I know Elton John has ceased to be anything resembling a Rock Star for decades now, but I couldn’t help but make one final mention of his talent. Great musicians, whether they just make music, write lyrics or both are sort of, to pilfer a phrase, like Candles in The Wind. You really have no idea, I can only imagine, whether you’ve got what it takes to be successful, let alone become a worldwide mega star. I know many of you are just too young to relate to Elton John, but this guy had it going on like nobody’s business between 1970 and 1976. He was unstoppable. Every album not only sold, but they were brilliant. Yeah, I said it. Yes I’m a big fan of Joy Division’s. Yes I am a big fan of AC/DC. Yes I love early Genesis. Elton John was ginormous. He was a brilliant singer-songwriter, like Cat Stevens on steriods. I remember when I got to Emerson College in 1978 and finally figured out that Elton was no longer cool, if he ever was I suppose, among my peer group, it was kind of a surprise. Yeah he had an alternative lifestyle, but who didn’t (kidding!)? I probably brought 10 Elton John albums north from New Jersey. I didn’t try to play them for the masses or anything, but when you thumb through a stack of 300 or 400 as we all did when we got to school, a pack of ten stands out. So…you’re one of them huh? In a word, yes…yes I am. I am a fan of early 70′s Elton John. Sue me.
The first song that sort of turned me onto Elton was probably “Crocodile Rock.” I have to be completely honest with you. I bought the 45 RPM and proceeded to get sick of the song like everybody else, but the flipside was “Elderberry Wine.” Man I loved that song. Still do. I was probably a throw away track for Elton, but it had everything I loved about Elton in those days. It told a good story, it rocked and it had melody. Drunk all the time feelin’ fine on Elderberry Wine. I’ve never had Elderberry Wine. I’ll bet most people haven’t, but I know it exists because I’ve sung along with this track a gazillion times. The funny thing about those early 70′s Elton John albums is that I was ten when they started coming out. I learned them out of order for sure. For instance, yes I owned the “Crocodile Rock” 45, but I’ll bet I didn’t own 1973′s Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player for five to seven years after that. And even then I probably boughtit used in Kenmore Square for $3.99. My high school buddy Jim and I used to play Rummy 500 until the proverbial cows came home listening to Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac, Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Not Fragile and Elton John’s Madman Across The Water over and over and over. We were 14. We didn’t know anything about any of these artists except we liked the music. I could embarrass myself further and say JIm Croce’s Greatest Hits and Carly Simon’s Playing Possum were also part of the rotation. “Attitude Dancing” indeed. Still, even then, we knew Elton John was some kind of talent. Before the nation could even digest the brilliance of Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player Elton released his piece de resistance; Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
In an explosion of creativity, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a fantastic record all the way through. A double album chock full of wonderful “B” cuts. The rank and file music listener, if you put them on the spot, could probably recognize “Benny & The Jets Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting and Candle in The Wind,” but after that? And most of those folks wouldn’t be able to tell you what record they came from. Yellow Brick Road had probably the last bastion of old school Elton buried amongst its tracks. There were positively outstanding new sounding Elton tracks like “Jamaica Jerk-Off, All The Young Girls Love Alice, Bennie & The Jets and Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” but tracks like “Dirty Little Girl, I’ve Seen That Movie Too, The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-1934) and Harmony” were all the end of an era I felt. After that it always seemed like the Bitch Was Back. Look, Elton John sold over 250 million records according to our friends at Wikipedia. Counting 1969′s Empty Sky, the guy released no fewer than 10 consecutive solid records. One could argue that he hasn’t released one since, but that is just semantics. How many acts get to ten records, let alone the quality that just streamed out of Elton John. If you are Andre Braugher or Ray Romano (Men of a Certain Age), you can really appreciate how much the girls in high school liked this guy. Along with Cat Stevens and James Taylor, Elton seemed to put those high school girls in a certain mood after a few Miller High Life’s…yeah we drank that crap back in the day. I love how that dude gussies it up on TV now. Those are some of the best commercials on TV as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, I know this all seems very nostalgic to most of you and you’re probably accurate in thinking that way, but these records still sound good to me to this very day. I go in streaks, but these records are not collecting dust in my world.
I’m sure most of you saw Almost Famous and the bus scene where they all started singing “Tiny Dancer.” That kind of made Elton cool again and that was back in, what? 2000? I saw an awful clip of Elton being hounded by the paparazzi and he made some nasty comment to some woman asking a dumb question and it didn’t put him in a nice good light, but I’ve never had folks popping out from behind bushes to snap my photo on the way to Dunkin’ Donuts on a hangover ridden Saturday morning either. I thought the flipside of that type of behavior was his recent collaboration with Leon Russell, effectively making Leon relevant again and getting him some badly needed gigs in the process. We all know about the gracious behavior he displayed with the vitriolic Eminem the last decade or so. They say Elton is generally a happy man these days. I’m glad. As much joy as he’s given me over the years the very least I can do is wish him well back. I saw him perform Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy in its entirety in 2005 and loved it. I had to weather some modern compositions in the process, but it was well worth it. I think all told I probably saw Elton John three times in concert. Once was at the Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, OH on a positively sweltering August 1995 evening. Once was at The Great Woods Center For The Performing Arts in September of 1992 and the aforementioned Boston Garden (Naming Rights For Sale Center) in September of 2005. He was great each time. I know he’s had his problems with substance abuse over the years, but it didn’t seem to affect him any time that I saw him. Those were sing along concerts. Lots of fun if you brought a female.
Reginald Kenneth Dwight was born on March 25, 1947. I didn’t know his stage name turned real name was a tribute to saxophonist Elton Dean and Long John Baldry, an English Folk & Blues singer with Canadian roots until today. I did not know Elton auditioned for King Crimson and Gentle Giant. That seems strange. We do know he was rightfully inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. He and lyricist Bernie Taupin have been collaborating since 1967 and have worked together on more than 30 albums. I’m not close minded enough to tell you they haven’t produced anything of value since 1976. That would be patently false, but I sort of lost interest in the late 70′s. I kind of think Elton did too there for a while, but once he righted the ship and quit the wayward behaviorhe got his recording career back on track. I know he had several hits in the 80′s, but they weren’t being played on Rock stations give or take songs like “I’m Still Standing” and “Kiss The Bride.” His time in the white hot spotlight was finally behind him. He’s just as famous as he ever was, but he only records when he feels like it and it’s been some 35 years since he was the hottest thing since sliced bread. I don’t care. I still work early 70′s Elton in amongst my annual repertoire. Happy Birthday Elton. Will you still need me, will you still feed me huh? I’m right behind you Captain and closing fast.
Buy or Download Elton John’s To Be Continued Box Set From Amazon Here.