Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Street Kids

A Damon Runyan-esque song about juvenile delinquents headed for a street fight of some sort, accompanied by keening synths, Stonesy guitar and a descending rapid fire run of notes on the piano.

Perhaps Bernie had been watching a lot of films like Angels with Dirty Faces or some of the Bowery Boys series, who knows. He was always drawing inspiration from Hollywood, and perhaps this was just the latest example. Elton doesn't seem terribly interested in it, though, although he does belt out a few verses with a professional sort of gusto, and the presentation is too mid-70's Rock to have any sort of nostalgic-for-Leo Gorcey effect. It's also about two minutes too long for my liking, devolving into monotony before it's done.

Of course, it's possible that Bernie was reacting to the then-in-its-infancy Punk movement, but 1975 was just a little early and Taupin was never usually that ahead of the curve...

Indian Sunset

Since so many of Bernie's songs early on dealt with the American Old West of legend, it's only natural that at least one would deal with the Native American point of view. "Indian Sunset" is that attempt- in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it was actually a leftover Tumbleweed Connection effort that was left off that album for some reason.

A young Indian brave, probably a renegade on the run from the Army, laments the loss of his lands, loved ones and way of life in the face of the encroachment of the white man- ultimately deciding he has no recourse but to stop and make his stand, which will most likely end in his death. Taupin delivers a set of excellent lyrics, deftly expressing the range of emotions his subject is going through.

Musically, this is as much the Paul Buckmaster show as any on the Madman album; it's a big, bold, cinematic orchestral arrangement that successfully evokes all the pathos inherent in the track. Elton on piano (of course) delivers another strongly sung melody.

Now, I'm as WASP as they come, so I can't presume to speak for the Native American perception of this song; to me, it seems like a sensitive and sympathetic portrayal- and other than the opening stanza, perhaps, avoids the easy Hollywood cliche about Native Americans. Others may disagree. One way or the other, I've always regarded it as a highlight of the record.

Pinky

A heartfelt love song which benefits from a gorgeous melody and solid arrangement, with able assistance from Elton's ace-in-the-hole for a good part of his career, Davey Johnstone. Even though the mood, on the surface, is blissful in the middle bridge there's an undercurrent of uncertainty bubbling underneath, as if Bernie (or the "singer") isn't sure whether he should believe his good fortune, which is the only way I think this couplet can be interpreted:

The trial and the error of my master plan
Now she rolls like the dice in a poor gambler's hands


But by the last stanza, all is well for now:

For there's toast and honey
And there's breakfast in bed on a tray
Oh it's ten below zero
And we're about to abandon our plans for the day


Even though I'm a little unsure of what exactly is meant by describing Pinky as "quilted and timeless" (comfortable as an old quilt, perhaps?), he's in fine form lyrically on this song.

Musically, it's a midtempo pop ballad (as all good ballads seem to be) with touches of what sounds like flamenco guitar accompanying the vocals and piano/acoustic guitar predominant. The chorus subtly shifts into Beach Boys territory with Johnstone's electric guitar doubling the immaculately harmonized backing vocals. Again, it helps that John's melody is a strong one.

"Pinky" has always been one my favorite Elton songs, and I think it has to be on the short list of the best love ballads of his career. However, I seem to be in the minority as this one is rarely mentioned in discussions of his music- it wasn't a single and I'm not sure if it was ever played in concert either.

For my part, though, few other songs in the EJ catalogue evoke that feeling of discovering John's music as a teenager in the '70s more than this one, so I'm less than objective, I suppose you could say.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Empty Sky

The lead, and title, cut from Elton's debut is a snarling blues-rocker, influenced by Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac or Jefferson Airplane perhaps, with typically 1968 mellotron-spiced middle sections.

Lyrically, it deals with the singer being in some sort of captivity, prison most likely...but whether it's a prison in a literal or figurative sense I'll leave up to you. He's wishing he could fly away (a recurring theme of more than one Sky song) and misses his girlfriend, worrying about if she'll be faithful. One can tell Bernie's still learning his craft, but this is lacking in the clumsy couplets he could come up with sometimes.

Pretty good opener for an underrated LP...

Tell Me When the Whistle Blows

In a nutshell, Bernie's homesick. Honky Cat's not liking the city and misses his redneck ways, and wonders if his friends back home will think he's changed for the worse.

But he expresses it very well, with some of his strongest lyrics in this set. Also, Elton and orchestral arranger Gene Page frame his musings with a gorgeous Philly Soul-style arrangement, making this one of the strongest tracks on the entire album.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Salvation

I suppose Bernie must have felt like the Elton faithful (or perhaps his bandmates) wanted or needed a rallying song of sorts, because that's pretty much what "Salvation" is- an inspirational call to work harder, keep that chin up, and those eyes on the prize, and with "salvation" (provided by some unknown agent- fans, perhaps, or the record company most likely) we will surely succeed.

Instrumentation is primarily the Johnstone/Murray/Olsson band, with what sounds like a Hammond organ or harmonium in the background (but neither is credited) and Madman Across the Water-style chorus vocals to give it a "Border Song"-type gospelish feel. Johnstone contributes an interesting double-tracked George Harrison-style slide guitar solo in the middle section. The melody suits the mood of the song, but isn't especially memorable, and this is one of the weaker Chateau tracks as far as I'm concerned.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bennie and the Jets

One of Elton's biggest hits, and certainly one of his most unusual.

On the surface, it seems like Elton and Bernie are trying to provide a good-natured musical memorial for the Glam era; giving us a popstar singer named "Bennie" and his band the Jets (a la Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars) through the eyes of the glitterkid fans who were the norm in 1972. The first two lines bear this out as we're invited to come out and hear "electric music, solid walls of sound" from the "so spaced out" Mohair-wearing Bennie and her band. But it's the final verses:

Hey kids, plug into the faithless
Maybe they're blinded
But Bennie makes them ageless
We shall survive, let us take ourselves along
Where we fight our parents out in the streets
To find who's right and who's wrong


which can be interpreted, I think, as a commentary on blind adulation often afforded pop stars by the young- a sort of cult mentality in general, which tends to exacerbate differences between generations in a way which turns often negative. It also can be seen as a statement of defiance by said glam-rock kids, who hold that all can be converted to their way of thinking by "plugging into" Bennie. Either way, it's a suddenly circumspect shift in the lyrics, and it changes, at least to my ears, the whole mood and dynamic of the song.

But of course Elton's musical skills were firing on all cylinders, and he provides another great melody which can sound reflective, celebratory, and melancholy all at the same time despite its monotonous, mechanical lockstep beat. I think a big part of the credit for "Bennie" being as good as it is can be laid at the feet of producer Gus Dudgeon, whom according to most accounts took the somewhat plain track and suggested adding the crowd sounds and slightly off-beat handclaps which make it so distinctive. Elton contributes a nice piano solo in the middle, with just the right touch of echo in the mix to give it that slightly melancholy sound.

However the subject matter was perceived by the masses, it certainly struck a chord; "Bennie" topped not only the pop charts in '73, but the R&B charts that same year as well, despite its lack of anything particularly soulful or funky in it's melody or rhythm.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Meta post

No, that's not an Elton song, but I just wanted to address something before I go any further.

Several people have asked me in the comments about certain tracks that don't appear on the proper albums; B-sides and such that may or may not have been included on the CD reissues of the late '90s, and were definitely included on the 2-CD collection Rare Masters. At first I was just going to omit these, because in most cases I just don't own them (see breakdown below)...but I see where most, if not all, of these are available via iTunes, and I'm thinking that there's no reason why I couldn't purchase these tracks upon occasion so I can include them here at some point...and also because, well, I'd like to hear 'em! And for that matter, I haven't ruled out picking up Rare Masters, if I can get it at a good price on eBay or somewhere like that.

So take heart, Friends soundtrack fans, "Can I Put You On" may be coming soon!

My 1969-1978 Elton collection:

Empty Sky (vinyl)
Elton John (vinyl)
11-17-70 (vinyl)
Tumbleweed Connection (vinyl and original release CD, no bonus tracks)
Madman Across the Water (vinyl)
Honky Chateau (vinyl)
Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player (vinyl)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (vinyl, remastered CD)
Caribou (vinyl, remastered CD)
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (remastered CD)
Rock of the Westies (vinyl)
Blue Moves (vinyl, CD)

the Ego single I have on .mp3.

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.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Elderberry Wine

"Elderberry Wine" is a stomping, Stonesy rocker that emphasizes the contribution of the horn section of Jacques Bolognesi, Ivan Julien, Jean-Louis Chautemps and Alain Hatot, who had also contributed to Honky Chateau. Their vamping over the fadeout is really clever. Producer Gus Dudgeon, though, tended to lay a lot of compression or some other sort of studio polish to their sound, giving it a pinched quality that sounds distinctive, if not especially satisfying from an audiophile viewpoint.

Unfortunately, Bernie lets his sexist streak show again in the lyrics; I'm sure it can explained by saying that he was simply writing in character, from the viewpoint of some old reprobate who is reminiscing about the "good old days". But lyrics like

Well I can't help thinking
About the times
You were a wife of mine
You aimed to please me
Cooked black-eyed peas me
Made elderberry wine


and

The bottle went round
Like a woman down south
Passed on from hand to hand


will still raise eyebrows in most mixed company.


This cut was the B-side to the "Crocodile Rock" single in 1973.

My Father's Gun

A Civil War tale from Bernie, in keeping with the themes of Tumbleweed Connection.

A young man inherits his deceased father's firearm, and makes ready to go fight in the War Between the States. In the third verse, he imagines an idyllic life for him and his family when the South wins. Oops! But seriously, that does give the song a bit more of a poignant edge.

Elton provides another Band-style accompaniment, but it's a bit overlong; in trying to achieve some sort of emotional buildup by repeating the chorus over and over at the end as the strings and horns build a la "Hey Jude", he just fosters restlessness, in this listener anyway.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Idol

I intended to wait a while to get to this one, but I thought it was appropriate on the 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. Apparently another person thought so, too- here's a video he put together juxtaposing this track with clips of the King, both old and young...and it works surprisingly well.

As is to be expected from the mostly downbeat and glum Blue Moves, the mood of this track is resigned and downcast, and the accompaniment is muted jazz piano, brushed drums and the Brecker Brothers horn section, augmented by David Sanborn on sax. The singer is reflecting on the rise and fall of a pop star, and it's really not about Elvis specifically, but any performer who has hit the heights and experienced the inevitable downfall...and that would have to include one Reg Dwight, an irony which I'm sure didn't escape anyone involved.

John rises to the occasion, really giving us a stellar vocal performance, especially on the second time repeat of the bridge, that begins "Cause the Fifties shifted out of gear...". The horns swell and hit sharp, attacking notes as he sings, blending with Elton's suddenly impassioned "Oh, he's not the same no more...", and it's one of the best moments on the entire double LP.

Medley: Yell Help/Wednesday Night/Ugly

Well, it worked sometimes for the Beatles: when you have unfinished songs lying around, stick 'em together, a la "I've Got a Feeling" and the Abbey Road side 2 medley. Bernie and Elton's achievement is a bit more of a modest one here, but it is an unusual, and ultimately entertaining, way to start off an album.

Part one, "Yell Help", is essentially a collection of malapropisms, strung together and set to a rollicking synth/clavinet/rock guitar dominated melody, accompanied by a somewhat slightly off-key Labelle and Elton pseudonym "Ann Orson" oohing and aahing along.

Part two, "Wednesday", is a pretty ballad type of thing- it's really only four lines long, and sounds like John didn't want to take the time to finish it. Perhaps it was decided at some point that it was too similar to the spotlight ballad on Rock, "I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford)". Hard to say. The singer wishes it wasn't Wednesday night, the 13th of July, and wants to be somewhere else. Your guess is as good as mine as to anything else.

It then segues into "Ugly", perhaps less about the female subject of the song being physically ugly than it is about her being ugly inside, and even then probably in a good way. It's kind of an extension of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road's "Dirty Little Girl" and Caribou's "Stinker". The musical accompaniment for this one is less propulsive than "Yell Help", it's a bit more funky.

Both "Help" and "Ugly" can be said to contain the sexist streak that Bernie was sometimes capable of in his lyrics; lines like

`Cause down the road you find someone else who's looking
Down the road you seen another sweet lady cooking


and

Now hell I don't mind women of her kind
I'll even pay sometimes for a woman that's ugly


can certainly be interpreted that way, but I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt- these tracks, taken all together, come across as the sort of joking banter that mates would share over a pint in the pub, and not meant in a vicious way.

A reprise of "Yell Help", which features a lot of vamping by Labelle, closes the track.

Regardless of what you might think about the lyrical content, it's an unusual and effective kickoff to one of Elton's most interesting overall efforts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

All the Nasties

A plea for tolerance, directed towards critics both of a print-based and personal nature.

Apparently Bernie and Elton were feeling that they were receiving a lot of unsolicited advice about the direction their career should be going in, and were feeling somewhat embattled, as is borne out by verses like this:

But I know the way they want me
In the way they publicize
If they could turn their focus off
To the image in their eyes


I must admit, though, that I'm a little nonplussed as to how Taupin's summing statement about all this unwanted input turning a "full-blooded city boy into a full-blooded city man" is supposed to silence the detractors...

It's given a lush musical accompaniment, though; Buckmaster's enormous strings, the ever-present Madman Across the Water group choir, and of course Elton's piano are all that are used- but the song has a big sound, especially when the choir does its thing. Reminiscent of Elton John's "Border Song", it's got a strong melody, one which stays with the listener. Well, at least THIS listener.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Western Ford Gateway

The Empty Sky album is, more than anything else I think, a showcase/tryout effort by two new collaborators who are trying to figure out for themselves what works and what doesn't. In almost every song, you can find echoes of what was popular in 1968- both sonically, as echoes of the Beatles, Stones, Procol Harum, a myriad of Long John Baldry-inspired blues bands, Dylan, etc., as well as subject matters of love, and peace, and the search for same, as well as the search for ideals of truth and honor in their fellow man and even a Sci-Fi scenario...anything that might catch the ear of the Beautiful People and lead to bigger and better things.

"Western Ford Gateway" seems to be, as best as I can tell, a Taupin musing on the transience of life- not especially deep or profound, but then again Bernie was just honing his craft and would go on to do much better. Elton provides a mid-60's Dylan country-rock arrangement, and it sounds like it could fit on Highway 61 Revisited without too much trouble. It's short and tuneful and doesn't overstay its welcome.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ego

This 1978 single came out in the wake of the disappointing (both critically and commercially) Blue Moves album, and also marked the temporary end (at least as far as public releases went) of the John/Taupin partnership- caused by, in interviews both during and after the period, tensions between the two and pressure of stardom, along with, well, the egos involved. It was, by most accounts, a down period for both men, who were dealing with various addictions on top of the other things. If this was the case, this song stands as an odd little fare-the-well- and perhaps a bit of an eff-you- to one of the most fruitful songwriting teams in pop music history to date.

In interviews, Elton claimed that the lyrics were directed at the Jaggers, Bowies and McCartneys out there at the time, and how runaway self-regard has led them astray, and it certainly can be interpreted that way- but one has to think that perhaps Bernie was getting a dig in at the singer of the song as well, and perhaps the singer didn't realize it.

It's a charging, surging tune, with chunka-chunka rhythm guitar buried in the mix- musically evoking an out-of-control freight train, punctuated by train-whistle sounds and silent-movie-style piano trills before each verse. Elton spits out each line like he's casting pearls before swine, a far more spirited performance than one would think he had in him at the time for sure.

The first time I heard this cut was via a promotional video, probably aired on the popular US music show Midnight Special, a couple of years pre-MTV. It was purported to be one of the most expensive promo clips to date (they didn't call 'em music videos just yet) and as you can see by viewing the clip, it looked like every penny was well-spent; it looks light years ahead of most music clips of the time as well as many of the subsequent ones. It also was screened before theatrical films in US movie theatres at the time.

Despite all this, the single came and went and was not a hit, stalling at #34 in both the US and UK. It remained a single-only release until its inclusion on the 1990 box set To Be Continued....

Of course, after a break of a few years, John and Taupin got back together and had continued success. But after the failure of this track and the mediocrity of John's next few Bernie-less releases, it certainly seemed like the end of an era for sure...which I'm sure was a dent to Reg's ego, no doubt about it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

We All Fall in Love Sometimes

Captain Fantastic's penultimate track seems less like a standard boy/girl (or the gender of your choice) love song than one which seems to describe falling in love with making music together, i.e. the John/Taupin partnership- hence the reference in the last verse to Empty Sky, the point in history at which this autobiographical concept album ends.

Musically, it's another piano-driven slow-tempo ballad, punctuated with Mellotron and Arp synthesizer and heavy in tone- and to be perfectly honest, it mostly plods along pleasantly enough until the last minute or so when it builds up to some really nice Beach Boys-style harmony vocals at the end. It then abruptly segues into the final track "Curtains", which I'll get to eventually. They're so close together, and sound so similar, that on my first few listens I thought it was all one song.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Solar Prestige a Gammon

Bet you were wondering when I was going to get to this one, weren't you?

"Solar Prestige" is a cheerful little nonsense ditty consisting of (according to Robert Christgau) "...words that only sound like words or that can't possibly mean what they seem to mean."

Cast in a setting that features a Latin sort of rhythm, accordion, piano and xylophone, Elton blithely chirps the words and draws the listener into the goofy fun.

Of course, some griped, and not unreasonably, that perhaps the talents of all concerned were wasted on such a trivial enterprise, and some suggested that it was written in arch response to critical over-scrutiny...but it's short, sweet, inoffensive (to me, anyway), and hardly the focus of a mostly unfocused elpee.

It's as true now as it was in 1974: Solar prestige a pako can nord.

Amy

Even though Taupin was moving away from the Old West and rural-life scenarios of earlier albums, he still had plenty left to write about on the subject. "Amy" isn't specifically in this vein, but it does suggest it as he gives us a subject who's a plucky young 18-year-old right out of a 40's or 50's film, a Mickey Rooney type, or more aptly a James Dean (who gets namedropped in the chorus)-ish sort who is crushing hard on a girl in town with a spotty reputation- and his father, along with the local tough guys, are all trying to keep them apart. "But they can bust my head", John sings, "'cause I love you just the same."

John gives it a distinctive, high-energy accompaniment, beginning with a Stones-ish intro with congas and piano at the beginning, then a saucy guitar lick. However, the most notable sound in the mix belongs to Jazz violinist and occasional '70s Zappa sideman Jean-Luc Ponty, who propels the song along with a gliding lick that turns manic as the music becomes more urgent and aggressive during and after the "Amy, I may not be James Dean..." chorus. Elton's vocals match the push and pull of the rhythm; cajoling during the verses, and clipped during the chorus.

It never gets any attention when this album is discussed, understandable due to the several notable tracks on Chateau, but this has always been one of my favorite cuts on this LP.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n' Roll)

If "Crocodile Rock" successfully evoked the mood of Del Shannon and other Fifties artists, then "Your Sister Can't Twist" spins it into overdrive.

Easily one of the most manic tracks in John's classic ouevre, "Sister" begins with a basic Chuck Berry guitar pattern (played by Johnstone with that pinched, compressed guitar sound which he was beginning to experiment with at the time and reached its apex on "The Bitch is Back") accented with the same Farfisa organ sound that defined "Crocodile", sped up double time and spiced with doo-wop style backing vocals. After John sings the first few verses, the organ strikes up a circus-carousel melody, the backing singers ooh-ooh-wah a la the Beach Boys, and deliver an inspired instrumental break that just soars before shifting back to the main melody, delivering one more hyped-up reprise of the verse and bringing the whole thing charging to a finish via repetition of the title, with the doo-wop BVs ending abruptly and segueing right into the cracking drumbeat and rock guitar riff of the next track, "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"- a perfect intro for one of John/Taupin's hardest rocking efforts.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

No Shoe Strings on Louise

This little burst of invective at some out-of-the-singer's-league slattern doesn't exactly feature the finest example of Bernie's lyrical skills...but is totally redeemed by Elton's swaggering, Band-inspired country-blues funk arrangement. The judicious use of bongos just before the "C'mon down, c'mon down..." part sounds really great, and producer Gus Dudgeon provides some nice sonic depths with some really deep bass.

This track sounds so good you can overlook lines about "paper cans" and the like, which may pass for country slang where Taupin comes from, but just scan oddly elsewhere. It wouldn't be until much later that he would really get comfortable at writing this sort of vernacular.

Crazy Water

A song dealing with feelings of separation and embattlement, using deep sea fishing (of all things) as a metaphor for a musician's touring and recording lifestyle. John and Taupin were feeling a bit frayed around the edges by 1976, and it shows on not only this cut, but the entire Blue Moves album.

Despite the downbeat slant of the words, though, this one's hopped-up Philly Soul/Disco all the way, stuffed with massed strings (Paul Buckmaster returned for a few cuts on this LP) group choirs (including Toni Tennille and Bruce Johnston) and the everpresent hi-hat, courtesy of Roger Pope, who probably would never have dreamed that John's music would end up like this back in the Tumbleweed Connection days. Its breakneck pace isn't really conducive to dancing, and the melody isn't a strong one.

All in all, one of EJ's more forgettable tracks from this period, despite all the money spent and production excess.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds

Elton spent a great deal of 1974 cultivating a friendship with John Lennon, both in and out of the studio. The first of these collaborations was a cover version of Lennon's surreal Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band track, "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", on which the former Beatle contributed backing vocals and guitar.

Elton stays pretty close to the Pepper version, with a few differences: extensive use of Mellotron, Ray Cooper's bells, and a reggae-flavored tempo during the chorus, along with an uptempo instrumental passage in the middle in which the aforementioned Mellotron takes a prominent role. The ever-present Beach Boys-style harmony vocals of his band also add a nice touch; smoother than the Fabs, a little slicker perhaps, but still very good.

This went to #1 for two weeks early in 1975, and for good reason- Elton's star was still burning bright, and 1975 also saw the beginnings of a bit of a revival of interest in the Beatles as well, which really bore fruit with several subsequent Capitol collections of Beatles songs. After also recording a cover of Lennon's much less accomplished solo cut "One Day (At a Time)", Elton then guested on two cuts from Lennon's upcoming Walls and Bridges LP, "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" and "Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)". John and Lennon (boy that scans weird, doesn't it?) made a bet- if "Night" went to #1, then the former would appear onstage with the latter. "Night" did indeed top the charts, and Lennon made good on his promise- which would, sadly, turn out to be the final live onstage appearances of his life.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Texan Love Song

In which two Englishmen attempt to write a satirical song from the point of view of a good ol' boy from Texas a la Ed Sanders' Johnny Pissoff (from "The Iliad") or Zappa's Lonesome Cowboy Burt, and manage to succeed admirably, against all odds.

Rather than show disdain or contempt for our irate redneck, Taupin stays objective and lets him retain a sort of dignity, even as he blusters against the long-haired hippies who drink his beer and ogle his women:

So it's Ki yi yippie yi yi
You long hairs are sure gonna die
Our American home was clean till you came
And kids still respected the president's name

And the eagle still flew in the sky
Hearts filled with national pride
Then you came along with your drug-crazy songs
Goddamnit you're all gonna die


And it's John's melody line which enables this to happen; subtle chord changes during the above chorus add a melancholy, almost poignant air to our cowboy's rant, to show that he's scared of something or someone that he doesn't understand and inwardly mourns for what he perceives to be the death of the lifestyle he holds dear, almost as if John Wayne had chosen to write a pop song. Musical color is added by John on harmonium and Johnstone's mandolin, giving it a gentle Old West-movie vibe.

Of course, having the "goddamnit" in the lyrics ensured that it would never be played on radio, and combined with its placement in the middle of side two on the vinyl LP, this track was doomed to be obscure. Shame, because it worked really well at both satire and sympathy, a difficult trick to pull off.

Come Down in Time

The singer sits alone on a Summer night, and frets about whether or not he's been stood up by a lady who invited him for a rendezvous. Simple song.

But what makes this track exceptional is the accompaniment, featuring oboe by Karl Jenkins, harp by Skaila Kanga, and the ubiquitous strings of Paul Buckmaster, along with upright bass and acoustic guitar, giving it an almost Pentanglish sound and evoking the mood beautifully.

It's a quiet jewel in the Elton John canon.