ARTIST OF THE MONTH: ELTON JOHN
We run down the colossal and breathtaking works by the genuinely excellent artist Elton John as he is our Artist Of The Month. Collaborating with lyricist Bernie Taupin since 1967, John is one of the most successful artists of all time, having sold over 300 million records in a six-decade career in music. We will run down four albums every post and go through his incredible catalogue. Enjoy!
Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirty Cowboy (1975)
"Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" rightfully sat atop the charts in 1975, Elton and Bernie's first explicitly conceptual effort since 1970's "Tumbleweed Connection" that saw them reflect upon their rise to fame and fortune. It is no coincidence then that "Captain Fantastic" captures both gentlemen at the peak of their power; Elton crafts supple, elastic, versatile pop, and Bernie's inscrutable, personal wordplay is evocative, even moving. The album's sole smash hit with the heartfelt ballad "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" helped it enter the charts and did not cast any shadow over the rest of "Captain Fantastic's" strengths; it just works as a piece. The musical and lyrical skill displayed here is stunning. It bounces between country twangs and hard rock within the same songs and keeps up the traditional transition from soft ballads to stadium anthems. There seems to be a sense of making things bigger and more bombastic, perhaps to fit in with the larger capacity of audiences flocking to their shows. "Captain Fantastic" slowly builds before it reveals its treasures. Still, once it does, it rivals Elton's early albums, especially "Tumbleweed Connection," in terms of sheer consistency and eclipses it in scope. This album captures Elton and Bernie at their pinnacle.
Rock Of The Westies (1975)
Although it sold just as much as its predecessors and was certified, 1976's "Rock of the Westies" is retrospectively regarded as the end of Elton's hot streak. The main reason is that the album is overshadowed by the timeless "Captain Fantastic and the "Brown Dirt Cowboy," and the other is that the songs here, although hooky and punchy, are just not as strong as his earlier work. Nevertheless, "Rock of the Westies" still contains so much beloved Elton material. It maintains the perfect balance of harder-edged material and compelling ballads while leaving little room for experimentation. Opening with the unusual, laid-back funk medley of "Yell Help," it sets the scene for listeners to expect a different, toned-down album. The ballsy no-nonsense "Street Kids" and the aggressive gringo rock of the ZZ Top sound-alike "Grow Some Funk of Your Own" contrast with the poignant power balladry of "I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)" or the dark and brooding tale of addiction on "Feed Me." Perhaps inspired by the crossover R&B appeal of "Philadelphia Freedom," the up-tempo "Island Girl" bears a distinct and danceable groove that lies somewhere between a slightly Jamaican vibe and disco. Perhaps more soulful in the traditional sense is the boogie-based "Hard Luck Story" or propulsive Bo Diddley beat that drives "Billy Bones and the White Bird."
Blue Moves (1976)
By late 1976, Elton had released eleven studio albums and toured non-stop since first achieving commercial success. His immense creativity had begun to show signs of fatigue which was emphasized in the bloated follow-up "Blue Moves." At the time, "Blue Moves" was rumoured to be Elton's final album, which justifies the double-album heavy, unnecessary content; Elton seems to be getting out everything; high and ok quality developed and undeveloped. "Blue Moves" is strikingly personal; it breaks with the no-frills rock and roll of "Rock of the Westies" and purposefully focuses on moodier and more introspective sides, which gives the album a hard-hitting sense of immediacy and honestly not fully heard on other albums since. The single "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," the achingly poignant "Tonight," and "Cage the Songbird," the latter of which is particularly noteworthy as it recalls the life of Edith Piaf. "One Horse Town," which John briefly revived as a dramatic show opener during late-'80s live performances, is one of "Blue Moves" most potent and straight-ahead rockers. While "Blue Moves" is a far cry from essential entries such as "Tumbleweed Connection" or "Captain Fantastic," the bright moments prove that John could still offer more than average material.
A Single Man (1978)
1978's A Single Man is the first album that Elton made without his partner and lyricist Bernie, who was replaced by Gary Osbourne for Elton's twelfth studio album. "A Single Man" appeared less than a year after the singer's supposed retirement. Still, it was inevitably born out of Elton's restless piano tinkering and melody making, becoming full-length tracks. The whole album has a unique undeveloped, incoherent feel, most likely down to the music coming first and the lyrics coming second and wrapped around Elton's finished work. "A Single Man" does not exactly continue the Elton-Bernie hot streak of the '70s, but it does pave the way for Elton's song-based, hit-filled structure that would characterize his albums for the next fifteen years. The infusion of new musical associates takes notable effect on songs such as the opener, "Shine on Through," the gospel-tinged "Georgia," the hardcore length blues-rocker "It Ain't Gonna Be Easy," and the ultra-campy, lightweight "Big Dipper." Despite its catchy and danceable melody, the single "Part-Time Love" only impacted a little chart. A decent effort and a practical approach in Elton's career.