Saturday, July 21, 2007

What this is all about.


I was 12 years old in 1972, when I first heard the music of Elton John and Band via a chance hearing of "Crocodile Rock" on the radio. There was something about the way it sounded- the Farfisa organ, the falsetto Fifties-style "ya ya ya ya ya-as" in the instrumental breaks, that grabbed me. Perhaps it stirred up fond memories of listening to classic '50s 45s that belonged to my Aunt as a young child, can't say for sure, but there was something that engaged my attention. Not long after, using my fledgling membership in the Columbia House Record Club, I obtained the 8-track of the album from which "Crocodile" came: Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player- and thus my fate was sealed. I took every opportunity to order a new Elton album every chance I got; and fortunately, Columbia House carried every one of his records to date. So I went back and discovered the myriad charms of the musical landscapes that Elton, lyricist Bernie Taupin, and the multitude of backing musicians created- from the sombre tones of his US debut, on through the Band-influenced Americana of Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across the Water to the big, hyper-produced pop-rock of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Caribou, each album offered a kaleidoscope of sonic delights and I came to love each of them in their way.

However, as George Harrison once wrote, "All Things Must Pass". And although John sustained this run for over eight years, his music eventually wore down and became less distinctive. Blame personal excess, of which there was plenty in the '70s; blame the shifting tastes of the record-buying public and the trendiness of the music industry itself; blame what you will but one thing was clear to those who cared: after 1977, the music of Elton John, while still interesting, had lost that certain je'nais se quois it once had. Which is not to say that there weren't highlights; he has released a handful of singles that were still fine ("I'm Still Standing", "Nikita") and one temporary return to form (1984's Breaking Hearts) before descending into a morass of big, bloated Disney movie ballads and bland, lifeless, half-hearted "rock". Not unlike many of his contemporaries. Also, in all fairness, by most accounts (I don't own anything but a few (pretty good) tracks from either) early '00s efforts such as Songs From the West Coast and Peachtree Road managed to capture some of the spirit he once commanded so effortlessly. If you want to know more about John's life and career, go here to the Wikipedia entry.

Elton John today doesn't have anything to do with what I want this blog to be. What I intend to do here is take a highly personal and completely self-centered look at each of the songs that saw release on the 11 albums between 1969 and 1977, plus select singles. No greatest hits compilations, no live albums. I'm not going to concern myself with anything after the 1977 45-only release "Ego", which means a cutoff point of the utterly unremarkable LP A Single Man, released in 1978. I don't know how long this will take me; I don't expect to be able to post a new song every day, but I hope to do at least five a week, more or less. I'll post them in random order. I'm hoping that by focusing on individual tracks, I can provide a fresher look than most accounts, which tend to be approached on an album-by-album basis. Now, please understand- I'm no music expert, and I don't bring any sort of professional credentials to this project. While I do know how to read music in limited fashion, and can strum along with myself on a guitar, I'm no practicing musician. Nor am I a "real" critic; my educational background is in graphic design and art. I'm not a professional reviewer or writer, nor have I taken anything but the most rudimentary of English and Journalism courses. However, I do have a professional writing credit to my name in writing about comics, have been blogging about not only that but music, film and TV for almost five years now, and I've managed to absorb, from decades of reading music critics in Creem, Rolling Stone, Mojo and other music publications, enough of the vocabulary to enable myself to recycle enough phrases to make it sound like I have a modicum of ability in that direction. So I guess what I'm saying is I hope you understand, and temper your expectations accordingly. Hopefully, once in a blue moon I'll pull something revelatory and profund out of my ear.

Why Elton John? I have no special reason- I fully realize that John's time in the spotlight has pretty much passed, even though he still enjoys a fairly high level of celebrity and has done a lot of fine work for charity. The non-performance of his last few CDs, however unjust that may have been, have shown that the mass audience is no longer there in the numbers that he enjoyed in his heyday. To those under 40, what I suspect will be the average age of those who stumble across this site, John has long ago ceased to be anything that even remotely resembles "hip", "cool", or even "relevant" or "interesting".

But I can't leave 13-year-old me behind sometimes, and I still get a lot of pleasure from listening to those albums, especially during the Summertime- Summer was, y'see, when I always seemed to be getting new Elton music. Recently, I've come across a couple of blogs- one of them devoted to a track-by-track examination of R.E.M., and another that has been featuring some very trenchant commentary on the Beatles and solo Paul McCartney. This has inspired me to do something similar. When choosing which artist(s) to focus on, I felt it had to be one which I owned a significant amount of music by, and one which I thought the output would lend itself to track-by-track examination. And after a lot of deliberation, I decided that the sonically diverse product of John and Band would fit the bill, plus I had a sentimental connection that would possibly keep me interested and enable me to continue on for however long it would take.

So here we are. Reginald Kenneth Elton fricking Hercules John Dwight. Let's have some fun, shall we?

I'll post some relevant links in the sidebar eventually, and other stuff as I go forth. Look for the first capsule commentary today or tomorrow. Which song? I honestly don't know. Come back and see, whydon'cha?

11 comments:

Roger Green said...

Hope you cover those B-sides like Ho Ho Ho

Johnny B said...

Hey, Roger!

I'll cover what I have. I don't have every EJ album on CD, where many of those B-sides appear as bonus tracks.

I think "Ho Ho Ho (Whod Be a Turkey at Christmas" appeared on Rare Masters, which I don't have. perhaps before I'm done here I'll get a copy...

Patrick Taschler said...

hey, nice coverage of the topic can be found here: http://starling.rinet.ru/music/elton.htm
russia forever =)

Johnny B said...

Thanks, Patrick. Can't say I care for his tone, though- he claims to like the music, then seems to spend a great deal of time apologizing for it, like he's afraid someone's going to think he's not cool or something.

katfish said...

stumbled across this whilst searching out rare/live versions of "Bad Side of the Moon". Ou se ma la-it's my current addiction.
Enjoying very much!
katfish

Johnny B said...

Hi, kat, thanks for stopping by!

Vinyl said...

Song for Guy off of Single Man is actually a pretty decent song, especially if you know what it is about.... but after Blue Moves, I was completely "unmoved"....

Sandi said...

Just found your blog (gawd I love random surfing), googling Danny Bailey which is one of my all time EJ faves. I am a bit curious to see how often our taste will coincide. I am certainly not under 40, being a few years older than you, but I expect I'm going to enjoy your blog a great deal. (Yes, I always go back and start at post one when I stumble on a new blog of interest, lol. Slightly OCD about it.) It's so rare to hear any good EJ anymore since I refuse to listen to 'oldies' stations. You motivate me to burn a few CD's of my specific favorites rather than listening strictly to entire albums (oops, age showing), not that that isn't a worthwhile use of time as well. Thanks in advance for what I expect to be many hours of pleasant reading and the excellent memories that will be brought up.

Johnny B said...

Hi, Sandy, and thanks for reading. Hope you find lots of interesting stuff, and by all means comment if you like!

Carlo said...

I've just found this blog, and I find it great. I am a bit younger than you, but also been a EJ fan in my teenage years (in the 90's). What I am doing now is listening to the albums and then reading your comments, which really adds to this re-experience/nostalgia project of re-listening to Elton John. Great blog, thanks for your effort!

David Jones said...

Thanks, Carlo! I hope you enjoy.