Side One: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
- An amazing early British pressing, with both sides rating a Triple Plus (A+++) - exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- This copy rocks like crazy with serious weight down low, huge size and space, and plenty of driving energy
- The better copies like this don't get too congested in the choruses, a typical problem with the album
- Best bets: Medley (Yell Help, Wednesday Night, Ugly); Island Girl; Street Kids and Hard Luck Story
- "Rock of the Westies appears in retrospect to be his last great rock album. It certainly does rock consistently harder than any other John album..." - Amazon
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Here's a record you practically never see on the site, and for one simple reason: it's too difficult to find copies that sound good and play quietly enough, the kind without scratches or groove damage. As you may know from reading the site, British DJM vinyl is almost always somewhat noisy, but that's pretty much the only way to go for most Elton albums, this album especially. The domestic pressings of ROTW are a joke as you surely have figured out by now if you've ever played one.
What superb 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 1975
- 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
Top Quality Elton John Sound
This record is far better than I remember from years back. It's a knockout, with a great bunch of Elton rockers that still hold up forty years later. It's much more like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road than it is the two albums that preceded it, Caribou and Captain Fantastic. To these ears, it's a return to form after two misfires. Caribou is just not a good album on any level; my grade for it would be something in the D range. Captain Fantastic is decent, something along the lines of a B minus: third tier, worth a listen from time to time but not a Must Own by any stretch.
Contrast those two with Rock of the Westies, which clearly deserves to be considered a Must Own, right behind Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, at the bottom of the top tier or atop the second and well ahead of Madman Across the Water and Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player.
And there is simply nothing to come later that can touch any of these Classics from Elton's prime period, 1970 to 1975.
This music has energy like no other Elton John record we know of; in that sense it has much in common with GYBR, a real rocker in its own right (although practically every song on that album is a bit longer than it should be, succumbing to the perils of the Double Disc: too much time to fill).
We had a blast playing this one good and loud, which is how it was clearly meant to be heard.
What We Listen For
- 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 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 originals.
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.
Medley (Yell Help, Wednesday Night, Ugly)
Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future)
Grow Some Funk of Your Own
I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)
Hard Luck Story
Billy Bones and the White Bird
Musically, Rock of the Westies (1975) maintains the balance of harder-edged material and effective ballads. In fact, one of the album's strongest suits is the wide spectrum of strong material. The ballsy no-nonsense "Street Kids" and the aggressive gringo rock of the ZZ Top sound-alike "Grown Some Funk of Your Own" contrast the poignant power balladry of "I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)" or the dark and brooding tale of addiction on "Feed Me."
Although it was viewed as one of Elton John's more lightweight efforts upon its 1975 release--possibly because it followed only half a year after the acclaimed Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (and partially because many thought the album was released to fulfill a contractual obligation)--Rock of the Westies appears in retrospect to be his last great rock album.
It certainly does rock consistently harder than any other John album, with guitarist Davey Johnstone even getting cowriting credits (with John and Bernie Taupin) on the opening "Medley: Yell Help/Wednesday" and "Grow Some Funk of Your Own." Lyricist Taupin seems to be going off the deep end here at times with titles like "Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future)" and "Billy Bone & the White Bird," but "Island Girl" was another huge hit for the pair. -- Bill Holdship
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