Empty Sky (1969)
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Empty Sky B+
The first Elton John song on the first Elton John album is an eight-minute rocker. It does manage to rock a lot more than you'd think Elton John ever would... I'd imagine we all assumed this forgotten debut album was full of some primordial, fruity ooze from which “Your Song” had sprung. But no... Apparently, it's full of remarkably convincing piano rock that lasts eight minutes! I also noticed that he even already had well-developed melodic talent since this song is pretty dang catchy. Perhaps the length is a bit too long, but I hardly notice the time going by, because I'm enjoying it!
Wow... he's bringing out the harpsichord for a ballad. Obviously, this is a lot fruitier than the previous song, but John manages to keep the song from sounding too cheesy. The atmosphere he develops is surprisingly thick, and he delivers a likable melody with his trademark high-pitched vocal performance. This isn't the most incredibly engaging song (it gets a little flat halfway through), but I enjoy listening to it.
Western Ford Gateway A-
The more I listen to this, the more I like it. That's a quality that embodies many of this man's work. This is really a convincing, incredibly bold rocker that seems like it ought to have been considered a hit ... or at least have a presence on one of his more detailed compilations. So, here's an uncovered gem that you can experience for the first time ... the Elton John you don't hear on the radio! (That's not to say this is that different from his standard stuff. His voice is there, and he's already writing deathly catchy melodies... there weren't synthesizers yet, though.)
Hymn 2000 B+
This seems like a Dylan impersonation... though I suppose anyone doing folk-rock in the late '60s would have come off as Dylan impersonators. While this isn't an especially memorable song, I find the whole thing very charming. The opening sequence is featuring a pounding piano and fluttering flutes comes across as a creative and dramatic way to open up what might have been an ordinary folk-rocker. But then there's something to that melody that keeps it floating above most other songs of its type...Yeah. Elton John just can't help being likable!
Lady What's Tomorrow B
This is a fruity song based on its melody and lyrics, though for some reason the accompanying instrumentation. It's surprisingly bare with just guitars, a piano that's a bit quiet, and a drum track. The chorus is really wonderful, but the verses are a little dull. Despite the negative connotation of the term, this probably could have used fruity instrumentation. (I mean, why not orchestrate it with something that matched?) Overall, it seems a little more like a Beatles demo or something, and a bit bare as a result. Though it's impossible denying that this is extremely pleasant as it stands.
This isn't a massively interesting song, but most of Elton John's classic albums had at least one of these in them. It's a fairly bland rocker without a melody that interests me too greatly. What we won't get on the classic Elton albums is that incredibly deep electric guitar playing riffs in the background!
The Scaffold C
OK... this is another song I'm having a difficult time getting into. It's not as immediately enjoyable as “Empty Sky” or even “Lady What's Tomorrow.” The melody is completely unmemorable and the harmonies are fairly bland. He was still working out some of the kinks in his songwriting, apparently!
Skyline Pigeon A
This is the other massive gem of the album, and it earns my vote for the album's best. It's also easily the song that most resembles Elton John's trademark 'power ballad.' If synthesizers were widely used at the time, it might have turned into such! As you probably know, Elton John had just the vocals to create these soaring sorts of songs that have the power to leave us dead in our tracks ........ even if we're sometimes not really in the mood for that. Just for the similarities, this song is sometimes included in compilations.
Gulliver / It's Hay Chewed / Reprise C
It's seven minutes long, but you probably already guessed that it's split into three sections. “Gulliver” is a pretty decent folk-rocker though somewhat on the dull side. Once again, we can comfortably tell ourselves that Elton was still learning the ropes, so to speak, and we can certainly find some subtle hooks in that one if we look close enough. It doesn't really start to get good, however, until the end of that section when it starts to rock out some more... And then the middle part starts up, which is nothing like it. It's a jazzy jam! ... The last thing you would expect in an Elton John album is a jazzy jam, but ... whatever. It's not like it's doing any harm. ...And the final part “Reprise” are brief snippets taken from all the previous tracks. I'll tell you that I hate it when artists decide to do this. They always have bad flow (by design) and it serves no purpose whatsoever. These songs needed time to build-up... if I want to hear these songs again, I'd just replay the whole track. It's easy since we already had it in the turntable.
Lady Samantha A
This was probably a rewrite of “Western Ford Gateway,” and it makes some substantial improvements. The most important improvement was the chorus, which works so well that you can't call it anything other than pure-Elton. The chorus is catchy as hell, and flows flawlessly off his tongue. Also, the song's instrumentation is a little more polished with more interesting textures. GREAT SONG!
All Across the Havens A-
That sort of ragtimey intro is reminiscent of the work he would later do in Tumbleweed Connection! The rest of the song is very even with the best that Empty Sky had to offer. It's rather similar to “Hymn 2000” except I find this to be a little more turneful ... and I really like those brief ragtime excursions. It's another early indicator of his pop creativity.
It's Me You Need B
This reminds me of those ultra-dramatic tracks that we might have expected to hear out of Scott Walker, or something, except the chorus is a little bit too flashy. Somehow, the verses are more cool and engaging than the chorus, which is odd because it's usually the other way around. The orchestration (featuring a genuine string track, among other orchestral additions) keeps the texture crisp with quite a build-up. But the chorus is a little disappointing and lacks enough hooks to keep it going.
Just Like Strange Rain B+
It's funny that the more I listened to this, the more I increased the rating. Well, I'm stopping the the third listen! I really don't like how it starts though ... Elton's vocals seem uncharacteristically weak. They are also mixed too quietly, but there is lack of power in his voice. It gets better as the song picks up its dynamics at the end... and the melody gets more engaging partly as the result of that. It's a fine song, though, and even better than a few of the real album tracks.
Elton John (1970)
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Your Song A+
Wow... It's just Elton John, a loudly mixed piano, a twinkly guitar and a stringed orchestra in the background. He's singing the sweetest, free-flowing melody that could possibly have ever been conceived. Bernie Taupin wrote some very interesting lyrics that reflect a sort of natural-sounding love proclamation. Usually, stuff like this is schmaltzy, but instead it turned out to be incredibly endearing. No surprise, this is the song that turned Elton John into a star in the U.S., and it was entirely deserved. This is nothing if it isn't a bona fide classic.
I Need You To Turn To B
He brings back the harpsichord, which was featured very prominently in a few of the tracks from his debut album. The full orchestra is back, and it's occasionally very breathtaking, especially as it starts and finishes. The melody is OK, but I don't think it was strong enough for this song to make quite the impact that they could have. Good arrangements, though! Fruity, yes, but you've got to expect that with Elton John.
Take Me to the Pilot A-
Did you forget that Elton John knew how to rock out when he wanted to? Never!! If you need proof, here it is. It's an R&B oriented track with furiously sung vocals from Elton, and driving rhythm. Even those dramatic string arrangements come in for some of the action, and surprisingly turn into an asset. Really, this is a wonderful song.
No Shoe Strings on Louise B-
Elton John tries on the underpants of country-western music, and he's definitely better off writing fruity love ballads. One of the problems with this song is that he uses a generic, sort of cookie-cutter melody. His singing voice adopts a few of the country-western stylings, and it's just not working. He comes off as sounding a little embarrassed. ... The slide guitar is mediocre, but at least it sounds genuine.
First Episode at Hienton A-
Yeah, so Elton John writes great piano ballads. This is incredibly dark and moody. Not much happens, and the melody isn't nearly as instantly lovable as “Your Song.” The full orchestra comes in after the first minutes, which helps the song flower quite beautifully. Despite its rather intense seriousness, I find myself becoming engaged in it. I was terribly bored with it when I first started listening to this album... It grows on you.
Sixty Years On B+
Very strange strings! The beginning of the track just features droning strings sounding like bees coming at you. That suddenly stops, and a delicate harp starts plucking away. The strings come back to play something more conventional. This is even more dark and haunting than the previous song. It wasn't that long ago when he actually turned 60. He put on a rock concert, so luckily it was a little more exciting than this! Once again, the melody is so haunting that it has that tendency to stick with you.
Border Song B+
Even though the melody isn't among the most memorable that he came up with, this gospel-inspired tune has such a presence that it still manages to make quite an impact. His soaring vocals are very suited for this sort of bombastic music, and thus I actually enjoy listening to it! (I'm somewhat biased against gospel songs.) The production is amazing. Again, there are the prominent string orchestrations ... this time even bringing in a very subtle gospel choir. But wow, they managed to make the song sound rightly pompous without even getting close to overproducing it. That's a rare, rare talent, my friends. I know---I listened to Mariah Carey albums.
The Greatest Discovery B
Boy, I'm surprised that I'm finding so much beauty out of these songs considering how utterly bleak they are. While the hook-writing force was strong with Elton John, he still had a ways to go before he'd begin composing really notable songs. This song is fairly barren with the exception of some key moments when this thing briefly blooms, and catches you a bit by surprise. This song is more than the sum of its parts, that's for sure.
The Cage A
A pop-rock version of the Star Trek pilot? ... Nah. But this is another moment when Elton John finally decided to rock out again. It's a funky, heavy rocking song seemingly inspired by James Brown, though the melody sounds like nothing but pure Elton John. A swinging horn section keeps the pace going, and somewhat busy guitars play around, keeping the pace jumping. There's a bit in the middle when he turns on a pure synthesizer... that's a sound that'll become an intricate part of his sound in a few years.
The King Must Die B
Well, it's back to the bleak piano ballads. I think I have to knock this album down a few points for having too many of these bleak songs (as lovely as they are). There was some variety, but just a few upbeat songs and a misfired country ballad aren't going to cut it! But just like the other songs, I am fully aware that it shouldn't have turned out this well. The melody is basically forgettable and most of the song isn't to engaging most of the time... except for a few moments when it seems to magically come alive. That chorus absolutely soars, once again providing perfect orchestration to his impressive chops.
Bad Side of the Moon A-
A rock 'n' roll song with good use of the stringed orchestra! So, this bonus track is much appreciated considering the overall mood of the general album. It's a really good one, too. It rocks, the female back-up female singers rock, and the melody rocks. Do you need anything else?
Grey Seal A
This is an earlier version of the song that would eventually appear on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. He apparently wrote it in 1969, and I wonder why it took him so long to finally release it ...... and why he didn't put it in this album or the previous one. The melody is beautiful, and it manages to bring in perfectly convincing rock 'n' roll instrumentation. Oh well... it sounds great on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, so I won't complain too much!
Rock n' Roll Madonna A-
This song also rocks! He probably should have put some of these awesome songs in the regular albums in place of some of those bleak old ballads! This is a bit R&B oriented, though it's incredibly fun to listen to. Elton John knew how to rock out with the best of 'em, and here's the evidence. This was apparently recorded live, and all that audience noise gets very annoying sometimes.
Tumbleweed Connection (1970)
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Ballad of a Well-Known Gun A
The first thing we hear in this track is a pretty mean electric guitar, blues riff. I suppose anyone just getting this album after falling head-over-heels with Elton John would have wondered what the heck he did with all those violins? He went all bluesy all of the sudden! (Naturally, anyone who heard Empty Sky might not have been so surprised, but it wasn't released in America until 1975, and I don't even think it was very popular in Britain.) Well, of course, at this point in his career Elton John could basically do whatever he heck he wanted. And that's some pretty mean blues guitar, too! It's so good that I was actually inspired to look up the name ....... Caleb Quaye. He stuck with Elton John for many of the years. The lyrics are pretty awesome, too. They're about an outlaw who was finally caught.
Come Down to Time A
This is much closer to the songs that appeared in the previous album. It's dark, moody and uses strings. But it's better than most of those songs because it's incredibly pretty! There's almost a full orchestra behind this, which is a little more elaborate than Elton John, but it's still incredibly tasteful. The arranger of these songs, Paul Buckmaster, really outdid himself with that one... Elton John's melody, of course, is catchier than all hell. This is just purely good songwriting, and he had excellent collaborators.
Country Comfort A
Wow, I used to really hate anything that resembled country music. No, I still don't like country music much at all, but Elton John sure writes a good tune! The verses and chorus in this upbeat ballad sound just like the sorts of things that you'd hear on the radio... I mean, this sounds of *real country music*... Not the sort of awesome wannabe stuff that The Kinks did in Muswell Hillbillies. Genuine slide guitar, country-fried fiddles, and he does the best he can to sing like an old cowboy and doing a good job. Yeah... so in the end I liked country music for a moment.
Son of Your Father A
I'm sort of looking for excuses to downgrade this track a little bit. Usually strong albums waver-in-quality pretty terribly after the third track, but this is as strong as ever. It's more of a thunderous song with pounding piano, and some guy playing a gruffy harmonica quietly in the background. Elton John gives one of his louder, passionate vocal performance, which always seems to be affecting. Moreover, the melody is hooky as hell. Man, this guy was on fire!
My Father's Gun A-
The only reason this song gets a slightly decreased score is just because the length is a little too long... although whenever he picks up the dramatics in the chorus, it's really very nearly magical! The instrumentation is possibly the coolest thing about this track. It starts out with some quiet bluesy noodling and Elton starts singing a dark melody that sounds awfully world-worn. As he sings more passionately, the back-up instrumentation, which includes some really awesome back-up singer and a brass-heavy backing, give it incredible power. Wow!!
Where to Now, St. Peter? A
I really adore how this song starts... That earthly piano for some reason gives me country-ish imagery. I also adore how Quaye introduces those wobbly guitar licks in the mix. That was ambitious, for sure, and it really worked. The verses are really wonderful to listen to... John has a youthful voice, though sounds like he's wiser beyond his years. The chorus is brilliant, and he's murdering me with all these great melodic hooks. I can't understand how someone could write such a great concentration of pop music!
Love Song B
Meh. This album seems to have gotten all dry all of the sudden! This is a ballad and, by the looks of it, a love song. But ballads are supposed to be the guy's biggest strengths, and this is dry and boring ... it sounds like some mid-quality John Denver or James Taylor song. Yeah, both of those guys are fine, but they're small little people compared to Elton John! And you know what? Elton John didn't write it, so there you go. It's a pretty good song, though. It's a tasteful, twinkly sort of acoustic ballad. It's the worst thing on the album, but it was at an extreme disadvantage.
This is much more upbeat, and the melody is thankfully more Elton-John-ish with one of his incredibly soaring vocal performances. The piano is at the forefront (how it should be, of course), and there's some more pure, earthly instrumental sounds including more of those light blues licks and a pure electric organ sound. There's a really funny sort of wobbly stab that I'm assuming that Quaye put in there. Weird! This was close to another A, but for some reason the melody doesn't quite speak to me like the others did.
Talking Old Soldiers A-
Just Elton John singing a very moody song with his piano! The melody doesn't have particularly memorable hooks in it, but the melody is great enough to keep me hooked to it. What's really notable here is Elton John's incredibly tormented vocal performance, which has the tendency to leave me dead in my tracks. There's nothing like these singer-songwriters who actually has an idea of how to be *good* at this emotional stuff.
Burn Down the Mission A+
WHAT A WAY TO END THIS ALBUM! HOLY CRAP! ... In case you haven't noticed, there hasn't been one really well-known hit throughout this album. But really, nothing on here had that commercial appeal. Elton John just wanted to write good music whether or not it would play well on the radio. I mention that because “Burn Down the Mission” probably could have been a massive hit ... but for some reason it didn't quite catch on like some of his other ones. But this is a pure Elton John classic... and when I say that, you *know* it has to be good. The melody is great, of course. It has good verses, but the chorus completely cooks. In the middle of it, he goes off on a massive rockin' spree, which is worked in perfectly. The end of the song is even more wildly energetic... This sort of reminds me of some of his more progressive-oriented songs from Empty Sky except it's pieced together more convincingly, and it has a better melody. Awesome!
Into the Old Man's Shoes A
What a gem! It fits the songs that appeared on the album perfectly... It's amazing that he had enough great material at the time that he could afford to leave such classics out... It reminds me of “Ballad of a Well-Known Gun” quite starkly, which could be the reason I guess. Once again, the melody is catchy, of course, and probably one of his better melodies. Quaye comes in and dazzles us with some of his muted guitar riffs. The song feels towering and sentimental at the same time. Yes, it's PURE ELTON JOHN.
Madman Across the Water A
This is an early version of the song that would eventually go on the album it's named after! It's quite a bit barer than that version, but I lot of listeners probably like this rawer sound. It also features some electric guitar from MICK RONSON on it. Yeah, one of the all-time great guitarists who collaborated with David Bowie in his glam era. That's the guy. This is a little longer than the final version, but I don't mind that at all. In fact, I love it!
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Bad Side of the Moon B+
There's someone with a deep voice who introduces Elton John. This was a radio show, and only 125 lucky people got to listen in the audience! They give a clap, and he starts to play this little-known song that never appeared on one of his regular albums. (Nowadays, you can find it on the bonus tracks of Elton John.) He gives an incredibly soulful performance just playing his piano as boldly as he humanly could... which was pretty bold. For this album, Elton John mostly chose his more rockin' songs to play, so it you're not dancing around a bit while you're listening to this, then there's something wrong.
Tumbleweed Connection hadn't been released in the USA at this point, so I guess Elton wanted to give everyone a preview! (Although, this wasn't included in the original vinyl pressing of the album... for some weird reason.) This also seems a little more energetic than the original version, but not much. Of course, it's great hearing this song again!
Take Me to the Pilot A
Did it ever occur to you that all Elton John might need is the piano, drums, bass guitar, back-up singers and his incredibly energetic voice? ... Well, probably not, but listening to this bare-bones live cut, that's all we have ... and that's all we need. (Though it might have been cool to hear Caleb Quaye who has proved to be a great guitarist... but I gotta say that it's pretty interesting without him.) He's giving the most soulful performance that his voice could possibly allow (which was a lot of soul), and he plays his heart out of that piano.
Sixty Years On A
Well, this is much better than the version I remember hearing from Elton John, amazingly. This is a seven-minute version, too, and I'm usually not someone who prefers lengthy versions of songs that should have been shorter. But anyway, this thing is great. It starts out with some sentimental piano twinkling, and it's gorgeous. There are short bouts of dramatic, violent and energetic crescendos, which are done much more notably than the original version, which I thought was on the boring side. Elton John and the drummer sound like they're having fun battling out... and it's a wonderful song!
Honky Tonk Woman A
It wasn't a secret that one of Elton John's early influences was The Rolling Stones... and here is MORE proof. This starts out a cappella... you only have to really like a song to give it such treatment. But it isn't long until Elton starts giving us some of the meanest piano playing and singing that he's ever done... and then there's some really awesome bass guitar going on. Anyone who is a rock 'n' roll fan shouldn't go in life too much longer before hearing this energetic, passionate cover song.
Can I Put You On A-
I was wondering about this song. It's from an album he cut called Friends, which is so obscure that I haven't heard it! I really need to, though, because Elton John was unstoppable in these early years. (I don't think the album itself is available to purchase, but you can find the whole thing on Rare Masters. I'll probably get around to reviewing it.) Well, this is a really good rocker... It's as tuneful as anything on Tumbleweed Connection, and Elton John sings it incredibly passionately. ...You can believe almost anything with a vocal performance like that!
Burn Down the Mission/My Baby Left Me/Get Back A
This track is 18 minutes long!!! Just to prove what an incredible mass of energy was at the time, he manages to keep this thing completely entertaining the whole time. He plays the best song from Tumbleweed Connection, which was an exciting thing to begin with. I can't say this version is better that the studio one, but it's still more energetic, and he's pounding away at his piano just like Jerry Lee Lewis. He goes on this incredible piano solo in the middle of it, which is an utter necessity to see how much the dude could rock out with it. He eventually brings it to a cover of an old blues song, which I'm not familiar with, but he gives it an incredibly energetic performance not too far removed from the awesomeness level of Elvis Presley. His piano playing especially in this section is completely ROCKING. Just him, the piano, the bass and the drums ... and he incites a little bit of audience participation in there, which no doubt you'll wish that you were a part of. No doubt. The end, Elton does an almost soul-version of the Beatles song... even putting a cool echo effect in the microphone as he screams “Get back!” This last part, while awesome, is probably the weakest section of the song. (And that's not because he gives his “thank-yous for everyone.”) Although that is an undeniably cool, verrrry long coda. The crowd is going wild, of course.
Madman Across the Water (1971)
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Tiny Dancer A
Ah yes... You almost can't get more vintage Elton John than this song, which endures in popularity today thanks to a popular film (Almost Famous) showcasing it. This is a good example of Elton John's knack of being able to write these remarkably passionate and sentimental ballads without sounding schmaltzy in the least bit. The beginning of the song makes an incredible use of the slide guitar (despite that there's nothing country about this). The chorus comes in and it beckons you to sing along with it! It's six minutes long (a bit on the lengthy side), but I never quite feel like I'm ready for it to end!
Here is another Elton John classic! It's a lot like the previous track except slightly better... The song is more compact, it's more dramatic and I think the melody is slightly better. Elton John is giving an amazingly expressive vocal performance... If that doesn't stop you in your tracks, then nothing will! Paul Buckmaster's string arrangements continue to brilliantly work together with the piano, drums and guitars to create one crispy mix. This is a gorgeous, exciting song.
Razor Face B+
This is very good, but it doesn't pack nearly the same amount of punch that the previous two songs did! The melody doesn't seem that great to me, and the instrumentation is more or less straightforward. But surely, this is still a good song, and the instrumentation seems wonderfully organic to me... as all of this early Elton John music does!
Madman Across the Water A
We saw this track earlier in the bonus tracks of Tumbleweed Connection. This was a great song to begin with, and the vocal hooks are plentiful and golden. This is a completely revamped version an elaborate (without going overboard) instrumentation from Paul Buckmaster, although we do miss Mick Ronson's glammy guitar! Oh well... it's a fair trade I think. Once again, Elton John gives one of his soaring vocal performances that's on-par with “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon.”
Indian Sunset B-
For the first time, I get the bad feeling that Elton John finally overdid it. It starts out a cappella (which is something that gives me a negative reaction right from the start ... 99 percent of the time I hear a cappella in a pop album, it's very pretentious). As the instrumentation picks up, it's surprisingly not much less flat than the a cappella part! Elton John sings with a bit of a snarl in his voice ... and it's an ultra-serious snarl, which ain't the good kind. This thing goes on for nearly seven minutes long. The melody is OK, but not nearly as hook heavy as the stuff on Tumbleweed Connection. Meh.
Holiday Inn B+
Well, this is better than “Indian Sunset” certainly, because it's shorter and he gives us a slightly better melody. This is very close to country-western, and even John's vocal performance has that twang to it. The instrumentation uniquely features a prominent use of a mandolin, which is new. The orchestral build-up in the middle of the song was nice although probably a tad on the 'overblown' side.
Rotten Peaches B+
It seems that Elton John is succeeding all the time because he has to ... I mean, there's nothing incredible about this song's melody or anything, but it's really wondrous when that gospel-esque chorus breaks out! Of course, he continues to have this remarkable energy in his voice that it's pretty much impossible to not feel the slightest bit moved by it. I suppose the melody could have been more memorable... but this is a real blast to listen to!
All the Nasties C+
This is even more boring than “Indian Sunset” (and at least that one had goofy lyrics). It's pretty bland, sort of reminding me of what his career would turn to permanently through the '80s! Well, the piano-ness of this track is nice to sit through. The choir bit in the middle wasn't as great of an idea as it was on other tracks. It just serves to bog the whole thing down when they were much more uplifting earlier. When is he going to start using the buzz-synth?
Geez, why did this guy get so overly serious and pretentious all of the sudden? I know Bernie Taupin wrote all sorts of great poetry, but that doesn't mean these songs are booooooooooooooring. I'd expect this sort of thing to come out of John Denver. It's just a two-minute ballad that doesn't really do anything. Buckmaster has his strings, but seriously, I don't care about those anymore.
Honky Chateau (1972)
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Honky Cat A+
I don't think anyone wold dare threaten this song's status as one of the more cheerful songs ever to be recorded in the history of pop music! The beat is kept punchy with that gleeful banjo playing skiffle, Elton John's bouncy piano playing, and a horn section that lends the whole song some swing to it. The melody is so catchy that I'm fairly certain that it's instantly memorable (I guess I'm no good judge of that... I listened to this song 70-100 times probably and I can't remember what I was thinking the first time I heard it). Anyway, the melody is fantastic. I really adore the end of the song where those bubbly instrumentals get a tad maniacal. This whole thing is a treat.
Not as instantly likable as the previous song, and I could almost understand that a few listeners might want to just repeat the previous song over and over again instead of progressing to this one. But it won't take much time to fall in love with this one, too. It's a more reserved ballad, and Elton John does genuinely sound like he believes what he sings. So, this is just another incredibly endearing tune. (And there's such a cool, rustic organ solo in the middle of it!)
I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself A+
Oh, that title might sound incredibly dark, but the second you put it on, you'll notice that it sounds even brighter and bubblier than even “Honky Cat.” I'd imagine the lyrics sound to me like a teenager musing that committing suicide would be a good way to get attention. The bulk of the song is a sort of Vaudevillian dance number, but there's also a really, really nice slower refrain brought up a few times. This is massively classic.
Susie (Dramas) A-
Whenever I think of Honky Chateau, this isn't one of the songs I remember. But it's still so good! I guess that's the magic of this album. It's just distinguishing between the great songs and the CLASSIC songs. This one is pretty typical of Elton John's already established style. It's a mid-tempo piano rocker with a solid melody and an energetic vocal performance. It's no “Rocket Man,” but you still couldn't hope for anything finer.
Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be a Long Time) A+
Easily, this is one of the finest songs ever written. (There, do you have an idea of what I think about it?) It's also one of the only songs that Kate Bush ever made a studio-produced cover of, so there's some more distinctiveness for you. I'm assuming that everybody knows this by heart, but just in case... It's a sci-fi ballad about a spaceman who misses Earth. It's the polar opposite of David Bowie's “Space Oddity,” which was about a spaceman who wants to leave earth forever. (Of course, Elton John would be the one who's more optimistic about the human race!) The melody is fantastic, and John's vocal performance is utterly soaring. It's so touching that it brings a tear to the eyes. Enough said? (If you're a complete nerd and you want to complete the trilogy, you should also scout out the psychedelic folk anthem “Rocket Man” by Pearls of Swine. It's a gorgeous, gut-wrenching song about the family that the spaceman left behind. It was reportedly Elton John's and Bernie Taupin's main inspiration.)
This is a little better than the two other A- songs I scored so far, but the melody isn't quite splendid enough to push it to the higher level. (But this is still a damn good melody!) This is another one of Elton John's attempts at gospel-pop, and this is head-over-heels better than similar songs he wrote for Elton John. Once again, there's tons of soul in that vocal performance, which is practically all you need for a song like this to work.
This is a really charming piece of folk pop. There isn't any piano (or at least any piano that I can pick up), there's just acoustic guitar, some banjos and well-arranged slide guitar. Elton John gives a sort of country-western vocal performance, delivering a vocal melody that is catchy and charming as ever. This guy was utterly on top of his game!
This is another one of his cheerful, upbeat pop numbers with another one of his ultra-catchy melodies. It's fairly similar to “Honky Cat,” except without the skiffle sound. Could you even ask for anything more than this? The distinguishing feature of this song is that rather demented sounding violin threaded all throughout this track. ...Really odd, but cool.
Mona Lisa and the Mad Hatters A+
This is one of those sorts of songs that can move you without knowing what's contained in the lyrics. I can't say I ever knew for sure what this song was about, but the sentimental melody and vocal delivery has that remarkable ability to hit me right there in my chest cavity. This just goes to show why Elton John was always best known for his ballads (despite having a heavy rock 'n' roll pedigree).
And Elton John shows us just what the type of rocker he is, lest we forget, for the final track of the album. This is a mid-tempo piano-boogie with plenty of verve and incredibly solid hooks to boot. It's also terribly fun to listen to, so this is the sort of song that pretty much anyone can enjoy. So, enjoy!
Slave (Alternate Version) B
This is a rock 'n' roll version of that charming folk-pop ditty that I praised. The drums are weird, and fast paced. It was like glam-rock before it was popular. Yeah... the album version is a lot better.
Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player (1973)
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I probably don't need to say that this is one of Elton John's most well known ballads, and it's gorgeous! Though one thing you'll probably notice about it immediately is how dated it sounds, which wasn't exactly something that came to my mind when I was reviewing Honky Chateau. Yup, Sir Elton was taking his first steps into sappyville… but we knew that was going to happen, right? And anyway it's hard not to love that freaking electric piano anyway, eh?
Teacher I Need You A-
Yeah, this is a lot cheesier than anything on his previous albums… I can't remember him trying to sound this cutesy before. But I suppose if he continues to deliver the hooks in such a strong fashion, then why would I ever want to complain about it? The rock 'n' roll instrumentation is enough to make me want to get up and do some DANCES! So, this song gets my endorsement.
Elderberry Wine B+
This is a rock 'n' roll track much like the previous one except not quite as infectious. But, naturally, it remains an Elton John song, which is all I ever wanted in life! The melody is very good, naturally, and Elton gives a good, glammy performance. It's based on a pretty wicked piano riff, and whoever plays that rumbling bass guitar deserves a high-five.
Blues For Baby and Me A-
Amazingly, this wasn't one of Elton John's recognizable hits… and by the sound of it, it should have been. It's one of his inspired ballads with a beautiful melody, a soaring chorus, enchanting harmonies … and even a nicely used sitar! Isn't this guy great when he's at the peak of his career? The only possible complaint I have of it is the length, which did seem a tad excessive.
Midnight Creeper A
Once again, whoever is rolling that bass guitar deserves a massive high-five. That, along with the incredibly infectious melody, makes this upbeat Elton John ditty one of the most delightful things ever to grace this album. The electric guitar solo at the half-point mark is really fun, too. This is completely unpretentious stuff… You don't have to do anything but wiggle your bottom to the merry beat! Of course, Elton's presence is so likable, that it increases the merriment tenfold. Don't you just love this guy?
Have Mercy on the Criminal B+
He loses me a little bit here, but not an incredible amount. I've typically only had good things to say about his bluesy undertakings just because he has such a great voice that suits the material perfectly. But for some reason, I find this thing just a bit overbearing. The melody doesn't strike me as being too wonderful. The instrumentation is good, but its pomposity lends to that overbearing feeling I get from it. …But naturally, there's still a lot of life in this old thing thanks to Elton's heartfelt vocals.
I'm Going to be a Teenage Idol B
Well, this isn't bad. It has a pretty good horn riff, and I like the chorus. Some wobbly effects in the chorus were sort of neat. But listening to it more carefully, I notice something incredibly wrong with it: It's overblown and not memorable. Well, it's not a bad experience overall, but this is proof that this album was the beginning of the end for Elton John.
Texan Love Song C+
Oh god, I used to hate this song like poison, because it was country music. But I suppose I figured out what there was to like in country music since then… It helps that Elton John could make anything likable at this stage in his career. But at the same time, this thing does sound incredibly weak, doesn't it? I cannot extinguish the thought: This is much more appropriate for John Denver than Elton John. (Of course, Denver would have to alter the lyrics… make it about some dumb coyote or something.)
Crocodile Rock A
OK… this is what people always cite as Elton John embarking on career decline. His previous albums didn't even approach anything this cheesy. ……..And yet, it's so good! I know that cheese-pop had been around for quite awhile, but this is so much fun that it's brought to a whole new level. It's possibly the greatest, cheesy pop song around (if there's one that's even greater, please don't tell me until 2014… my poor heart won't be able to take it). He seems to have replaced the buzz-synth with the piano, but they're fun to hear. And those bubbly guitars sound great. And the melody is catchy as all hell.
High Flying Bird B-
Really, "Crocodile Rock" wasn't the event that had me thinking that he was sliding off his peak … But "High Flying Bird" is the sort of bland, overblown ballad that characterized his late '70s and '80s career in which he mostly existed in some sort of pop-rock purgatory. Sure it's an OK song, but it really should have been more than that. It should have been genuine.
Screw You (Young Man's Blues) B- This is OK, but I don't find anything incredible about it. The melody isn't that memorable or hooky… The bouncy guitars are nice, but they get old after awhile. The saxophone solo was fine, too, though a little too squeaky.
Jack Rabbit B
Another one of Elton John's cutesy country-western things. This is a far cry away from the more serious pieces of Americana that he used to make in Tumbleweed Connection… Oh well. It's a fun thing to hear, I guess.
Whenever You're Ready (We'll Go Steady Again) B
These bonus tracks aren't impressive at all. Yes, they're a lot of fun, and I guess that's all Elton John wanted to do. This is a Jerry-Lee-Lewis-style rocker, and Elton does his best to give a boisterous performance (though it doesn't present near the same level of verve as his live album 11-17-1970. But anyway, this is a decent enough of a time passer.
Skyline Pigeon (piano version) A
The reason he decided to re-record this sweet piano ballad from his debut, Empty Sky probably because the album still hadn't been released in the USA… and he wanted people to hear that excellent ballad! This certainly sounds more like his usual style as opposed to the more minimal way the original was presented … Well, they're both great to listen to.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
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Funeral For a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding) A+
I probably think waaaaay too much of this sprawling 11-minute epic, but I really love this thing to pieces. It’s the grandest thing Elton John has ever done. There aren’t many more rock pieces that long that I can listen to completely transfixed on it the whole time. I’ve been listening to this album for almost eight years now, and I haven’t grown any less impressed with it. It’s Elton John’s attempt at progressive rock, and I think it’s safe to say that he put most of the bands that did that full-time to shame. It starts out with some wind sound effects, and then some awesome chords on a towering buzz synthesizer. A quieter, calm piano line begins to play... and it quickly escalates into a massive tornado. About half-way through it, Elton quits it with this instrumental nonsense and decides to just give us a really good pop melody with some rockin’ instrumentals. Isn’t this just the coolest song in the world?
Candle in the Wind A
Oh yes. This might just be Elton John’s most famous tune probably because he sings it whenever someone young and famous dies. But, here in this form, the song wasn’t dedicated to Diana. It was dedicated to Marilyn Monroe... who died 10 years before this song was written, but whatever. It’s a really good song. I’m sure you know it! ... Oh god, I’ve listened to this song waaaaaaay too much to really want to say much about it.
Bennie and the Jets A-
Elton John goes for the whole glam image here without any remorse. Oh, and I almost forgot that he would put on those huge glasses for performances of songs like this. I’m still not sure what some fans see so much in this particular song. I figured I’ve been missing something! At any rate, I hardly think it’s better than the two tracks preceding it and the track that follows. It starts out very sluggish, but it soon gains quite a bit of momentum. Notably, you can hear Elton’s piano grow from rather tedious to pounding so hard that you’d think he’d break it. Cool vocal performance, too.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road A+
I do love this song. It’s another one of my favorite Elton John ballads with some of the most beautiful lines of melody that he has ever sung. This is the sort of song that I can just listen to back-to-back a dozen times straight and feel as captivated as always. Really, this is a beautiful song. Just lovely.
This Song Has No Title A-
Yes it does! It’s called ... er ... Hey this isn’t a bad song! I remember listening to this album in my car, and this would always be the point where I’d wonder if I should turn the album off or not. To be honest, I usually did. The four previous songs were always my favorites, and this fifth song is just a folky piano piece. But I shouldn’t have turned off the album. This is another good song with some strong hooks and he plays some captivating textures with his piano.
Grey Seal A
Thanks to the inclusion of bonus tracks on Elton’s back catalogue, we now know that he actually wrote this back in the ‘60s. But it’s a very catchy song with an excellent, rock ‘n’ roll instrumentation. Naturally, this version is a lot more polished and glammy than the one I heard on the bonus tracks, and it still manages to come off as more energetic. He goes off on this crazy funk jam at the end... which is fun, too.
Jamaica Jerk-Off A-
Amazingly, Elton John goofs off on ska music and is actually very entertaining at it. Sometimes cutesy tropical songs bug the crap out of me, but this one puts a smile on my face instead. His melody has catchy verses and a memorable chorus. His cutesy vocal styling here might come off as stilted, but it’s just Elton having some fun. (I don’t know what the deal was with all those voices in the background... I’ll admit that *those* get annoying.)
I’ve Seen That Movie Too B+
This one’s a tad on the plodding side, but I actually used to hate it more than I do now. The six-minute length probably could have been trimmed, but at the same time, Elton gives it an amazing, soulful push toward its conclusion. Bringing in those bombastic strings in the middle also proved to be an excellent idea. Though the rather undue song length is mostly the reason for the non-A score.
Sweet Painted Lady A
Wow, he really had a knack of melodies by this point. Here’s an incredibly pleasant ballad with a catchy melody and some nice accordion in the background. It’s so nice that I start to wish the lyrics weren’t about an old prostitute. But anyway, it creates a really sweet mood.
The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-34) A
Here is Elton’s attempt at writing something of a Wild West outlaw ballad except it’s about a gangster. (It reminds me of that Cat Ballou ballad that they keep on singing through the film.) It made a really good, ultra-dramatic tune, and once again, there’s absolutely no beating these melodies. He makes it look too easy...
Dirty Little Girl C+
He loses me with this one. The overall flow of this song is very clunky, and the instrumentation is ugly. I don’t like the melody at all... (but it does have a few weak hooks in it). It’s not nearly as good as most of these songs. Elton John gives a snarling vocal performance that you can barely hear over the mix. The lyrics are really nasty, too...
All the Girls Love Alice B+
I like that really driving rhythm, and John gives more of his usual, spirited vocal performances. What I don’t care for about this song is those sudden stops he does to deliver these rather uninspired mini-ballad sections. ...Eh.
Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll) A-
This was designed to be a goof on ‘50s boogie Part of the joke is that John plays it about 50 percent faster than it’s supposed to be ... and I think he inadvertently hit on the new wave sound the kids would start doing about four years later. Oh well. This is just a silly song and hardly to be taken seriously. Give him credit for keeping up with the pace delivering some incredibly boisterous vocals, and even more credit for making it so toe-tapping.
Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting A
Apart from the three big hits at the beginning of the album, this was something of a hit, too. And you can immediately tell why. It is a rollicking, and one of his most infectious and danceable songs! Elton John gives one of his more spirited vocal performances.
Roy Rogers B+
This is a nice tribute to that famous fast food guy... Or rather, the cowboy from the TV. He gives it a country-western flavor, which makes sense for the theme. The melody is OK, but hardly anything inspired of memorable, and the plodding pace of the song is a bit of a problem. That said, this is a pretty good song. OK, what’s next?
Social Disease A-
Bring on them hillbilly banjos! This seems like he was trying to revisit that old idea that brought him that great “Honky Cat” song, but of course he doesn’t come close to recapturing that song’s utter glory. Oh well... But what he does do here is give us a catchy song with some more of that good old spirit.
Not quite as memorable as his other ballads, but this remains an Elton John ballad all the same. So, you can expect a very catchy melody, a soaring vocal performance and heavily reliable instrumental performances. It also makes a very nice ending to the album... Perhaps it could have stood to have more character, but it remains a nice, conclusion to this huge album.
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The Bitch is Back A
Hells yeah!!! You know that the old quaint Elton John shall never return, but why would you particularly care if you get these ultra-catchy glam tunes? Elton John’s voice is a little bit too buried in the mix, but you can’t deny that he’s giving an utterly spirited performance. The guitar riffs are very clean, but they’re catchy and they swing. I also dig those swinging horn sections, which makes this thing even more danceable. This is almost too fun.
Oh god, this is one of his beautiful ballads, isn’t it? This utterly gorgeous melody is so captivating that you’ll wonder why the guy hadn’t run out of ‘em ever since 1970 or so. The Beatles-esque harmonies give it an extra compelling aspect to the atmosphere. That oboe that plays throughout the track is so damned beautiful that it earned the song some extra credit. This is one of his most underrated gems.
This is a really neat song, too. That wobbly buzz synthesizer does a few neat things over this otherwise fairly typical Elton John rocker. The beat will definitely get your toe tapping! But I find this track coming up slightly short in the melody department... and that slower section that pops up doesn’t seem to transition as immaculately as it probably should have.
Dixie Lily C+
Oh boy... Elton John is messing with one of my huge biases. I hatttttte country music. I’ve been known to anger some people because of my sheer contempt toward that music. And here is Elton John not just doing full-scale country music, but doing cheesy country music. ...*shutters*. The melody is OK and contains a few hooks, but it does seem awfully cliche to me. Usually, I like to be fair and give country-western a chance, but it won’t happen here. I appreciate how immaculately it’s played, but I’m still listening to it with clenched teeth.
Solar Prestige A Gammon B+
That’s a strange song title... According to my thesaurus, it means “Sun Dignity a Ham.” Oh Zeus... please give me sleeping pills! ....... This is a very unusual song for Elton John. He sings a goofy Italian song in Italian that’s been Elton-John-ified (meaning that it has ultra clean drums and a catchy melody). It’s a fun little unpretentious tune... You’ll probably like it unless you hate ‘70s pop music or something.
You’re So Static B-
The beginning of this song is pretty funny... You can hear him playing some cliche notes in a sort of piano concerto. What happens quickly after is a pretty fun dance tune. This one does run into some particular problems, because that horn section is right out of an average funk-pop album. I suppose Elton John was getting too lazy to write his own horn section! Also, the hooks are pretty bland. ...But at least it has a good beat you can dance to. And, like it or not, that horn section provides quite a bit of that PUSH.
I’ve Seen the Saucers B+
This starts out sounding exactly like Procol Harum’s “The Devil Came From Kansas” and thus it’s incredibly boring. But after that boring opening 30 seconds, Elton John unexpectedly ups up the harmonies and delivers one of the most compelling melodies on the album. He gains so much inertia there, that it’s a shame that he repeats that uninteresting segment that opened the song. That was like soaring into a brick wall... an unpleasant experience, to say the least. But anyway, this is a nice song regardless.
It probably would have lived up to the song title if it wasn’t for that rhythm section, which is just too driving to warrant that distinction. That incredibly low-register bass riff, ultra distorted guitar, and the mean-sounding horn section gives it that extra edge, and it is more interesting than it probably should have been. If you stripped all that away, this would be nothing more than an average blues song! ...It’s also nearly impossible not to love Elton’s snarling vocal performance!
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me A+
Oh man, this song presents me with an interesting dilemma. The chorus is so incredibly GORGEOUS that it outdoes most of his other choruses, and thus by default becomes among the greatest choruses of all time. But it takes so freaking long to get to this chorus that I’ve nearly fallen asleep by that time. It reminds me of my trip to Yellowstone National Park last month, sitting around waiting for Old Faithful to erupt. You sit there on a bench watching a steamy mound... but when it erupts, it is pure glory! He even gives one of his most soul-bearing vocal performances in his career on this track. I just have to bypass my reservations about the dull verses and give this thing an A+. It was all worth it. Completely worth it.
The one thing I like about this track is that pure piano sound that he plays predominantly through this. In fact, that’s the only instrument you’ll hear through most of this apart from vocals and a few synthesizers mixed quietly in the second half. But this song is also incredibly long (clocking in at nearly eight minutes) and it doesn’t have a particularly captivating melody to warrant that time. Though it isn’t exactly tedious. Despite the intentional lack of instrumentals, he does give us a few nice textures here and there. It just isn’t overly interesting.
Pinball Wizard A
Oh man! I almost forgot that Elton John was in the film version of Tommy. It was about eight years since I saw that film, and I only barely knew who he was back then! Well, I can’t say I particularly prefer this over the original, but it is definitely energetic. Elton John sang his heart out for this one, and his back-up band turned in some remarkably vibrant instrumentals. This is a very good bonus track.
Sick City A-
This is a highly amiable pop rocker... Surely he had catchier songs in his day, but this melody has a nice flow to it, and it’s easy to get caught up. Once again, whoever plays that bass guitar is just splendid at it. He makes me want to dance with the song, which is more than what I probably would have gotten without it.
Cold Highway B-
This is a sort of weird mid-tempo ‘70s rocker with a few ‘50s overtones thrown in. It isn’t that bad, but there’s a really awkward development in here that makes me very jumpy whenever I listen to this. It also doesn’t have a melody that particularly captures my interest. It’s only three minutes long, but I look forward to it getting over.
Step into Christmas B
Here’s Elton John hoping to get a Christmas classic that our grandkids would want to hear in Christmases to come roasting chestnuts by the open fire........ But he didn’t come close, and nor did any of the other rockers, really. We’ll probably be listening to that Bing Crosby crap until the end of time. But this is a fairly nice song, although that glammy rhythm gets a little too cumbersome. I enjoy hearing it well enough, but the relatively bland melody is the reason nobody wants to remember this.
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975)
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Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy A+
This song starts out with a catchy acoustic guitar riff playing amidst an electric piano. Elton John comes in with his excellent voice singing a rather sweet melody. And not too soon, a drumbeat pops in thus letting the song pick up pace... and then in the chorus there’s a dramatic array of cool electric guitar riffs, increased drumming and Elton completely singing his heart out. This melody is one that I love listening to. The song production is perfect... it’s immaculate without sounding overproduced or cheesy at all. For the umpteenth time, he proves that he was one of the great songwriters of the 1970s. This isn’t a terribly flashy song, and it wasn’t even a hit, but I’ll be damned if this deserves anything less than an A+. I love it waaaaaaay too much!
Tower of Babel A
This is a more mid-tempo song with a nice, pounding drum beat and some incredibly well-mixed-in guitars and pianos. There are no synthesizers at all, which I would have assumed he would have adopted fully after the last few albums. Ah, it was back to basics, eh? He made songwriting seem so effortless. This doesn’t seem like it was fashioned as a hit at all and yet the melody is another one of his utterly fantastic ones. Just splendid.
Bitter Fingers A+
Some twinkly piano starts this track, and it’s not before long Elton delivers a likable, sort of casual vocals. And then seemingly out of nowhere, some heavy pop guitars play a riff, and a cool dance groove pipes up. It’s such an infectious one that I’m sure you’ll have a difficult time restraining your bottom from wiggling profusely! The bad thing about these sorts of internally contrasting songs sometimes is that one section is much stronger than the other, and you end up wishing that they would have just stuck with one of them. But I can’t say one part is better than the other. The ballad section is sweet, and the dance section is fun. Both are equally as catchy! That’s probably what matters. He lets the dance part fade the song out, and those really low-key guitars are especially endearing.
Tell Me When the Whistle Blows A+
I know I probably shouldn’t give this an A+, too, and it’s probably just evidence that I have this CD on regular rotation in my car. (I didn’t give it a perfect rating in my original review, so... take that for what you want.) But I can’t help it. It starts out sounding uncannily like a Barry White song. It has a groovy beat and towering string section that plays a catchy melody independently of the already catchy vocal melody. Though, to stop myself right there, this doesn’t sound much like a funk tune... indeed, those gorgeous slide guitars throughout makes this resemble country-rock more. Anyway, this is another great song here, and it achieves it by being rather reserved. I like that sort of music the best, you know.
Someone Saved My Life Tonight A+
This is the sort of song that you can really easy take to heart. It’s one of his utterly soul-enriching ballads! It’s rather a lot like “Don’t Let the Sun Shine Down On Me” except it doesn’t take forever to get to the chorus. (Although, I suppose that other tune had a more uplifting chorus .., but that’s rather hard to beat, you know.) Elton sings his heart out, again, and the melody is enchanting from beginning to end. The song production is amazing, too. The synthesizers, that graceful piano, the crispy drum beat and the bouncy rhythm guitar are all in perfect balance. It’s also the only one here that casual Elton John fans seem to know. (Hey? Are you a casual Elton John fan who doesn’t know these other songs??? Dude.)
(Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket A
This feels like an A+, too, but I’ve got to restrain myself! This is one of his more upbeat pop-rockers. Not only does it have a merry beat (with an extremely cool bass guitar), but it has one incredibly infectious melody. How was he able to give equal melodic treatment to both the verses and the chorus is the stuff of legend! Oh god, and the mix is just perfect. I already talked about the bass guitar, but there’s also that crispy clear drumbeat, those rapidly strummed guitars, some refined buzz guitars and synthesizers. An extremely cool electric guitar solo appears in the middle. ....Yeah, this is a great song. It should get an A+.
Better Off Dead A-
I have always considered this the worst song from Captain Fantastic, but it’s really still quite good. The song doesn’t really catch fire as well as the others. But the one nice thing about it is that it’s a tad different than these other songs. Well, it’s not that different. (It’s Elton John singing with his piano... how different could it be?) But the chord progression seems a little stiffer than he normally would do, including some sections that seem more geared toward classical music than pop rock. And those ultra-loud drum thwaps are quite strange.
I actually never complain much about this track whenever I put on the album. But other reviews have pointed out that it’s relatively more pedestrian than the other tracks. The melody isn’t incredibly inspired, this time, and it doesn’t project the same level of pureness and grace as some of these other songs. The instrumentation comes off as a little corny with that electric piano and lite-rock style bongo drums. (Corniness is something that has been present in Elton John albums ever since Don’t Shoot Me, but this album had somehow avoided that for the most part up until now). Anyway, it’s an incredibly pleasant track to sit back and soak up. It might be a tad weaker than some of the other songs, but that just means it’s excellent!
We All Fall in Love Sometimes A+
This is yet another one of his superb ballads. It might actually take a few dozen or so listens to fully get caught up into it... It’s rather low-key, so it’s not instantly lovable. But I can’t say that Elton John ever produced anything this gorgeous before. Oh god, how can I describe this beauty? It’s like a terribly old room in a mansion with dark, oaky furniture, old dusty books from the 19th century on the shelves, classy polished statues on the tables and shelves, beautiful Romantic paintings on the wall, leafy green houseplants in select areas. ......I’m not making sense, am I? Something like this would have sounded great on a Beatles album, by the way. George Martin himself couldn’t have done a better job with the production. The melody is just classy Elton John... The subtle beauty of it is more like Tumbleweed Connection rather than Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and I endorse that to the fullest!
Something I got completely wrong in my original review, I said the song wasn’t “rousing.” But it is rousing! Very much so!! It just takes awhile for it to get started. But as the old proverb says, good things come to those who ... uh ... hold on a bit. This track actually begins as the last one left off, with a quiet, single note of a piano pounding. Elton John comes in with another very sweet and reserved melody. A hit of a dulcimer comes in every few measures to provide a nice texture. ... But very slowly, the instrumentals pick up dynamics. His piano is a little louder, the dulcimer plays more, and there are some neat, dramatic drum hits. And then the full band comes in with electric guitar, full drums and everything! And it ends with a sort of “Hey Jude” style chorus that seems to go on forever. Considering that I want it to go on forever, I’m not bothered one iota about its repetitiveness. It’s pretty rare for a song like this to actually be successful (repetitive songs tend to bug me), but Elton should be congratulated for making this work so well! This is also a very good concluding track!
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds A
Hey! This is a cover! ... Have you ever heard the original, because I have no idea where it’s from ....... oh wait. It’s that’s either about taking drugs or some picture a snotty little kid drew with crayons. And HEY, Elton John does a really great job with this! Elton managed to take this classic old psychedelic song, and still make it sound like the sort of song that he would sing. It’s a lot more joyous than the original and yet it remains true to the psychedelic nature of the original. This is a clear cut example of an artist treating a cover song as if it was one of his own... that rousing chorus at the end is something I never would have thought possible after hearing the original. The only part where Elton loses me here is that really weird reggae bit tacked on in the middle.
One Day At a Time A
This is another Beatle-related cover, this one taken off of John Lennon’s solo album Mind Games. You know, I listened to that album maybe once a number of years ago, and I have no idea how it sounded on there. (.......yeah, I’ve practically ignore his solo career, which is odd because I listen to Paul McCartney stuff all the time ... even when I’m not reviewing them.) But anyway, this is a gorgeous song. The harmonies are more of that vintage-Lennon stuff; his solo career stuff is almost always good for that. Elton delivers a remarkable and soaring vocal performance... This makes me really regret that I never listen to Lennon’s solo stuff.
Philadelphia Freedom A+
Even if the stuff on the album wasn’t any good, I would still recommend purchasing it just for the inclusion of this utterly priceless bonus track. The funny thing about this is that it has some very clear 1970s intonations throughout. The intro has me thinking this is about to turn into a disco dance song or something. But it doesn’t. It just turns into one terribly groovy, mid-tempo Elton John rocker. Whoever plays that bass guitar deserves a massive handshake! Just like “Tell Me When the Whistle Blows,” this has a string section that reminds me of some Barry White song, and they’re heaven...... String sections aren’t supposed to sound this good in pop songs. Seriously. I can’t imagine how Elton John was able to come up with this immediately infectious melody ... and that chorus is just magic. Can’t you see how wonderful this is?????????????
Rock of the Westies (1975)
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Yell Help/Wednesday Night/Ugly A-
A lot of fun! This is a six-minute medley, it starts out to be a bouncy mid-tempo pop rocker with a catchy tune and tight instrumentals. It’s not particularly exciting, it’s surely toe-tapping! The middle of it is more of a ballad, and it has that weird synthesizers playing huuuuuuuuge arpeggios. Them the rocker comes back and Elton’s snarly vocal performance makes him sound like he has something caught in his throat. He manages to overlay the “Wednesday Night” portion on “Yell Help.” The end is a very fast-paced rocker! It’s pretty nuts... and then fade-out... This was an entertaining song!
Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future) B+
This is hardly a sort of composition that Elton couldn’t do in his sleep by now. Naturally, it has a good melody and strong vocals. The one thing that sets it apart are those cloppy synthesizer noises and guitar tones they play throughout. (Yeah, that shows what a great writer I am... I resort to making up words. How do you like that??) It’s like they’re writing a song for a stupid cartoon character.
Island Girl A-
This was a big hit single, but it has nowhere near the same endearing qualities as his other hit singles. The melody has a few nice hooks, but it lacks that certain staying power. Maybe that’s the telling sign that Elton was slipping off his peak. (Of course I say that knowing that he did slip off his peak, and this was where it started! Yeah, that the power of reviewing these albums 30 or 40 years after-the-fact.) Anyway, this is a fun song with a cool rhythm section. I like the xylophone in the chorus, and that funny synthesizer at the end!
Grow Some Funk on Your Own B+
It’s much more rough and tough than the last one, and Elton adopts another gruff snarl in his voice for good effect. Once again, it has a nice beat and the guitar riff is catchy indeed! The vocal melody is nice though not incredibly memorable. There is a nice texture played at the end with a sort of tinny keyboard... (it doesn’t sound like a xylophone... but I guess it could be...)
I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford) B+
All A-minuses and B-pluses! This is quite an even album so far!! ... At least this is a ballad, which means we get a break from the rockers and we get to hear what Elton John does best. It sounds sort of like “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” except it doesn’t tug at your soul. The melody just isn’t that inspired. But it’s a good melody anyway, and I enjoy it quite a lot as it’s playing.
Street Kids B+
And now it’s back to the rockers just as the doctors prescribed! (Yeah, Elton John had a doctor who told him to RAWK!!!!) This is another very nicely done rocker that’s played a little more straight than some of the others. You don’t hear any weird synthesizers or funny vocal gimmicks. The guitar wouldn’t be inappropriate in an Eric Clapton record... And once again, I’m giving this a B+. I’m even looking for excuses to rate it lower, but it’s just another fun tune. Where it could have run into problems was the running length past six minutes, but if it never grows remotely tedious, then who am I to downgrade it?
Hard Luck Story B-
This isn’t necessarily worse than the other songs. It has a really quick beat, and you’ll probably find yourself toe-tapping to it. It just comes off as blander than the others. There aren’t any interesting instrumental touches ... no synthesizers or funny guitar tones. The exact same thing was said about “Street Kids,” but at least that guitar was gritty. “Hard Luck Story” rocks a bit and I enjoy the experience listening to it well enough, but it is stale.
Feed Me C+
Ah, yes the glorious ‘70s. Electric piano, crystal-clear drum rhythms, back-up singers ... vaguely funky guitar rhythms. This would go very well in elevators, because it’s so immaculate and it would inspire people to get off as quick before they fall asleep! ... Alright, this really isn’t so terrible. I can listen to it and be mildly entertained, but it’s dull enough that my brain has a tendency to fall asleep. Meh!!
Billy Bones and the White Bird A-
This has a really cool pounding drum part that makes this whole thing come aliiiiiiiiiive. That’s a good thing, because all Elton sings is “CHECK IT OUT!” a bunch of times over and over. But as long as the rhythm is good, I’m cool with that. Don’t worry too much about that, because there’s a really unexpected though rather beautiful chorus, and a nutty synthesizer solo toward the end. So, this is good. Quite good.
This is more along his usual style ... it sounds similar to the title track of Captain Fantastic except it’s not nearly as inspired. It’s a little bit sad to say so, but this is staaaaaale just like he was in the 1980s. The only thing keeping it interesting was a more-loud-than-necessary bass guitar plodding along.
Sugar on the Floor C-
That’s not a good idea, because you’ll attract ANTS!!!!!!!!!!!!! Though if you’re lucky, you’ll attract Adam Ant, and he’s apt to play you a merry old tune! ...Um... I’m actually listening to the song now, and holy crap. Is this supposed to be tedious? Elton John plopping around with a piano singing a melody that’s basically toneless and virtually ignoring harmonies? ..... WHAT??!??! Did the rock ‘n’ roll Dementors come along and steal away that shiny blue orb thing out of his mouth???? Where was rock ‘n’ roll Harry Potter when Elton John needed him, huh??? COME ON, SNAP INTO IT!!
Here and There (1976)
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Skyline Pigeon A
I’m not going to get too detailed with these song reviews. I hope you understand. I’m not the god of rock reviewing! So... here we go... Elton John himself introduces this as the first song that he and Bernie Taupin ever felt excited about. And it’s quite clear why. It’s a GREAT SONG!!! All he does is sit down and sing his heart out with the piano. Basically, that’s I need in life. Very simple. Very elegant. The melody is one of those hopelessly classic things that only Elton John could have written. Yes!
Border Song A-
Once again, all you really need in life is Elton John singing one of his classic tunes and the piano. It sort of adds an extra dimension to his songs when he does that. When the drum comes in halfway through, I almost want to just flick it away. It doesn’t need that. Off with ye!
Take Me to the Pilot A-
This is one of his more rock ‘n’ roll “obscure” tunes, so he needed other instruments than him and the piano. We hear some electric guitar and a busy drum track. There’s a bit of a jammy part toward the end, but they don’t pretend that they’re Cream or anything, so it’s all very tolerable. The guitarist doesn’t think he’s the god of guitarists. He solos for a bit, and he’s through. A fine fellow indeed.
Country Comfort A-
Aw such a pretty song! It’s one of the few country-western sorts of songs that I completely adore. It’s very genuine, doesn’t rely on cliches and give me this singer over any of those real country-western singers any day. Even those really long, long slide guitar notes in the middle of the song was a cool, non-cliched idea.
Love Song B+
I didn’t care for the original incarnation of the song, but how could it be bad if it is from a classic Elton John album? Alright, I still find it to be a little drab I suppose, but I think the heavier instrumentation here makes it a little more enjoyable. And there’s even a nice, non-flashy electric guitar solo in here. Cool. Quite a bit more engaging than the original, I think.
Bad Side of the Moon B+
This reminds me that Elton John had that other live album 11-17-1970, which also has this song on it. That was quite an exciting live album, and you can hear him give a more boisterous performance there! I guess he was younger and not a statesman yet! But this version is still very good. It goes on for almost eight minutes, but they had a good hook to sustain it, and there’s a really pleasant and reserved jamming session in the middle.
Burn Down the Mission A
This was such a beautiful song from Tumbleweed Connection and it was an excellent idea for them to do another rendition of it here. They manage to extend it to well over eight minutes, and they fill it out with some exciting rock ‘n’ roll jams. (Seriously, these are about as good as it gets for live jams without sounding wanky.) Very fun!
Honky Cat A
I asks ya? Does it get any better than this? I suppose I’d take the original over this one, because this doesn’t have that cool skiffle groove. But still. It doesn’t get better than Elton John singing one of his classic tunes with his piano (and a drum beat and a little bit ‘o electric guitar). It’s extended about two minutes more than the original... but he could have kept playing it for 20 more minutes considering how solid this hook is. He lets the band evolve a bit with it, too, so it never grows tedious. ......and someone sounds like they were opening and closing a door in the middle of this. Erm..... And there’s some fun audience participation at the end ...... they all get to sing “wooooooo!” with him...
Crocodile Rock A-
Oh man! Now he’s singing one of the most fun songs that he’s ever done. Of course, it’s that cutesy ‘50s nostalgia pop thing. You all know it. Somehow, though, I think the band ought to have played this a little more tightly... and Elton’s voice isn’t mixed that well. Fun song, though!
Candle in the Wind B+
What would an Elton John concert be without this classic? While a classic it might be, this does seem to be an awfully straitlaced rendition of it. Nothing special about the vocal performance or anything. Should I count it down for that? ........ I suppose.
Your Song A
I hope you don’t mind, but this is a very pretty rendition of this excellent tune. Again, it’s just Elton with his trusty old piano, and that’s all it needed. I can’t say that about too many songwriters. Most of them write bland music that need all the accompaniment they can get. But not Elton.
Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting B
This concludes the “Here” portion of this collection, and he decides to go out with a BANG! Again, I wish I could hear Elton’s voice more clearly... he fades away pretty badly in here. Though I guess this is supposed to be more of a dance song, so the instrumentalists are playing as loud as they can!
Funeral For a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding A
Elton John skipped the Atlantic, landed in Madison Square Garden, and delivered a rousing rendition of his masterpiece from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Naturally, the original was finely produced and this looser version doesn’t quite pack the same punch. But anyway, this is a great note to open any concert with. It has that extended instrumental intro, which means Elton can sort of gradually enter the stage ... first he comes on to play the piano, and then the audience gets to hear them sing.
Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long Long Time) A
The Americans get all the cool songs! Elton John’s touching sci-fi epic is played here to good effect. There are only minimal instruments ... just him, a piano, and an electric guitar making bending space noises. This is one of my favorite songs of his, so I’ll listen to it anywhere...
Take Me to the Pilot A-
Hey, this song was already on here before!! ...Oh man, you mean he performs the same songs in England as he does America? ... Um ... I guess that’s OK. But why do we need to hear this twice?? I suppose this version has more of a rollicking pace, and it has that rather bare, extended introduction. So, there was good reason to have this twice I guess.
Bennie and the Jets A-
I was never the biggest fan of the original, and I still haven’t seen what everybody sees in it! ...But it’s not like I hate it or anything. The best thing the original had going for it was Elton John’s incredible piano, which evolved to grow more violent toward the end... If you also liked that, you won’t be disappointed here. He plays the juice out of it!!
Grey Seal B+
At first, this is a very straightforward rendition of that more rock ‘n’ rolling song from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It’s an excellent song, of course, but probably not one of the more inspired performances on the album. At the end, they go incredibly nuts by the end of this, reverting to an energetic rock jam sort of thing. It’s aimless energy, but kinda cool.
He doesn’t bother switching out his regular piano for an electric one, so this is a little bit nicer than the original. Naturally, this is one of his finer ballads, and I’m sure you all know it by heart.
You’re so Static B
He bring in a full scale brass band for this one, and they can bring some swing to the tune! Though this track from Caribou was far from my favorite piece from that album, they give a very rousing rendition of it here, and I’m sure it created dancing in the aisles!
Whatever Gets You Through the Night A-
And here comes John Lennon in his last public stage appearance ever. I know an Elton John record is the last place you’d expect to find that, but here it is. John Lennon’s last public live performance ever. The only reason that he showed up was because he lost a bet with Elton... Elton thought this song would make it to the top of the charts, and Lennon didn’t. Anyway, here he is giving a rousing rendition of the center of the bet. Neither of them takes lead vocals... they just sing it together. There’s even someone playing a colorful saxophone solo.
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds A
And together they sing this incredibly obscure song!!! ... Elton John also happened to release a cover of this himself, which can be heard on the Captain Fantastic bonus tracks. And what an exciting rendition of this it is! They use that back-up band to full effect, and we can hear both of these guys have the time of their life singing the crap out of the chorus. Very cool!
I Saw Her Standing There A
This isn’t the sort of song you’d expect John Lennon to revive at such a stage in his career, but here it is in all its glory! They’re having even more fun singing the crap out of this than they did in the previous track. Elton John gets to live his fantasy of being a member of The Beatles, if that’s what he was shooting for! And the brass band is still there lending the experience some kick.
Don’t Let the Sun Shine Down on Me A-
John Lennon left the stage, of course, and so Elton goes back to performing his regular songs. Just like it was in the studio version, he takes two minutes to get to the chorus, but when he does, it’s like magic! The studio version was better though, because his vocals were more passionate. I’d imagine he was a little tired at this point after singing the crap out of the previous song!
Your Song A
It’s been so long that I almost forgot that there was already a version of this song on the album! Oh well, this is one of those songs that I can hear time after time and never grow tired of it. He’s playing this more directly to the audience (well he dedicates it to them ... plus we can hear them erupt in cheers throughout this). It’s quite a rousing vocal performance, too, and he does some frilly things that weren’t present in the original.
The Bitch is Back A
And the whole freaking album ends with an incredibly exciting rendition of what’s widely considered Elton’s most hard rocking song ever written. That horn section also helps give that glammy classic some extra swing! What a fun live album!
Blue Moves (1976)
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Your Starter For... B+
And the great album begins ....... with elevator muzak. Hm. It's a cheery minute-and-a-half instrumental with a cutesy theme played with a xylophone, acoustic guitar and some pure synthesizers coming in later. It's not bad actually... The theme is rather memorable, and the song develops in a complex fashion. It's not even 2,000 miles away from that grandiose intro to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, but let's be nice and overlook that for now.
Wow, say what you will about mid-career Elton John, but this sprawling seven-minute epic is gorgeous. It starts out with an extended classical music intro that seems like he was paying homage to George Gershwin, and then John comes in with a poignant vocal melody that's sung so well that it pierces my heart. This sort of thing is quite special! I do have a few criticisms of it, however, which were enough to keep that plus rating off. Most importantly, it's so stiff and stodgy... Elton John's songs used to have such a youthful vibrancy to them, but here he sounds a tad stale. This is especially evident in the middle of the song where his piano playing comes off as choppy and lifeless. Those are just minor crits... this is a good song!
One Horse Town B+
This danceable pop-rock song is that obligatory rockin' number on one of his 'serious' albums. The orchestration is brilliant with some full orchestra sounds combining with those disco rhythms quite flawlessly. The rhythms are crisp, but the delicious orchestration gives it full body! It's a fun song to hear and there are a number of decent vocal hooks in it even though there aren't nearly as many as we're used to hearing from him.
Even in this period of lesser hooks and staler songwriting, it seems virtually impossible for Elton John to be anything less than likable. This sort of likable ballad, you can assume that he could write without even trying. The melody is very sweet, and that is accented through an uplifting vocal performance. The melody doesn't do much for me to be honest, but the song takes flight despite that fact.
Boogie Pilgrim C-
This is really where it starts to become unbearable. This huge clunky mess lasts six minutes and it doesn't so much boogie as it does slime like a slug. (That didn't make sense, did it?) The idea of it was probably to be another one of his dance songs, but there's nothing about it that makes me want to get up and dance. The mid-tempo pace is boring and that makes those would-be festive horn sections seem hopelessly out of place. There is nothing hooky or infectious about the melody whatsoever... and, frankly speaking, Elton John's falsetto vocals seem utterly ridiculous here. This bombed.
Cage the Songbird B-
Not bad this time, thankfully. I remember, in my earlier Elton John reviews, complaining that he was starting to sound like John Denver. This is another one of those cases. (I have nothing against John Denver, really, other than he sucks compared to Elton John normally.) This song is a mediocre acoustic folk song with a melody that sounds merely pleasant as it's playing. Nothing about it threatens to stick to my mind! NOTHING!! I like those woodwind synthesizers, though. They do something particularly nice during the bridge...
Crazy Water C+
Actually, this isn't bad either, but it does seem an awful lot like he spent a lot of time working on a hook that wasn't memorable enough to warrant such hard work. I like those funk guitars at the beginning as well as the maniacal drumming, but they're dressing to an airy melody. The whole song progresses to a flashy and utterly bombastic ending with a full horn and orchestra section, but it just comes off as ridiculous considering how dull the melody is. Meh!!!
Shoulder Holster B
This is a good song although it doesn't exactly spring to life like so many of his classic songs... but it surely measures up with the mediocre songs that he had released in his more illustrious past. It's a typical mid-tempo piano rocker that you would expect him to write. The melody is light and bouncy, albeit nothing special, and a nicely done horn section keeps the flow going. Cool.
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word A
I used to think he wrote this song for making us sit through a rather boring double album, but I suppose it's a sort of love song! Anyway, this song is gorgeous, and it is the only thing on here that can possibly be considered a hit. It's one of his more famous, low-key ballads with one of the most soul-tugging vocal performances of his career. This still lacks much of the vibrancy of his other albums, but it's easy to forgive that considering this is supposed to be sort of depressing. Nice job there, ole Elton! This here be a gem.
Out of the Blue B+
This wasn't exactly 'out of the blue.' It's a six-minute rock 'n' roll piece of muzak. It's not bad; it's just a few notches above elevator music. It's light, bouncy and mildly fun. You'll like it if you enjoyed that one-minute piece that opened the album, surely. Elton isn't doing anything notable with the piano other than that he is generally skilled with the instrument as everybody already knows! The theme is OK. It's nothing that you'll particularly remember long after it's done, but it's fine to hear.
Between Seventeen and Twenty C+
It's much like “Shoulder Holster,” itself a song that I already forgot how it went exactly, but this manages to be much blander. It still has that good mid-tempo Elton John charm to it, which never seems to be in short supply in his albums, but this melody is pure mediocrity. Sorry. Maybe he's relying too much on this old formula and lost access to the same charisma that once propelled his songwriting craft.
The Wide-Eyed and Laughing D+
Ew. What is this? In a way, I'm glad that this song can't exactly be labeled as his typical formulaic pap. Even though the vocal melody and the way it's sung is typical for Elton John, the instrumentation is strictly unusual. There's some sparse acoustic guitar playing so quietly amidst a piddling sitar and some bubbly sci-fi synthesizers. This accompaniment is so detached that John might as well have been singing a cappella. It's unusual, for sure, but it's just a tedious thing to sit through. The melody is practically worthless, and it's difficult to fathom duller harmonies.
Someone's Final Song A-
This is a sweet song! It has that gentle poignancy that I loved about “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” and “Tonight.” He even must have had a talk with himself about harmonies, because these are so subtly majestic that this could be confused for an early '70s Beach Boys song. My only major criticism of this is its utterly slow pace, which seems to bug me more than it did on those previous two songs mentioned. But this sort of song is easy for me to fall in love with... and I might just do that...
Where's the Shoorah? B-
I think the question you should be asking is “What's a Shoorah?” And why does this sound like a boring song some dork would have written for an elaborate, original church musical? ... Man, this song is boring! But at least it's tasteful. Amazingly, I say that knowing this isn't so incredibly different from the previous song, stylistically. John seems to be wobbling down a fine line between beautiful and boring in this album. Even though this song definitely lies on the dull side of that line, I find this to be a rather nice piece. It's difficult to snub a song that's just Elton and his piano, and I like some of these chord changes. The light gospel chorus comes off as pretentious, but he always gets away with doing these sorts of things for some reason.
If There's a God in Heaven (What's He Waiting For?) B
It isn't until now I fully realized that the last three tracks were completely devoid of a rhythm section. I must say I'm thrilled he brought them back! (Oh the smallest pleasures I get out of life...) For some reason, this song reminds me specifically that Elton John is the guy who wrote the Lion King soundtrack. Just like the songs from that film, it's a nice bouncy song with a good groove and likable hooks. He isn't trying too hard to do anything passionate or interesting ... it's just an ordinary pop song. It has nice use of a string section without overdoing it, which he was usually good for.
This is pretty nice. It's a nightclub jazzy sort of song... the mere presence of which you can tell how complacent Elton John was getting at this point in his career. But at least it's well done. It's rather slow moving, but I can get caught up in it a little easier than many of these other slow-going songs. The melody isn't too special, but I honestly don't think much of actual pop- jazz songs of this caliber. The saxophone solo (from David Sanborn!) is quite expected and a bit cheesy, but it's nice. OK.
Theme From a Non-Existent T.V. Series C+
A little too fast-paced to be an actual television theme. It's also not memorable... it seems many TV themes in the '70s were pretty memorable. It's just a one-minute instrumental that's seems a little more like an exercise in scales than an actual attempt at writing melody. Hm. It's not very good, but it's also not long enough to actually do any harm.
Bite Your Lip B
Whatever you think of Blue Moves, I think you're going to like that he ended it with a dance song. There's quite a strong disco (ala K.C. and the Sunshine Band) vibe to this, an influence that was probably met with mixed reactions back in the day, but nobody probably cares about anymore. It has a nice groove to it, but it doesn't quite inspire me to get offa my computer chair and boogie with it. Although if I were already dancing, this would keep that dance floor energy going quite well.
A Single Man (1978)
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Shine on Through B-
Elton John had taken a two-year break between the last album and this one, but it seems as though the break hadn't served him as well as he hoped it would. This is a ballad, and it's Elton John singing it, but it's very bland and uninspired. It starts out with some simple piano chords before he comes in with a vocal melody without many hooks in it. Luckily, things get better about halfway through when a nice string and woodwind arrangement comes in with a drum beat. But I remember the good old days when Elton John ballads were so infectious that I couldn't stop myself from humming along with them. This song doesn't inspire me to do anything more than listen politely.
Return to Paradise B
Hey, this is better. Just like most of his '80s career, Elton John was always at least good for one decent tune or two in an album. The Latin feel of it is so stiffly played-out and muzakish, however, that it is nothing more than a gimmick I suppose he employed just to do something different. Nonetheless, Elton comes up with quite a nice, feathery piano texture, and the melody is likable and mildly hooky. Not too shabby.
I Don't Care B+
Even better this time! In fact, this pop-rock song with a dance beat is very nearly excellent (it almost squeezed an A- out of me. Almost). It has a very good beat going, and Elton's exuberant vocal performance gives us all hope that he might not be as badly ready to hang up the towel as we all feared after hearing the deadly mediocre Blue Moves. The song also has a good use of a rhythmic string section, which adds to the rhythm, and some well-placed female backup singers. The downside of it is that it comes off as awfully sterile....... but I suppose you could say that about most of his rockers on his classic albums.
Big Dipper B
This is a cutesy ragtime tune. It's a fairly generic one, too (especially when that New-Orleans-style instrumentation comes in for the second half). It might have been something similar to The Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies, but it's lacking that certain breath of fresh air. Nonetheless, it's still a fun song to hear—and the only reason it's fun is simply because Elton John would have made this so fun if he wasn't such a likable guy in general. If you don't think so, then you'll probably get no joy out of this whatsoever.
It Ain't Gonna Be Easy B-
This is one of those sorts of songs that's pretty good, but it has no business being as insanely long as it is. It makes a perfectly nice four-minute song, but he decided to drag it out for eight minutes. That said, it's like listening to a perfectly decent four-minute song twice, so I suppose I can't fault him too badly for that (although I still felt the need to drag the song score down from a potential B+ or A-). This is a more heavy hitting mid-tempo rock song that's a little edgier than most of these tracks. The rhythm section packs quite a punch, and I love Elton's exuberant vocal performance. The electric guitar is even pretty good, giving us a few cosmic moments that are rather reminiscent of Mark Knopfer's trademark style. Not shabby. It was just too long.
Part-Time Love C
This goes one notch beyond “cutesy” and becomes “cheesy.” That's something that I was metaphorically gritting my teeth over...... Cheesiness is something he could have easily slipped into in the past, but he used to avoid like a skillfully trained ninja. But he lost his edge, and the cheese is starting to seep through the cracks. What a terribly disappointing song! It sounds a bit like a disco. Elton's vocals are as plain as it could get and so is that incredibly simple hook. The hook is repeated so much that the song seems a bit overextended even though it's just more than three minutes long.
It sounds like he was referring to the US state, but considering this was the first Elton John album released in the USSR, this could be a sinister remark to the country. (Chalk up one mark for capitalism!) ...Well, this is a rather boring song. He was going for some sentimental ode to somebody else's homeland, but you can sorta tell that he himself didn't give a crap about it. The country-western inspired melody is hopelessly bland, and I don't get an ounce of feeling out of that vocal performance. A whole choir comes into sing the chorus... Well, that's such a generic idea that it just accents this song's already fakey feel. Bluh.
Shooting Star B-
This song starts out very nicely. That twinkly acoustic guitar, thoughtful electric piano, and sliding bass combined with a vastly interesting chord progression piques my interest more than almost anything in this entire album. But halfway through it when he still keeps that same morose tune and brings in a saxophone solo reminiscent of elevator music, it starts to get cheesy in a pretty bad way. And I wish he would change that tone a little bit. On the plus side, he rightfully doesn't find any reason to extend this past three minutes.
This is another one of his blatant attempts at coming out with a disco hit, but it seems pretty vacant. Nonetheless, it's not such a bad song. The melody is solid enough to catch fire, and that thunderous instrumentation is driving enough to make me tap my feet. Elton John has a nice voice, of course, though he's sounding uncomfortably close to that “Flashdance” singer. Extra points come in with that pounding and unusual instrumental interlude in the middle. That's just funny!
Ew. No! I don't know what he was doing here. It's a one-minute instrumental consisting of random piano chords while a high-pitched synthesizer whistles over it. Dumb. Boring.
Song For Guy C+
This is another one of those perfectly nice songs that's plagued by a waaaaaaaay too long running time. In fact, this is an instrumental, but it sounds like an elaborate introduction to something that I'm waiting very patiently for Elton John to start singing something. When he does, all he sings is the same old theme that had been playing the whole time. What's the matter with Guy, is he mute? Now, this loop that Elton ends up playing is quite nice, but its repetitive nature ends up getting the better of me. And there's no way it should have been nearly seven minutes. There are some potentially priceless moments in here, but unfortunately they were only halfbaked.
Now, what the hell is the point of writing songs like this and not even putting them on the albums? This is such a relentlessly cool song that it completely blows away the songs on the bulk of the album! It's a very catchy and unusual song that begins as a sort of tango, with some inspired instrumentation (notably a train whistle and a, get this, submarine sonar beep). It's intermittently danceable and bizarre. Even that sudden ending was pretty cool. Whoah.
Flinstone Boy B
I'm not going to complain too much that this wasn't included on the real album, but Elton sounds much more engaged here than the did anywhere there... This song has a rougher sort of country-western edge to it with Elton sounding memorably like a world-weary cowboy. The melody is simple, but it's quite good. Good song!
I Cry At Night C-
This time, I'll go so far to say that I'm happy he didn't include this on the album. It's just a rambly folkish song that sounds like a watered-down John Denver. If Elton John is sounding like a watered-down version of John Denver, it might be finally time to run for the hills.
Not the worst thing I could think of, and at least it keeps a lighthearted, bouncy pace. But this thing is hopelessly bland. It's just forgettable pap with Elton John singing a cheesy toss-off melody. The instrumentation is so polished that it's utterly sterile. I've heard worse, of course, but that doesn't mean I don't find listening to this vastly disappointing from this once-great man.
I wish I had nicer things to say about this ballad that's done in his usual style. But it's as boring as most of the ballads that appeared on the regular album. Nothing about the melody is distinctive whatsoever, and the instrumentation is BLAND. I wonder why he doesn't bother trying to do anything interesting with the instrument that he's a master over. Bluhhhhhhh. Oh well. At least this isn't horrendous. Just mediocre. OK. Goodbye.
Victim of Love (1979)
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Johnny B. Goode 8/10
Chuck Berry fans are obviously going to be ticked off right from that opening sequence! Why the heck is it being played so dang slow? ........... And then their goats will be gotten after this disco beat and corny instrumentation pipes up. Elton John sings like he doesn't really care. But speaking as someone who doesn't care that much that John just defacated on Berry's legacy, I can find this bouncy retreat enjoyable in the cheapest way possible. Most people would assume be caught dead dancing to this, but ........... well, it's kind of fun anyway. I don't even mind that it's eight minutes long.
Warm Love in a Cold World 4/10
Oh ... hmmmmhghhghhhhhh ... This is a straight disco tune, but have you ever heard a chorus this barren? The instrumentation all seems to be in the right place if you like derivitive disco stuff. This sort of song really depends on the melody. The sad thing is I'm really trying to like this song. It has a beat you can dance to, but that's where the appeal ends. ............................................. Elton John sucks.
Born Bad 3/10
...A six minute disco tune without a "tune" .................................................................... It was bad enough listening to this album all those times to prepare for this review, but actually trying to pay close attention to this is torture. It's lame disco ... Yeah, the instrumentation is fine if completely by the book, but there isn't a melody to save it. That electric guitar solo is proof how lame this song is.
Thunder in the Night 7/10
I almost think I hear hooks in the chorus, but that could be my ears playing tricks on me again! At the same time, this song is enjoyable in a sense. It's still something John should be ashamed of, but it has a certain undeniable energy.
Alright, we're back to the undeniably bad nonsense! Toneless disco with a good beat but no reason to dance to it. Maybe he's making a statement on the era!!!!!!!! (It's always good to think positively, right?)
Street Boogie 3/10
These songs don't seem to mean anything to me anymore. In the back of my mind, I thought this was the same song as "Spotlight."
Victim of Love 6/10
A little better this time, although ... it's still pretty bad. Elton tries to give a "sexy" vocal performance, but it's no better than a slightly above average kareoke singer. This is another hunk of polished nonsense.
21 at 33 (1980)
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Chasing the Crown 8/10
This is an overall decent track with a mighty fine melody. The track is so pristine polished and even has a nice electric guitar solo in the middle of it for good measure. This sounds exactly like the songs he wrote in the '70s except it's not as infectious. Well ... you know the guy lost his touch, but it's nice to see that he continues to know how to be fun.
Little Jeannie 10/10
Alright, apparently John felt the need to replace his piano with an electric piano, but at least he has a very nice melody in this ballad that could rank as one of his best. It's catchy and the overall song is pleasant and comfortable. ... Yes, I like comfortable Elton John. It does sound a tad dated, but not enough to really count (you also have that synthesizer that pipes up a few times.)
Sartorial Eloquence 7.5/10
A sweeping ballad this time, but the melody just isn't up to the snuff. Technically, (instrumentation-wise) it's just like the previous track, but the hooks are lesser. Of course, they're still there, but ... John is so dependent on them!
Two Rooms at the End of the World 6.5/10
This is probably the most rocking song of the album so far, but the melody is so stale that it really doesn't come off too well at all. Really stale, and the melody gets old after about 30 seconds. And for some reason he has to drag this on for more than five minutes. Hm.
White Lady White Powder 9/10
This is a personal song about John's horrible addiction to cocaine that nearly destroyed him (like it does to many rockers). Who knows why he fashioned it as a country-western ditty? Oh well, this is certainly one of the album's better tunes. The reason for that is the vocal hooks. It also has nice flow, except I take a minor issue with those piano fills.... hmmm....
Dear God 7.5/10
This one is stale but not too shabby. There are one or two hooks that really manage to grab me, which seemingly made the effort worth it! This is a fairly desperate but very general prayer to God pleading to make things better on Earth. I have no idea why he wanted to write that! The melody reeks of a showtune, but as you might know I've been known to listen to showtunes!
Never Gonna Fall in Love 6/10
This ballad is boring here ....................... in fact, this is very boring. The chorus is pretty nice, but that's basically the only appeal. Then there's a cheesy sax solo in here .............. ugh, Elton John is old.
Take Me Back 6.5/10
Another country-western song except this one's reaaaaaaaaaaaaallly stale, and John's cutesy tendencies surface in a bad way here. The melody is very disappointing, but I expected it. The violins were a nice touch for the instrumental interlude, but ........ hm. I'm snoozing.
Give Me Love 8.5/10
This is a good song for John. It has a little more flash than most of these other songs although it's still quite stale with a not-so-great melody. The instrumentation has a few good points, though. It seems to be coming off of the disco era ... there's some funky guitar and a horn section. Granted, much of this instrumentation is a product of the era, but it's not that bad. John does some piano soloing in here, which we all missed I'm sure.
The Fox (1981)
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Breaking Down Barriers 8/10
This thunderous and poppy track starts this Elton John album off on a positive note, and the melody is fitfully catchy. He does manage to prove that he has such an ear for melody! At the same time, this isn't exactly something that's prone to get stuck in my head (in a good way at least). The instrumentation is alright, but I can't think of anything less inspired than that scaling piano he uses ... it's not charming whatsoever. I guess I should be glad it wasn't a cheesy '80s synthesizer! Otherwise, the thunderous quality of the track still manages to win me over. It's heavily produced but in a decent way. It sounds like one of his '70s songs, which I have absolutely nothing against.
Heart in the Right Place 7/10
He seems like he's trying to go R&B here, but his heart isn't in the right place! That is, this song is boring! The genre usually has trouble exciting me, because I just don't like bluesy songs. But John just sounds stale here. That's a shame too because there's some really delicious little guitar licks here. The melody is so sterile that it's a surprise this is Elton John and not some mannequin pretending to be him! More points against it --- it's five minutes long, and there's no reason it needed to be longer than three.
Just Like Belgium 8.5/10
The good news about Elton John's '80s career is when he has ahold of a great hook, he's able to milk it out for all its worth. This is a catchy song that has enough staying power to be actually worth the four minutes that he carries it out for. That said, it wouldn't have done him any harm to lop it off after the three minute mark! More points against it comes in the instrumentation department, which sounds too much like it's striving to be a Branson showtune. But who cares if it's entertaining?
Nobody Wins 7.5/10
It isn't an Elton John original --- it's a cover of some French disco tune that might have been big in the country. The melody is alright, and I can see why Elton John wanted to cover it. (It's surely much better than the nonsense he did in that abysmal Victim of Love! At the same time, it's just a cheap disco tune. It has a nice line of melody, but after it's repeated twice, it loses its sparkle. There isn't much to the instrumentation at all. It's cheap! Nobody wins if you're going to try to pass off these instrumentals that probably only took you about two hours of work!
Fascist Faces 6/10
Vibes of "Bennie and the Jets" strike up immediately upon hearing the opening piano riff except this version just isn't that inspired! I'm reminded of his '70s work, but I remember too well that it was loaded with many more hooks! Where'd the hooks go??? What's worse is this song drags on for five minutes, and without hooks it ain't got much! It gains a few points here and there for song development. There's a spacey instrumental section in the middle --- but even that didn't seem to lend anything. The instrumentation is also better than the previous few songs, but ... who cares if there's no hooks, dang it??? This song is a big fat nothing. Boo!!
This begins as a corny instrumental track that might appear on a romantic movie score. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, but it's official now that old Elton threw in the towel of *awesomeness*. Whatever. He can do what he wants. As far as the corny music that drags on forever goes, this is alright. It's not great --- maybe not even good --- but it's passable. It's well composed and calming. It's a throwaway and meaningless thing to sit back and relax to. You're better off listening to John Barry if you really want to know ...... I guess Elton John is no John Barry! The middle section of the track features Elton John singing a ballad. It's pretty damn boring if you want to know. The melody is just so-so, but certain aspects of the instrumentals were done right. The violins seem to swell up in the right spots. He adapts a rhythm section after awhile, but that doesn't exactly save it all from getting boring. This is such a far, far cry from that glorious 11-minute track that appeared at the beginning of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road --- you don't even know!
This is another shame. Elton John continues to write songs without much of a hook he's going about it like he isn't embarrassed whatsoever about it. Well, anything to pay the bills right? He's full-gear into his adult contemporary mode meaning that he's uber-polished and not very interesting. There's some value to the more passionate chorus, but that's just like a thimble full of air in a square-foot's worth of vacuum.
Heels of the Wind 8/10
At the very least, Elton John includes this, which is one of his upbeat rocking songs. The melody has a little bit of value here. It keeps the song interesting along with the steady beat. The instrumentation is fun though a little too imaginative. The bass line at least keeps my toe tapping.
Elton's Song 9/10
And then there's "Elton's Song" ... a little ditty he dedicates to himself?? Whatever the case, this one's not actually so bad. It's a ballad, but the melody is rather catchy and even a bit haunting. The instrumentation consists of merely Elton playing a piano and singing (with a little bit of tasteful synths after awhile) which I guess is all he ever needed.
The Fox 7.5/10
I think that 4 Non Blondes must have taken this hook to write their hit grunge song "What's Up?" ... Well who knows, really? It wasn't a great hook anyway! This is just another mediocre, mid-tempoed Elton John song. He's clearly not on top his game, but he's surely putting on a good show! You wouldn't think he believed that he wasn't at his best...
Jump Up! (1982)
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Dear John 8/10
And this work begins with this retro rockability tune, but from Elton John, it's all we really needed. (You know since he's not changing his style much to fit the '80s except for a halfhearted use of a synthesizer, he'd might as well be retro and proud of it.) This is a rather tuneful song although mostly forgettable. But for an at-the-moment way to get the toe-tapping, this might just be all you need!
Spiteful Child 7.5/10
This is another upbeat song but it's fairly dull otherwise. The melody doesn't seem to be as hooky as it ought to have been --- nothing about this track is particularly memorable. Plus, the melody seems to be repeated way too much. At least it's upbeat and pretty well-performed. There's some nice bits of instrumentation in here...
Ball and Chain 8/10
This here be the third, happy upbeat song in a row. Where are his famous ballads? Hey, I like it though. It has a nice beat, and a melody that's actually OK. He's still pretty far removed from his songwriting peak (obviously) but this isn't cheesy or difficult for me to sit through. That's the best compliment I can give Elton John at this point.
Legal Boys 10/10
It was only a matter of time before he would get to a ballad. But this was certainly well worth it! It's probably even arguable if this is a ballad, because it's still pretty upbeat... But it's soaring! The melody is very good, it's quite complex and even the harmonies are absolutely delicious ... Let me be the first to welcome Elton John, responsible for about 8 billion great melodies in the '70s, back to his songwriting high ... even if it's for a single glorious moment.
I Am Your Robot 9/10
Elton John begins this with some calculator synthesizers presumably to prove to everyone that he can cope with the times. But then he goes into another bouncy pop song that sounds like it was left on the cutting room floor for Captain Fantastic. Oh well, this is good old Elton John ... and this would have been a very good song that he left on the cutting room floor! I think he repeats that hook "I am your roooooooobot" about eight times too many, but that's just a small point it seems. This is a fun track with lovely catchiness!
Blue Eyes 7.5/10
This is now a real and unarguable ballad. It was well written though the melody isn't up to snuff ... for some weird reason, John's vocals remind me a lot of Paul McCartney! This is a little boring though hardly offensive...
Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny) 8.5/10
This one is a nicely done ballad. I don't know why he's grouping up his ballads like this, but ... whatever. I do enjoy this one. The instrumentation is nicely done ... he peppers up his signature ballad style with a few '80s synths to produce a nice effect. The melody is decidedly just *good* as opposed to *great* but that all we've been hoping from this guy in the '80s.
A mediocre ballad ... and quite bland ... The harmonies are about as interesting as watching a dead fish! The melody is lucid though without hooks... Meh. But at least for the worst song of the album, this isn't too shabby.
Where Have All the Good Times Gone 8/10
And yay! It's back to the upbeat songs and this is also very catchy. He's doing well with the chord progressions again here ... this one seems almost menacing in a way. This is a very appealing track!
All Quiet on the Western Front 9/10
This is a pretty neat song. It's another Elton John ballad except the melody is actually pretty dang catchy. The harmonies seem pretty average to me, but I guess that's a minor point if you like the melody. The part where this huge organ comes in and delivers these thundering chords really makes this song for me... yum!!
Too Low For Zero (1983)
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Cold as Christmas (In the Middle of the Year) 9/10
Elton John begins this album smartly. It's with a ballad that's not cheesy! The melody is very nice --- it's memorable and it doesn't grow old. That's all I can hope for Elton at this period of his career. He's almost back to the level of his heyday (in fact, he is depending which example of his heyday you're looking for). This is an excellent ballad. It doesn't reek of greatness like "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," but it's close enough for comfort. The instrumentation is very solid --- hardly '80s sounding. This could have been written any decade.
I'm Still Standing 8.5/10
This does reek of the post-disco era, but I don't care. It's upbeat! You need an upbeat song after "Cold as Christmas." I also like this song because it has a menacing mood --- this hardly sounds cheap! The melody is moderately catchy as well. I can hardly find room to complain about anything!
Too Low For Zero 9.5/10
Well, he's definitely doing the '80s thing here, but why must I automatically insinuate that's bad? No! It's isn't necessarily bad. The light drum machine loop is rather subdued an non-obnoxious as it gets. The synthesizer sounds are very nice --- and the song seems to concentrate more on Elton John's vocals, which definitely gives it nice body. This song is hopelessly likable.
Elton John gives an insincere tribute to religion! Not that I have anything against this tribute, but I do have something against corny instrumentation. Why this sounds like a Jimmy Buffet song is --- um --- NOT GOOD. The melody is good but cheap for Elton John. We know he can pull good melodies out of his hat like magic tricks if he wanted to, but he just writes something silly and simple. Nonetheless, I like the flow of the song, and it's listenable above all else. Who am I to complain.
I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues 9/10
Holy cow, he's doing a generic blues song now! Though I'm actually enjoying this. The melody is very catchy and the instrumentation is smartly solid. He's not being very interesting, artistically speaking, but this definitely has the same feeling of his old days. You can't love this song too much, but you can like it.
I guess everyone has to pander to the times. Here is another stab at Elton John-ifying the '80s pop trends. Actually, apart from the drum machine and the light synthesizers, this would have just been a normal Elton John pop song. And one of the better ones, I might add. The melody is freakishly fantastic! The wind sound effect he uses for the background was completely unnecessary --- but it doesn't detract anything.
Kiss the Bride 7.5/10
This sounds like he was trying to Elton John-ify arena rock. Although we already know he's done this much better previously in his career. It's a tad banal (and that freaking drum is too loud --- you don't have to pander to the times that music). The melody is OK, and it works well enough to make this song fine more or less. But this is probably the most banal track of the album thus far.
Whipping Boy 8/10
This is an upbeat rockability song that's pretty generic --- yes, that doesn't change at all from what we've been hearing from this guy lately. But as long as he's going to do that, he's writing decent melodies. The song is snappy and happy; it has good flow and it's a joy to hear. Note that it's also like eating candy --- no nutritional value in the musical sense! But at least it's a fun ride while it lasts.
Oh, here Elton John sings about limbo. Doesn't he know that the Catholic Church just did away with that notion? Oh well, it's 1983. He wouldn't have known. This is somewhat synth heavy track although that's not necessarily a negative thing! (You know, his '70s songs were pretty synth-heavy come to think of it --- some even moreso than this.) The melody is actually perfect --- this song really soars. For once, he's creating something genuinely good. Not just empty calories. This is good old Elton John the way he used to be.
One More Arrow 8/10
Here is the ending ballad! Why is he singing in a falsetto voice? That's annoying. Don't do that anymore. Otherwise, this is a pretty good ballad. The melody isn't the finest he's ever done, but he's definantly proving his songwriting skills to the world. It's a little sluggish and boring at times, but that's not a crippling flaw. Nice ending.
"Earn While You Learn" is interesting --- it's definitely more strange than the songs that appeared on the album. It's hardly 'experimental,' but it shows that Elton was still interested in being artistic after all these years. OK maybe he wasn't ready to show it on his albums! This is a strange jam song featuring his impeccible piano skills! This song goes in some weird directions, and he uses some oddly chosen synths. It's a lot of fun.
"Dreamboat" is another fine pop song. It features a ukulele and Elton John singing a rather catchy melody. Maybe this is a little too long (7.5 minutes), but I'm at a loss why he was just sitting on this good material...... A shortened version of this would have been warranted somewhere on an album. Oh well, I guess that just makes Too Low For Zero more worth buying.
"The Retreat" is a ballad that's reminiscent of "Candle in the Wind," and it's honestly not too far behind. The melody is absolutely wonderful --- it's purely classic Elton John. Maybe a bit of a country-western connection here, but that doesn't discount his great melodies! Why didn't he put these songs on an album? It seems like such a waste. (I even like the ending --- you hear a UFO taking off!)
Breaking Hearts (1984)
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Yay! Bring on the good old upbeat pop-rocker Elton John! Here is a hugely convincing and enjoyable track. You could call this a pub-rock song (since that sort of thing was popular when this album was released), but it's not fundamentally different from John's peak years. Of course, that's great news, because this melody is absolutely tops. The instrumentation seems just perfect! The synthesizers are wisely kept to just background texture stuff, and the electric guitar sound is thrust to the center of attention. That crispy bass guitar is delicious!! And last but not least about this fantastic song is Elton's furious vocal performance. One of his best vocals in years. Beautiful.
Slow Down Georgie (She's Poison) 8/10
A lesser and a tad more '80s. But that's OK. It's still Elton John, and that's good enough for me. The track begins (inadvisably!) as a ballad with a merely passable melody. Then it suddenly turns into a pop rocker. It's rather fun although the hooks are simpler and the instrumentation seems a little less appealing. It's still fun though...
Who Wears These Shoes? 7/10
This is a perfectly happy and upbeat number. Elton's as confident as ever and that contributes to a lot of the fun (and partly the reason why this is so more enjoyable than The Fox and 21 at 33). However, he's being pretty generic and inconsequential here. The melody just doesn't stick! The instrumentation, which does sound perfectly crisp, is fairly generic.
Breaking Hearts (Ain't What it Used to Be) 8.5/10
It seems funny that it took Elton this long to finally get to a real ballad. This is his sweet old song. The funny thing about it is that he's playing a real piano. It's like he's completely forgetting that it's 1984!!! (Oh wait, that's a good thing... No synthesizers!! Yay!!!) The melody is quite nice even though it comes off a bit too strongly as an average Broadway musical solo. That's OK I guess. It has a sweet flow, and a few nice hooks.
Lil' 'Frigerator 9.5/10
Not a moment too soon, he returns to the furious rockers. It's rather generic, but it's safely several notches above stale. The melody is quite catchy, and I love the instrumentation. Again, Elton's vocal performance really triumphs... He's so confident, and he can really rock when he wants to. A great saxophone solo chimes in along with an electric guitar the middle ---- Sweet!!
A bit of an interesting turn is a Reggae-inspired song although not so wonderful. The repetitive loops get on my nerves eventually, but at least the merit of John's melodies (which gets pretty dang awesome in the chorus) makes this quite tolerable. This could be the most dated of the album (since he uses quite '80s means for this reggae song), but it's not overly so. Nice that Elton's genuinely trying to be timeless...
In Neon 8/10
Here's another ballad, and this one sounds more like him than "Breaking Hearts." Though the melody isn't as catchy... Still, this is hard to not like. Elton delivers his vocals with conviction, and the instrumentation is quite solid. Those soulful 'oohs' might have been given a second thought, though...
Burning Buildings 9/10
This is certainly one of the prettier ballads of the album. It begins with some very sweet piano, and then it quickly builds up into one of his signature upbeat and thunderous methods. Great hooks throughout this track!
Did He Shoot Her? 9.5/10
Just as you'd think that Elton did all he could for one album, he brings up what is easily one of the album's more memorable tracks. The melodic hooks are absolutely deadly and can stand side-by-side with the best of his '70s songs. The rock 'n' roll instrumentation is absolutely solid --- they even bring in a little bit of sitar in here! Quite nice. It's always fun when Elton rocks out.
Sad Songs (Say So Much) 7.5/10
He choses this decent though fairly generic country-rock song to end the ceremonies with. The melody is fine, but the instrumentation seems too much like a Casio keyboard demo, and nobody bothers to do anything awesome in terms of soloing or noodling. It's a good tune, I guess --- and much happier and upbeat than the song title might suggest. The lyrics express happiness for the existence of sad songs. "Um, thanks, Bernie." That's probably what Elton said ---
Ice on Fire (1985)
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This Town 8.5/10
Hey, I guess if you're going to make '80s pop music, you'd might as well do it something like this. Well, actually, it's pretty similar to the music he made in his previous album except not quite as infectious. It's an upbeat tune with some severe disco leanings. He brings in an '80s synth effect that sounds like a ball bearing rolling around a wooden floor. And this song wouldn't have been complete without a cheesy sax solo... Really, this song is kind of fun.
Cry to Heaven 8/10
He's cutting to the ballads pretty quickly in this album, but this track isn't bad at all. It's over-dramatic and cheesy, but you kind of expect that. At least the principle instrument is a real piano, and the synthesizers are only used as embellishments and synthscapes. Granted, these go a little bit too far sometimes, but it's not bad at all. Most importantly, I like the melody.
Soul Glove 7/10
What a, um, funny song title. This one's not too bad, but the ultra-polished and streamlined tendencies of Elton John really begin to hurt here, and it doesn't have a hopelessly catchy melody to hide behind. This is nice enough to bob your head to agreeably, but it's as empty as a glove's soul.
OK, this is where it starts getting bad. Nobody wanted Elton John to sound like Spandau Ballet, but here he is doing just that. Fortunately, this is quite a bit more tolerable than "True" so it has a greater value than a horse turd. I like the melody though he seems to repeat the same thing over and over that it gets bland. The cutesy groove is barely worth anything, but at least I can fathom something worse as far as '80s lite-pop goes. Despite that, I kind of like that goofy, pseudo-classical synth solo, but I doubt most audiences would feel the same about it! (Interesting that "Nikita" was later revealed to be a man, and the song borrows a lyrical theme from David Bowie about forbidden romance at the Berlin Wall.)
Too Young 5/10
This actually makes the previous song sound kind of good. This one tries to be a sort of arena anthem rocker featuring stripped down orchestration but a drum that's louder than the voice. (Though it's not a "pompous drum," which might have been fun in a kitschy way, but it's a sickening drum machine sound. Apparently Roger Taylor from Queen is responsible for this.) Elton's melody was OK, but the production was so far wrong that it's hardly even listenable.
Wrap Her Up 6/10
The '80s engulf Elton John completely in here, which for the first time since Victim of Love, there is absolutely NO '70s Elton John influence here. This is just a typical '80s faux-funk, pop song. The groove is bland and meaningless, and the melody is worthless. Elton John's performance is weak in the mix --- he wasn't listening to enough Eurythmics records to see how this sort of thing is done right. This is another proof that he should just stick to his formula. The fact that Elton felt the need to extend this well past six minutes while rattling off whatever classic Hollywood actresses come to mind makes it even that much more horrible.
I'm not going to complain much about the production even though it's uninspired as '80s pop music gets. This starts off as robotic and meaningless --- you wonder if it's even going to go anywhere, but then Elton starts singing what sounds like a genuinely wonderful melody. Why couldn't he have gotten a decent producer? The melodies are certainly alright!
Tell Me What the Papers Say 8/10
Every time this song pops up, I'm immediately reminded of "Crocodile Rock," and I don't think that's a coincidence. The first and most obvious hint is he uses the same type of synthesizer. Secondly, this is a poppy and upbeat song that's vaguely tied to '50s music. Sort of a return to basics for him that's not exactly bad to hear. Of course, the melody is nowhere near as infectious, but it's a fun track regardless.
Candy By the Pound 7/10
Those incessant, droning drum machines for this song make this one of the most annoying songs on the planet. Drum machines can be pretty fun sometimes, but that's usually when a real drum sound wouldn't have been better. This is pretty similar to Elton's '70s formula, and he didn't need drum machines back then. So why spoil it??
Shoot Down the Moon 8/10
And this poo album is finally to an end with this track that's actually not too horrible. It's a nice attempt at a passionate ballad except lyricist Bernie Taupin almost singlehandedly ruins his reputation with these cliche-ridden lyrics. (I pick a fine time to begin listening to the lyrics, eh?) John's melody is quite good I think, and he tries his hardest to be dramatic. This sounds like a mid-quality contemporary Broadway tune (appropriate that he would write some mid-quality Broadway musicals later on). The production is smart enough to not spoil everything except the cheap synthscape is admittedly awful.
These bonus tracks aren't much, but they're appreciated all the same. The first one is "The Man Who Never Died," an instrumental that sounds more like ultra-polished backing music than a true instrumental. I guess you can make up your own Elton John melody to sing with this. If you're weird.
Here's a cool live version of "Restless (live)" from his more superior Breaking Hearts album. This song rocks, and it's far better than anything on this album. Even this spirited live rendition (even though the studio version is superior).
"Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word (live)" also isn't as good as the studio version from Elton's classic years, but this is also better than anything on the regular album. So... that's cool... It's just a heartfelt Elton singing with a piano. That's all we asked for.
And finally, there's "I'm Still Standing (live)," which is MUCH sloppier than the studio version. This is more muddled than fun, which it shouldn't have been. We can barely hear Elton's vocals...
Leather Jackets (1986)
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Leather Jackets 7.5/10
Yikes! What is this? A typical '80s song fully equipped with cheesy synthesizer sounds and bouncy drum machines. I'm just glad that it makes quite a decent listen. Melodically, this is pretty close to his usual style except the for the generic instrumentals. I wish it were a little catchier, because the effort does tend to grow stale by the end. The arrangements get a little strange and clunky midway into the song. I like it when musicians layer sounds, but not when it sounds so dang awkward.
Hoop of Fire 6.5/10
Yuck. The production is about as non exciting as it gets. It's not necessarily tasteless, but it's BLAND. He's catering to generic '80s production standards, and that's a huge problem. Its only saving grace is that it's kind of tuneful. The melody is not impressive whatsoever coming from Elton John whose melodic prowess is legendary, but that's the one thing that's keeping it tolerable.
Don't Trust That Woman 8/10
This is a little better and I like certain aspects of the instrumentation. The steel drum sound you hear at times in the background was a nice touch. This is upbeat though I wish that it were more thunderous. I'm not sure what he was thinking with that instrumental interlude where he's making those half-step chord progressions. But without that section, this song might have been completely bland. Apparently, you can hear Cher singing backing vocals. Yeah, I don't care about that either.
Go it Alone 6/10
This has a funny robo synth-pop introduction, and I'm left rather disappointed that this didn't turn out any nicer, overall. This is Elton singing and utterly faceless and toneless pop song. His melody prowess is now completely out the window to make room for this studio "trickery." But Elton John's not exactly an audiophile, so he's just not that impressive. I suppose there was still enough spirit to keep it off the ground, but this isn't the Elton John I want to hear... He's not just not good at '80s pop, and I wish that he would stick to his old style...
Gypsy Heart 8/10
Alright, there's some piano here and that's a good start. Furthermore, this is a ballad, which has always been this guy's greatest strength. And what do you know? It's a formidable song! The melody is nice, but this isn't exactly something that's prone to stick in your mind. Elton delivers his always winning vocal performance. The back-up singers are rather corny, but I've seen them sounding much worse than this.
Slow River 5/10
This is a ballad, but it's a BAD one. This isn't Elton John but a faceless adult contemporary '80s piece of garbage that nobody needed to hear. It's a duet with Cliff Richard, an artist I surprisingly don't know much about. Anyway, this song certainly doesn't sound like Elton but any average, two-bit '80s popster pandering for a big radio hit. Meh.
Heartache All Over the World 6/10
Eh....... This is OK, I guess. It's another bouncy, poppy '80s song that has a tiny bit of merit I suppose. Not really, but at least you can tap your foot along with it. He repeats this bland hook an awful lot though... geez... The production continues to adhere mostly to the boring '80s pop cliches although there's some odd slides incorporated here and there that was a nice touch. He decides to strip the instrumentation in the middle of it and have a little bit of "spirited vocal" build-up. That's something that never works.
This is the second time Roger Taylor and John Deacon from Queen lended their talents to an Elton John record. They completely screwed it up the last time on Ice on Fire. What do they do now? ... Um ... Well.... I'm not sure it's actually their fault this time. The melody is the big culprit here. It's very primitive. The production ranks as one of the worst of the album. It's so murky, and it's hardly even listenable. How curiously bad.
Memory of Love 3/10
While we're at it, we had might as well have a memory for Elton John. It's getting painfully clear that he's not even trying. You can tell in the vocal performance. He sounds like he's had a rat in his pants when he sang this. This synthesizer solo had such a sound that I can do nothing else but exclaim to the sky: "What was he thinking?!?!?" Victim of Love looks decent next to this song. That's how bad it is.
Well, anything sounds better than that previous song although this isn't exactly the most ideal follow-up. It works well enough. The melody is the best that it has been for quite some time in this album and so is the production. Despite that the beginning sounds like some horrible '80s nightmare, there's some nice instrumentation in the middle including some dramatic build-ups that work. Despite that, this is another one of those tiring old ballads that's really making me depressed. Is this Elton John or is this a pretender???
I Fall Apart 5.5/10
Murky, dreary, horrible. Elton John's playing a bit too much with that reverb knob and I think he was hoping that doing all of that would dazzle enough to make us forget that he didn't really have a melody for it. This is just boring. Those heavily synthesizer sounds are dull. Listening to this music makes me sigh most profusely. I want to give up this idiotic hobby of mine, now. But I won't 'cos I still have some good Alice Cooper albums left to review...
Live in Australia (1987)
Read the full review:
Sixty Years On A-
Well, this is quite a change from the albums that had only recently been featured on his discography. Why, this song is from 1970! When his career was just starting to peak! It's a little bit of a low-key one to begin a concert, methinks, but it's very pretty. The he doesn't even get around to playing the piano here... it's the cinematic, ultra-dramatic full orchestra all the way. Did people show up to this concert in gowns and tuxedos, or something? Do they even have gowns and tuxedos in Australia? ... Why am I picking on Australia?
I Need You to Turn To B+
He follows that up with another lovely, low-key song from that 1970 album. I was about to say that he doesn't play piano on this one, either, but I do hear it very subtly through the orchestra. The orchestra makes this quite a bit prettier than the original, which I suppose might make this album worth purchasing to the die-hard fans. Oh, and we get to hear Elton John speak at the end... He reveals that he hadn't sung some of these songs in more than a decade. OK, maybe he does perform his lame-o '80s albums to some audiences.
The Greatest Discovery B
There is a pretty dramatic use of the full orchestra at the beginning and end of this, but the rest of it most prominently features Elton singing with his piano. Yeah, this is a lovely song, as most things from that album were, but this is on the boring side of things. Seriously, stop playing stuff from Elton John if it's not going to be “Your Song!”
Well, he finally got out of Elton John from the beginning of his career and moved all the way to Blue Moves, the end of the string of classic albums. That's quite a jump, but not a surprising one, since the extended introduction of the album version is certainly his most impressive orchestral composition. This doesn't come off quite as sweeping as the original version, but it's still nice to hear. The bittersweet piano ballad that comes afterward comes next, and he still had a great singing voice for this stuff. (I was noticing that there was a slightly strange hoarseness to his voice, but I read that he was about to undergo throat surgery that forever altered his vocal range ... yeesh.)
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word A-
Everybody knows this song! This is the first one on the set he performed that was even a vague radio hit. While it's nice that he's only performing stuff from the artistic peak of his career, it's weird that he's been straying away from the hits like he's been doing! ...Well, this sentimental old ballad all fits nicely with that full orchestra.
The King Must Die A-
Yeah, I'm sure the King of Australia wasn't to pleased with Elton John's decision to sing this of all things. (By King of Australia, I mean, of course, Paul Hogan.) Anyway, how can he sing another song from his 1970 album without it being “Your Song?” Is he teasing us or something? But I don't have much to complain about, because this rendition is positively earth shattering. The orchestra is at its heights, dramatically, and there's even an awesomely loud snare drum brought in here points. Even that timpani player is given something to do. This is a wonderful rendition... it's nearly an A.
Take Me to the Pilot A
Well, it took him awhile, but he's finally performing something from one of his great albums, and it's one that rocks, too! Hooray! They keep the '80s snare drum from the previous track and use the orchestra in a much more rhythmic fashion to the point where it actually fits in well. And what's this? The bass guitarist is brought out of hibernation to give us a tight old groove. Where have you been hiding?
Tiny Dancer A
Here's one of Elton John's most well-known songs, but do you hear how weakly the audience cheers after he announces that he's about to sing it? Hm, I guess Almost Famous didn't come out yet! Anyway, this is a gorgeous tune, of course, and the orchestra makes it even prettier, if you ask me. Elton John's vocal performance manages to soar magnificently despite the apparent hoarseness of it.
Have Mercy on the Criminal B
After he introduces this song, he gets an even more lackadaisical response from the crowd. I probably wouldn't have clapped too loudly, either, for this minor song from Don't Shoot Me. At any rate, this is the first time I've heard an electric guitar solo on this album... finally introducing the good people of Australia to the sounds of rock 'n' roll. Once again, his vocal performance is so soaring here that it's hard to believe that he needed the surgery! The orchestra does such a nice job of making this melodically dull song into something with a little more punch.
Madman Across the Water A-
Continuing with that “mission” of his to perform the good though not-too-well-known tracks from his distant discography, he performs this wonderful track from the album with the same name! Once again, these vocals are excellent. Any review of this album you read that reports the album is barely listenable because of his tattered voice is only evidence that the reviewer didn't listen to it. The orchestra doesn't stray too far from the original version, but that's basically a good thing.
Candle in the Wind A-
.......Wha? He's actually performing a real hit now? What happened??? It's a bit funny to hear the audience sort of wake up 10 seconds into the song as though to say “Hey! He's finally playing something we know!” So, this is one of his signature ballads, and it's a good one too if you ask me. He performs it just like you'd expect him to. The only difference is he gives the orchestra a rest and lets a bubbly organ take over midway through.
Burn Down the Mission A
For some reason, my life always seems to get better whenever I hear this song play. I know, that doesn't make sense considering this is rather depressing. But anyway, it's one of those songs that always manages to grab you by the horns and take you on its roller coaster ride. The orchestra is put to excellent use here, contributing beautifully to that dramatic interlude. The one downside is this is the one place where Elton John's deteriorated vocals becomes painfully evident... He really has a hard time with some of those passionate high notes.
Your Song A
Hey, finally! He performed half of the songs from Elton John before he finally got to this one, but was it worth the wait? Sure it was. I always welcome hearing this good classic! A flute-dominated orchestra comes in and makes it even fruitier than it originally way. Hey, I'm not saying that's a bad thing.
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me A
This song with its ultra-dramatic chorus is quite an appropriate tune to close the album, if you ask me. If I went to an Elton John concert, I might even be disappointed if this wasn't the closing track! This is quite a rousing rendition of it, too, with the full orchestra going at it once again.
Extra Special Elton John Track Reviews
One day, an Elton John fan sent me a few e-mails with links to YouTube to some obscure Elton John songs from 1980. Because I like Elton John, and because I like YouTube, I agreed to write track reviews of them. (I'm such a tool!!!) Due to the unusual nature of these song reviews, I'll do something that has never before been done before in the history of Don Ignacio's Music Reviews: I'll embed the videos here so that you can enjoy these obscure Elton John tunes right as you're reading them! In addition to making history, it will also give you a first-hand account at how full of crap that I am! So, without further ado (whatever that means), here are the song reviews!
Love So Cold A-
You're listening this tropical-influenced B-side pop song right now and you're probably thinking that you heard Elton John write and perform this sort of song approximately 1.3 billion times. Well, you have! This is Goodbye Yellow Brick Road all over again. Perhaps it sounds a little watered down, like everything Elton John was releasing at this point in his career. But I think it's pretty good. Let's forget that Elton John refused to change at all in the '80s and just sit back and enjoy this excellently catchy melody while you can. ...And really, apart from that curious introduction by Ricky Ricardo, that's all there is to this song. It's a nice, semi-tropical pop groove with Elton John delivering a good vocal melody. What more could you ask for?
Conquer the Sun A-
This is an uber-dramatic ballad along the lines of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Candle in the Wind,” but it just doesn't quite get off the ground like those songs could. Nonetheless, as far as his ballads have been going in the '80s, this is surely one of his better ones. The melody is pretty, as you can probably hear, and that's all that matters as far as Elton John songs are concerned. (That sounds condescending, but I'd sure as hell rather hear Elton John try to write good melodies than dabble in acid-jazz or something like that.) I don't find this to be a terribly moving ballad and to be honest, I find this slightly boring, but it's overall another lovely tune from good old Elton John. It's hardly a masterpiece, but it also doesn't deserve to be merely remembered as an “obscure B-side.” LETS GET US SOME BONUS TRACKS ON NEW ELTON JOHN EDITIONS!!!! Or at least put it on Rhapsody or something... It's a sad state of affairs when YouTube is the only place to hear this as far as I'm aware of!
Can't Get Over Losing You B
This is Elton John with a little country feeling, so says the person who created this video. Indeed, that's what it is! This is so obscure, I guess, that you can even hear the pops from the vinyl rip. This is a nice Tumbleweed Connection throwback, although it's much more straightforward than those songs. You might even consider this sort of disappointing, since this is very lightweight and basically throwaway compared to the songs from that album. The melody has hooks, but so does every other country song that sounds exactly the same! Ah well, it's good natured. If you don't like music that's good natured, then you don't like Elton John.
Lord of the Flies B+
Shane, the guy who requested these track reviews, told me to be unafraid that this song was from 1986 from the Leather Jackets. Believe me, I was grimacing before I even pressed the play button! I was expecting some lame-o '80s song with a lot of synthesizers. But what I got instead was a nice, ragtime-ish song with a fun rhythm and a catchy melody. The bass-lines are hopping and danceable (although mixed a little too loudly ... although I don't know if that was because of something the guy did while ripping it). The melody is fine, although still not as absolutely infectious as his peak material.
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