Saturday, October 21, 2006

Seven Great Years


Lately I've been listening to a lot of early Elton John. I tend to do that, go in spurts where I constantly listen to one artist. Two months ago it was Neil Finn and Crowded House.

I am astonished by how great Elton John's early career was. Following the release of his first album were seven phenomenal years. The first album came out the year I was born: 1969. Between 1969 and 1975 he released ten studio albums. 10 albums in 7 years! That is not counting two live albums and two soundtracks.

I recently aquired all 12 CD rereleases of what Rocket/Island Records refers to as "The Classic Years" and, let me tell you, these remastered CDs, complete with bonus tracks are amazing. Alas, both THE GAMES soundtrack (Viking, 1970) and FRIENDS soundtrack (Paramount, 1971) remain unreleased on compact disc. I've only heard one song of either of those soundtracks, Can I Put You On, from the later which is an exceptional track.

I've have, however, just very recently listened to all of these albums many times and once I did it in chronological order:

EMPTY SKY (1969)
ELTON JOHN (1970)
TUMBLEWEED CONNECTION (1970)
11-17-70 (live from Britain on November 17, 1970)
MADMAN ACROSS THE WATER (1971)
HONKY CHATEAU (1972)
DON'T SHOOT ME I'M ONLY THE PIANO PLAYER (1973)
GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD (double-album, 1973)
CARIBOU (1974)
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC AND THE BROWN DIRT COWBOY (1975)
ROCK OF THE WESTIES (1975)
HERE AND THERE (live double-album, disc 1 from London on May 18, 1974 and disc 2 from New York on November 28, 1974).

The collaboration between lyricist Bernie Taupin and composer Elton John during these seven years is mind-boggling. There are only a few things that happen that just defy explaination, freaks of nature if you will. For example, the performances of Daniel Day-Lewis in GANGS OF NEW YORK and MY LEFT FOOT or John Lennon & Paul McCartney getting together or Michael Hedges playing "the guitar" in person. The Elton John/Bernie Taupin writing during these seven years falls into that category for me. Seriously, taken as a whole, the above mentioned 12 albums are no less remarkable to me than the formation of the Grand Canyon.

Few people will ever have an album as perfect as GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD, but that's just one of them. Both MADMAN ACROSS THE WATER and TUMBLEWEED CONNECTION are beautiful discs all the way through. On any given day I don't know which one of those three I would choose as a favorite.

When I was a kid I had one of those "2-in-1" cassette tapes that had HONKEY CHATEAU on one side and DON'T SHOOT ME I'M ONLY THE PIANO PLAYER on the other. Those two consecutive albums alone yielded these remarkable songs: Honky Cat, Rocket Man, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, Daniel, and Crocodile Rock. And, those are only the hits, not necessarily the best tracks. Although Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters is, I think, one of the most lovely songs ever written.

The other studio albums on the list, EMPTY SKY, ELTON JOHN, CARIBOU, CAPTAIN FANTASTIC AND THE BROWN DIRT COWBOY, and ROCK OF THE WESTIES, contained such gems as Skyline Pigeon, Your Song, Take Me To The Pilot, Border Song, The Bitch Is Back, Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, and Island Girl. Again, those are only the popular songs. There are masterful gems throughout all of those records.

Sadly, for me, the cut-off point for greatness is 1976 with the release of the double-live album HERE AND THERE. Following the wonderful release of those two amazing live shows, Elton John fullfilled his obligations to his contract and went to a new label. Everything since has been mediocre to bad. But, to quote Francis Ford Coppola, "Judge me on my best work, not my most recent."

It's impossible to articulate just how much joy these 12 albums from seven great years have brought to me. What a run!

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