Sunday, March 30, 2008

Take Me to the Pilot

With its stop-and-start piano intro, chunka-chunka wah-wah guitars, passionate Leon Russell-style vocal and gliding Buckmaster string arrangment, "Pilot" is the album's most prominent rocker and a favorite of Elton fans, especially among the songs on the Elton John LP.

Because it's such a head-nodding rock song, I think a lot of people are able to ignore the lyrics, which find Bernie sending lyrics-readers scurrying to their dictionaries with lines like

Like a coin in your mint
I am dented and I'm spent with high treason


and head-scratching with lines like

Through a glass eye your throne
Is the one danger zone


But it's all right- Taupin was still working out his writing voice, trying to make what seems to be a standard woo-pitching song more interesting- and a good beat can often make the most questionable lyric content palatable.

This was released as the second single from Elton John in 1970, with a little ditty called "Your Song" as its flip. DJs preferred the B-side, and thus was history made.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Birthday Greetings


Happy 61st birthday to Sir Elton John!




Only one song left on each album, and a handful of singles! We're in the home stretch. Thanks to all who have stopped by, and especially those who have commented, so far!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Honey Roll

Appropriately funky and salacious piano boogie workout, which for some reason reminds me a little of "Take Me to the Pilot" but without the Buckmaster strings. It does feature the chorus vocals prevalent in his music at this time, along with a first (at least to my knowledge): a sax solo. Lyrically, it's a simple come-on, nothing fancy even though there's some odd references to "paying alimony" in the first verse, not a subject you'd think someone would breach when pitching woo.

Obviously, as Taupin notes in the Rare Masters booklet, one of the tunes designed to appear "in the movie whenever someone turned on the car radio, or something". Even though it's an obscure track, it's a pretty good one considering its humble beginnings.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me

Well, I'm sure you're all familiar with this one- it's one of Elton's biggest hits, was fricking all over the radio in not one, but two, decades via the remake duet with George Michael, who is at his most obsequious, seemingly in rapture at being in the presence of his idol. I don't know if there's much I can tell you about it that you don't already know, but I haven't let that stop me yet so here goes...

It's difficult to guess exactly what inspired Bernie to write this- the singer seems to be simultaneously coming on to and apologizing to the subject. Apparently there has been some sort of misunderstanding between the interested parties, and the singer fears being shut out and cut off from any further affection. Maybe it's directed at Maxine, maybe even at Elton. Hard to say, and I've been unable to turn up any anecdotal evidence with my meager resources.

The song's strong points are the lovely backing vocals, featuring Beach Boy Carl Wilson and arranged by another sometimes Boy, Bruce Johnston, as well as its stately and strong melody; it sounds a lot like a processional, especially during the chorus. The recording of most of Caribou sounds like it was a rushed affair between mammoth tours, but this one sounds like a bit more time and care was spent on polishing it up- I'm sure all concerned had this earmarked as the lead single from day one, which it was, coming out a month before the album's June release.

In its initial release, it hit #2 in the States but could not dislodge John Denver's "Annie's Song" at the top of the charts. The UK showing was less impressive, only achieving #16 over there. The aforementioned 1991 duet remake, however, capitalized on Michael's additional star power and went straight to #1 in both countries.

Here's to the Next Time

If the late 60's found the newish John/Taupin partnership frantically trying on many musical hats in order to find the best fit, "Next Time" sounds like an attempt to approximate the British Blues boom a la Joe Cocker, Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, and of course Long John Baldry, Elton's early mentor. Taupin's Rare Masters liner notes claim, while not addressing this cut specifically, that Dick James had been pressuring them not to experiment but to shoot for an Engelbert Humperdinck or Tom Jones sort of sound. The A-side is Engelbert all the way, but the flip is more up Jones' alley.

As with its A-side (Elton's first single release), "I've Been Loving You", this one's Elton all the way on both music and lyrics. Recorded in 1967 and released on the DJM label in 1968, it's a not-bad horn-driven blues with a generic sort of "You can leave if you want but you'll be back, baby" lyric slant.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tonight

Out of all the morose songs to be found on Blue Moves, none, not even the downright suicidal "Someone's Final Song", are more genuinely miserable than this track, which is the de facto album opener after the brief fakeout instrumental "Your Starter For...".

The singer and his significant other are trapped in a relationship which has broken down seemingly beyond all repair, and despite the singer's forlorn hopes of reconciliation, lines like

It's late, too late
To chase the rainbow that you're after
I'd like to find a compromise
And place it in your hands
My eyes are blind, my ears can't hear
And I cannot find the time


suggest that the damage is done, and his/her hopes are doomed to failure. Knowing what we know about Bernie's relationship issues, which inform much of this album, it's difficult not to see that he's pouring his heart out on the paper this time out.

Elton, for his part, sets this in music that is as elaborate, heavily orchestrated, and theatrical as anything from the Madman Across the Water album- strangely enough, even though Paul Buckmaster did contribute to the album, this score isn't his- it's by keyboardist James Newton Howard, who signed on as part of the Westies band. It's a beautiful arrangement, with ebbs and flows and washes of strings, punctuated by horns. Elton accompanies on piano. The melody itself is tender and poignant, perfectly complimenting the song.

"Tonight" is a rewarding and outstanding track, if you're able to listen objectively as one man lays out all the hurt, confusion and despair he feels at the breakdown of his marriage. It's defintely uneasy listening, for sure.

Lyrics and a sample

Monday, March 10, 2008

Social Disease

As the thundering hoofbeats of "Roy Rogers" fade into the aural distance, we're left with a bleary voice, mixed down very low, singing the first few lines of "Social Disease", as if the drunken reprobate we will come to meet is slowly coming out of an alcoholic stupor, perhaps one spent zoning out to old cowboy movies. Eventually, the vocals are joined by a vaudeville-style banjo, but it stays distant and low-volume only until the last line of the second verse:

I get juiced on Mateus and just hang loose

When it suddenly lurches into the chorus, at full strength:

And I get bombed for breakfast in the morning
I get bombed for dinner time and tea
I dress in rags, smell a lot, and have a real good time
I'm a genuine example of a social disease


And that pretty much sums up the gist of the song, in which the singer describes what a neer-do-well and rascal he is, but fortunately he's a likable one who's resigned to living out his life this way:

And the ladies are all getting wrinkles
And they're falling apart at the seams
Well I just get high on tequila
And see visions of vineyards in my dreams


It's a lighthearted, jokey lyric, and Bernie does a real good job getting it across; even the slight misogyny of the description of his landlady is balanced with humor.

The arrangement is livened with the aforementioned banjo throughout, and also with a nifty sax solo that pops up in the middle section, in which Elton and the band provide a funky foundation and make this another enjoyable cut on a side full of them. If Yellow Brick Road was a double album that would have been better served as a single, then it's always been my opinion that side 4 (all cuts beginning with "Your Sister Can't Twist" to the end on CD) should remain intact.

The inner gatefold of the LP, which featured the lyrics along with an illustration for each track, had an amusing hand tinted picture of Elton, in a goofy hat and sunglasses, swigging from a big bottle of wine, perfectly summing this one up.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sick City

This, the B-side to 1974's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me", finds Bernie taking the opportunity to get in some digs at New York City, or to be specific the groupies and panhandlers that they encountered. It's textbook not-nice Taupin, but I would imagine that he (and Elton) certainly encountered a lot of unsavory characters back then, and can't be blamed for being less than magnanimous.

Musically, it's a swaggering mid-tempo rocker that chugs along nicely, augmented by the Tower of Power horns. The melody isn't especially strong or memorable, and combined with the acidic lyric content is probably the reason why it was relegated to B-side status.

Lyrics and a sample