News for the ‘Elton John’ Category

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Take Me to the Pilot” by Elton John

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Take Me to the Pilot” by Elton John

Happy 44th birthday to this performance!

I play Elton John’s 11/17/70 album every year on this day as it certainly captures him at his near best…especially on “Take Me to the Pilot,” today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman.

The album was recorded live for a radio broadcast at the A&R Studios in New York City back on this date in 1970. A six song album from the broadcast was released in 1971 to offset bootleg recordings that almost immediately began to circulate after the performance.

Six more songs were performed that day and are still not released to this day. Those songs include early Elton classics like “I Need You To Turn To,” “Country Comfort,” “Border Song,” “Indian Sunset,” “My Father’s Gun” and, of course, “Your Song.” An additional song from the broadcast, “Amoreena,” was issued as a bonus track to the CD reissue in 1997.

The band on this performance includes Elton John on piano, Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on drums. They give new meaning to the term “power trio” since nary a lead guitar is heard on the recording. That’s New York radio DJ Dave Herman introducing the show on the album and he later went on to say that Elton must have cut his hand sometime during the 80-minute performance because when it was over his piano keyboard was covered in blood.

This year would have been perfect for a deluxe expanded reissue of the complete broadcast since forty-four years later is still is powerful!

Edited: November 17th, 2015

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #46 – Elton John: “Bennie And The Jets” b/w “Harmony” – MCA 45 40198 (K5/L5)

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #46 – Elton John: “Bennie And The Jets” b/w “Harmony” – MCA 45 40198 (K5/L5)

To think that today’s jukebox classic which was a #1 hit here in the United States, wasn’t even considered for a single release at all in the UK. That says something about the ultra-high quality of the songs on Elton John’s seventh album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Elton John had little faith in the song as a single and was against its release. John: “I fought tooth and nail against ‘Bennie’ coming out as a single,” (The Making Of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Eagle Vision DVD) and he was shocked when the record topped the US charts.

The song was released as a single only after it began to receive airplay in Ontario, Canada and Detroit where it topped the local radio charts. Once it was released, it also topped the national charts and sold almost three million copies. The song also peaked at #15 on the Billboard Soul Singles chart paving the way for John’s appearance on Soul Train in 1975 where he performed the song and “Philadelphia Freedom.”

(It should be noted that while “Bennie And The Jets” wasn’t released as a single in the UK, they got “Candle In The Wind” in its place which wasn’t released here as a single until John re-recorded it in tribute to Princess Diana after her death.)

While “Bennie And The Jets” sounds like a live concert recording, it is actually a studio track. Producer Gus Dudgeon suggested they give it a live concert ambience by mixing reverb and applause from some of Elton’s concerts into the mix of the track. He also used some audience sounds from Jimi Hendrix’s Isle Of Wight concert as well.

In interviews, Bernie Taupin has said that the song was written as a parody of the music industry, and the character of Bennie was a futuristic space age female rocker. Taupin: “‘Bennie And The Jets’ was almost Orwellian – it was supposed to be futuristic. They were supposed to be a prototypical female rock ‘n’ roll band out of science fiction.” (Esquire Magazine) John saw the song as paying homage to the current glam rock scene, and as time went on, he began to dress in more outrageous stage outfits and began to take on the character of Bennie on stage.

It was also Elton’s idea to add the stutter on the word Bennie, which is one of the song’s major calling cards. Taupin: “That’s a little quirk of the song which I’m sad to say I had nothing to do with. That and that wonderful big chord at the beginning, I think those two things are what probably made that song so popular. Neither of which I had anything to do with.”

The song has been covered by rapper Biz Markie and The Beastie Boys, and it was sampled by Mary J. Blige on her track “Deep Inside” (which Elton plays piano on). It was also spoofed in 2008 by Ben Folds on his Way Too Normal album. Folds used “Benny” as the basis for his song “Hiroshima (b b b benny hits his head)” which tells the true story of how he fell off of the stage and cut himself while performing in Japan.

By the 1973 release of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John’s career was so white-hot he could do no wrong. His previous album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player (released in 1972) topped the charts in 1973 and sold millions of copies. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road followed suit by selling more than 31 million copies and staying at the top of the album charts for two months. Working titles for the album included Vodka and Tonics and Silent Movies, Taking Pictures.

While releasing a double album was not their initial intention, John and Taupin were so prolific during this period that they’d worked up more than enough quality material for a single album. The album captures Elton John at his commercial apex and at the height of his creative powers. The fact that it contained several of his most indelible singles, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” “Bennie And The Jets,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Candle In The Wind,” was just the icing on the cake.

But it’s the lesser known gems here that really steal the show – “This Song Has No Title,” “I’ve Seen That Movie To,” “Grey Seal” (which had been kicking around since 1970), “All the Girls Love Alice” and the flip side of today’s single “Harmony” – they are indeed some of the best songs John has ever written and recorded.

All of the album’s lyrics were written by Taupin in two weeks, while John composed the music over a three day period at The Pink Flamingo Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica. John wanted to record the album in Jamaica because The Rolling Stones had just completed Goats Head Soup in the same studio. But problems with the sound system and complications from the Joe Frazier/George Forman boxing match taking place in the city forced the band to move to France.

John’s fantastic touring group, consisting of Davey Johnstone on guitar, Dee Murray on bass, Nigel Olsson on drums and Ray Cooper on percussion, settled in at Château d’Hérouville in France where the two previous Elton John albums were recorded. Sessions took place over a two week period and the band was augmented by Kiki Dee on background vocals and Del Newman providing the orchestral arrangements.

The flip of today’s single is Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’s final track. “Harmony” was originally considered to be released as the fourth single from the album, but by the time they were ready to release it, John’s next album Caribou was ready to hit the racks. The song ultimately received plenty of airplay anyway and charted regionally. It’s a great track and the perfect closer to Elton’s magnum opus album. When it was finally released as a single in Britain in 1980, it failed to chart.

Superstardom continued for Elton and company for a few more years until the inevitable decline brought on by hard living. But fear not for Elton, he ultimately weathered the dry patch that lasted almost ten years (and to be fair, did include a few hits), cleaned up his hard-partying act and recovered nicely by writing songs for Disney films, most notably The Lion King.

His latest album The Diving Board was released last year to mostly positive reviews.

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over 14 years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

Edited: June 29th, 2015

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #46 – Elton John: “Bennie And The Jets” b/w “Harmony” – MCA 45 40198 (K5/L5)

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #46 – Elton John: “Bennie And The Jets” b/w “Harmony” – MCA 45 40198 (K5/L5)

“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.

To think that today’s jukebox classic which was a #1 hit here in the United States, wasn’t even considered for a single release at all in the UK. That says something about the ultra-high quality of the songs on Elton John’s seventh album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.  Elton John had little faith in the song as a single and was against its release. John: “I fought tooth and nail against ‘Bennie’ coming out as a single,” (The Making Of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Eagle Vision DVD) and he was shocked when the record topped the US charts.

The song was released as a single only after it began to receive airplay in Ontario, Canada and Detroit where it topped the local radio charts. Once it was released, it also topped the national charts and sold almost three million copies. The song also peaked at #15 on the Billboard Soul Singles chart paving the way for John’s appearance on Soul Train in 1975 where he performed the song and “Philadelphia Freedom.”

(It should be noted that while “Bennie And The Jets” wasn’t released as a single in the UK, they got “Candle In The Wind” in its place which wasn’t released here as a single until John re-recorded it in tribute to Princess Diana after her death.)

While “Bennie And The Jets” sounds like a live concert recording, it is actually a studio track. Producer Gus Dudgeon suggested they give it a live concert ambience by mixing reverb and applause from some of Elton’s concerts into the mix of the track. He also used some audience sounds from Jimi Hendrix’s Isle Of Wight concert as well.

In interviews, Bernie Taupin has said that the song was written as a parody of the music industry, and the character of Bennie was a futuristic space age female rocker. Taupin: “‘Bennie And The Jets’ was almost Orwellian – it was supposed to be futuristic. They were supposed to be a prototypical female rock ‘n’ roll band out of science fiction.” (Esquire Magazine) John saw the song as paying homage to the current glam rock scene, and as time went on, he began to dress in more outrageous stage outfits and began to take on the character of Bennie on stage.

It was also Elton’s idea to add the stutter on the word Bennie, which is one of the song’s major calling cards. Taupin: “That’s a little quirk of the song which I’m sad to say I had nothing to do with. That and that wonderful big chord at the beginning, I think those two things are what probably made that song so popular. Neither of which I had anything to do with.”

The song has been covered by rapper Biz Markie and The Beastie Boys, and it was sampled by Mary J. Blige on her track “Deep Inside” (which Elton plays piano on).

By the 1973 release of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John’s career was so white-hot he could do no wrong. His previous album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player (released in 1972) topped the charts in 1973 and sold millions of copies.  Goodbye Yellow Brick Road followed suit by selling more than 31 million copies and staying at the top of the album charts for two months. Working titles for the album included Vodka and Tonics and Silent Movies, Taking Pictures.

While releasing a double album was not their initial intention, John and Taupin were so prolific during this period that they’d worked up more than enough quality material for a single album. The album captures Elton John at his commercial apex and at the height of his creative powers. The fact that it contained several of his most indelible singles, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” “Bennie And The Jets,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Candle In The Wind,” was just the icing on the cake.

But it’s the lesser known gems here that really steal the show – “This Song Has No Title,” “I’ve Seen That Movie To,” “Grey Seal” (which had been kicking around since 1970), “All The Girls Love Alice” and the flip side of today’s single “Harmony” – they are indeed some of the best songs John has ever written and recorded.

All of the album’s lyrics were written by Taupin in two weeks, while John composed the music over a three day period at The Pink Flamingo Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica. John wanted to record the album in Jamaica because The Rolling Stones had just completed Goats Head Soup in the same studio. But problems with the sound system and complications from the Joe Frazier/George Forman boxing match taking place in the city forced the band to move to France.

John’s fantastic touring group, consisting of Davey Johnstone on guitar, Dee Murray on bass, Nigel Olsson on drums and Ray Cooper on percussion, settled in at Château d’Hérouville in France where the two previous Elton John albums were recorded. Sessions took place over a two week period with the band was augmented by Kiki Dee on background vocals and Del Newman providing the orchestral arrangements.

The flip of today’s single is Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’s final track. “Harmony” was originally considered to be released as the fourth single from the album, but by the time they were ready to release it, John’s next album Caribou was ready to hit the racks. The song ultimately received plenty of airplay anyway and charted regionally. It’s a great track and the perfect closer to Elton’s magnum opus album. When it was finally released as a single in Britain in 1980, it failed to chart.

Superstardom continued for Elton and company for a few more years until the inevitable decline brought on by hard living. But fear not for Elton, he ultimately weathered the dry patch that lasted almost ten years (and to be fair, did include a few hits), cleaned up his hard-partying act and recovered nicely by writing songs for Disney films, most notably The Lion King.

His latest album The Diving Board was released several months ago  to mostly positive reviews, and he is currently on the road touring in support of the release.

Edited: December 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/17/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Grimsby” by Elton John

To use the title of one of the songs included on this album, Elton John’s Caribou is indeed a “Stinker.” That said, this beautiful turd of an album, his first to be recorded in the U.S., captures Elton John at his commercial apex and at the height of his creative powers. The fact that it contained two of his most indelible singles, “The Bitch Is Back” and “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” was just the icing on the cake of a very hectic year.

By the release of Caribou in 1974, Elton John’s career was so white-hot he could do no wrong. His previous albums Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player (released in 1972) and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road had both topped the charts in 1973, and combined, they sold in neighborhood of 24 million copies.

Hence, Elton unleashed a flimsy, tossed-off album chock full of half-baked songs (by a fully baked superstar), that topped the charts all over the world. But let’s be kind and cut Elton and the band some slack. They were under extreme pressure to record the record very quickly and had only about nine days to get the job done before embarking on a world tour. At one point, the title of the album was to be Ol’ Pink Eyes Is Back, which was a comment on the extreme fatigue Elton and the band were feeling at the time, and also a pun on the title of Frank Sinatra’s classic Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back album. Instead, the album takes its title from the studio it was recorded in, Caribou Ranch in Colorado.

Musicians on the album consisted of Davey Johnstone on guitar, Dee Murray on bass, Nigel Olsson on drums and Ray Cooper (making his first appearance on an Elton John album) on percussion. The band was joined by special guest including The Tower Of Power Horn Section featuring Lenny Pickett on saxophone, Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Clydie King, Shirlie Matthews, Billy Hinsche, Toni Tennille and Dusty Springfield on background vocals, and Chester Thompson on organ. And, of course, Bernie Taupin wrote all the lyrics to the songs, and Daryl “The Captain” Dragon was credited with arrangements.

Only two tracks on the album rank among John’s best work. “The Bitch Is Back” is the terse self referential rocker that kicks off the album. It has also become one of Elton’s signature songs and a concert staple. The song climbed to the number four slot on the pop charts, and the title came from a comment Bernie Taupin’s wife made about Elton John. The song was later masterfully covered by Tina Turner.

The other is the timeless love song “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” which is one of Elton’s most beautiful ballads. The track features lush background vocals by Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys, Toni Tennille of Captain & Tennille and Dusty Springfield, and went all the way to the number two position on the pop charts.

Today’s Song Of The Day is one of several lesser gems on the album that have become fan favorites over the years. According to the Songfacts website, Bernie Taupin grew up on a farm that was about 50 miles away from a fishing port on the Lincolnshire Coast of England called Grimsby. Elton prompted Bernie to write the song
because Randy Newman wrote a song about Cleveland.

Several other songs on the album also make the grade including “Dixie Lily,” which is a country tribute to a Louisiana riverboat with a honkin’ “Yakety Sax” style solo by The Tower Of Power horns, and “Pinky” which is also another great Elton John love ballad that really deserves to be elevated to “classic” status.

The rest of the album is composed of forgettable rockers like “You’re So Static” and “Stinker,” and the somewhat bloated ballad, “Ticking” which is a tale about a mass murderer. The song has unfortunately become all too relevant over the years.

“Solar Prestige A Gamon” is the Seinfeld of songs, meaning that it is a song about…nothing! “Solar” is the “Mairzy Doats” of the 1970s, and if you are too young to know what that is (and you probably are), you should check out that precedent-setting Merry Macs’ hit from 1944 on YouTube. The song, whose lyrics are purely gibberish, was inspired by none other than The Beatles’ Abbey Road track “Sun King.” Elton thought it would be fun to sing a song comprised of real words strung together to mean nothing, so Bernie Taupin wrote up a set of on-demand nonsense lyrics to fulfill his wishes. Sure, it’s a goof performed by the ultimate goofball, but if this musical dud doesn’t manage to put a smile on your face, you are far more jaded than I am.

And finally, there’s the unintentionally silly song “I’ve Seen The Saucers,” which is a pseudo epic tale of alien abduction. It ranks among Elton’s weakest tracks, but it is saved by the terrific backing vocals that sound like they were peeled off of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Several B-sides were also recorded during the Caribou sessions including “Sick City” and “Cold Highway.” Both songs can be found on the CD reissue of the album. Elton would go on to recover his creative mojo with his next album, the sublime Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, and his massive popularity would continue unabated for several more years.

As an added bonus for reading this far, I am also including a rare Old Grey Whistle Test solo version of “Grimsby” performed on 12/24/74. As a Christmas present to fans, Elton brought out Rod Stewart and Gary Glitter to perform “White Christmas.”

Edited: June 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/14/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Medley: Yell Help/Wednesday Night/Ugly” by Elton John

By the release of Rock Of The Westies in 1976, the bloom was beginning to fall off of the Elton John flower. While Westies was indeed a very good album that debuted at the pole position of the charts, its release signaled the beginning of a long decline in the quality of the music and the relevance of the star.

Up to this point, Elton was a white-hot commodity that seemingly could do no wrong. The costumes were at their most outlandish and everything he recorded literally turned to gold and platinum.

Westies includes a clutch of great Elton songs, including its sole hit, the number one single “Island Girl,” “Dan Dare,” “Hard Luck Story” and this track that features LaBelle on background vocals.

Elton’s follow-up album, Blue Moves, was a double-length downer that didn’t live up to his larger-than-life persona, and although it did include the huge hit “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” the double album failed to reach the top of the charts and only spawned the one hit single.

Fear not for Elton, he weathered the dry patch that lasted almost ten years, and to be fair, did include a few hits, cleaned up his hard-partying act and recovered nicely by writing songs for Disney films, most notably The Lion King.

Edited: May 13th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 11/20/12

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Medley: Yell Help/Wednesday Night/Ugly” by Elton John

By the release of “Rock Of The Westies” in 1976, the bloom was beginning to fall off of the Elton John flower. While “Westies” was indeed a very good album that debuted at the pole position of the charts, its release signaled the beginning of a long decline in the quality of the music and the relevance of the star. Up to this point, Elton was a white-hot commodity that seemingly could do no wrong. The costumes were at their most outlandish and everything he recorded literally turned to gold and platinum. “Westies” includes a clutch of great Elton songs, including its sole hit, the number one single “Island Girl,” “Dan Dare,” “Hard Luck Story” and this track that features LaBelle on background vocals. Elton’s follow-up album, “Blue Moves,” was a double-length downer that didn’t live up to Elton’s larger-than-life persona, and although it did include the huge hit single “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” the double album failed to reach the top of the charts and only spawned the one hit single. Fear not for Elton, he weathered the dry patch that lasted almost ten years, and to be fair, did include a few hits, cleaned up his hard-partying act and recovered nicely by writing songs for Disney films, most notably “The Lion King.”

Edited: November 19th, 2012

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 10/18/12

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Solar Prestige A Gammon” by Elton John

This is the “Seinfeld” of songs, meaning that it is a song about…nothing! By the release of “Caribou” in 1974, Elton John’s career was so white-hot he could do no wrong. Hence, Elton unleashed a flimsy, tossed-off album chock full of half-baked songs (by a fully baked superstar), that topped the charts all over the world. “Solar” is the “Mairzy Doats” of the 1970s, and if you are too young to know what that is (and you probably are), you should check out that precedent-setting Merry Macs’ hit from 1944 on YouTube. The song, whose lyrics are purely gibberish, was inspired by none other than The Beatles and their “Abbey Road” track “Sun King.” Elton thought it would be fun to sing a song comprised of real words strung together to mean nothing, so Bernie Taupin wrote up a set of on-demand nonsense lyrics to fulfill his wishes. Sure, it’s a goof performed by the ultimate goofball, but if this musical turd doesn’t manage to put a smile on your face, you are far more jaded than I am.

Edited: October 17th, 2012

Bonus Song Of The Day – 11/17/70

Bonus Song Of The Day – “Take Me To The Pilot” by Elton John from the album “11/17/70″

I play this album every year on this day, and it is certainly Elton John at his near best…especially on this song! Recorded for radio broadcast at the A&R Studios in New York City back on this date in 1970. A six song album from the broadcast was released in 1971. The seven songs performed on that evening and not released on the album were “Amoreena,” “I Need You To Turn To,” “Country Comfort,” “Border Song,” “Indian Sunset,” “My Father’s Gun” and, of course, “Your Song.”  This year would have been perfect for a deluxe expanded reissue of the complete broadcast since forty years later is still is powerful!

Listen: “Take Me To The Pilot” by Elton John

Edited: November 17th, 2010