Thursday, November 29, 2007

Michelle's Song

The plot of Friends sounds an awful lot like that of later big-screen teen romances such as The Blue Lagoon and Sahara, in which neglected/abandoned/lost adolescent boys and girls come together amidst great difficulty, persevere, and find love. The titular "Michelle", then, is the Brooke Shields/Phoebe Cates half of the equation, played by Anicée Alvina, and no young gamine of the screen ever had a sweeter pop song dedicated to her than this.

Bernie has crafted an unabashedly starry-eyed love song, with this as the chorus:

So take my hand in your hand
Say it's great to be alive
No one's going to find us
No matter how they try
No one's going to find us
It's wonderful so wild beneath the sky

The sentiment and feel is similar to the duo's other notable valentine, "Your Song", and the Paul Buckmaster/Elton team dress it up with a melody in the verses that sounds similar to, but different from, the old traditional "Wild Mountain Thyme". The chorus reminds me a little of the "Bring your family down..." section of "Burn Down the Mission", of all things. Of course, they are skilled at this sort of reshuffling, so the total effect is very romantic, with Buckmaster's oboe piping along in the background with the surging strings, and of course Elton's piano and the rolling drums sound that was a feature of many of the songs from his early 70's period.

The title song, probably for commercial reasons, was the single and was a minor hit; for my part I think this would have made a strong follow-up and if not for the box office failure of the film, who knows, it might have seen release. For my part, I think it's probably the best cut on the album.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dirty Little Girl

The roll-and-tumble, stop-and-start rhythm of this track seems to simulate the gait of the title subject, a definitely untidy (in a lot of ways, apparently) young lady and the target of Bernie's scorn.

Lyrically not one of Bernie's finest moments; he sounds alternately mean-spirited and condescending in verses like this:

When I watch the police come by and move you on
Well I sometimes wonder what's beneath the mess you've become
Well you may have been a pioneer in the trade of women's wear
But all you got was a mop up job washing other people's stairs

Unsurprisingly, this tune was often used as an example when sexist accusations were levied against him. He has a nasty, scolding tone throughout, as the chorus makes evident:

I'm gonna tell the world, you're a dirty little girl
Someone grab that bitch by the ears
Rub her down scrub her back
And turn her inside out
'Cause I bet she hasn't had a bath in years

It remains an interesting track mostly because of the musical accompaniment; Johnstone plays a lot of string-bending notes on the low end of the neck, and the bridge leading up to the outro in particular has a wonderful blend of horns, vocal and guitar.

This one's never been a favorite of mine; can't really say why because while I deplore Taupin's tone, I'm not especially offended. One reason could be because of the jacket illustration, a colored-pencil drawing which depicts a slovenly, disheveled young girl, wearing a soiled slip and curlers in her hair, holding a cigarette and licking her lips at the viewer. It's not a bad drawing at all, far from it- in fact, I have a deep love for album package design that features illustrations for individual songs on the lyric sleeve and/or jacket; others that come to mind are Traffic's When the Eagle Flies and Ringo Starr's Ringo- but the image is as unpleasant as the song is supposed to be, and that made a negative impression on impressionable young me.

Also, in my mind, this song is part of a set with Caribou's "Stinker"- they both share a thematic similarity.

Friday, November 23, 2007


In which a pampered momma's boy goes mental and kills a bunch of people in a Queens bar, and is shot dead by police when he does finally emerge.

Not exactly "Your Song", is it?

It's an atypically long track, for the Caribou album anyway, and instrumentation is only Elton on piano and vocal, along with Dave Hentschel on synths. It's 2:13 longer than the next longest track, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"- and I say that not to appease the number crunchers but to point out how (despite the potential for monotony) engaging the track is, carried by Elton's deft vocal and the band's harmonies. The subject matter is a bit lurid, almost screaming "RIPPED FROM TODAY'S HEADLINES!!!"- perhaps Bernie had read a newspaper account of a similar incident- but we do get our dramatics administered with an even hand, and that helps. We get sympathy for the perp, sympathy for the victims, but maybe not so much for the police, who gun him down even though he gives up.

This track was a bit of a stretch for Elton & Co., I can't recall another instance, until much later with John Lennon's death, when he and Bernie would be this topical again.

Lady Samantha

Elton's second solo single, released one day after my ninth birthday, is a schizo composition indeed: verses echo Procol Harum's stately organ-and-Hendrix guitar mix, and choruses evoke Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde period. The melodies of both, and they are different, are strong.

Bernie's lyrics describe a woman who may or may not be a witch or some other sort of supernatural creature, or so the people of the town say. The singer of the song hedges his bets at the end by telling us

The tales that I told round the fire every night
Are out of proportion and none of them right
She is harmless and empty of anything bad
For she once had something that most of you have

what that "something" is- love, honor, beauty- isn't specified.

An ambiguous lyric married to a uneven composition, and sung by an unknown artist, is rarely a recipe for chart success- and sure enough, this one didn't chart in either country.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Someone's Final Song

The apotheosis of the morose Blue Moves album- a suicide note, set to music. I don't even want to speculate on what Bernie was thinking when he wrote this one. If it had been sequenced at the end of the LP, it might have been too much, and I think Elton & Co. might have understood that because on the original vinyl it appears at the end of side three of the four-side set, diluting its impact.

Not that it could really bear a lot of dilution; it doesn't have an especially memorable melody although it is nicely sung by Elton and a group of all-star backing vocalists, including Toni Tenille again and Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. Their harmonies are especially nice on the line "This home is not the home it used to be". Accompaniment is spare, featuring only Elton on piano and James Newton Howard on Synths and electric piano.

Not the worst track on this album, despite the glum subject matter, but it's not quite one which compels me to listen again very often and is easily tuned out when playing the side of the LP or CD.

Monday, November 19, 2007

One Day (at a Time)

This John Lennon composition was the B-side to the "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" single of 1974, and was another byproduct of the burst of recording that the Elton/Lennon friendship from that time inspired.

Lennon's version appeared on his 1973 release Mind Games, which, to be honest, wasn't exactly his finest solo effort- although there were a few outstanding tracks, such as the title cut. But the combination of 1972's landslide defeat of presidential candidate George McGovern, the desire to distance himself from some of the politically radical friends he'd acquired and the subsequent harassment at the hands of the Nixon administration complete with the threat of losing his visa, and the unraveling of his relationship with Yoko Ono seemed to have left him deeply uninspired- and the singsongy melody and greeting card-worthy lyrics of this track, yet another paean to Yoko Ono, serves as ultimate proof of that.

Out of all the candidates, why Elton chose this one to cover is a mystery to me, but he gamely gives it a go; where the original had a shuffling, lackadaisical rhythm, he speeds it up ever-so-slightly and has Johnstone contribute some guitar licks in place of the somewhat off-key ooo-oohs of Lennon's. Lennon himself is supposed to be contributing guitar and BVs, according to the Rare Masters liner notes, but if he is he's buried in the mix.

Even though it hangs together better as a song here, it can't disguise the fact that it's every bit as precious and twee as a typical 70's Paul McCartney composition, an irony which must have escaped Lennon but not many of his fans or critics.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Metapost III

So...I won the eBay auction and got my copy of the 2-disc set of Elton's Rare Masters!


The copy arrived Friday, and while the case and discs were in good shape, there was no booklet inside. Of course, there was no mention of this being missing in the auction description- if I had known, I wouldn't have bid on it. The seller, when I sent him an email, said that there wasn't one. Wishing to take the high road, I didn't call him names for not mentioning it in said description, but this still leaves me with no book.

I really wanted it to use for reference when writing the songs on those CDs. I'm wondering- do any of you out there reading this own it (well, I know one person), and would you be able to scan/create a PDF, or copy it, and email or snail mail it to me?

If you snail mail it, I could reimburse your postage.

If nobody can, well, I'll soldier on. But let this be a lesson to you, children, about buying from people on eBay. This is the second time I've been burned buying second hand CDs there.

Oh, and while I'm being all Meta (and I wish I could think of a better name for these posts), may I draw your attention to the box on the right side of the page- if for whatever reason you read something I've written, and get curious about it and think you might want to purchase it, you can click through using the box and buy it, and I'll get a little credit from Amazon! And maybe even buy my OWN, BRAND NEW copy of Rare Masters! Give a little Elton for the holidays, wot say?

Have Mercy on the Criminal

Even though it was John's avowed intent to get away from the ponderous orchestrations of Madman Across the Water, this resolve only lasted one album as Paul Buckmaster was invited back to score two cuts on Don't Shoot Me. This one's the less subtle of the two, its arrangement hearkening back to such previous efforts as "Indian Sunset" and Madman's title track.

Which is certainly not mean as a criticism on my part; I've always liked Buckmaster's work for not only Elton, but Nilsson, Carly Simon, and others. And this arrangement is certainly as dramatic and cinematic as the subject matter would suggest.

Taupin seems to be making a plea for tolerance by asking the listener to identify with an escaped fugitive; there are also echoes of another frequent theme in his Classic Era catalogue, that of escape from oppression via flight in different senses of the word. I think he's telling a story here; I don't believe he's really writing from any sort of personal point of view, except the part of him that believes in tolerance and forgiveness.

The arrangement is orchestral-driven all the way, with Elton, Johnstone, Murray and Olsson up top in the mix. Elton, professional that he is by that time, delivers another impassioned vocal, as the subject matter calls for.

It's never been one of the more higher-profile tracks from this album; while it boasts a good melody and performance, it does come across as a bit plodding and dull, at least to my ears.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

This track is essentially a continuation of the themes set forth via Honky Chateau's bookend cuts "Honky Cat" and "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" (Yeah, I know, "Hercules" ends the album but thematically these bookend the album): Naive country boy hits the big city and finds that it's not all it's cracked up to be; all that glitters is not gold, etc., etc. In this one, he decides once and for all to go back to those days and his redneck ways.

Of course, the Honky Cat gets to deliver some barbs before he departs, and I like this one in particular:

What do you think you'll do then
I bet that'll shoot down your plane
It'll take you a couple of vodka and tonics
To set you on your feet again

...especially the way Elton sings it as "vodker and tonics".

Del Newman, the de facto string arranger on Road, really shines on this track, providing a lush orchestral arrangement which Elton's piano sits astride. Those wonderful EJ Band harmonies also represent.

"Road" was a top 10 single in the US and UK, reaching #2 in the States.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


A meandering ode to the joys of connubial bliss and life's little relaxing moments, which were probably on the minds of both men (well, Bernie's anyway) as Elton's career ramped up into overdrive.

Accompaniment is mostly barrelhouse, mildly funky Toussaint-style piano, augmented by the swooping electric violin of Jean-Luc Ponty, and of course Elton doing Leon Russell once more on vocals.

It's not a bad track by any means, but it doesn't exactly make a big impression either; perhaps, given the subject matter, that's appropriate. It's a humble little tune.

Don't forget the beer my little dear
It helps to sow the mellow seed

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Cage

Six years before Warren Zevon, here's Elton "A-hoo"-ing in between verses in this rattletrap rocker, and Bernie provides another lyric (probably inspired by the lean years not too distant) about general feelings of powerlessness and imprisonment rather than any specific event.

As congas, wah-wah guitar, soul horns, and Elton's ever-present pounding piano accompany, John spits out lines like these:

Well I walk while they talk about virtue
Just raised on my back legs and snarled
Watched you kiss your old daddy with passion
And tell dirty jokes as he died

There's an odd synth break in the middle eight; while it's completely out of kilter with the rest of the sound of the song it doesn't overstay its welcome. Not quite the best song on the album, but it does serve as a bit of a palate-cleanser for the gothic profundities of the next track "The King Must Die".

Cage the Songbird

On the lyric sleeve, this one bears the dedication "For Edith Piaf", which would suggest that this tragic tale attempts to eulogize the beloved French chanteuse in much the same fashion that "Candle in the Wind" paid tribute to Marilyn Monroe. I don't think it's that simple.

If it intends to pay homage, I would think that it could do a bit better than lines like

Sober in the morning light
Things look so much different
To how they looked last night
A pale face pressed to an unmade bed
Like flags of many nations flying high above her head

Knowing what we know now about Elton and his excesses during this time frame, I have a feeling Bernie might just be making a wry observation about his musical partner.

Regardless, there are some very nice lines to be found here, not the least of which is the chorus:

And you can cage the songbird
But you can't make her sing
And you can trap the free bird
But you'll have to clip her wings
`Cause she'll soar like a hawk when she flies
But she'll dive like an eagle when she dies

Maybe it attempts to castigate and celebrate at the same time, but I don't think so.

Musically, it's a predominantly acoustic arrangement, with Quaye and Johnstone playing precise figures and James Newton Howard providing flute-like synths. Graham Nash and David Crosby join in on backing vocals, and are used to great effect on the chorus- the syncopated, slashing guitar and vocal on the penultimate line gives way to soaring harmonies on the last, the likes of which only the battle-tested voices of C and N can provide.

This really is a lovely song- in fact, I think it's one of the best on Blue Moves- and the tale it tells is quite sad. But I can't help but feel it's delivered with an arched eyebrow and tongue in cheek.

Crystal Gayle certainly took it at face value in 1983, ignoring whatever inherent ironies there might be and not only covering the tune but also naming the album after it. It went to #5 on the country charts that year.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rock and Roll Madonna

A stutter-step chicken-scratch guitar lick, reminiscent of the one which opens Tumbleweed Connection's "Ballad of a Well-Known Gun", introduces this Summer 1970 UK single, recorded at about the same time as many of the songs which ended up on Elton John. The rest of the track sounds a lot like the Stones' "Honky Tonk Women", with crowd noise in the background, but the mix is cleaner than the standard live sound- so without the benefit of booklet notes, I have to wonder whether it was added in the studio to generate an excitement vibe, or if this really was a live recording.

Lyrically, it's a "quest" and "on the road" kind of song, with the Rock and Roll Madonna personifying the success and fame which Elton and Co. are doggedly pursuing, both on that road literally and figuratively.

The single was greeted with indifference by UK radio and didn't chart; "Your Song" was still months away. Still, it's a derivative, but not unenjoyable, rocker. Stylistically, it wouldn't have fit anywhere on John's first two post Empty Sky albums, although it might have livened Elton John up a tad.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)

One thing Elton and Co. seemed determined to do on Yellow Brick Road, if nothing else: rock out. And on this track, they succeed admirably.

Immediately after the hopped-up doo-wop style harmony vocals of "Your Sister Can't Twist" abruptly end, the three beat crack of Olsson's drum, closely followed by Davey Johnstone's instantly memorable riff gets this off to a roaring start.

Bernie's lyrics are pretty much the braggadocio of a greasy punk tough-guy who's going out to hit the streets on a Saturday night, and straight-up tells us

A couple of the sound that I really like
Are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike

and is looking for

...a dolly who'll see me right
I may use a little muscle to get what I need
I may sink a little drink and shout out "She's with me!"

Fortunately, the band is committed to full-on hard-rock mode and backs up the bluster that Elton gamely tries to provide, as he bellows out the lyrics, only slowing down on the chorus:

Get about as oiled as a diesel train
Gonna set this dance alight
`Cause Saturday night's the night I like
Saturday night's alright alright alright

with some group-vocal oooh-oooh-oooh-ooohs after the final "alright". After the second repeat of the chorus, they repeat the title over and over, the band playing faster the whole time, and jamming furiously until the fadeout, and it becomes a transcendent moment.

A longtime concert favorite, and understandably so- on the occasions I've seen him perform it on television, it was always a highlight of the show.

Country Comfort

In which Bernie opens up the Farmer's Almanac to give us a laundry list of the charms of the agrarian lifestyle, with lines such as these:

Now the old fat goose is flying cross the sticks
The hedgehog's done in clay between the bricks
And the rocking chair's creaking on the porch
Across the valley moves the herdsman with his torch

I remember hearing this as a teenager, and wondering who the hell would cook a hedgehog, and why, and how cooking him between bricks is possible. Perhaps "done" means sculpted or something, who knows. But I digress.

In keeping with the general vibe of the Tumbleweed album, the backing is purely Band-style rustic all the way, with Ian Duck's harmonica providing a lot of color.

Rod Stewart covered this song on his then-contemporary album Gasoline Alley; his version was very good but didn't surpass the original.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


By-the-numbers Elton ballad, which certainly seems to point to the flagging enthusiasm of all concerned at the time.

Lyrically, it's fine- Taupin conjures up some good imagery as he tells about a chance encounter with a bygone love. Of course, the default Blue Moves assumption is that he could be writing about a real-life encounter, or perhaps reminiscing about the early days of his by-then dissolving marriage. Hard to say.

But Elton casts it in a barely-memorable melody, and while the playing and singing (Toni Tennille of The Captain and... fame is among the vocalists) are never less than accomplished, the end result is bland and generic, almost as if this was created by a computer program designed to take all of John's balladic tendencies, put them together, and compose a new song.

Even though it seems like it was designed to be the A-side of a single, it ended up as a B-side twice: on equally uninspired tracks "Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance)" in the US and "Crazy Water" in the UK.

The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-34)

This tale of the violent end of a young Depression-era 'shine-running gangster seems to come right out of a Warner Bros. movie of the 1930's. Bernie adopts exactly the right balance of objective and judgmental in lyrics like these:

Killed him in anger, a force he couldn't handle
Helped pull the trigger that cut short his life
And there's not many knew him the way that we did
Sure enough he was a wild one, but then aren't most hungry kids?

Also, establishing that young Danny was from Kentucky (13-year-old me though that was pretty cool) and the later mention of breaking up moonshine stills gives this a Bonnie and Clyde (and much later O Brother, Where Art Thou?) connotation as well. The final line of the chorus, "And the harvest is in", is brilliant in the images it evokes.

Elton's arrangement is no less clever: From the ominous, rumbling opening piano notes, suddenly punctuated by a snare drum shot after the lines "Some punk with a shotgun/killed young Danny Bailey"- POW!- "in cold blood..."...on through the stop-and-start of the rhythm of the body of the song (nice job by Dee Murray on bass, who stands out a bit in the mix)- finishing up with an extended piano solo on the fadeout, ushered in by more of those stellar group harmonies, as Elton plays clumps of notes against the rhythm and the soaring Newman strings until the end.

I'm not sure that Elton, Bernie and string arranger Del Newman ever were more in sync than on this overlooked gem from side three of GYBR.

Razor Face

No, it's not a song about a horror-movie boogeyman- "Razor Face" is Bernie ruminating about a homeless person whom he (or the person narrating the song, as he may just be writing in character) seems to feel affection and sympathy for. Bernie doesn't judge or condescend, and that's refreshing.

It's set in a funky/bluesy sort of arrangement by Elton, and given somewhat of a rustic feel by Jack Engblom's accordion and Rick Wakeman's organ fills, which includes some frenetic soloing as the song concludes with Elton singing "I love your Razor Face". Actually, it sounds more like "love YOU" to me, and that makes more sense- but most lyric sources say "your", so that's what I go with here. This one really bears the Band influence due to the presence of the organ/accordion combo. And on the subject of influences, Elton does a nice job throughout on vocals, slurring and hitting high notes like Leon Russell in his prime.

It's a solid track, not one of the first you think of from the Madman album but one which sounds good when you hear it- it's a bit of a decompression after the surging "Levon" and a bit of a pick-me-up before the moody title track. It was the B-side of the "Tiny Dancer" 45 in the US, which only made it to the lower reaches of the Top 40.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Metapost II

Just taking a moment to post a few things Elton- and this blog-related that have occurred to me recently:

• First, I want to thank everyone for their interest, and especially for commenting! The response so far has been outstanding, far more than I expected. I try to reply to comments when I can think of something semi-intelligent to add to the conversation, but if I don't, rest assured that I do read them and value them highly. In many cases, I can't really add anything to what you've already written.

• Also, many thanks to those who have commented and set me straight on some of my interpretations; while I wish that I could be as razor-sharp and perceptive as can be, sometimes I have a bad tendency to miss the forest for the trees so to speak, and probably need the more knowledgeable among you to function as my editors from time to time. Since this blog will probably be on the internet for long after I'm gone, I think it should be as factually accurate and correct, conclusion-wise, as possible. While I have read and heard a fair amount, I don't sit on a treasure-trove of Elton interviews and reference material, and as I've found while trying to research these songs, it seems that there is always an explanation here or a statement there in some text that could go a long way towards interpreting Bernie's often obtuse wordsmithery.

• I put a bid in today on a copy of Rare Masters on eBay; wish me luck.

• You'll probably notice that from this point on, I'll probably be writing about songs from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Blue Moves more often than other albums. The reason for this is pretty simple, actually: Road and Moves are double LPs, with at least twice as many songs as other Elton albums in the period covered. I did some tallying up the other day, and noticed that I only have four or five songs to go on many releases, but have over a dozen left to do on those records. So, and this may change if I acquire Rare Masters, you'll probably see a song from those albums alternating after a single entry from the others, at least until (if ever) I get caught up.

• I recently did acquire copies of two more recent Elton efforts, Songs From the West Coast and The Captain and the Kid, and while I reserve the right to write more in-depth about them before I'm done, in a nutshell I can say that the former is the stronger effort; "I Need Love" is a wonderfully Beatle-esque piece of pop, and "This Train (Don't Stop Here Anymore)" manages, via strong melody the likes of which hearkens back to his salad days that are the focus of this blog, to evoke sympathy for a figure that frankly needs none of it. It's heartening to hear Elton being as willing as he was to lay bare his inner feelings in a way that he never cared to do in his classic years. Other tracks don't leave quite as strong an impression, but are solid just the same with only one or two uninteresting efforts. Captain, a sequel to Captain Fantastic, attempts to update the Elton & Bernie: The Early Years concept by providing songs tangentially related to events that happened in the early-mid Seventies. The title cut starts impressively, but becomes tiresome through repetition; "And the House Fell Down" essays his drug abuse via a catchy, slow-rocking musical setting, and so on. The main problem with not only this album but West Coast as well (and probably the middle album Peachtree Road, which I still don't have) is just that the years of writing AOR, Broadway, and Disney movie schlock have blunted the edges of both men; everything here, with a few exceptions, is immaculately crafted but remarkably glib and unaffecting. I will say that I'm happy that both men care enough to continue to try, though, and while I can't say that I'll listen to these CDs a fraction as much as I have listened to, say, Rock of the Westies, I'm still pleased to own them both.

• I also recently acquired a couple of unusual Elton-related albums: It Ain't Easy and Everything Stops For Tea, two early '70s Warner Bros. Records releases by EJ mentor and Blues singer Long John Baldry. Both LPs had a novel gimmick: one side of the album was produced and played on by Elton, and one side by another Baldry disciple Rod Stewart, then in the height of his powers just before and after his marvelous efforts with the Faces and solo, sp. Long Player and Every Picture Tells a Story. While I'm afraid that Rod's tracks steal the show, Elton acquits himself nicely. Baldry covers a John/Taupin composition, "Rock Me When He's Gone" on Easy- it's a rarity that John never included on any of his official releases; and on Tea the backing musicians include Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnstone, along with Ray Cooper, who would join Elton's band in 1975. Both these records are tons of fun, especially if you like the blues and blues-rock.

• That's all I can think of for now!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Boogie Pilgrim

"Boogie Pilgrim", well, it boogies along amiably with a soft-shoe-shuffle type rhythm and a fair-to-middling melody, featuring falsetto vocals from Elton, would-be funky backing vocals from a host of fine singers, and keening SNL-style David Sanborn sax throughout- it's as slick as baby oil, produced to distraction, professional as all get out, and at a smidge over six minutes is a complete bore. What little life there is to be had in this derivative track is completely snuffed out via layers of production gloss and supersession backing.

Lyric content is just as vapid. While there's thankfully none of the usual Moves relationship angst here, the lyrics, which seem to be about some sort of street-level drug dealer, use a whole lot of cliche phrases ("Down on the jive talk/Down on the weather") to say nothing much at all.

Perhaps if they had reined it in a couple of minutes before they did, this might have been better. At their peak, Elton and his band/lyricist/production team could sometimes make magic out of slight material. Here, the team seems to have run out of fuel.

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.