V. ELTONjohn

Blessed with extra-ordinary musical talent and a one-of-a-kind Son-Of-Lennon singing voice, the former Reggie Dwight stormed the charts with some of the catchiest pop music ever coupled with lyrics that seemed important and clever, and which occasionally were. Don't not think for a moment that Reg and partner Bernie Taupin didn't take full advantage of the void left by the breaking of the MacLen juggernaut. They sold boatloads of records and singles on the 'Taupin/John' trademark alone to a huge audience hungering for anything Beatlesque in nature. Musically speaking, it didn't start off that way. When the duo got going with Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across The Water, there wasn't much Beatles in the mix at all. These records were a kind of bastardized soft-country American pop with an occasional tinge of English accent; most notably on Elton John, with the beautiful orchestral arrangements of Paul Buckmaster and Elton and Bernie's gorgeous signature "Your Song." Of the three, the debut has it, although Madman features two of their best in "Levon" and the all-time crowd pleaser "Tiny Dancer." "Rocket Man" and the fine fourth album, Honky Chateau catapulted Elton rightfully to top of the charts and Chateau remains one of his three or four best, being one of the few he's made where the album cuts hold their own with the singles.

With superstardom, Elton graduated to his 'Beatles, Mach II' period and the ensuing output is his finest stretch; though only two of these records are truly great while the rest are spotty attempts at all things Pop. Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only The Piano Player is not as good as it's fantastic early '70's packaging, but does include "Daniel," "Crocodile Rock" and the overlooked "High Flying Bird," in which EJ and his excellent band (Davey Johnstone on guitar, Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on drums) achieve flight in song. By now, the wave he was riding was one of the highest ever in Popular Music. It is fitting that he would release his best work at the height of the wave, and the world was made brighter in 1973 with the release of his magnum opus, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, on which Elton confidently proved his mastery of every kind of Pop Music, even reggae (the silly but charming "Jamaica Jerk-Off"). He would never scale these heights again. It is the only 'Beatle' album he ever pulled off and remains a classic. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road features the best work of Elton and Bernie's career: The haunting "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," the Bowie strut of "Bennie and The Jets," the Beatlesque triumph of the title track, and lesser known but equally fab tunes like "This Song Has No Title," "Grey Seal" and the sublime "Harmony." A masterpiece from start to finish.

Highlights lessen in number on the sub-par Caribou, which features his best ballad in "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," and the chest pumping "The Bitch Is Back." The only other success on Caribou is "Ticking," the story of a misunderstood young person who somehow turns to murder and is then blown away at the crime scene by the cops. It's an amazing solo performance by Elton and remains, with "High Flying Bird," his best unknown song. Aside from these gems, Caribou suffers from too much whimsy and not enough weight.

Greatest Hits Vol. 1 perched at number one for ten weeks at the end of 1974 and is in essence Elton's best album, much like Sly Stone's Greatest is his. It cemented Elton's superstardom and no other pop rocker could touch him during this period. Greatest Hits is proof he was master of all things Pop from '71-'74.

Having reached the top of mountain, Elton and Bernie surveyed the view with the ambitious Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy, an auto-biographical song cycle, which debuted at number one in early '75, the first album ever to achieve this feat. It's a good one too, his third best record, behind Yellow Brick Road and Honky Chateau. It features the soaring "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" and the charming acoustic title track, not to mention a gorgeous finale in "We All Fall In Love Sometimes/Curtains." This is the peak of all things Elton and unless you're Lennon, Townshend, Costello or U2, it seems there's only one way to go from the top: Down. McCartney slipped off in '77 after the release of Wings Over America, Stevie Wonder never regained the magic after Songs In The Key Of Life, and Bruce was never truly the same after The River.

That said, the rest of Elton's superstar run is pretty bleak. The remaining two platters, Rock Of The Westies and the double album Blue Moves, represent the end of the arc. Westies has some foppish attempts at rock, and the arch single "Island Girl," which was certainly fun on the radio in 1976. He was burning out quickly, literally vanishing up his own nose, both with all the coke he was consuming and with the somewhat desperate choice to sing a great deal of the material in a forced, frantic falsetto, which while hard to duplicate, sounded frightened and confused. Of the two, Blue Moves is the better record, and contains some of his prettiest music, including the tender "Tonight," the hallmark "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word," and the beautiful "Cage The Songbird" (Number 3 on Elton’s great ‘unknown’ list.) It's the most interesting Elton album in that it is the picture of a great talent just barely holding on, but not letting go because he is talented and ambitious. He never gives less than his all, and that's why he remains as beloved as any entertainer in history to this day. There's never the feeling he doesn't mean it. You can tell he wants to do his best, and even though 50 percent of the time, he's coasting on lyrics that don't bring out the best in him, he's still giving it the old college try. When they hit, it's magic. When they don't, which is more than half the time, given the volume of material he's released, it's embarrassing stuff. (Another reason why Billy Joel is so great. He never put out bad shit ever. Even his two or three clangers are still good.)

With Blue Moves
we see the end of Elton John's arc and the beginning of the lustrous professional career he has amazingly sustained for nearly thirty years. Certainly there have been singular highpoints in the decades since: "Mama Can't Buy You Love," "Little Jeannie," the amazing "Empty Garden," "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," "I'm Still Standing," "Sacrifice," the fantastic remake duet with George Michael on "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," and his best song since 1975, the remarkable "I Want Love." And he keeps on pumping it out, the EverReady Bunny of Pop. God bless him, he’s one of the great entertainers. But the gist of Elton is '72-'76 and let us never forget the greatness he injects into two monuments of British Rock: Lennon and McCartney’s "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and The Who's "Pinball Wizard," both available on Greatest Hits Vol. 2 from '77. Both are masterful re-workings and stand nearly equal with the originals.

Selected discography:

Elton John A-

Tumbleweed Connection B+

11/17/70 B+

Madman Across The Water B

Honky Chateau A-

Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player B+

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road A+

Caribou B

Greatest Hits A+

Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy A

Rock Of The Westies B

Blue Moves B+

Here And There A

Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 A+

Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 A-

Live In Australia B+

Songs From The West Coast A- 

Here's to genius English fops who ring out their throats and their hearts so that we may sing along.

Hey kids, shake it loose together!
Spotlight's hitting something that's been known to chage the weather.