Category Archives: Elton John

Rocks In The Attic #719: Elton John- ‘Greatest Hits’ (1974)

RITA#719Another year, another Christmas, and another Christmas advert from John Lewis. This year it’s a journey back through the life of Elton John. The montage of performances of Your Song goes further and further back we until we discover the source of his tantrums and tiaras was a Christmas present of an upright piano back in the 1950s.

In any other year, I would have quite enjoyed this. It looks great, and the message is as wholesome as the likes of John Lewis ads in prior years. But with the timing so close to the upcoming Elton John biopic starring Taron Egerton, and Elton’s own farewell tour, I wonder if he has more to gain from this than the department store he’s shilling.

The Guardian offered an alternative version of the commercial. As amusing as this warts-and-all version sounds, I would have also thrown in that moment from when he fell off his chair at the tennis and writhed around on his back like a shell-suited tortoise.

RITA#719a

I can take or leave Elton. He’s put out far more lead than gold, but his golden moments are very, very good. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, in particular, is a masterpiece, and his early Americana-tinged records (Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across The Water and Honky Château) are interesting. I’ve even started to warm to his ‘80s output – something I thought I’d never hear myself saying. I’m Still Standing is a banger for the ages.

This first greatest hits collection was released in 1974, after that wave of success following Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, of which it takes three songs, and its follow-up, Caribou. I expect it will be available at John Lewis this Christmas, on a special display stand next to the Christmas jumpers and party crackers.

Hit: Your Song

Hidden Gem: Border Song

RITA#719b

Rocks In The Attic #692: Elton John – ‘Caribou’ (1974)

RITA#692One of the highlights of last weekend’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – aside from watching Idris Elba accompany Oprah Winfrey through the doors of the chapel – was Elton John’s fabulous pink glasses. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I think he might be one of those homosexuals that we’ve been hearing so much about.

You can always rely on Elton to look fabulous. The pink spectacles reminded me of his portrait on the inner sleeve to this, his eighth studio album. Coming off the back of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a step down after such a big seller, but there’s still a lot to love here. Opener The Bitch Is Back sounds like the tag-team partner of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, and Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me would be a moderate hit (#16 UK, #2 US) before being recorded as a duet with George Michael in 1991, topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

I just love the outrageousness of Elton singing a love letter to Grimsby – Take me back you rustic town / I miss your magic charm / Just to smell your candy floss / Or drink in the Skinners Arms.

Hit: Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me

Hidden Gem: Grimsby

RITA#692a

Rocks In The Attic #675: Elton John – ‘Too Low For Zero’ (1983)

RITA#675‘You can never know what it’s like,’ he thought, as he drove into Cannes. The French town was cold at this time of year, and the rental company had really shafted him with a convertible. Although the sun was shining, his blood, like winter, was freezing just like ice.

He was here to defend his title in the world human dominoes championships. As a measure of his popularity, a helicopter from the local news station was following his car, to document his arrival. While the duties of fatherhood had taken him away from the sport for the past 7 years, he was back with a vengeance. The prospect of some time away from his son was an added bonus he was looking forward to.

Driving along the tree-lined Boulevard de la Croisette, it wasn’t immediately obvious where to park. A protest group, made up of dancers upset over the championships had blockaded the promenade. Thankfully, an overly helpful group of hotel bellhops pointed out a nearby parking space.

He approached the Hotel Carlton, dressed in his red three-piece suit and white pith helmet. He looked fantastic. He felt fucking fantastic. He wasn’t going to let these dancing idiots spoil his time here. Finding the concierge, he tipped him with a handful of glitter – a loaded gesture to symbolise the terrible service he had endured during his last stay there.

A few hours later, dressed in his trademark human dominoes kit of a tailcoat and straw boater, he stood on the beach, ready to break his world record. Nobody had ever attempted 22 human dominoes before. As a younger man, he’d managed 21 at 33, but he was older now. It just wasn’t possible.

With a single point of his finger, he did it! The record was broken! It wasn’t a coincidence that Hercules was his middle name. During a half-hearted celebratory dance, he looked across to his convertible and spotted his son sat in the driver’s seat, quickly trying to hide from view. He had stowed away. The little bastard!

The rest of the day was spent in negotiations with the protestors, who surrounded the newly crowned champion on the beach. In an attempt to pacify the angry mob, he changed into something more comfortable – a white tuxedo, and a cane – and spent time listening to their concerns.

Hit: I’m Still Standing

Hidden Gem: Too Low For Zero

Rocks In The Attic #663: Elton John – ‘Rock Of The Westies’ (1975)

RITA#663What is intended as an innocent bit of wordplay from Elton (the title is a play on the phrase ‘west of the Rockies’, referring to the strip of the United States between that mountain range the Pacific seaboard) means a totally different thing in Auckland, New Zealand.

Auckland is split into five areas – the urban central area, the predominantly lower socio-economic South Auckland, the suburban North Shore, the immigrant-populated East Auckland, and the more
rural West Auckland.

There are stereotypes and tropes of each area, but it is the West Auckland residents – or westies – who have the strongest image. Westies are usually defined as working-class, keen for a drink (usually bourbon and coke), and like the sound of loud rock music.

Of course, not all West Aucklanders fit this profile – it’s a stereotype after all, and one which most residents would baulk at the idea of – but this record always seems so apt. Elton has probably never set foot in West Auckland, but you could be forgiven for thinking that in 1975 he recorded a concept album about the people who live there, and their favourite kind of music.

Rock Of The Westies is Elton’s tenth studio record – and is far from his best work. It has the accolade of being only the second album (at that time) to debut at #1 on the US Billbord 200 chart. The first record to do this was its predecessor by five months, Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, also released in 1975. As weaker efforts, both records were presumably buoyed by the sales of Elton’s Greatest Hits record, the best-selling album in the USA in that year.

RITA#663aElton recently announced his retirement from touring – after the completion of a three year, 300-date farewell world tour (promoted by a poster image showing his slow transformation into a League Of Gentleman character). I’m debating whether I can muster the energy to catch him and his brilliant sausage fingers while I still have the chance.

Hit: Island Girl

Hidden Gem: Street Kids

Rocks In The Attic #634: Elton John – ’21 At 33’ (1980)

RITA#634I have a newfound love for Elton John. He’s always been one of those artists I’m militantly apathetic towards. I like the melancholy of Rocket Man. I like the wistfulness of Tiny Dancer from Madman Across The Water, and Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters from Honky Château. I like most – if not all – of the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, a double record that gets by on its energy as much as its songwriting. But I wouldn’t call myself a big fan.

I’ve written before about how his great 70’s output is overshadowed by his schlocky ‘80s output, and the fact that he’s become bigger than his music. Recently, I’ve started to re-evaluate him, and it’s come from an unlikely source – my five year old.

Olivia has been singing I’m Still Standing, as it features in a prominent scene in Garth Jennings’ animated film, Sing (2016). If you asked me what I considered to be bad Elton, I’d offer this song. To be honest, I’ve probably never considered the song on its own merits; I just have a deep dislike for the music video that always seemed to be consistently on TV when I was growing up.

The French Riviera portrayed in that film has put me off visiting France for life – it’s a camp wonderland where all the hotel bellboys are bare-chested studs, or body-painted extroverts. Elton, in his red suit and pith helmet, tips one of them with glitter – the forgotten French currency between the Franc and the Euro. After a quick costume change where he dons a straw boater, he then moves down to the beach where he takes a little too much satisfaction from pushing over some human dominoes before attempting to click his fingers, something he can’t do due to his piano-playing sausage fingers.

But when you hear your five year old singing the song by herself, it’s as cute as hell. It’s grown on me to such an extent that I regret giving away the studio album, Too Low For Zero, that it’s taken from.

21 At 33 is Elton’s twenty-first release (counting studio records, live albums, compilations, a soundtrack and an EP), and was released when he was thirty-three years old. It’s actually his fourteenth studio record, released in a commercial trough between 1979’s Victim Of Love and 1981’s The Fox. These were fallow years for Elton, eventually making a big comeback in 1983 with, you guessed it, I’m Still Standing.

Hit: Little Jeannie

Hidden Gem: Chasing The Crown

Rocks In The Attic #498: Elton John – ‘Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy’ (1975)

RITA#498I’d always assumed that the cover art for this record was done by the same guy who did the cover to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, but apparently not. For that same reason, I’d always compared it to that earlier, more successful record and been quite disappointed with it as a result. It’s still leagues ahead of his ‘80s output though, primarily because it’s a band effort – his last recorded with the band until 1983’s Too Low For Zero.

It’s arguable – but probably very true – that Elton peaked with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and it’s been downhill ever since. I saw him the other week singing on the Graham Norton with Welsh popster Bright Light Bright Light. Without his piano in front of him, he looked very strange – like an Elton John lookalike in fact. It could only have looked weirder if he was a lookalike, and he was then joined by a Queen Elizabeth lookalike, dancing along to the song with her corgis.

As a record, Captain Fantastic seems to get overlooked, mainly because there are no hits on it. Elton has praised this aspect of it in interviews, regarding it as one of his finest because of its lack commerciality. It’s true that the concept of the album – an autobiographical tale of Elton and Bernie Taupin’s early years in the music business – isn’t disturbed by a big stupid hit single. We’re only twelve months before Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee, which I love, but would have been so out of place here.

Hit: Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Hidden Gem: Tell Me When The Whistle Blows

Rocks In The Attic #385: Elton John – ‘Elton John’ (1970)

RITA#385…or Red Dwight Piano Hits – Vol. 1.

I do like a bit of Elton. Only in short doses though. Unless it’s that video of him falling over at the tennis, in which case I can watch it all day. I’m Still Standing? No, you’re not.

This is Elton’s first international album (it’s actually his second album). It starts as he means to go on, with the ubiquitous Your Song opening side one. Overall, it’s a very gentle, understated singer-songwriter album – with singer (Elton) and songwriter (lyricist Bernie Taupin) taking centre-stage on the record’s rear-cover photo.

They’re the only ones wearing any colour in this photo. Moog player Diana Lewis is allowed to wear a jacket with some muted puce tones, and cellist / arranger Paul Buckmaster sports a red hat, but apart from this the photo belongs to the songwriters.

Elton is wearing his best Harry Potter costume – a long scarf that wouldn’t be out of place at Hogwarts, and a great pair of wizard glasses. But it’s Bernie Taupin who realy looks out of place – wearing a blue string singlet, an oversized hat and belt, and gauntlets across his wrists. If you didn’t know he was the silent partner in all of this, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was the charismatic frontman of the band.

In fact, having the rest of the band – including the producer, Gus Dudgeon – in the rear cover photo is quite a nice move, and very out of step for the type of controlling character Elton ‘Centre Of The Universe’ John would become.

Hit: Your Song

Hidden Gem: I Need You To Turn To

RITA#385a