My Record Collection 102

Eurythmics – were a phenomenon of the Eighties.  After the nonsense of punk and the advent of the New Romantics, pop really needed a new sound and the Eurythmics filled the void perfectly.  Dave Stewart (see S) and Annie Lennox (see L) exuded modernity and chic, mastering the new sounds of drum machines and synths and a voice that could both shatter glass and soothe in the same sentence they took the World by storm.  Every album was full of hits which are still popular today; none more so then their second Sweet Dreams 9are made of this) 1983.  The title track is sheer brilliance with its bass line and gorgeous vocals, it just rolls along.  Also great from that album is ‘Love Is A Stranger’, but I also like ‘Jennifer’ and ‘This Is the House’, which mirrors what Talking heads (see T) were singing about in America.  A lovely album of songs. The same year they also released, on the back of huge success, Touch.  Here their trademark sound was sharpened, the androgynous look ramped up and, if anything, the songs got even better.  Three huge hits ‘Here Come The Rain Again’, ‘Who’s that Girl’ and best of all ‘Right by Your Side’.  They were now unstoppable, in a way they had carried on the sound and look from Bowie (see B) and Roxy (see R) but with a bit more mass appeal., and that secret ingredient danceability.  So, another great album where even the non-hits were damned good tracks.   My next Eurythmics album is 1986’s Revenge.  This is a more hard rock album, more guitars and less ‘poppy’ synths – somehow it works, and yet I miss the earlier sound.  I suppose that five years of success must take its toll, constant touring and promoting new singles, all of which were hits too.  Oh, it must be so tough at the top; or at least staying at the top.  By now Eurythmics were rock royalty and could do anything – well, almost.  Some great songs on this one – ‘Thorn In My Side’, ‘When Tomorrow Comes’ and ‘The Miracle of Love’.  Dave Stewart still producing and the music for the songs, Annie wrote the lyrics.  But I think strains were showing, as they inevitably must.  And maybe we have a clue from the album titles, ‘Sweet Dreams’ ‘Touch’ ‘Revenge’ and now Savage (1989) – they were certainly having an on-off relationship at the time.  Anyway, the album.  Another absolute classic, with an edge this time – opener ‘Beethoven’ is not about the composer at all, but a relationship falling apart.  ‘You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart’ says it all – there is even a song (quite cheerful as it happens) ‘Do You Want To break Up?’.  The title track is a bitter sweet song, but much of the other songs somehow leave me feeling a bit flat.

The band broke up at the end of the Eighties after 9 albums, but reformed twenty years later for that lucrative World Tour and one more album.  I also have a Greatest Hits, which is full of familiar old songs.  Annie Lennox had a faltering career as a solo artist.  Dave Stewart became a full-time record producer.

Sweet Dreams with Eurythmics and Lori Majewski's Lust For ...

My Record Collection 101

Melissa Etheridge – well, I have always been very partial to girl-singers, or to be correct female vocalists.  And I have always been on the lookout for a new woman’s voice.  And sometimes you find a gem, and sometimes they just don’t really succeed.  Melissa falls into a half-way category.  Her first album blew me away but it has been a case of diminishing returns and I stopped after about 4 studio albums.  That is not to say she wasn’t a great singer – but somehow the magic mantle slipped and I lost interest.  Her debut album 1988’s self-titled Melissa Etheridge had all the best songs and a raspy voice and intensity which seemed so new and vibrant, and a reminder of a recent past which was being overwhelmed by synth driven soft rock.  But this record was indeed superb; one of the best debut albums in my collection – and I became a convert.  Best songs ‘Similar Features’, ‘Chrome plated Heart’ and ‘Late September Dogs’.  The great batch of songs were most probably the result of years of trying to break through, and she obviously brought her best songs to this record.  It often seems to happen, and then when the record company want an album a year you have to write new ones which is far more difficult.  Next up is a live promotional EP, Melissa Etheridge Live, which is now a real rarity.  Superb vibrant versions of songs form her first album.  Loved it.   

I did buy her next album on vinyl but it failed to impress me as much although still a very good record Brave and Crazy., best tracks ‘No Souvenirs’, ‘You Can Sleep While I Drive’ and ‘Royal Station’.    I have only bought her records now and then when I see them in charity shops or very cheap,  Yes I Am (1992) was her breakthrough record and sold well, especially in her native America.   Well, the record is okay – but somehow it doesn’t have the magic of her first record.  Why is that?  I mean, why do we love a certain record and yet another, possibly equally as good doesn’t hit the spot.  I think that familiarity is the answer.  The first record we buy of an artist is usually played to death and you know every song inside out, but the next ones are played and filed away and only listened to occasionally – but that first tone, the time you fell in love with that artist just stay sacred.  It doesn’t always happen though; I have with certain artists liked them more with every new release.  Anyway this record seems just a bit too shouty for my liking, as if she is trying that bit too hard.  Not  bad record at all though – best songs ‘Come to my Window’ and ‘I’m The Only One’.  Only one other studi0 album 2001’s Skin, which I found more to my taste – a gentler sound, slightly deeper voice and not so strident.  Best tracks – ‘It’s Only Me’, and ‘Please Forgive Me’.  Ah, how often do I discover, in this archiving exercise that a record I had sort of rejected, put to one side and moved on to others – is a real gem.  So, I will now keep at least one eye open for anything else from Melissa Etheridge, a real genuine artist of deep integrity – and not a bad singer either.

I also, of course have her Greatest Hits; which is a good place to start.  One thing I am not sure I should mention – but Melissa has campaigned for years for gay rights – and like Joan Armatrading, her songs are always about you, gender unspecified.  Still works brilliantly for me.  And I quite like the songs I hadn’t had already…

My Record Collection 100

The Enid – Well, another strange one.  The Enid are a classically trained prog-rock group from the mid Seventies who successfully, but short-lived, achieved a small following by marrying Classical and Rock quite successfully.  However rather than incorporating classical into rock they seemed to play and compose classical music using some rock guitars and drums.   Led by pianist Robert Godfrey who had been associated with Barclay James Harvest (see B) they had a minor hit with Aerie Fairy Nonsense (1977) – a rather delightful light classical album with just a touch of pomp.  It is really all one piece, to my ears at least.  An oddity I must admit.  In 1979 they released what was their best seller, Touch Me.  I am not so fond of this as its predecessor, it isn’t so quaint – and frankly a bit boring.  It is slightly ruined too by a rendition of ‘Land Of Hope and Glory’; however ‘Albion Fair’ is nice and ‘The Skye Boat Song’ a good ending.  They went on and on and released many albums, none of which I have been tempted to buy.  Maybe I just miss the singing (of which there is none) or just find it too repetitious.

John Entwistle – again a one -off.  Of course, he was the bass player, and occasional songwriter for The Who (see W) – and who can argue with such credentials.  One album only Boris The Spider (Live).  The Who had a few periods of inactivity or semi-retirement and John toured with his own band The Ox.  The actual album isn’t that good really – but still.

ENZSO – (1996) is another rarity.  Eddie Rayner, keyboard player with Split Enz (see S) formed ENZSO, to play Split Enz songs with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and a variety of singers.  I had always loved the ENZ ever since seeing them at The Roundhouse in the mid-Seventies, and the had followed the careers of the Finn brothers after the band broke up (see F) and of course loved Crowded House (see C) so I bought the album.  Wow.  The familiarity of the Split Enz songs along with the grandiose classical flourishes are a great combination.  A superb album with some great performances from the Finn boys and others.  Researching this I have just found a second album which I will now scurry to buy.

Enzso

The Real Divide in Britain

Well, we have just lived through some remarkable years.   Brexit, Trump, Corbyn and Johnson.  No-one could have predicted it.  So, what now?

Most importantly we are sliding very quickly, but not I believe inexorably, into a Right-wing Utopia of Intolerance and completely unfettered Free Market Capitalism with a very few winners and many many losers.  Strangely too, political terms and names are meaningless.  We have a ‘Conservative’ party hell-bent on tearing down the institutions that have governed our lives (and served us well) for generations (EU, NHS, Social Care and the entire Welfare State) while conserving nothing of the past; in fact they are prepared to smash our trading base in the wake of their ideaology.  The Liberal Democrats are now neither liberal nor democrats (much as I deplored the referendum result, the only way to reverse it would have been a second referendum – not simply ignoring it). The SNP do not really want independence, or not for a while, so thay can continue to blame everything on England. And the Labour party, apart from an ever-narrowing Union base no longer really represents the working class, but rather enlightened middle class and young voters.

Which brings us to the real divide in Britain, and maybe in the whole world.  We may have thought it was Brexit, or old against the young, or haves against have-nots.  But the real divide is between Enlightment and Ignorance.  And let me describe those two camps.  Enlightenment has a disadvantage, as the very act of being enlightened means that one sees both sides of the story, and may even have some sympathy with those who are unenlightened.  We (and of course I count myself as one) believe that we are open to new ideas, that we listen and learn, and that above all we have the interests of others at heart.  We don’t just want what is best for us personally.  We would be happy to pay higher taxes for better services, even if others will use them more than we might.  But the real problem is Ignorance.  And here there are two sorts.  There is the ignorance of those who just have not heard; and with the multiplicity of channels on TV and the prevalence of Social media it is maybe unsurprising that many simply have not listened to, or thought about what is really happening.  But far more worrying is those who are ignorant and proud of it.  Michael Gove publicly declared “We don’t need experts”, and amazingly even today “The UK does not need a trade deal with Europe”.  Is this simply willful barrel thumping, or is it a new Political Dogma; we know what we ant and we wont listen to any criticism.  Anyone who disagrees must be silenced.  And we know here that keads…

So, in my mind that is the battle ahead – to enlighten people, and it starts with the young obviously, and to expose ignorance whenever it raises its ugly head.  The Labour leadership gives us a chance to try to bring some reasoned sense back into our Political discourse.  If Keir Starmer wins we stand a chance, if Lisa Nandy does it, it will be far harder but not impossible; but if Rebecca Long-Baily wins we will simply continue alienating working people.  She may have all the ‘right’ policies in a perfect world, but all if that is meaningless unless we win the battle against Ignorance and actually win back voters.

 

 

 

 

My Record Collection 99

Elton – The Nineties and Beyond

Strange to think that thirty years have passed….and over fifty since Elton’s first album.  Where does the time go, indeed.  So, into the Nineties Elton sailed, rock royalty – and yet no longer really relevant.  But he simply couldn’t stop making music.  1993 saw Duets, where he sang alongside (but with modern technology I doubt that really happened) many famous and a few modern artists. He had a hit with Kiki Dee (True Love) but there is no real cohesion to the album.  Still, it isn’t his worst – by far.  Best songs – the slightly earlier duet with George Michaels (Don’t Go Breaking My Heart), Tammy Wynette (A Woman’s needs) and of course the best track on the album – Leonard Cohen (Born To Lose) which is a private LC joke of course.    Made In England came out in 1995.   Not a bad album at all, but far from his best.  A few good songs – ‘Believe’, ‘Made In England’ and ‘Belfast’ – but overall the record leaves me flat.  Two years later The Big Picture crept out and really should have been left on the studio floor.  Despite 2 strong singles ‘Something Aboiut The Way You Look Tonight’ and ‘Live Like Horses (with Luciano Pavarotti) the album lacks any identity, any soul and any real feeling.  The end of the Millenium saw 3 soundtrack albums, only one of which I bought – Aida.  Lyrics by Tim Rice and a humourous take on the classic Opera have created a different Elton album altogether.  Only a few of the songs are sung by Elton, and a host of other semi-famous singers fill out the score.  Not sure if I really like it, but then I am not a great fan of musicals anyway. 2001 saw  an album inspired by Ryan Adams, ( see A) an American singer songwriter of great promise.  Elton and Bernie really tried to sound new and relevant – and in part they succeeded.

Songs From the West Coast – arrived in 2001, and it was a great album.  Not quite as good as the Seventies classics but a fine collection of good songs.  The album did a lot to restore Elton’s criticical reputation and sold pretty well too.  It is almost impossible for those artists from the Sixties and Seventies to sell in anything like the numbers back then, but Elton did well with this record and had 2 hit singles ‘I Want Love’ and ‘This Train Don’t Stop Here No More’ – but really not a bad song on it.  My favourites ‘Look Ma, No Hands’ and ‘Original Sin’.   He followed this up with Peachtree Road  (2004), which although critically well-received sold quite poorly.  I quite like it, but it doesn’t have quite the warmth of it’s predecessor.   Still, not a bad record at all.  Fave tracks ‘Porch Swing In Tupelo’ and ‘My Elusive Drug’.  The albums were coming slower now, which may have been a good thing.  The Captain and The Kid came out in 2008 and it was very good; an obvious reference to their Seventies Brown Dirt Cowboy album.  A continuation, in that many of the songs are autobiographical – not that that matters.  One sort-of political song ‘Postcards From Richard Nixon’ and a couple of references to friends who died in the Aids epidemic.  Like it’s two predecessors this has a stripped down sound with no orchestra or jazz section.  Some very good songs too – ‘Tinderbox’ ‘Just Like Noah’s Ark’ and the title track.  And that leads us to my last Elton record (well, not quite as I have just ordered and ma waiting to listen to his last 2 albums) The Union (2010) – a collaboration with Leon Russell (see R).  Leon wrote a few of the songs and there was some collaboration on a couple of others, the majority were written by Elton and Bernie.  Producer T. Bone Burnett brought a Southern sensibility to the sound of the record which is lovely.  A really good record, but as much a Leon as an Elton.  Best tracks, the title track and ‘800 Dollar Shoes’ – but really not a bad song on it.

And apart from the obligatory Greatest Hits – that is that.  Mind you – what a Greatest Hits.  In terms of poular music Elton ranks with the best.

My Record Collection 98

Elton – The Eighties

1983 saw the release of Elton’s 17th studio album, the quite excellent Too Low For Zero.   After a string of middling albums Elton and Bernie were fully re-united, and together with his original backing band worked hard on composing a new set of songs.  And the album is really good; not quite in the league of those Seventies classics but pretty good all the same.  A cracking hit single ‘I’m Still Standing’ which was almost a personal statement – and a great video too.  Other favourites ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’ and ‘Kiss The Bride’.  A welcome return to form, which continued with the follow-up Breaking Hearts (1984).    Well, almost – a handful of very good songs ‘Passengers’, ‘Burning Buildings’ and ‘Sad Songs Say So Much’; but an almost lacklustre feel to some of the other songs’ as if he was just going through the motions.  And maybe he was.  The band was breaking up again and the next run of albums were truly disappointing.  1985’s Ice on Fire; again his regular sidesmen quit and Elton resorted to session players, the album sounds weak and unexciting.  It is almost saved by the brilliant ‘Nikita’ but little else really hits the sweet spot.  Leather Jackets the following year is even worse.  This was at the height of Elton’s Coke habit and both he and producer Gus Dudgeon later declared it the worst of all his records.  No songs seem to redeem a real turkey.   ’87 saw a live album Live In Australia, which was a concert with a fill orchestra, which should have been quite something – and yet, Elton sounded a bit desperate; his voice too shouty and a bit rough.  I suppose I just preferred the studio versions.  Saying that, it was nice to hear some of the earlier songs again, especially ‘The Greatest Discovery’ and ‘Carla Etude’ and of course ‘Tiny Dancer’, which since then has become a staple of his live performances.  So, as so often re-listening again I realise that some of these albums which I thought I didn’t love are like old treasures, left in a loft, and uncovered again.  And looking on Wikipedia I discover that shortly after recording this concert Elton underwent throat surgery.  He didn’t then tour again for 18 months and his range changed too.  1988 and Elton released Reg Strikes Back (his real name being Reg Dwight – hardly a rock name).  This was supposed to be his big comeback album after a string of (relative) flops.  The cover featured many of his famous and outrageous stage costumes which he was putting up for auction – another sign of a new beginning.  So, the album.  Well, at the time I wasn’t so impressed really – I was buying his new albums out of a sense of hope rather than experience, but re-visiting it really is not so bad.    But then again it isn’t that good either.  Trying too hard, might be my final appraisal.   A few half-decent songs – ‘Japanese Hands’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Go on With You like That’ but the worst crime of all was to title a song ‘Mona Lisa’s and Mad hatter – part 2’.  What a travesty, and this rubbish has absolutely nothing to do with the classic song it is titled for.  So, what next?  Another re-appraisal of course, and this time it seems to have paid off.  Trying to write a cohesive album based on their mutual love of early 60’s Motown and Stax records Elton and Bernie wrote a classic album, Sleeping With The Past, deliberately basing lyrics and music on Soul classics.  The album went to number 1 in America and in the UK, the first for over a decade.  Number 1 single ‘Sacrifice’ was Elton’s first and well deserved.  But the whole album is warm and feels, at last, as though Elton is happy. Other great songs – well, really they all are, but if I must choose – ‘Club at the end of the street’, ‘Healing Hands’ and ‘Blue Avenue’ stand out, just, from a splendid crop of songs.  A real triumph, which makes it’s follow-up, while good on it’s own terms, seem a slight disappointment. The One (1990) is okay, but nowhere as good as its predecessor.  Of course, it must be incredibly hard to keep writing great songs, but Elton does seem to drift into excess and sublimity with almost every new album.   Best songs, the title and ‘Understanding Women’.  So, a strange decade – but then many great artists suffered in the Eighties – Dylan was a drift, McCartney patchy and Joni sliding into obscurity.  Maybe it was the changing production techniques, or the invasion of young pretenders.  Oh Well

A Walk By The Sea

What was it we said – when we walked, as so often then – one foot flat on the sand, the other skimming the surf?   Were we not tempting fate, wishing almost to be overwhelmed by doubt and dragged under as the waves crash and hurl us about?  The calm of that day was a moment away from the storm that flared in your soul. The sea.  Ah, the sea.  We were mystically linked and forever entranced by those ever-shifting waves.  We yearned for connection – maybe a folk memory drew us back, to a time long before we were people.  There was something about the solitude, the disconnect with our normal lives of rush and bustle.  Something peaceful and pure, the power of each wave and the suction of the sand as the waves receded, dragging us ever deeper into the sea

And so, when walking there, words came; from some deep part of our sub-conscious.  I wondered about the nature of Men and Women and how they see the World in different colours.  And You?      I was never sure of your thoughts at all; I had to invent them for silent you were, as silent as the sand beneath our feet.   I was the seeker, the searcher for answers to the Universe, where for you the Universe was right there in the palm of your hand.  I was concerned by what the sea meant to each of us – and mostly the essence of our being there at all; you just watched the waves.  I was thinking how fragile we were, the entire human race.  How we think we have power and permanence, and the illusion of that very permanence.  In fact, the illusion of permanence is the only permanent thing in this ever-shifting illusory world.

And so, as I walk, alone now, but thinking of you, my mind unwinds and I begin to write…..A story.  A poem.  A memory I might once have recalled.  A conversation we never really had but maybe should have, begins to unfold…. 

 

He ;   Did I ever tell you, we are an island race

            Swept by currents chill

            And cliffs that crumble, like the lines in your                     face

          Waves that deposit and build

 

          Standing on these Headland Heights

          Cutting knife the wind

          Voices carry – drifting in – and stark, they slip                    away

 

She ;   Standing on those Headland Heights

             Blown apart by it all

             Voices carried – drifting in – like siren gulls they               called

 

            I can’t help but wonder what

            And for who they dare to speak

            For the strong who bruise me with their words

            Or – those of us so meek 

 

            And down by the sea where the shingle talks

            You get close to the heart of it all

 

He ;     The heart of it all, she says

              As if emotions matter at all

              But hold me close, the wind gathers strength

              I will catch if you should fall     

 

             You think these cliffs have always been here

            They were formed an eye-blink away

            But they’ll disappear just like us I fear

             In a month, a year or a day     

 

            In our restless quest we change every day

           Seeking perfection and truth

           A chain we are breaking as each link slips away

           We’re never the same as our youth

 

She ;  Our youth? That seems a long time ago

            Many seasons have passed since that time

           Blazing sun, wind, rain and then snow

          Will I ever regain those lost seasons of mine

 

          Back then I thought you were strong,

        Gentle, kind and mild

        But all that I own is this heart-shaped stone

       You gave when I carried your child

 

         This strand of man that clings to my hand

          A ribbon that winds as it binds

          Is a filament waving – a fine golden thread

          For a pendant, of flame-flashing fire

          And I sometimes feel so guilty

          I know I should atone

          For crimes that must, surely, be mine

          For loving that heart made of stone

 

He ;    Is this the stone that our daughter wears

            Semi-precious – as you are yet

 

She :   Yes – give it back – please let me hold

             Unfold its innermost net

 

           I thought I knew all about you

           Could read you like a book

           But turning around, for a second, I found

           You’d changed in the time it took

 

He :   Ah, the time it took, for what is time

           But another illusion of ours

          We think we know all about time

         The minutes, days and the hours

         But all permanence is illusion

        Stones will slowly dissolve

         Cliffs do crumble in the pouring rain

         The shore is a wavering line

 

She ;  You talk about the shore itself

            But you never swim in the water

            You stand on the sand

            And command with your hand

            As you left us, me and your daughter

 

           Yet the sharpest stone in your armoury store

           The one that cut me to the core

           Was soft at the edges, rounded and smooth

           A net to hold and bathe my wounds

 

He ;    Is this the stone that you found on the beach

          That day you went out on your own

          When the gulls flew low and the boats were

          Tethered, grazing the close-cropped sea

 

She ;   Yes – I do believe it is – I keep it here on the                       shelf      

            A reminder of days when I knew my own name

            When maybe I even trusted myself

            When I thought I knew the person to blame

 

            And I know you are clever – that I should agree

            About the constant nature of change

           Of illusion – erosion – evolution –     

           You see

           But to me the stone looks the same   

Shoreline landscape view in Upper Peninsula, Michigan ...

 

 

My Record Collection 97

Elton – The circumstance

So, Elton was on top of the World – and yet, he had stumbled with Rock of The Westies, he had dismissed two of his faithful sidesmen, and he was consuming industrial quantities of Cocaine.  Bernie and he were still writing however and Elton was planning a new double album.  Trouble was, there was no-one telling him to slow down.  Blue Moves came out in 1977, the first album on Elton’s own record label Rocket records.  A strange title and a strange cover, which should have been a warning.  It is a very downbeat and sad old record.  One or two good songs ‘Tonight’ and ‘Sorry seems To Be The Hardest Word’ but many of the songs seem scrappy and frankly boring.  A few are credited to Elton and other members of the band, so were almost certainly worked up in the studio.  Lyrically not exciting either.  Maybe it would have been possible to have recued a half-decent single album out of it.  So, now we had 2 duds in a row. Not that it seemed to have affected sales or Eltonmania.

Then for almost 2 years we had nothing,   Then a new record emerged late in 1978 A Single Man.  The title said it all; this was the first album not to include any lyrics by Bernie Taupin; words were supplied by Gary Osborne instead.   Whether this was Elton saying he could make it without Bernie or a serious split we don’t know; I suspect it was about (as usual) musical differences.  But surprisingly it is really a good album.  Not among his very best but certainly a return to some sort of form.   My favourites are; Georgia’, ‘Part-Time Love’ and ‘Big Dipper’ where he seemed to move into new musical territory – and of course the wonderful final instrumental ‘Song For Guy’.  Maybe the break from Bernie had given him more room to experiment.  Quite soon he would hook up again with Taupin but for a few years he tried out other lyricists.  For a while I had hoped that he had got the whole Philly Souls stuff out of his system, but I was wrong.  He still saw himself as a soul-singer and in 1979 he released an EP of songs with Thom Bell, a hip American producer, called The Thom Bell Sessions.  These songs were recorded in 1977 without his regular band or producer, rather, Elton used a successful Philly producer who wrote the songs too.  There were originally 3 tracks released in ’79 and a decade later the whole 6 from the sessions.  They are okay but I don’t really consider them as part of the Elton collection.  Elton’s singing seems a bit flat and the songs aren’t great either.  Well, an even stranger album arrived in 1979 – Victim of Love.  This is a very short (36 minutes) disco album of songs mostly written by producer Pete Belotte.  Elton doesn’t even play piano and used all session players.  I feel that this was another experiment, trying to find a new identity perhaps.  Saying that I really quite like the album – it rolls along almost as one long track.  It was almost his poorest seller too, and he has never played any of the songs live.  Best track is the Chuck Berry opener ‘Johnny B. Goode.’

So after a string of less successful albums where did this leave Elton?  It was the beginning of the Eighties and he still had a huge fan base just dying for him to release something like his old records again.   His next record was 21 at 33 (technically if you include compilations and doubles and live albums his 21st release at age 33).  He seemed to have a scattergun approach, different lyricists, different styles, new producers – there is no cohesion to the album.  Saying that there are quite a few half-decent songs on it; the single ‘Little Jeannie’ and ‘Never Going To Fall In Love Again’ (words by Tom Robinson) and ‘Two Rooms’.  But this was Elton John, and we wanted more than a few half-decent songs, we wanted to be blown away like we were in the Seventies.  But this was the Eighties and we were just going to have to get used to it.  Next up was The Fox (1981) which I actually loved.  It seemed, and still does, different.  It had a warmer more coherent feel to it.  It had a handful of classical instrumentals too; ‘Carla Etude/Fanfare’ and the lovely ballad ‘Chloe’.  Some of the songs are a bit weak but overall it seems a better album.  It is really saved from obscurity by the final and title track – ‘The Fox’, which is one of my very favourite Elton compositions.  Jump Up (1982) was another strange one.  Elton in a very sharp suit looked as if he was desperately trying to catch up.  Not such a bad record however – some good songs – ‘Empty Garden’ (about John Lennon), and ‘Blue Eyes’ but again it seems to lack any real conviction.   Elton seemed a bit adrift, directionless, out of touch and although no-one doubted his ability he was having difficulty reclaiming the relevance he once had.  Maybe all that touring and all those drugs were taking their toll.

 

 

 

My Record Collection 96

Elton – The Pomp.

January 1973 saw the release of Don’t Shoot me, I’m Only the Piano Player, Elton’s 6th real studio album….and what a cracker.  For the next few years Elton would release 2 albums a year, several singles and World tours.  He broke not only in America but became a Worldwide phenomenon.  And over the next four years he was truly unstoppable.  So, the album – well, it leads off with another brilliant single ‘Daniel’, which was almost homo-erotic but turns out Daniel is his brother.  This album also I reluctantly admit contains my most unloved song of his – ‘Crocodile Rock’ – which is frankly crap – but still millions loved it, so what do I know. Other favourite tracks ‘High Flying Bird’, ‘Have mercy On the Criminal and ‘Blues For baby and Me’.  A triumph of an album – what could possibly top it….

Well we didn’t have to wait long because later that same year he released a double album “Goodbye Yellow Brock Road” – which for most fans remains their favourite..  but like most double albums it should have been two separate single records.  Saying that – side 1- Funeral for a friend/Love Lies Bleeding’ followed by ‘Candle In the Wind’ and the fabulous ‘Bennie and the Jets’ is probably the best single side of an old-fashioned album ever.  Simply brilliant.  Other great tracks are the title track and Grey Seal’. ’Sweet Painted Lady’ ‘Danny Bailey’ and ‘Harmony’ are all wonderful.  Never liked Jamaica jerk-Off or Saturday Night.  Still an incredible record, inspired by their mutual love of Hollywood– his best seller too.  Almost too much to take in in one go.

Much better for my money was the slightly under-rated follow up ‘Caribou’ (74).  Elton’s producer Gus Dudgeon later slated the record, saying it was rushed, recorded in 9 days and in his opinion a mess. But I love it; from the wicked opener ‘The Bitch Is Back’ to closer ‘Ticking’ it is fabulous. Every song is quality and so different in feel – there are the ballads ‘Pinky’ and ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’, a couple of rockers ‘Static’ and ‘Stinker’ , a lovely bluesy rolling ‘Dixie Lily’ and even a self-penned lyric ‘Solar Prestige Gammon’ (nonsense but a lovely melody).  This is probably my very favourite Elton album.  I can remember when I first heard it too; I had just been for an interview for a new job (which I got) and treated myself to lunch at a new burger restaurant on Oxford Street, and this was playing on the stereo system.

!975 saw another classic album – Captain Fantastic and the Dirt-Brown Cowboy.  This was actually a concept album of the struggles of Elton and Bernie in the late Sixties – though it hardly matters as the lyric’s remain pretty obscure.  The record was less commercial too, only one single – the beautiful ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ which, although you don’t need to know, Elton’s breaking off a disastrous engagement – the someone was Long John Baldry, who persuaded Elton to not give up on his music.  However; the album.  Well, it is good (of course) and yet it seemed to lack some of the pzazz, the glitter of his former 3 or 4 records.  Maybe he was getting tired – who knows.  Anyway, saying that there are still some great songs ‘We All Fall In Love Sometimes’ and ‘Curtains’ stand out for me.  There was also dissension in the band and before his next album Nigel Olsson and Dee Murray were sacked, though they would later rejoin for various tours and albums.  And that next album for me was a low point.

Rock of the Westies (also 1975) was basically a ‘Philly Soul Sounding album).  Elton, like the Beatles before him. and a year after Bowie, was a musical magpie, and was entranced by the softer smooth soul sounds coming out of Philadelphia in the mid-Seventies. He released a single (not on the album Philadelphia Freedom) which was pure soul and also an EP (The Thom Bell Sessions 1979) both of which are okay but not really my style.  But back to the record – well, it just doesn’t really work for me – and was not his biggest seller either. There are a couple of good songs ‘island Girl’ which was a hit single and ‘I Feel like A Bullet (in the gun of Robert Ford)’ (Robert Ford was the bounty hunter who killed Jesse James).

April 1976 saw the release of a double live album “Here and There”, featuring two 1974 concerts – Here was in London and There was in New York.  Both are excellent, while here is almost acoustic and piano-led, there is a full-on band concert.  Great versions of both early and current songs up to Yellow BrIck Road.  The CD version also has 3 tracks where John Lennon came on stage.  Elton had famously visited John while he was recording Walls and Bridges and had played on a couple of tracks.  Anyway a pretty good live album.  So, Elton was king of the world, he could do no wrong, every album went to number 1.  He was in his Pomp…..

 

My Record Collection 95

Elton John (early days) – well they don’t come much bigger than good old Reg.  And only a handful of Artists are known by one word ELTON.   Elton was in a band Bluesology which I have no music from.  He was teamed up with a lyricist Bernie Taupin by Dick James in the late 60’s – the rest is History.

Elton is a veritable melody machine but has always relied on others for words to his songs.  Usually with great success.  First up is a real oddity – Elton was given the task of making cover versions of current hits as a jobbing singer and pianist.  I picked up these tracks Legendary Covers on 2 free CDs given away by I think the Express.  They are rubbish – but they are Elton.

His first solo album (with Bernie) was Empty Sky (69).  I only bought this after his second self-titled one.  It is quite good actually and I have learned to love it.  Production is a bit clunky but good singing and best songs are ‘Val Halla’, ‘Lady, What’s Tomorrow’ and ‘Skyline Pigeon’ – plus a bonus track of early version of ‘Grey Seal’.  Not a bad start.  Elton John followed the next year and the improvement is incredible.  The production is sweet with great orchestration and some heavier rocking numbers. The first song ‘Your Song’ is possibly the best thing he and Bernie ever wrote and is actually unlike the rest of the record, which is mostly bluesy rock. Some great songs in here though especially ‘take Me To The Pilot’ and ‘No Shoestrings On Louise’ – but I also love ‘First Episode at Hienton’. Your song was a hit and Elton was on his way. Album number three was Tumbleweed Connection and is a country blues album released later in 1970, almost a concept and stands alone in his albums really.  It is of course brilliant too.  In fact I really fell in love with this album and it’s unique blend of Americana and rock.  And for almost the only time in his career Elton did a cover  – ‘Love Song’ by Lesley Duncan (see D), who for a while sung backup vocals in his band.  Dee Murray, Nigel Olssen and Davey Johnstone were now regular players on his records and live.  Best songs; ‘Country Comfort’ (covered brilliantly by Rod), Where To Now, St. Peter’ and ‘Burn Down The Mission’.  The album was a hit despite not really having a single.  Elton was now established as a rising star among the slew of singer-songwriters breaking as the Seventies swung into view.  1971 saw a Soundtrack album ‘Friends’, which I (much later bought, but was quite unmoved by) – only a handful of weaker Elton songs.  But also a live album 17-11-70.  Not at all bad, and a pretty good record of Elton’s early live shows. I didn’t see him around this time, but have been to about three live shows as he became more famous.  There are some cracking versions of ‘Burn Down the Mission’ and ’60 Years On’ and even a cover of the Stones ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ (On album it is singular, not plural.   Actually the original album was much shorter but it was expanded on CD to include much longer versions.

1971 saw almost my favourite Elton album, the superb Madman Across The Water. Wow, what an album, great cover and all.  I bought it on the day it came out and it has remained one of my very favourite albums.  I fell in love with the song ‘Levon’, which may or not have been inspired by Leon Russell, who decades later Elton made an album with.  The title, at the time was thought to refer to newly elected Nixon, though this was denied by Bernie who wrote the song.  The first song ‘Tiny Dancer’ has become a live staple though it was ignored for a few years by Elton.  But I like all the songs; the words seem more worldly, and Elton’s singing has never been better.  The band were also gelling together, almost instinctively, to form the ‘Elton John Sound’.  Other classic songs on the record are the title song, which was recorded for Tumbleweed’ but then re-recorded for this album and ‘All the Nasties’.  But as with most of these early records there isn’t a poor song among them.  I have written before about early Seventies attempts to marry classical and rock, but Elton did it brilliantly; Paul Buckmeister arranged orchestra brilliantly on all of Elton’s early records, so brilliantly that you barely notice it – which is the skill of the thing.

A year later and Elton and crew decamped to France to record ‘Honky Chateau’.  Well, despite having two of his best songs on it, this record didn’t seem to quite work.  A bit too jazzy, too noisy – but then, on reflection – and as so often – on revisiting this record I realise what a great album it really is.   Elton was on the cusp of absolute stardom – he was simply getting better and better and would soon have a rush of hit singles.  So – the album, a tongue in cheek opener ‘Honky Cat’ the incredible ‘Rocket Man’ (maybe my favourite single) and the lovely ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’ – not to forget ‘Salvation’ and well, take your pick – there ‘ain’t a poor song on the record. World domination was soon to follow……