Sunday, 29 July 2018
Elton John - Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only The Piano Player (1973)
Released in January 1973
Recorded at Chateau D'Herouville, France and London
2. Teacher I Need You
3. Elderberry Wine
4. Blues For My Baby And Me
5. Midnight Creeper
6. Have Mercy On The Criminal
7. I'm Gonna Be A Teenage Idol
8. Texan Love Song
9. Crocodile Rock
10. High Flying Bird
This was the album, released in January 1973, that saw Elton John begin his transition from "mature before his time, bespectacled balladeer" to outrageous glam rocker, still singing m,any of the same ballads, and interpreting Bernie Taupin's wonderful lyrics, but now with huge platform boots, gold lame suits and massive novelty glasses. The music was now not just adult, sincere ballads but was developing a commercial edge. Yes, "Your Song" and "Rocket Man" had been huge hits, but they were not upbeat, "glammy" rockers like the exhilarating, singalong fun of "Crocodile Rock". Even the album's other big hit, the moving "Daniel", although a slow number, had an irresistible hook that made it a perfect single.
To be honest, both "Teacher I Need You" and "Elderberry Wine" were rollicking, piano-driven instantly memorable rockers and certainly would have made great singles. There was certainly nothing like these tracks on late 1971's "Madman Across The Water" or also particularly on mid 1972's "Honky Chateau" (although there were a few signs of a new direction on that album). "Teacher" has a glorious refrain and "Elderberry" has one hell of a brass section on it.
"Blues For My Baby And Me" is a throwback to those introspective, mournful, brooding "Madman Across The Water" ballads, full of Bernie Taupin's Western imagery and a lovely, captivating, soulful chorus part. Just gorgeous. Elton at his mid-seventies best. Uplifting and infectious. "Midnight Creeper" is a strident, pumping piece of brass-driven blues rock, with a name check for Tina Turner. Nobody did this sort of funked-up, ballsy and bluesy rock like The Elton John Band in those days. Their sound was quite unique. The horns and guitar interplay is energising. Great stuff. As with some of the "Caribou" material, I had forgotten how good some of these lesser-known tracks were.
"Have Mercy On The Criminal" is another that harks back a bit to the "Madman" album, in its bleak subject matter, and somewhat inscrutable sound. This one certainly had no commercial pretensions whatsoever. It sits a little incongruously with the rest of the album. I remember at the time, when I heard it, at 14, I hated it. Now, in later years, I have reassessed, unsurprisingly. "I'm Gonna Be A Teenage Idol" is a pounding, brassy number that sounds like "Honky Cat" in places. The lyrics ruminate on the pop fame Elton was about to have. "Texan Love Song" is a whimsical, country ballad with an acoustic backing that has hints of the material from the "Elton John" album. The lyrics also concern redneck homophobia in considerable detail but this went largely unnoticed at the time. "Goddam it you're all gonna die" sings the bigoted protagonist. A dark song sung over a light, buoyant melody. It had considerable irony.
After the rousing beginning to the album, it was in danger of getting in to a bit of a rut by now, but this is all saved by the rousing "Crocodile Rock", with its instant, "la-la-la" chorus and fairground keyboard riff. "High Flying Bird" was an inspirational, soaring ballad, with snatches of the piano notes from "Candle In The Wind" in places. It was one of those songs that seemed to fit being the final track on an Elton John album, like "Curtains" from "Captain Fantastic" and "All The Nasties" from "Madman" (yes I know it was the penultimate track, but it fits the bill). Elton John was on the way to flying higher than he had ever done.