The idea behind this occured to me yesterday as I thought of a playlist of favorite -not best, not most popular, but simply my favorite David Bowie songs. So I began checking out the albums once again and by the time I reached Hunky Dory I realized it was a fool’s errand – there were simply too many songs. So, I thought who else? How about Elton? Elton was a sort of middle of the road Bowie; if Bowie was Andy Warhol, Elton was Wolfgang Beltracchi (the famous art forger), or if that is too harsh, his originals play like copies.
Of all the popstars you’ve ever loved, love Elton least. His piano playing is a thrusting, bursting jackhammer, his improvisations unlistenable, and when he can’t get you back to the Arena, he claims an evening of greatest hits and then plays an hour of instrumentals you never want to hear again (here). I’ve walked out on him three times and his best concerts were in Vegas where he was forced to cut an hour out of his sets and the fat was gone.
So it is easy to pick and choose and the songs chosen here date from 1970 to 1984. But even that isn’t really accurate, one song from 1984 yes, and everything else from 1970 – 1976. And even that isn’t entirely accurate, essentially Honky Chateau and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player is all you really must have. I realize you might love everything from “Rocket Man” to “Merry Christmas” but really, do you?
Sad Songs (Say So Much) – This is musical onomatopoeia, it sounds like what it says it is doing. Elton and Bernie have come together before for similar ideas, the form of the song is the song itself (try his “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” or as a perfect example, The Beatles “Yer Blues”. If the very best moment here is the penultimate “When every little bit of hope is gone…” which melts him into the ohh la la hooks for sale, Elton’s call is not just to broken hearted lovers, but also to record listeners, Bernie’s “turn it up…” is a dream of music as salvation, and the song is always there when you get your heart broken. Last year, Elton’s “Merry Christmas” attempted to deliver the same song as musical and mental form and missed. It isn’t easy
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word – one of John’s biggest ballads ever, an anthem to romantic dishevelment that is a wonder of deep feel piano orchestration and strings, a big, heartbroken… “it’s sad, so sad, it’s a sad, sad situation” is rock n roll poetry.
Someone Saved My Life Tonight – My ex loved Captain Fantastic, it left me ice cold except two songs off the album are included here. Go figure. Kudos to Bernie, with as dramatic a metaphor as you’ll hear and not just “butterflies are free to fly” but even more so the retelling of Elton’s near wedding and suicide attempt is a sad and gripping truth from the otherside, from the one who did the leaving at the altar
Philadelphia Freedom – Elton and I are both Gamble and Huff fanatics, and Billie Jean King , who changed tennis forever, fanatics and this doubles the beauty of Philly soul and adds Billie Jean King’s tennis team. The song is so great you don’t think haven’t the Stones already shined a light.
The Bitch Is Back – Worthy of the Stones, a smart as whip and funny asf lyric as self-portrait, and who is doing that guitar? Davey Johnstone doubtlessly. Classic rock and its most classic.
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me – the second song off Caribou here, there is no gainsaying this heartache of a song and it is Elton at his pop ballad best. The version with George Michael’s could bring you to tears… he roars through it here and it remains a beautiful, rough and cut singalong and here is George and Michael singing it at Live AID….
Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) – talk about Cosplay, Elton as a skinhead bovver boy looking for a rumble, looking to put the boot in, while despite his glamminess, he sells himself as a night of the old ultra violence as though he was writing it for an Anthony Burgess musical that never materialized
Crocodile Rock – also something of an onomatopoeia song (though not a form song), the rockabilly as glam straight up, most fun you can have with a daydream nostalgia worthy of Chuck Berry (best line: “But the years went by and the rock just died and Suzie went and left me for some foreign guy”)
Honky Cat – a first rate, horn blowing, dream of a trip to the big city with regrets (as an aside, try Marshall Crenshaw’s similar concerted “Our Town” ), the song also includes something Bernie isn’t great at: an axiom: “Like trying to drink whisky from a bottle of wine…”), and Elton returns to exactly where he is wanted.
Our Song – This song is so great it deserves first place. Elton and Bernie’s first smash remains the sort of song you can hang a career on, it’s off hand scholarly sense, it’s feign improvised straight from the heart and its indelible in our hearts. That “if I was a sculptor but then again no” is a giant line in rock history, it is fake but fake about emotions that ring true.
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