Sunday, December 30, 2007

Philadelphia Freedom

The Philadelphia Freedoms were one of the charter members of the World Team Tennis League, a league founded to provide team-oriented professional tennis in the USA. One of its most notable players in the early years was Billie Jean King, who ended up serving several years as commissioner after she retired as a player. One of her friends was Elton, and it was for her that he and Bernie composed this song.

Recorded late in 1974, released in February of 1975 and curiously credited to "The Elton John Band" on the picture sleeve, it was a romping, stomping Philly soul track, complete with Gamble and Huff-style strings, and augmented by some abrasive guitar licks from Davey just to keep them honest. The Muscle Shoals Horns are also somewhere in the mix. It was yet another Elton cut that presaged the Disco music phenomenon that the Bee Gees and Chic took even further a year or two later. It is also a valentine to the USA from Bernie, who eventually came to live over here, as did Elton.

Of course, it wouldn't be Bernie without some sort of "Say what now" lyric, and the line about how the "...Whippoorwill of Freedom zapped me right between the eyes" serves very well in this case. But the chorus is an excellent piece of writing, especially if one is inclined to wax patriotic.

Even though I wasn't particularly crazy about this song as a teenager, and never was much for Disco music either in general, over the years this one has really grown on me and I never mind hearing it on the radio or on compliation albums.

7 comments:

brendan said...

You know, I've always wondered if Elton brought this out before Bowie brought out Young Americans?

Johnny B said...

I don't know- I referred to the Bowie Young Americans Wiki and it states that it was recorded August-November 1974 and January 1975. According to the Elton history site Cornflakes and Classics, it was recorded in July 1974, at the same session as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and One Day (at a Time).

They always kinda had a (maybe not-so-friendly, I recall some sniping between the two drama queens) rivalry going on anyway, so it's possible that there was some oneupmanship going on- but I think Bowie was still touring Diamond Dogs at about that time, so it sounds like Elton was first.

brendan said...

I'm sure you're right. Elton actually did a few more sessions around the same time in Philadelphia with producer Thom Bell, using session musicians instead of his usual guys. Bootlegs found their way to Northern Soul clubs in the UK, and some of the tunes ended up on an EP a few years later (with Are You Ready For Love). It's pretty good stuff, bright and upbeat and cleverly arranged. The acceptable end of "disco" I guess. :-)

It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if EJ had gone the "plastic soul" route, instead of putting the Westies band together...

Johnny B said...

I remember the Thom Bell Sessions LP- by then, I had kinda given up on Elton so I didn't buy it, but I heard "Mama Can't Buy You Love" a LOT on local radio. Years later, it's another song (like "Freedom", actually) that I wasn't crazy about at first but now kinda like.

And while on the subject of influences, and since it always comes back to Bolan with me anyway :-), I'm fairly certain Marc was trying to incorporate soul in his music at about the same time as Bowie, and by extension Elton? My memory is wonky, perhaps Bowie inpsired Bolan. Anyway...

Thom MacFarlane said...

I always thought this record sounded very similar to "It's a Miracle," which was released on Barry Manilow II the previous year (1974).

Anyone else hear that?

Johnny B said...

Welll...yeah, there are similarities, if I'm recalling correctly (I don't own any Manilow), and I can see where you're coming from, but I really doubt that there was any nicking going on. They're not that similar!

Thom MacFarlane said...

Elton appropriating someone else's idea...

Never!