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Artist of the week: Elton John

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by Bubbler, Feb 13, 2012.

  1. Bubbler

    Bubbler Active Member

    For the hell of it, I'm going to throw out an artist each week to discuss, dissect, etc.

    Write about your favorite/least favorite song, album, arc of their career, non-musical part of their legacy, etc. Arguing is encouraged.

    Elton John popped in my head for some reason, so I'll throw him out first.

    Favorite song -- Someone Saved My Life Tonight. Ballads are rarely my first choice when it comes to an artist, but this song has such a great tone to it, I just love it. It's slow-burn brilliance, with layers being added in a very subtle manner along the way, building to a grandiose, yet understated crescendo in the final chorus. The lyrics are dense and can be impenetrable, per usual because of the way Taupin and John's writing/recording relationship worked, but the tone is even more right when you consider that it's about John's marriage to a woman, his conflict over his sexuality, and his contemplation of suicide because of it. Great song. One of my favorites by any artist. Runner-up: The Bitch Is Back. Awesome rocker with hilarious self-effacing, yet defiant, lyrics.

    Favorite album -- I don't have one. Though Elton John was prolific from an album standpoint, especially in the early to mid 1970s, I actually only own one non-compilation album (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road) and have never felt compelled to pick up the others. He's a singles artist who had a lot of interesting/weird experiments on his albums, but none so fascinating that I've ever sought them out.

    I'd be curious to know which albums others like.

    Other observations --
    Because John was at least perceived as a singles artist, I don't think he gets enough credit for the evolution during the peak creative part of his career, basically 1970-mid 80s. He wasn't David Bowie-like as far as abrupt, dramatic changes in genre were concerned, etc., but John wasn't just aping the sound of the moment either (there are a few exceptions, like Philadelphia Freedom, clearly a nod to disco, but not many). His recordings from 1970 don't sound anything like his stuff from 1975 or so, but you listen to Bitch Is Back and that song would have fit in 1970 or 1980.

    Coke did weird things to John too. Instead of taking the easy disco route many coke-addled late 70s artists did, with a few exceptions, he mostly went introspective. It wasn't good musically, his singles from the late 70s/very early 80s are unmitigated, unlistenable, depressing shit (Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word is the best example of this), but I'll give him credit for not totally selling out (cough Rod Stewart), I guess.

    John's ability to do his own thing is what made his I'm Still Standing revival so easy to achieve in hindsight. Though that song is of its moment, it wouldn't sound out of place among, say, Saturday Night Is Alright For Fighting or Elderberry Wine.

    Unfortunately, once John recovered commercial success, he did get stuck creatively trying to maintain it, and after the mid 80s, didn't make many unsafe choices and fell into the oldies/soundtrack mode. Plus, his voice changed because of surgery related to drug use. He doesn't have the range he displayed on his best-known songs.
  2. Guy_Incognito

    Guy_Incognito Well-Known Member

    Got kind of sick of his songs the last few years, but still love Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters. No idea what it's talking about, but it's a great song.
  3. rmanfredi

    rmanfredi Active Member

    "Philadelphia Freedom" was more specifically a nod to (lyrically) Billie Jean King and (musically) the "Philly Soul" sound of Gamble and Huff than disco. It's also one of my favorite Elton John songs.

    The John/Taupin writing partnership is one of the most interesting working partnerships in music history. Taupin would write down lyrics, send them by mail to John, who would then write the music based off of that and finish the song. As someone who has tried to write songs with a co-writer sitting 10 feet away from me, I can't fathom how that would work. But they were able to make it mesh.

    And yeah, especially in the 1970s, John was definitely a "singles" artist. For a good part of the decade, he was making two albums a year plus several standalone singles. In many cases, if you combined two of the albums and threw out the filler, you would have one hell of an album.

    In some respects, the Taupin/John writing team did put out a lot similar-styled songs in the early-to-mid 1970s, to the point that it became fodder for
    . At the same time, he was one of the first British singer-songwriters to fully incorporate an appreciation for American country music into his writing (unless you happen to think that The Kinks' "Musewell Hillbillies" isn't kind of a joke).
  4. I Should Coco

    I Should Coco Well-Known Member

    Funny you picked him, Bubbler.

    Last week after deadline, I tried to tackle this Sporcle quiz: Name all of Elton John's Top 40 singles


    Funny part was, I was hurtin after getting most of the 1970s and early 1980s stuff, and then a fellow desker -- who's my age and grew up a huge heavy metal fan in the 1980s -- came through and named just about all of his late 1980s and 1990s hits.

    "I had a girlfriend who was a big Elton fan," said he.

    Surrrrre ...
  5. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is the exception in quality as far as Elton John's albums go. "Candle in the Wind" is my favorite John song. "Someone saved my life today is a damn fine choice.
  6. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    Tiny Dancer is my favorite song of his by a mile.

    I love a lot of his stuff from the late 70s and early 1980s.

    The One is also an amazing song. I remember seeing GNR in concert in 1992 with Metallica and Axl Rose sang it a capella and 80,000 jaws dropped.

    Having kids, the songs he did for Lion King were pretty damn good as well.
  7. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    He has always fallen under the 'guilty pleasure' category for me, but thbinking about that right now, I don't think that gives him his proper respect as a song writer.

    Tumbleweed Connection is a damned fine album.

    As for his singles, Tiny Dancer is number one for me. But I love Funeral For a Friend and Levon almost as much. I'll add Candle In the Wind, too, which has a particularly fond place in my heart because I have always loved, and been fascinated by, Marilyn Monroe.
  8. Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell

    Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell Active Member

    Favorite song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" Great, great song... Runner up: "Levon"

    Favorite album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I have a very specific memory of listening to this album on 8 track in my uncle's late 70s Buick while he drove me to Chuck E Cheese for my fifth or sixth birthday. It's the only Elton John album that I've heard all the way through.

    Other observations His minor early 80s hit "Little Genie" was the first song I remember hearing on the radio.
  9. micropolitan guy

    micropolitan guy Well-Known Member

    Honky Chateau, Tumbleweed Connection, Friends and Madman Across the Water are all outstanding, from his ballad stage. For some reason, "Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters" was THE song for myself and my former red-headed GF. I love that it's still played alot of classic rock stations because it reminds me of a great time in my life.

    "Country Comfort," "Hercules" and 'Burn Down the Mission" are excellent as well.

    I saw him in spring, 1973, just after the release of GYBR. An amazing, amazing, entertaining show.
  10. Bubbler

    Bubbler Active Member

    Uncle Dave? I don't recall our most musically influential uncle being an Elton John fan, but he was pretty diverse, so it doesn't surprise me.

    Looking at his list of singles that charted in the U.S. or that are have received major album play, a breakdown:

    Songs I love -- Rocket Man, Daniel, Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Bennie And The Jets, The Bitch Is Back, Philadelphia Freedom, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, Don't Go Breaking My Heart (Yep. Love this song), I'm Still Standing
    Songs I like -- Your Song, Friends, Levon, Tiny Dancer, Honky Cat (pretty close to meh territory), Island Girl, Grow Some Funk Of Your Own, Little Jeannie, Wrap Her Up,
    Songs that are good, but overplayed -- Crocodile Rock, I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues,
    Songs that are meh -- Border Song (should like it more because it has a cool style to it, but I don't), Pinball Wizard, Kiss The Bride (loved it at the time), Sad Songs, Nikita (veers towards suck, I think my younger affinity for this song is affecting my judgment),
    Songs that are meh and overplayed -- Candle In The Wind (original), Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Can You Feel The Love Tonight,
    Songs that suck -- Step Into Christmas, Candle In The Wind (all re-recorded versions), Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, Part Time Love, Mama Can't Buy You Love, Victim Of Love, Blue Eyes, Empty Garden, I Don't Want To Go On With You Like That, A Word In Spanish, Healing Hands, Sacrifice, Club At The End Of The Street, The One, The Last Song, Circle Of Life, Believe,
    Songs I've never heard -- I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford), Bite Your Lip (Get Up And Dance), Ego, Sartorial Eloquence, Nobody Wins, Chloe, Who Wears These Shoes, In Neon, Heartache All Over The World, Flames Of Paradise, Through The Storm, You Gotta Love Someone, Simple Life, True Love, Made In England, Blessed, You Can Make History (Young Again), Recover Your Soul, Written In The Stars, Someday Out Of The Blue.

    I don't what this list says to me, other than that I'm picky about songs. Elton John has released an amazingly large volume of songs, but it's amazing to me how many of them have totally fallen out of the public consciousness (I didn't include his English singles, of which there are many more).
  11. Captain_Kirk

    Captain_Kirk Well-Known Member

    Don't know if I have one favorite song that stands out. Yellow Brick Road would be the album.

    A few less obvious songs that would fit in amongst my top 10 favorites: Elderberry Wine, Bitch is Back, Grey Seal and Empty Garden.

    Guilty pleasure category would be Don't Go Breakin' My Heart.
  12. qtlaw

    qtlaw Well-Known Member

    Elton John has quite the arc. From the Crocodile Rock/Yellow Brick Road to his peak of Captain Fantastic and the Dirt Brown Cowboy then Philadelphia Freedom to the filler then back up with Candle in the Wind and now.

    While not quite Bowie/Alice Cooper, he was the glitter rock star of the 70's.

    My favorite single, hard to choose, would be "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" because it was a slow dance staple in 7th grade.
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