Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Elton John - Empty Sky (1969)

You can come to Val-Hala in your own time....


Released June 1969

Recorded in London

Running time 41.00

Elton John's debut album begins, on its title track, with a minute of bongo drums before we get some piano and the song breaks into what would be a recognisable sound - mid paced piano-driven bluesy rock. There are some dreamy, hippy sixties flute moments in places but it is pretty much dominated by that bluesy sound. It has a Stones-ish fade-out part at the end too. It is in many ways a typical late sixties album - touches of vague psychedelia, hints of country rock, nods to the blues, ambitions of grandeur (a seven minute opener), everyone trying to out-do "Sgt. Pepper" and release an album that made a statement of their creativity. You have to assess whether Elton John's potential is showing through here. On balance, yes it probably is.


1. Empty Sky
2. Val-Hala
3. Western Ford Gateway
4. Hymn 2000
5. Lady What's Tomorrow
6. Sails
7. The Scaffold
8. Skyline Pigeon
9. Gulliver/It's Hay Chewed/Reprise                      

This was the first album also for songwriter Bernie Taupin. Many of the songs were very much in the style of the material that would appear on their second album, "Elton John". One such an example is "Val-Hala", with its Elizabethan keyboards and Elton's Dylan/Mott The Hoople-esque vocal. There is definitely potential on this one, with its appealing hook, melody and beguiling lyrics.

"Western Ford Gateway" is instantly recognisable as an Elton John song, with that bluesy rock style and already distinctive vocal delivery. It is Beatles-esque in places too, though. "Hymn 2000" has hints of Cat Stevens about it, in a dreamy, folky rock sort of way. Something about the vocals and lyrics too.

The even more folky, melodic "Lady What's Tomorrow" also ploughs a Cat Stevens furrow, it has to be said. "Sails" is an upbeat rocker with more bluesy insistence. "The Scaffold" is very much a thing of its time, its twee catchiness is probably best forgotten, lets be honest. The grandiose keyboard sounds of "Skyline Pigeon" give us the best track on the album and one that Elton has occasionally played live over the years. It was reprised as the 'b' side to "Daniel" in 1973, with a piano backing. It is a truly lovely song, Bernie Taupin's first great one.

The final track, "Gulliver/It's Hay Chewed/Reprise", starts as a ballad, then turns into a jazzy instrumental and then, bizarrely, plays a small bit of all the album's tracks. An odd ending to a curiosity of an album.


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