Tag Archives: Elton John

Rocks In The Attic #771: Scissor Sisters – ‘Scissor Sisters’ (2004)

RITA#771I’d heard a few of this band’s singles – most probably Laura, Comfortably Numb and Take Your Mama – on BBC Radio 2 (where else?) before I dragged my friend Denise to see them play the Pyramid Stage on the Saturday morning at Glastonbury 2004. I was so glad I did; it was a performance that has really stuck with me, regardless of the direction the band went in after this first album.

The band started playing the opening bars of Take Your Mama, to a huge cheer, before their vocalists hit the stage. The huge screens either side of the stage caught Jake Shears and Ana Matronic walking backstage as they spotted the size of the crowd. They almost fell over each other in shock, which just made the crowd roar even louder. Unfortunately, although the performance is available on YouTube, that particularly joyous moment isn’t captured.

RITA#771aOne of the things I’ve always loved about Glastonbury is that bands don’t always turn up, play their set and leave straightaway. Occasionally, they’ll stay for the whole weekend – particularly if it’s a fresh up-and-coming band enamoured with the festival itself – and you may even catch a glimpse of them walking past you. At some point the next day, I ran into the Scissor Sisters as we both queued up to buy some potato wedges and sour cream from one of the food trucks. Rock and roll!

I lost touch with the band after this record. Their brand of music – half Elton John, half Talking Heads – is perfect radio-friendly single material, and their brilliant collaboration with Elton on I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ from their follow-up album is a prime example of this. They seemed to head towards the pop charts and away from the indie-rock charts, and so I didn’t hear as much from them.

I also lost my job around this time, and so I stopped spending as much time in the car listening to the radio. Maybe I lost touch with the Scissor Sisters because I stopped listening to Radio 2.

Hit: Take Your Mama

Hidden Gem: Mary

Rocks In The Attic #754: George Harrison – ‘Cloud Nine’ (1987)

RITA#754Imagine if George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Ringo Starr and Jeff Lynne had got together and formed a band, maybe recorded an album together. What a project that would have been! Well imagine no more, as it did happen, in the form of this, George’s eleventh and final (in his lifetime) studio album from 1987.

The stars were definitely aligning around George around this time. The players on this album attest to the strength of this; neither of them needed the work. And it wasn’t the only supergroup that George would play with before the decade was out. A year later he and Jeff Lynne would form the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison – itself the result of a need to record a b-side for a Cloud Nine single.

In fact, it’s Jeff Lynne who I see as the unsung hero behind these two projects. His production is the reason Cloud Nine sounds so focused, compared to some of George’s more meandering efforts. It sounds upbeat and now, mainly thanks to that big drum sound – something he would apply again to Ringo’s drums ten years later on the Beatles’ ‘reunion’ singles, Free As A Bird and Real Love. Lynne would apply the same formula to Roy Orbison’s Mystery Girl and Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever in 1989, before pulling Paul McCartney back on creative track with 1996’s Flaming Pie.

It’s sad that George didn’t release any more studio albums after this, before he died in 2002. Aside from working on the Beatles’ Anthology project, I guess he was happy just to tinker around in his garden, and bring up his son, Dhani.

Speaking of Dhani, I was happy to see his name credited as the composer of HBO’s recent documentary The Case Against Adnan Syed.  Alongside his writing partner, Paul Hicks, he’s been working as a composer for films and TV shows since 2013. Given the soundtrack success of partnerships Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, and Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, it’s more than likely that we’ll hear more from Harrison and Hicks in the near future.

Hit: Got My Mind Set On You

Hidden Gem: Fish On The Sand

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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.

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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

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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

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Rocks In The Attic #677: Billy Joel – ‘The Stranger’ (1977)

RITA#677There are some records that you hear so much about, they become part of the furniture. The front cover becomes so familiar, it becomes part of the wallpaper of life. You see it all the time, but you’ve never heard it. The part of your brain that reasons why it’s so ubiquitous is usually extinguished by some other factor – a dislike of the artist in question, or the fans of the artist in question.

Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was one of those records for me. When I first heard it about five years ago, it hit me like a sledgehammer. Hit after hit after hit. That’s the reason it used to sit in the record collection of my friend’s parents. “Yellow vinyl, that is!” they used to proclaim as though that might have swayed me. It didn’t. So I just remained ignorant to it for the next twenty years or so.

Billy Joel’s commercial break-through, The Stranger, is another one. His fifth studio album, it plays like a Greatest Hits record. Strangely, it stalled at #2 on the US Billboard – despite staying there for six consecutive weeks in late 1977. None of the singles did particularly well either. They all sound like number ones, but the closest to the top spot was Just The Way You Are, which peaked at #3.

Having just seen Ben Folds in concert (on his Paper Aeroplane tour), it’s lovely to listen to the piano break in Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, and hear in one ten second blast where Folds got much of his playing style from.

Maybe the reason I wrote Billy Joel off was Uptown Girl – his enduring ‘80s hit from An Innocent Man. I love Uptown Girl – it might have been overplayed to death when I was growing up, but there’s a good reason why. The melodies are so catchy, it’s one of those songs I find myself singing out of the blue without hearing it – particularly the backing vocals that kick the song off, and accompany the instrumental break later in the song.

Okay everybody, on three. One…two…three… “ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh…

Hit: Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)

Hidden Gem: The Stranger

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