songs. On paper, it reads like an eclectic mess, but it plays as the most focused and accomplished set of songs Elton John and Bernie Taupin ever wrote.
The skittering boogie of "Honky Cat" and the light psychedelic pop of "Rocket Man" helped send Honky Chateau to the top of the charts, but what is truly impressive about the album is the depth of its material. From the surprisingly cynical and nasty "I Think I'm Gonna Kill Myself" to the moving ballad "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters," John is at the top of his form, crafting immaculate pop songs with memorable melodies and powerful hooks...
It's one of the finest collections of mainstream singer/songwriter pop of the early '70s.
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