Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I've Seen the Saucers

In the early-mid 70's, accounts of UFOs and UFO sightings were very popular- Von Daniken's 1968 Chariots of the Gods had jumpstarted the dormant craze, and reports of flying saucers and strange lights were all over the place. David Bowie's "Starman" from the Sci-Fi flavored Ziggy Stardust LP was just one example of rock music's infatuation with the lore, and no less than John Lennon stated on the inner lyric booklet of his 1974 LP Walls and Bridges: "On the 23rd Aug. 1974 at 9 o'clock I saw a U.F.O." .

So naturally, the always trend-conscious John and Taupin songwriting team would have taken notice, and out of this was Caribou's seventh track born.

Elton seems to take this one much more seriously than his lyricist; Taupin, in trying to create a Sci-Fi close-encounters scenario, gives him an awkwardly stitched together crazy-quilt of phrases. One example:

Stars climbing into their planets
Systems won, controlled from birth
Empty living on this highway
Can you see me mother earth

John casts these words into a Beatlesque mid-tempo style, with the type of extremely catchy melody that he could write in his sleep. Ray Cooper's congas provide a salsa flavor. As is the case throughout this period, we also get those gorgeous Beach Boys-style backing vocal harmonies by John, Johnstone, Murray and Olsson; unsurprising considering that John was on record as being an unabashed Beach Boys fan. This album was recorded at the Caribou studio in Colorado which was owned by then-BB's manager James William Guercio, and indeed Carl Wilson himself was on hand for the sessions, although he's not present here. John sings the lead vocal with a surprising passion, considering the frivolous subject matter- at some points, he sounds like his life depends on convincing you of his belief.

It could have been very easy for this sort of song to become the low point of an uneven LP, but thanks to his songwriting smarts John managed to make this a winner.

1 comment:

brendan said...

Heard this again not too long ago and it's still pretty intriguing. The 70s sci-fi subject matter dates it a bit, but it's a pretty strong piece of tunesmithery all the same, and a good, memorable melody as you say.