Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rotten Peaches

Easily the most "country-rockish" track on the Madman LP, "Peaches" sounds like a throwback to Tumbleweed Connection in a lot of ways, most notably the influence of the Band yet again.

The lyrics deal with the tribulations of a chain-gang prisoner, on the run from the law and apparently still shackled to his mates. You could make a case for this being written from the point of view of a Civil War-era slave as well; that sort of story was on Taupin's mind at the time, leading to the next year's Honky Chateau track "Slave". Either way, the singer is going through a definite time of trial and tribulation. Another subsequent song, Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player's "Have Mercy on the Criminal", is evoked in the chorus, in which he sings:

Mercy I'm a criminal, Jesus I'm the one
Rotten peaches rotting in the sun

I've always heard this as "mercy on the criminal", but the former is the way most sources reproduce it, so it could be I was letting the Piano Player song title influence me. The reference towards the end to "cocaine and pills", of which the singer has "had me my fill", is a little curious, because it's something an escaped prisoner or slave wouldn't, you'd think, have access to. Perhaps he's repentant of the mistakes that led to him being jailed in the first place, or maybe this refers to some sort of illness (tooth-related?) and its treatment...little unclear on this. Also, after viewing O Brother, Where Art Thou? some thirty years later, I can't help but think of Clooney, Tuturro and Nelson in their prison stripes.

Anyway, this song benefits from an all-star lineup: session guitarist extraordinaire Chris Spedding on (very prominent) slide guitar, Strawbs/Yes man Rick Wakeman on organ, the Pentangle's Terry Cox on drums, and the Madman Across the Water Congregated Chorus Vocals are provided by Lesley Duncan, Sue & Sunny, Barry St. John, Liza Strike, Roger Cook, Tony Burrows, Terry Steele, Dee Murray, and Nigel Olsson. It's these backing vocals, as so often is the case with the tracks from Madman, that leave the strongest impression when regarding this particular song as they la-la-la-la over the fadeout and usher in Elton's impassioned lead vocal on the chorus with longer, sustained notes.

This isn't a cut that stands out compared to the other, more highly regarded Madman tracks, but it's always summed up the overall feel of the LP as well as any and in fact (again, to me) is very representative of the entire early, pre-Don't Shoot Me Elton period.

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