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Elton John: Elton John

Here's another LP from the closet (not from the Fr. Dorrill collection, most of which is still sitting around in boxes), in response to a conversation I had some weeks ago in which I promised to give it a listen.

Elton John's name has come up here once or twice, and I was pretty dismissive. I'm sorry, but there's something about the guy's music, especially his voice, that doesn't appeal to me, even though I recognize that if I look at it with some detachment I see that the work he did in his prime was really good. Somehow his music always seemed not quite real to me. And I just don't care for his voice. And I never have been fond of the piano as a rock instrument.

I remember well the appearance of this album, his first to be released in the U.S., and the ubiquity of the single "Your Song." I bought it--I must have, because I still have it--and liked it, though I was already sick of "Your Song." And I liked the next album, Tumbleweed Connection, more for its Western vibe than for the music itself. But I didn't buy it, and I can't recall ever hearing this one after 1972 or so. 

So, what do I think, almost fifty years later? More or less what I thought then: gifted artist, not really to my taste. These songs are all well-crafted and well-performed, and I was surprised at how familiar they are to me. I must have heard the album more than I remember--which, now that I think of it, makes sense, as I was working in a record store when it was released. That was where I heard his next few albums, more than I wanted to hear them.

I'm still tired of "Your Song." I wonder if "No Shoe Strings On Louise" was intended as an encroachment on Rolling Stones territory. It sounds like a Stones song, and it would have been convincing performed by them, but it isn't here; it sounds a bit like a deliberate attempt to do something in that vein. 

There is really only one song here that moved me, and it's fairly atypical for the artist: "First Episode at Hienton." It's not rock-and-roll. It's a sweet, nostalgic ballad about a first love that didn't work out: lovely melody, poignant lyrics, quiet unmannered vocal, pretty string arrangement, light on piano. 

For that one song I'll put the album back on the shelf rather than try to peddle it to my local record store.

I also like the somewhat stylistically similar "60 Years On." For some reason I've remembered the opening lines all these years:

Who'll walk me down to church
When I'm sixty years of age


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When 60 seemed really old.

I don't know the rest of the lyrics, but it sounds like you would need help to walk to church at 60.

At least I know there was somebody walking me to church at 60. 70 is getting to be a pretty sure bet, too.


Meaning that there is somebody there, or that you need assistance?

Yes, I think the implication was that one would need assistance at age 60. Ha ha ha.

And the song is actually worse: "I've no wish to be living 60 years on." Bernie Taupin, EJ's lyricist, is now 70. Changed his mind apparently.

There's somebody there, but I don't as yet need his help to get anywhere.

As yet.

I think a lot of young people have this idea that they would rather die than get really old, but I don't know as I have met many old people who feel that way.


Yeah, it's a common delusion of young people. They also don't *really* believe it will ever happen to them.

I love to look at old people and think about what they looked like when they were young.


It's certainly interesting. I don't necessarily love it.

Then there was the time that the president of Harley decided that John was going to be the"secret" final act at the 100th anniversary celebration in 2003 in Milwaukee. The Harley crowd was not pleased.


They thought they were going to get Springsteen or someone like that.

Oh yeah, I remember reading about that when it happened. I'd forgotten. I sort of sympathized with both sides. Yeah, EJ doesn't seem like the best choice for that crowd. On the other hand, come on, he's not that bad. I wonder if he did "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting." Ted Nugent would probably have been available--wonder why they didn't get him?

I think I commented that I had been thinking about writing on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road for 52 Albums (but thinking about writing is a lot easier than writing). I always considered myself an Elton John fan, but I only know some of his albums (i guess I don't celebrate the guy's entire catalogue). I wasn't really familiar with this one. I listened to it yesterday, and the only songs I thought were really good were the ones I already knew (Take Me to the Pilot and Your Song - which is a little too pretty for its own good).

I can hear the seeds of his better work here, but I can't say I really like the album that much. It's not bad, but it's not a debut to live up to. Elton definitely got better (and then way, way worse...).

Oh yeah, that was the occasion, or one of them. I don't know about the "way, way worse" period, as I don't recall hearing any of his stuff after the mid-'70s or so, but I'll take your word for it. :-)

"Rocket Man" is probably the first Elton John song I ever heard. At the time I would have been ten or eleven and listening to top 40 AM radio. Later on my sister, who was a couple years younger than me, had the 45 of "Daniel". And one of us had a "Crocodile Rock" single but I can't remember if it was her or me. As a kid/young teen I liked a lot of those early 70' singles (and still do) but lost interest in 75/76 -- whenever he did "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Kiki Dee. Couldn't stand that song and basically stopped paying attention to him after that.

I don't think I've ever heard one of his albums all the way through -- I'm only familiar with the singles.

I'd forgotten about that thing with Kiki Dee. My 20-something self agrees completely with your young-teenaged self about that one. I really disliked it.

I notice that there was a definite pattern in my reaction to EJ's work. I rather liked some of the softer and prettier songs, like "Tiny Dancer." But didn't like the rockers at all.

Same for me -- the only rocker that I still like is "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." Although it always struck me as weird song, given that I could never see EJ as any sort of fighter whatsoever.

The only part of the words that ever actually reached my brain was the title, and I always assumed he was talking about other people fighting.

You may be right, although he sings it in first person if memory serves.

One effect of this discussion is that I've had a string of Elton John songs stuck in my head for a couple of days now.

No wonder he had so many hits in his prime. Guy sure could write a catchy tune.

I was listening to my favorite Elton song tonight.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyPqEIpqfPI

It might not be a popular opinion around here, but I think Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is fantastic (as is Captain Fantastic, but that's not what I'm talking about now). I would say that maybe half of the double album is filler (but pretty damn good filler!). And the rest is great. I think the last 3 songs are amazing, and "Roy Rogers" is my favorite (though I think "Harmony" is the better objectively).

And thematically related to "Roy Rodgers", but otherwise off-topic (which I think, Mac, you once told me wasn't an issue here :)), another cowboy song by an English artist... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8Qn7xOG8nk

At one hearing "Roy Rogers" doesn't grab me as a song, but I sure like the sentiment. I have a very soft spot for Roy and Dale and Trigger and Buttermilk and Pat and Nellybelle.

But what's odd to me is that I don't recognize it. I would have said YBR is one of the albums I heard to the point of being sick of it when I worked in a record store. I'm wondering now if only one disk or one side was played over and over, because I remember certain songs very clearly.

Have to wait till later to listen to the other one. I need to do some work outside before the game starts.

Yeah, off-topic is pretty much Not A Thing here, unless it's something obnoxious, which has very rarely happened.

"Roy Rogers" and "Harmony" are really great songs!

The ELO clip is...interesting. They were an odd group (I say on the basis of having heard only their singles).

Well, I guess "...interesting" is better than "4 minutes and 42 seconds I won't get back" :)

It's hard for me to see them as odd since I grew up listening to them. Their early work was, well, odder, and they got less odd as time went on, until their last album was pretty bland synth-pop (with a few good songs). My preference is for their polished, more pop-oriented albums that still had the string section.

I didn't dislike it at all, but it didn't encourage me to go hear more of their stuff. It's definitely an odd concoction: the strings, the cowboy hats, the guns....

I love that mid-period ELO. I was in high school at the time, and mostly listening to "Christian rock," but ELO really grabbed me. New World Record and Out of the Blue are both on my list of top five 70's albums, and the latter is up there in my top ten all-time.

I've always thought that "Wild West Hero" was kind of a strange closer for the album, but looking back on it I don't really see anything else on there that would have worked. I guess Lynne could have made "Concerto for a Rainy Day" the fourth side and closed everything out with "Mr. Blue Sky," but then I've always like the transition from that to "Sweet is the Night" on the last side.

I'm slightly surprised to hear you say that. I wouldn't have thought ELO your cup of tea.

I've always liked Jeff Lynne's melodic sense and the complexity of the arrangements. They're one of the few bands from my high school days that I still regularly listen to.

I remember when one of their first albums came out Rolling Stone went completely nuts over it, as if it were a revelation of some totally new kind of music. At least I think I remember that. It was a long time ago.

Yeah, I think a couple of their early albums were viewed as sort of picking up where the Beatles left off. I like some of the songs from the early records but on the whole I like their mid-to-late 70's stuff best. The compilation called Ole Elo features a good selection of their early tunes, including two or three which still get a fair amount of airplay. I'm not super-crazy about side one, except for the long "progressive" track 'Kuiama,' but side two is excellent. I think the album was put out in '76 or '77 to capitalize on their then-current popularity by introducing fans to their earlier material.

Interesting -- Discogs says this about Ole Elo:

'Originally a promo-only release, received a commercial release upon UA's realization that ELO fans were selling it "underground".'

Wikipedia expands on this by saying that the record was a radio-promo album, designed to introduce American DJ's to the band's earlier material, "but when copies of the LP started selling to fans 'underground' United Artists decided to release it in the US to capitalize on the band's growing popularity."

I have a number of albums very clearly stamped "Promotional - not for sale." I'm pretty sure I paid for most of them. :-)

I made a brief attempt to find that review that I think I remember. No luck.

I think the difference there is that those other promos are pre-releases of actual commercially available albums, while this one was originally intended as a promo release only. I have a lot of those LP's -- CD's too! You used to not be allowed to sell them on Amazon, but people got around it by spelling promo as "pr*m*" or "pr0m0" (with zeros). I haven't tried to sell one on there in ages so I'm not sure if that rule still applies.

I was pretty sure I owned the Ole ELO album on vinyl all those years ago. Just pulled up an image of it and that confirms it, I recalled the record albums being held in front of the face of each band member. Nice. Great music. And Jeff Lynne worked with Tom Petty, George Harrison, and the Traveling Wilburys not only as a Wilbury but I would guess he produced their two albums.

From what little I had heard of ELO, I always thought Jeff Lynne seemed like an odd person to be part of the Wilburys.

While hunting for that review, I ran across this list of 50 Greatest Prog albums. One ELO album makes the list. I've heard maybe ten of the 50.


I think Lynne had worked with either Harrison or Orbison (or maybe both of them) before the idea for the Wilburys came along.

He had produced Harrison's Cloud Nine. After the first Willbury's album he went on to produce Orbison's Mystery Girl and a few Tom Petty albums.

That is an interesting list, Mac. I started to go through it and was amazed I hadn't even heard of anyone....then around number 20 and up I was very familiar with all of the albums, and own most of them. The three Genesis ones on the list (Lamb, Foxtrot, Selling England) are big favorites of mine, but Close to the Edge by Yes to me is the pinnacle of Prog Rock! That was one I played over and over when I had the LP as a kid.

I agree about Close to the Edge, in two senses: it's both the best of prog rock and serves as a sort of working definition of it. People argue (naturally) about what is and isn't prog, but there probably wouldn't be many people who would say that Close to the Edge isn't a good example of it, at least.

I was slightly surprised to see Dark Side of the Moon as #1 on that list. I don't really think of Pink Floyd as prog, exactly. I tend to associate the idea of prog with technical complexity.

I had to get up to #40 before hitting an album I've heard, then to #28 for the next one. Some of the others I'd heard of, but never heard. Some were totally new to me.

I never really heard the Traveling Wilburys. Seems like there was something of theirs on the radio and I didn't especially care for it.

I listened to prog rock in the 70's, but it was mostly limited to Yes and Genesis. Close to the Edge remains my favorite, the one I listen to far more than any others.

Some of the records on the list I know by name, as I had friends who had them at the time -- (U.K., Gentle Giant, Camel, Crack the Sky). Can't say as whether I ever heard them or not though.

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