Friday, September 28, 2007

Burn Down the Mission

Another Old West fantasy from Taupin, from the point of view of a poor dirt farmer who decides to lead an uprising against the rich man that lives nearby in prosperity while he, his family, and neighbors starve.

Even though it isn't about him, for some reason when I hear this song I always think of Thomas Hart Benton's famous mural painting (below)



which featured Civil War-era Abolitionist John Brown (and yes, I first saw it on a Kansas album), a quite appropriate image for the lyrical content, methinks.

It gets a multi-textured arrangement; with Paul Buckmaster scoring, the early verses are sung to quiet piano and muted drums/bass/acoustic guitar setting, and Buckmaster's strings rise and fall subtly in the background. But when Elton gets to the chorus and the verses which lead up to it, the orchestra builds, brass enters the picture, the tempo accelerates, and the sense of urgency comes full bore. Then, it dies down again for one more verse in which the singer states his case and leads us to think that perhaps he's not exactly all there, if all the insurrection talk wasn't convincing enough:

Deep in the woods the squirrels are out today
My wife cried when they came to take me away
But what more could I do just to keep her warm
Than burn burn burn burn down the mission walls


The music speeds up again, and crashes through until the fadeout ending, with Elton banging furiously on the piano. Great performance and arrangement, and unlike "My Father's Gun", despite its length it doesn't descend into numbing repetition.

Randy Newman covered similar territory in his song "Let's Burn Down the Cornfield", and perhaps it was an influence but I'm dubious- if it was, it was a small one. Newman's protagonist is subtle and creepy, but Bernie and Elton's has let desperation turn him into a Type-A nutcase.

"Mission" was a concert staple for a long time after, and remains a favorite among Elton fans of all ages.

3 comments:

Michael said...

Perhaps my favorite Elton song of all time. I saw him do it in concert back on the Yellow Brick Road tour and, though it was great, it was also done without orchestral backing; I'd love to see it done live that way.

Roger Green said...

One of my faves as well, and it is the change of tempo with the frantic piano that really seals it.

Steve said...

I vividly remember from my high school years my dear now-departed friend, Mark Littlejohn, his long, bony fingers trying so hard to master the fast piano parts in Burn Down the Mission. I think of him every time I hear this great song.