Friday, November 2, 2007

Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding

Nothing in the Elton catalogue pre-1973 anticipated this ambitious two-in-one track, which kicks off the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in impressive fashion.

"Friend" is an atmospheric instrumental introduction with an involved arrangement using multiple time shifts and various textures. It opens with spooky whooshing wind and church bell sound effects, a stately ARP synth plays the melody for a few bars, then is joined by Elton, playing somber piano notes. The band enters next, accompanied by swirling ARP synthesizer strings, and plays a swaggering sort of processional for several bars before Olsson's drums crash, the tempo shifts again, Johnstone wails away on guitar, castanets accent the beat, and they proceed to rock out until shifting into reprise of the earlier processional- this with more of a lockstep rhythm. It's then back to rocking out for a few more bars.

After the furor dies down, Elton's piano remains for a few seconds, functioning as a segue before "Bleeding" begins and Johnstone and Co. crash back in. The rest of the track proceeding in a fast-tempo mode, with slashing guitar licks and those signature Beach Boys-style harmony backing vocals prominent. It's a very cinematic approach, and it must have been fun for the group to contribute to for sure.

It's a song which tells the sad story of a musician who is forced to choose between his love and his life on the road. I don't think it essays any real-life issues at the time with Bernie or Elton (Rock of the Westies and Blue Moves were still three years away), but if tensions existed with their respective partners at the time, I would think this sort of scenario wouldn't be difficult to conjure up.

Quite a opening salvo to lead off the album, and it certainly set the pace for this sprawling, eclectic LP.

5 comments:

Matt said...

If it can be said that someone like Elton John will have an "artistic legacy"--and I'd say it, but I'm not sure anyone else would, even Elton himself--then it should be this record.

From top to bottom, open to finish, it's everything Elton did great in the seventies, without the wretched excess, which is shocking since it's a double album.

I've always enjoyed it thematically, too--it's got this sense of shattered dreams and flaking paint at the edges of the scenery that is pretty compelling.

I will listen to it RIGHT NOW in fact.

Richard Marcej said...

A few months ago I bought and recently watched the DVD, Classic Albums - Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
Since Yellow Brick Road is my favorite Elton LP I was really interested in any background info on the songs.

If you've never seen it and like the LP as well, check it out. They don't cover all the songs (they never talk about "Grey Seal"!) but they do get into "Funeral..."

brendan said...

Always loved the way Elton and band brought things deftly from the elegaic mood of Funeral to that cracking, Beatlesy guitar riff that propels Love Lies Bleeding along. This opening 2-for-1 track makes a good taster for the rest of the album too, with the introduction of that big, reverby sound and those bright, catchy harmonies.

thom de plume said...

I recently noticed several elements in 'Love Lies Bleeding' that may have been the source of David Bowie's less than generous comments about Elton in the mid-70s.

It seems that the song in general, and the guitar lead in particular, were heavily derived from the Bowie classic, 'Suffragette City' (1972):

1. Same key (A major)

2. Similar use of mode mixture in the opening chord progression

3. An almost identical melodic contour evident at key moments during the riff.

These similarities become even more resonant when one considers the fact that Elton's producer, Gus Dudgeon, also manned the boards for Bowie's hit single, 'Space Oddity.'

Curiouser and curiouser.

Petal Patch said...

This is my all-time favorite piece (combo though it is) from any of Elton's albums… Period. It runs the gamut, touching on just about every mood imaginable, and sets the stage to perfection for 'Candle In the Wind'. The segues for these first three songs hit me as nearing perfection. Electrifying!