Monday, August 20, 2007

First Episode at Hienton

Of all the tracks on the eponymous US debut, this one seems to sum up the mood of the cover the best; it sometimes puts me in mind of a foreign film by Ingmar Bergman or something like that.

Essentially, this a reminisce about a long-ago love named Valerie, who the singer apparently once wooed in a castle of some sort. A Google search for "Hienton" only turns up a bunch of references to this song, so I have to assume that it's a place Bernie's familiar with, but not well known, or he just made up the name because he liked the way it sounded. According to the Wikipedia entry for the Elton John album, this track was a leftover from the Empty Sky period, and it does feature some couplets that don't flow as smoothly as one would like, such as:

For the quadrangle sang to the sun
And the grace of our feeling
And the candle burned low as we talked of the future


But lest it seem like I enjoy picking on Bernie, I will say that the rest of the lyrics flow pretty smoothly for the most part, and are often very evocative.

Accompanied only by piano, light strings (well, light for Buckmaster anyway), and a Theramin-sounding synth, it's spare and melodically strong, if a bit melodramatic.

"Hienton" can be said to be the type of track that earned Elton his early-on "sensitive singer" tag.

11 comments:

Rob S. said...

I loved this song, playing it again and again in high school. At one point, the album hit this track as I was reading an issue of 'Mazing Man, with a backup called "Brenda's Story." It struck me as a very effective counterpoint to that story... somehow "and Valerie is lonely" hit at the same time as Brenda's own loneliness was reaching a crescendo.

Steve said...

I loved this song too. The album came out as I entered high school. My best friend and I made a pact that the first of us to have a daughter would name her "Valerie." (As it turned out, I had 3 boys, starting about 15 years after the album, and Chris waited even longer, had twin girls, but by then had forgotten all about naming one of them Valerie.)

oliasdoug said...

When I first heard "60 Years On" on KABC-FM in Los Angeles (now known as KLOS) in the summer of 1970 (my very first Elton John song), I had a gut feeling that this guy was going to be BIG, as did the DJ who announced the song. A few months later when I picked up the ELTON JOHN album, I was astounded at its quality...and along with TUMBLEWEED, the FRIENDS soundtrack and MADMAN, it remains one of my favorite albums of all time...and has well stood the test of time. Fast forward to a summer camp I was attending in 1971. One afternoon in the recreation hall I happened upon a female friend of mine playing "First Episode" on the piano in the gathering area. I recognized it immediately and, although the song had initially only had a mild impact on me, I fell head-over-heels in love with it as she played, and she taught me how to play it that afternoon (I only play by ear). To this day, 39 years later, I still love sitting down at whatever keyboard I find myself randomly at, and picking my way through its beautiful chords. It's one of the most haunting, heart-rendering songs Elton & Bernie ever came up with and continues to entrance me as much as it did when I learned to play it. It's sad that Elton's later years led him away from songwriting of this quality & into superstardom. I'd be curious to hear, from his own lips, how he feels about the songs of then compared to the ones he later penned.

Jilzie32 said...

I really connect to your synopsis about thus song. It captivated me the first time I heard it. A young woman, albeit a virgin, finds herself running innocently through castle ruins with a childhood friend, but perhaps 14 - 16 years old. They encounter that moment where it may be the first kiss and obviously for what follows.

Terry said...

I hope I can help you with some of your questions about this song. It is not a made up place! Hienton is a small village on the Isle of Wight situated off the south coast of England. It is a popular holiday destination for people and at the time BT wrote this it hosted a rock festival with headline bands like the Who, Stones and Hendrix (he lived in England at the time). I suspect he might have attended but this is supposition only. The castle is Carisbrooke Castle which is nearby and again a popular place for holidaymakers to visit. I am now 60 and still love this song along with many others from this album. EJ will not sing this song live for some reason and there are no recordings of live performances that I have ever found. Terry (Shaftesbury, Dorset, England)

Johnny B said...

Thanks, all, for the interesting comments- especially you, Terry, for filling me in about the actual Hienton! I had a feeling it was a real place over there, but I didn't dig deeper than that one Google search.

I'd say Bernie and Elton might have written the first Goth love song! :-)

BluAvenu said...

What's truly amazing about this whole album is the string arrangements. Paul Buckmaster was brilliant, and getting that raw string sound seems unattainable these days. No one is doing it like this in rock music! I agree about the quadrangle bit. That whole stanza is a bit disconnected, especially when the moog synthesizer comes in, though it does add that haunt that seems bittersweet! I stumbled on this looking for whether or not Hienton was real, and I found out! THANKS!

Alex TBF said...

As anyone who has read Bernie's "Cradle of Haloes" book will testify, Bernie has a penchant for renaming the towns and villages of Lincolnshire where he grew up. I think that the song is about Hainton, a village local to Bernie's childhood.

"Hainton is a village and civil parish in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. It is situated on the A157 road, 10 miles (16 km) west from Louth and 5 miles (8 km) south-east from Market Rasen."

So anyone named Valerie from Hainton or close by in the mid to late 60's - your memories can be reinforced by the legacy of this song.

David Jones said...

Thanks, Alex!

Unknown said...

Sorry to disappoint some of you but Hienton is not a place on the Isle of Wight. I come from there and it's in actual fact the name of my Mother's house. They named it after that song as my mum is called valerie and it describes the love between her and my stepfather. They were teen sweethearts but their parents didn't agree with it and forced them apart. They didn't come together until me and my siblings wre born.

Orlando Ortega-Medina said...

There are no "snow hills" on the Isle of Wight", I'm afraid. The Hienton of this song in an imagined place.