Sunday, 4 October 2020

Elton John - When Are You Gonna Come Down? (1969-1973)

This first collection of Elton John reviews covers the first period of his career, from 1969 to the success of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in 1973.

Empty Sky (1969)

Empty Sky/Val-Hala/Western Ford Gateway/Hymn 2000/Lady What's Tomorrow/Sails/The Scaffold/Skyline Pigeon/Gulliver/It's Hay Chewed/Reprise

"I remember when we finished work on the title track - it just floored me. I thought it was the best thing I'd ever heard in my life"  - Elton John   

Elton John's debut album begins, on its title track, Empty Sky, 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.

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.

** There are several non-album cuts from the album's sessions - the single Lady Samantha, which has hints of Elton's trademark sound; the gently melodic but powerful ballad All Across The Havens; the plaintive piano, drums and strings ballad It's Me That You Need and the guitar-powered catchy late sixties pop of Just Like Strange Rain.

Elton John (1970)

Your Song/I Need You To Turn To/Take Me To The Pilot/No Shoe Strings On Louise/First Episode At Hienton/Sixty Years On/Border Song/The Greatest Discovery/The Cage/The King Must Die

"The album was not actually intended to launch Elton John as an artist, but rather as a collection of polished demos for other artists to consider recording his and co-writer Bernie Taupin's songs" - Gus Dudgeon      

Often thought to be Elton John’s debut album (it is his second), this was a remarkably mature offering from Elton and songwriter Bernie Taupin when one considers they were barely into their twenties and composed many of the songs in Elton's tiny bedroom at his parents’ house in Pinner, Middlesex. The feelings and issues that the songs approach seem like the work of someone far older than the callow Taupin and, musically, the album is also incredibly mature and it shows just what a precociously talented composer the young Elton John was. It is surprising, therefore, to consider how the album was initially perceived when taking into account producer Gus Dudgeon's quote (above).
It is a beautiful album, full of simply lovely songs of a breathtaking sensitivity, such as the gorgeous Sixty Years On, with its touching lyrics about ageing, and the impossibly tender First Episode At Hienton about a young girl’s emergence into womanhood (bear in mind this was written by a boy probably in his late teens). 

The ugliness of Southern US racism is tackled in the gospelly Border Song

The Greatest Discovery is another extremely observant, sensitive song, as indeed is The King Must Die

Listen to that beautiful harpsichord and strings introduction to the gorgeous I Need You To Turn To. The material on this album really is some of the best stuff Elton John ever recorded.


Then there are also a couple of the bluesy, upbeat semi-rock ballads that Elton would come to specialise in - the catchy, appealing Take Me To The Pilot and The Cage, which is also funky and horn-driven in that Leon Russell way that so influenced the young (and older) Elton. The remastering of the keyboard/percussion/horn break in the middle of this track is spectacular. Of course, no collection of Bernie Taupin will be complete without a country-style ditty. Here it is the jaunty "yee-haw" stylings of No Shoe Strings On Louise

Oh, and then there is Your Song. Such an iconic song really needs no introduction or description from me.

The remastered sound on these Elton John “Deluxe Editions” is simply stunning. Crystal clear as well as being full and bassy. They do such great works complete justice. 

An essential piece of work. Don't be without it.

** Three excellent non-album cuts from the era were the staccato, drum-driven chunky rock of Bad Side Of The Moon, which is fun of typical Elton bluesiness and a singalong chorus refrain; an early, attractive prototype of the beautiful Grey Seal, which was re-recorded for the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album in 1973 and a live and, as far as I know, only version of a great rocker called Rock 'n' Roll Madonna. I have just found out that it is a "false" live recording, with crowd noise dubbed on to it, like Bennie And The Jets, which is a little disappointing, but it is still a great song. 

Also included on the Deluxe Edition are BBC Sessions live takes of Border SongYour Song and Take Me To The Pilot, all of which are excellent. Your Song is particularly good.

Tumbleweed Connection (1970)

Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun/Come Down In Time/Country Comfort/Son Of Your Father/My Father's Gun/Where To Now St. Peter/Love Song/Amoreena/Talking Old Soldiers/Burn Down The Mission

"Half of the songs don't follow conventional pop song structures; instead, they flow between verses and vague choruses. These experiments are remarkably successful, primarily because Taupin's lyrics are evocative and John's melodic sense is at its best" - Stephen Thomas Erlewine - AllMusic

Up there in Elton John/Bernie Taupin's top five albums (along with Elton JohnHonky CatGoodbye Yellow Brick Road and Captain Fantastic, in my opinion). This was an album that did not feature the excellent Elton John Band (some of the appear sporadically), but the hired session musicians were of an exceptional quality. The whole album is played immaculately and the sound on the "Deluxe Edition" is simply superb - full, powerful and punchy along with having a melodic subtlety when necessary.

The album is notable for not having any commercial, hit single on it, which was unusual for those days. It was a genuine adult, "serious" album, largely exploring Bernie Taupin's fascination with the Old West of the USA in an often sad, sensitive and nostalgic manner (for an era he did not live in). For a lyricist still so young. the songs are remarkably mature and perceptive and it is very much influenced by The Band's first three albums, both lyrically and musically.


The album opens with the upbeat blues rock of Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun, full of potent drums and Elton on great form on the piano and vocally. It is another in a long line of Leon Russell-influenced numbers. It features some impressive lead guitar from Caleb Quaye, used by Elton John a lot in the early years. 

Come Down In Time is a beautiful sparsely-backed ballad and Country Comfort is a country-influenced rock song, with a great bass sound from resected session man Herbie Flowers and Luddite-influenced lyrics concerning the mechanisation of farms. It was originally written for Rod Stewart's Gasoline Alley album, on which he impressively covered it.

Son Of Your Father has some funky wah-wah style guitar and some blues harmonica and that Elton mid-Atlantic vocal styling. It is a country rock blues song, powerfully played. 

My Father's Gun is a slow, mournful and sad song featuring a character lamenting the loss of his father in the US Civil War. 

Where To Now St. Peter is a mysterious song, very folky and beguiling, lyrically, but with a strong rock "chorus" part. More wah-wah on this track too.

The beautiful Love Song is only song not written by John/Taupin, being written by singer-songwriter Lesley Duncan and sensitively sung here by Elton against a pleasing acoustic guitar backing.

Amoreena features Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson from the future Elton John Band, and is a strong rock song with powerful backing vocals too. 

Talking Old Soldiers is a sombre, bleak ballad, nicely performed, but a tiny bit dull in comparison with the rest of the album. Slightly harsh, as it still a good song.

Apparently, the composer of Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of HellJim Steinman, credits the monumental, dramatic Burn Down The Mission as being a huge influence on the over-the-top instrumental parts of Bat. It is certainly Elton's musical tour de force on this album. Again, considering the age of its two composers, in their early twenties, it is a remarkable achievement. Full of lyrical imagery and a huge instrumental build-up and chorus delivery. It was this progression to the high points of the song that Steinman liked, plus the piano-driven instrumental bit five minutes in. Best track on the album.

** The non-album material from the time included Into The Old Man's Shoes, a track that would have fitted perfectly on the album. It is a string-backed, piano ballad with the Old West atmosphere once again. It also has a great guitar solo on it. 

There was also a version of Madman Across The Water that I have talked about in more detail on that album's review.

17.11.70 (1970)

Bad Side Of The Moon/Amoreena/Take Me To The Pilot/Sixty Years On/Honky Tonk Women/Can I Put You On/Burn Down The Mission          

Recorded in New York City, this was a live album not really intended for release. The recorded live tracks eventually came out on this abridged version of a live show containing only six tracks, but a fair old slice of rousing live atmosphere from Elton and his three piece outfit, with Nigel Olsson on drums and Dee Murray on bass. Elton has stated in interviews since that he considers this to be his finest live album. It certainly highlights just what fine musicians Olsson and Murray were at the time. Guitarist Davey Johnstone didn't join the band until 1972. The later, remastered edition, the one I have, contained an extra track (Amoreena). This was also recorded in the period when Elton John was bigger in the US than he was in the UK, which was certainly true at the beginning of his career.

So, on to the album. It kicks off with the muscular, thumping power of the rousing Bad Side Of The Moon. The bass is huge and the drums resonant and solid. Add Elton's clunking piano to that and you have one hell of a full, pulsating sound for a three-piece. His vocal is also outstanding too, full of bluesy grit. 

Amoreena continues that classic early seventies Elton John bluesy groove. Nigel Olsson's drumming is on fire on this one and Elton's piano at its rollicking, melodic best. There is a real energy and attack on these live cuts, an enthusiasm that you get in someone at the start of their career. Comparatively youthful verve and vigour.

Take Me To The Pilot is a piano and drum driven ball of funky, staccato energy. Sure it is a bit raw and edgy, but therein lies its rough and ready appeal. Elton's piano work is outstanding on here. 

Sixty Years On is as evocative as it is on the Elton John album. The drums on it are absolutely powerhouse, possibly too much so, compared to the original, but it suits the tone of the album. 

The band's cover of The Rolling StonesHonky Tonk Women is given the full bluesy bass, piano and drum treatment and, funnily enough, it works, without any guitar riffage. Elton's vocal suits the song perfectly.


Can I Put You On is a classic of Elton John's style from this period. It never appeared on an album apart from this live cut, which was a shame. It has that driving piano-driven bluesy sound that characterised so much of his output at the time. 

The final cut, the mighty and dramatic Burn Down The Mission lasts a full eighteen minutes and includes diversions into My Baby Left Me and Get Back. Despite is length, however, it never loses your interest. Some great interplay between the three musicians in it. Overall, this is one hell of a quirky little live album from a time when Elton John was not a huge superstar. Highly recommended.

Madman Across The Water (1971)

Tiny Dancer/Levon/Razor Face/Madman Across The Water/Indian Sunset/Holiday Inn/Rotten Peaches/All The Nasties/Goodbye 

"Back in the seventies, when people were saying that 'Madman Across the Water' was about Richard Nixon, I thought, That is genius. I could never have thought of that" - Bernie Taupin         

This is very much an understated album. There is nothing remotely commercial about it. Nine extended ballads dominated by immaculately produced strings, powerful drums, clunking piano,  strong and bluesy vocals from Elton. Every now and again a bit of potent guitar comes in. There is no Crocodile Rock or anything like that. This is a collection of sombre, reflective songs.
Everyone now knows Bernie Taupin’s paean to his wife in the beautiful, delicate melody of Tiny Dancer, a truly lovely song.

The catchy Levon is lyrically bizarre - “Jesus wants to go to Venus...” And so on, but it has an irresistible, soulful atmosphere to it. Nobody knows what Levon was about, neither does it really matter, it sounds good anyway.

Razor Face is full of power and some impressive organ flourishes. It is one of those typical early seventies punchy Elton John ballads, full of orchestration and a pounding drum sound. 

The title track, Madman Across The Water is similar - emotive, dramatic and vibrant, yet calming down in places to being subtle and tender, but not written about Richard Nixon as people at the time suggested.

Indian Sunset has Taupin in full American West obsessive mode, telling a lengthy narrative tale from a Native American’s point of view. It is marvellously cinematic, but as uncommercial as it was possible to be. This is remarkably mature, adult music and lyrics from two such young men, who were still in their early twenties, it must be remembered. Quite remarkable, in fact. Indeed, it almost makes you wonder had they had not dabbled in all that glam rock, would they have continued putting out quality in this style? Mind you, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was also seriously good, despite its more commercial moments.

Holiday Inn is a melodic, soulful, country-ish rock ballad, with some fetching mandolin backing. Again, Elton’s vocal delivery is strong and confident, that strange twang of his now fully developing, far more, say, than on the Elton John album. The backing on this is just wonderful, and the sound quality on the remaster is second to none. 

Rotten Peaches is one of those Leon Russell-style piano-driven slow rock numbers that Elton just did so well, in the fashion of Burn Down The Mission or Border Song.

The Bowie-style titled All The Nasties is a strange one, building up as a quiet ballad, it ends up as a gospel celebration with a lengthy “oh my soul” ending that lasts a couple of minutes. A bit like the way Curtains closed the Captain Fantastic album. 

Goodbye is a short, vocal, strings and piano lament to close what was an often overlooked album that conceals hidden depths under its lush, grandiose soundscapes.

** Regarding the non-album material, Rock Me When He's Gone is a bluesy, gospelly, piano-driven piece of boogie written for old Bluesology mate Long John Baldry, It rocks from beginning to end. I love it. 

David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson plays on an extended version of Madman Across The Water. It is a sublime version, with lovely bass and some searing guitar from Ronson. I prefer it to the actual version used on the album. It is full of heavy rock vibes, one of the heaviest cuts Elton ever recorded. I have to say that it is really, really good.

Honky Château (1972)

Honky Cat/Mellow/I Think I'm Going To Kill Myself/Susie (Dramas)/Rocket Man/Salvation/Slave/Amy/Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters/Hercules 

"It is a rich, warm, satisfying album that stands head and shoulders above the morass of current releases" - Jon Landau -  Rolling Stone           

Honky Chateau was the album which saw Elton John finally go “rock” and employ the Elton John Band of Davey Johnstone on lead guitar, Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on drums. For some reason, they were not allowed to be used on any more than one track on the previous albums, session musicians were used instead. I suppose when they were of the quality of Caleb Quaye then it didn’t matter so much.

Elton had been perceived, particularly by the mainstream media, as a studious, bespectacled singer-songwriter safe enough to appear as a guest on the Mike Yarwood show, or “Cilla”. Now, however, it was getting near the time for him to don the outsized sunglasses and platform boots and become the somewhat preposterous “glam” rocker he would continue to be for many years. Not quite yet, though, he still appeared earnest, serious and hippily bearded on the cover, a bit like Van Morrison at the same period. The music, though, was given a full rock treatment, pounding drums, rocking as opposed to tinkling piano, classic rock guitar and was augmented by Elton’s more bluesy voice. The songs, too, included some jazzy, blues rockers.

In all these respects, this was a transitional album for both singer and songwriter.
The lead off track, Honky Cat, was a horn and piano-driven piece of New Orleans-style funk rock which saw Elton aping his heroes Leon Russell and Dr. John. Totally different from much of the material on the four preceding albums. 

Mellow was a piano ballad with the addition of Olsson's steady drums. It wouldn't otherwise have sounded out of place on Madman Across The Water but, again, there is a blues rock, thumping backing that makes this a different album. The sound quality on this album is, I should add at this point, simply superb. Crystal clear while retaining an essential fullness and warmth. There is an excellent electric violin solo from Jean-Luc Ponty on this track also.

I Think I'm Going To Kill Myself is the sort of upbeat, honky-tonk piano-driven rock that Elton would specialise in for the next however many years. Catchy and rollicking with Elton's voice fully using that strange mid-Atlantic twang now. Lyrically, it is not one of Bernie's best, however. 

Susie (Dramas) is a full-on, potent, kick ass slab of blues rock with as heavy a riff in the chorus as Elton had ever used so far. Olsson and Murray provide top-notch backing in this. One of the best cuts from the album. It is very much influenced by The Band, I would say.

Then, of course, we have Rocket Man. It remains to this day, one of Elton's (and Bernie's) most loved songs. Continuing the trend for space themed songs begun by The Rolling Stones in 2000 Light Years From Home and taken to number one by David Bowie with Space Oddity. It took me until 2011 to finally see Elton John in concert and, even then, there was just something special about Rocket Man, sung at Sussex County Cricket Ground as the sun set. "All the science, I don't understand, it's just my job five days a week...". Great lines.

Salvation is an uplifting song, with its gospel chorus and piano build up and Nigel Olsson's relentless drums. Again, great stuff. Listen to that sublime bass at around 2:40 from Dee Murray. Beautiful. Like Susie, another overlooked song by both fans and Elton himself. 

A lovely bass and acoustic guitar introduce Slave, a country-ish cousin to Border Song from the Elton John album. The Southern States images of slavery hark back Tumbleweed Connection

Amy is a bit of a Honky Cat re-visit, vocally and musically. Pleasant enough in its bluesy, funky way. More swirling electric violin too.

Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters is, quite simply, one of Elton and Bernie's finest ever songs. Just beautiful, everything about it - the instrumentation, the lyrics, the atmosphere and Elton's voice never sounded better. "I thank the Lord for the people I have found". I could quote so many lines from it. Peerless.

Hercules (using Elton's self-given middle name in its title) is a rousing, funky rock closer to what is, definitely, one of Elton John's top five albums.

** An interesting alternative version is a faster take of Slave. It is a sub-three minute piano-powered romp through the song, sung at breakneck pace. It has its appeal, but I probably prefer the original on balance.

Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player (1973)

Daniel/Teacher I Need You/Elderberry Wine/Blues For My Baby And Me/Midnight Creeper/Have Mercy On The Criminal/I'm Gonna Be A Teenage Idol/Texan Love Song/Crocodile Rock/High Flying Bird 

"'Crocodile Rock' was written as an overt homage to '50s records, and his vocal intentionally mimicked singer Bobby Vee. 'High Flying Bird' was intended to sound like a Van Morrison record, and 'Midnight Creeper' was a tip of the hat to The Rolling Stones" - Elton John       

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 many 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

The opener, the album's other big hit, the moving Daniel, although a slow number, had an irresistible hook that made it a perfect single. It serves as a real piece of nostalgia for me. Every time I hear it, it reminds me of lying in bed stricken down with a cold as a teenager, listening to Radio One all day long. Apart from that it is simply a great song.
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. It is a song that is just so nostalgic for me, bringing back my early teenage years every time I hear those keyboards and Elton telling us about having so much fun with Suzie. I have read some reviewers expressing a dislike for it. Bollocks. It's great - lordy mama it is.

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.


** An interesting non-album track from this period was the piano-driven boogie rock of Let Me Be Your Car, written in early 1973 for Rod Stewart, that the latter eventually recorded on his 1974 Smiler album. 

Also, from mid 1972 was a re-recording of Empty Sky's Skyline Pigeon. It was released in January 1973 as the b side of Daniel. It has a lovely piano, bass and drum backing and it always was a gorgeous song. This makes it even better.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding/Candle In The Wind/Bennie And The Jets/Goodbye Yellow Brick Road/This Song Has No Title/Grey Seal/Jamaica Jerk-Off/I've Seen That Movie Too/Sweet Painted Lady/The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-1934)/Dirty Little Girl/All The Girls Love Alice/Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n' Roll)/Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)/Roy Rogers/Social Disease/Harmony

"Bernie wrote the lyrics in two and a half weeks, while I composed most of the music in three days while staying at the Pink Flamingo Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica . I had wanted to go to Jamaica, in part because The Rolling Stones had just recorded 'Goats Head Soup' there" - Elton John

In 1973 Elton John could do no wrong on both sides of the Atlantic. Honky Chateau and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player had paved the way, but this tour de force really put Elton and his magnificent lyricist Bernie Taupin into the limelight. Not forgetting the marvellous band - Davey Johnstone on lead guitar, Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on drums. They were red hot on this album.

Putting out a double album was always a risk but no such worries here. There is not a duff track on it. Even now, it is such a fulfilling listen. Amazing that something now forty-five years old still sounds so good. The remastering is amazing too as it is on all the Elton John Deluxe Editions. Yes, it does attract accusations of being bloated and indulgent, but I really can't find fault with any of the tracks  It was here that Elton John the great flamboyant entertainer was truly born, the old slightly introspective bespectacled figure behind the piano was now strutting round on huge platform boots in enormous comic glasses like a gigantic camp Frankenstein's monster. Eventually that monster would have to be destroyed, but for now it strode the world like a colossus. Do not let the over-the-top preposterous image overshadow the music, however, or indeed its tremendous lyrics. 

The old “side one” is wonderful. Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding (Jim Steinman admits Bat Out Of Hell’s long intro was influenced by this, along with Elton’s earlier Burn Down The Mission), the iconic Candle In The Wind and Bernie's image-packed bucolic reverie Goodbye Yellow Brick Road are timeless.

Subsequent highlights are the updated early song, the vaguely funky Grey Seal (complete with wah-wah solo), then my own personal favourite, the simply beautiful Sweet Painted Lady, full of evocative lyrics and the equally atmospheric The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-34)

How could I forget Bennie And The Jets, with its clunking piano refrain and "false" live effects? Elton's vocal on the track is simply superb. "Candy and Ronnie have you seen them yet - wow - but they're so spaced out...." - great lines, great delivery.

Your Sister Can Twist is a frantic, irresistible fairground rocker and then you get the titanic riffy assault that is Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting) based on Bernie’s Lincolnshire upbringing and nights out in towns like Spalding and Market RasenDavey Johnstone’s guitar in this is stunning. 

Roy Rogers sees Taupin revisit his Wild West fascinations that we had experienced on Tumbleweed Connection. It is a moving, singalong ballad.

Even lesser-known titles like I've Seen That Movie Too and the upbeat acoustic strumming of This Song Has No Title, with its Billy Joel-style piano rolls and lyrics are corkers. The riffy and powerful, in places, All The Girls Love Alice was ground-breaking, lyrically, for the time, dealing explicitly with lesbianism. 

Yes, Jamaica Jerk-Off is a tad silly but it is infuriatingly catchy. Social Disease is a bit strange as it starts at really low volume and you think something is wrong with your sound system until it finally kicks in with its solid, bluesy, typically Elton thump. 

Dirty Little Girl is a big, chunky piece of Elton rock - pounding and featuring those big drums that Nigel Olsson gave to so many of the songs from this period. It has a Bennie And The Jets piano and vocal fade out that virtually replicates the earlier track, however - "...dirty, dirty, dirty little girl...Bennie, Bennie, Bennie and the Jets...". It is a little-mentioned track, but is a good one. The more I listen to it there more I like it, although at the time I overlooked it in favour of the more popular tracks. 

Finally, the melodic Harmony is a lovely end to this fantastic album.

The bonus material of the 1973 Christmas Eve was what attracted me to buying this album again, however. I clearly remember watching it in my teenage bedroom on a tiny little portable TV we owned. It had a six inch screen but it was great to see Elton in concert. Now, all these years later it is wonderful to hear it.


** The non-album single from this period was the now iconic Christmas song, Step Into Christmas. Elton thanks his fans for the year in the first lines of the song and I imagine it is Christmas 1973 again - I love hearing its atmospheric, singalong chorus every December. 

Recorded in May 1973 and included on the Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting single were the country finger pickin' romp of Jack Rabbit and the bar-room boogie of Whenever You're Ready (We'll Go Steady Again)

The b side of the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road single was Screw You (Young Man's Blues), also dating from May 1973. It is a solid, muscular bluesy rock number. 


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