In my earliest years, formative years, one of my first musical loves was Elton John. I loved his voice, loved his music, all the early stuff. I even borrowed two albums from my sister that she had and if you walked into my room at any given time I was either listening to Chicago or listening to Elton John. The best thing about those two bands was how acceptable they were to my parents. They didn’t scrutinize the music and they heard the songs on the radio. So there were no conflicts other than me trying to steal my sister’s records. She had the songs Daniel and Your song two songs I still love to this day. Luckily I have the albums now, not my sister’s but my own. No worries my sketchiness remains as I did steal several other records of hers that remain in my collection.
Elton remained more or less a constant in my musical experience until the album Jump Up when I decided that buying more of his records was simply a waste of my time and money. It had been a process anyway. As a kid the first blow to my Elton John world was the horrible duet done with Kiki Dee that was played on the radio constantly. I hated it then still hate it now. It was a huge turn off and back then I was a lot less forgiving than I am now. Now I recognize artists are not always going to do things you love. In 1982 Elton John released Jump Up. It is simply not a good album and it features the hit song Empty Garden which is a tribute to John Lennon. Now truthfully I do not know if they were friends but it would seem an odd pairing. Elton talked about John as if they were the best of friends. Maybe they were but it just seemed to my 19 year old mind that it was bullshit and the song has always seemed contrived, false. It puts me off and for a long time I would remain steadfastly anti-Elton with the exception of the early well-loved albums that meant so much to me. In 1997 Elton made another bad decision that he is actually quite revered for. Now Elton was friends with Princess Diana so it made perfect sense that he would want to perform a song for her honoring her life. Yet he chose to not write something new, instead butchering a well-loved song Candle in the Wind which was about Marilyn Monroe. It was bad form to me, one it compared Diana with Marilyn and it seemed the easy way out.
Now let’s be clear this is not a bashing of Elton John blog, just the opposite. Over time my positions have softened greatly on the artist. He will always be Captain Fantastic to me. I still absolutely adore his early albums, Tumbleweed Connection, Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me I am Only the Piano Player. I will even add Goodbye Yellowbrick Road although it’s not my favorite album. I just think it’s over produced and too focused on hit songs. I much prefer Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy with one of the most awesome acoustic songs ever. In fact I always wanted to learn to play the guitar and had dreams that I would play that song for some girl someday. My love of music doesn’t really translate though to playing a musical instrument although I still have hopes of putting together a death metal Glockenspiel band. Hey the music world NEEDS that. We might even cover a Zappa song. Wait what? Yea no. No Zappa. EVER.
One album has over the course of my life steadily risen to have more importance than any other Elton John album. Of course it’s an early album. It is firmly entrenched in my top ten albums of all time and the title track to me is one of the ten greatest songs ever written and simply stunning. Now that’s just my opinion. Side 1 of that album is the greatest pop album side ever. Notice I said pop. The greatest rock side of any album, again my opinion, is side 1 of Aerosmith Rocks. The album is Madman Across the Water. With the songs Tiny Dancer, Levon, Razor Face and the title track I get goosebumps when I get ready to play it. It is absolutely wonderful and so much of Elton John’s early music is stripped down, not as over produced as later efforts. I think the album Tumbleweed Connection is actually edgy as hell considering how early that album was in his career and being released in 1970.
Artists grow though and if they are very lucky they are successful. The need to be edgy, coupled with less of a need to constantly have new material ready softens artists. For many artists their best album will be their first. Those are the songs they played the longest before recording, they know the best and they have worked out the kinks. Many songs later in an artist’s career will get discarded because they simply don’t have the opportunity to work out the glitches and kinks in live settings. They never get an audience response. It’s hard though for any artist in any genre to stay relevant and popular for 50 years. When you look at Elton’s discography too you see how prolific he actually was. Long after establishing enormous success Elton continued to churn out about an album a year and for his entire career you don’t see huge gaps between albums. To me that is very phenomenal and indicates just how much Elton loves to play and how important it is to him. Elton will be cherished as one of those artists who is almost universally loved. There are not many artists I listened to when I was the age of ten that still impact me well into my 50’s. For that, well done Elton.