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Elton John, 'Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player'

Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player  (1973,  43.05)  ***/T

Daniel
Teacher I Need You

Elderberry Wine
Blues for My Baby and Me
Midnight Creeper
Have Mercy on the Criminal
I'm Going to be a Teenage Idol
Texan Love Song
Crocodile Rock
High-Flying Bird
Elton John, 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road  (1973,  76.21)  ****/TT

Funeral for a Friend
Love Lies Bleeding
Candle in the Wind
Bennie and the Jets
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
This Song Has No Title
Grey Seal

Jamaica Jerk-Off
I've Seen That Movie Too
Sweet Painted Lady
The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-34)
Dirty Little Girl
All the Girls Love Alice
Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock'n'Roll)
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting
Roy Rogers
Social Disease
Harmony
Elton John, 'Caribou'

Caribou  (1974,  45.41)  ***/½

The Bitch is Back
Pinky
Grimsby
Dixie Lily
Solar Prestige a Gammon
You're So Static
I've Seen the Saucers
Stinker
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
Ticking
Elton John, 'Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds', US sleeve 7"  ( 1974)  ***/TT½

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds

One Day at a Time
Elton John, 'Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy'

Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy  (1975,  47.02/137.10)  ***½/T (****/T½)

Captain Fantastic and the Brown
  Dirt Cowboy
Tower of Babel
Bitter Fingers
Tell Me When the Whistle Blows
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
(Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket
Better Off Dead
Writing
We All Fall in Love Sometimes
Curtains
[Expanded ed. adds:
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
One Day (at a Time)
Philadelphia Freedom
House of Cards
Captain Fantastic and the Brown
  Dirt Cowboy (live)
Tower of Babel (live)
Bitter Fingers (live)
Tell Me When the Whistle Blows (live)
Someone Saved My Life Tonight (live)
(Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket (live)
Better Off Dead (live)
Writing (live)
We All Fall in Love Sometimes (live)
Curtains (live)
Pinball Wizard (live)
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting (live)]
Elton John, 'Rock of the Westies'

Rock of the Westies  (1975,  44.04)  ***/½

Medley (Yell Help, Wednesday Night, Ugly)
Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future)
Island Girl
Grow Some Funk of Your Own
I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford)
Street Kids
Hard Luck Story
Feed Me
Billy Bones and the White Bird
Elton John, 'Blue Moves'

Blue Moves  (1976,  84.52)  ***½/T

Your Starter for...
Tonight
One Horse Town
Chameleon
Boogie Pilgrim
Cage the Songbird
Crazy Water
Shoulder Holster
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
Out of the Blue
Between Seventeen and Twenty
The Wide-Eyed and Laughing
Someone's Final Song
Where's the Shoorah?
If There's a God in Heaven (What's He Waiting for?)
Idol
Theme From a Non-Existent TV Series
Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance!)
Elton John, 'A Single Man'

A Single Man  (1978,  49.29)  ***/½

Shine on Through
Return to Paradise
I Don't Care
Big Dipper
It Ain't Gonna Be Easy
Part Time Love
Georgia
Shooting Star
Madness
Reverie
Song for Guy
Elton John, 'Songs From the West Coast'

Songs From the West Coast  (2001,  54.12)  ***½/½

The Emperor's New Clothes
Dark Diamond
Look Ma, No Hands
American Triangle
Original Sin
Birds
I Want Love
The Wasteland
Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes
Love Her Like Me
Mansfield
This Train Don't Stop There Anymore

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Now, I'm approaching Elton's considerable back-catalogue as a self-confessed non-fan, so apologies to those of you who love this stuff; I've tried to be as fair as possible, given the constraints under which I'm working (i.e. I don't like most of the music), but every now and again, a heartfelt opinion's liable to slip through. As a result, like some of the other artists on this site, I'll review the music more from a Mellotronic viewpoint than a musical one; after all, I expect there are plenty of sites which cover that angle already... Incidentally, thanks to Mark for the loan of the albums.

After several years as the critics' darling, Elton (that's Reginald Dwight to you), together with his long-term collaborator, lyricist Bernie Taupin, broke through commercially with his fifth studio LP, 1972's Honky Chateau and its hit, Rocket Man, followed by '73's Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player. Its second hit, the balladic Daniel, has a melodic 'Tron flute part drifting in and out of the song, with some block chords towards the end, while Teacher I Need You has some string chords bolstering up the chorus. That's it for the 'Tron, although the album's best moments are probably first single, Crocodile Rock and the affecting Have Mercy On The Criminal.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is regarded by many fans as Elton's musical peak; a highly-ambitious double album (shockingly, his second release of the year), it opens with my personal favourite from his oeuvre, Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, with the instrumental first part being effectively full-on prog, with an inventive synth arrangement by future Genesis producer David Hentschel. It also contains two of his best-ever vocal melodies in Candle In The Wind (forget the hideous abortion of the 'Diana' version) and the title track; love 'em or loathe 'em, you'll certainly remember 'em... Looking at the tracklisting, I can't believe that this album produced four hit singles, at a time when two was considered excessive; we're still a long way from the '80s 'single overkill'. As far as the Mellotron's concerned, This Song Has No Title, a solo vocal and keyboard number, has a typical 'orchestral' flute and string arrangement, Grey Seal has some excellent backing string chords, and Dirty Little Girl features a few brass chords; at least Elton's habit of track-by-track instrumental credits doesn't allow for any dissent over where it's used.

Around this time, Elton played 'Tron on three tracks on his sometime co-singer Kiki Dee's Loving and Free, although I don't know of any other sessions for his mates (John Lennon, Rod Stewart etc.) where he used one. I'm told that he regularly used a Mellotron on stage, too, played by his back-up keyboard player, Ray Cooper, with rather more use than in the studio. The only officially-available live recording from the time is 1976's Here and There (Cooper's first performances with the band, apparently), and I believe it's entirely 'Tron-free. Can't see him releasing anything else from the era in the near future, if ever, sadly.

1974's Caribou, sounds, to my ears, like a somewhat weaker effort, although it still spawned two hit singles in the rather anodyne rocker The Bitch Is Back and big ballad (again), Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me, with some almost completely inaudible 'Tron strings from David Hentschel. Best track is probably closer Ticking, a sad tale of dysfunction and spree-killing. Later that year, Elton released a version of the Beatles' classic drug song, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds as a non-album single, something he was quite prone to doing at the time. Not as good as the original, it does, however, feature 'Tron flutes and strings, including a great flute melody line, key-click and all, which I'll admit may've sounded good on Sgt. Pepper. It's available on various compilations, including '77's stopgap Greatest Hits Vol.2 (the 'cricket' sleeve), not to mention the expanded reissue of Capt. Fantastic (below).

The following year's Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is more of the same, compositionally, with the more acoustic guitar-based title track being one of the better tracks. On the Mellotron front, We All Fall In Love Sometimes has a lovely flute melody, but Curtains, despite a credit, has no audible 'Tron whatsoever. The recent two-disc edition adds various singles/b-sides to disc one, while disc two contains Elt's entire (short) Wembley Stadium set from that year, where he insists on playing the whole of his new album, in sequence, to an apparently 'restless' crowd, with a couple of hits stuck on the end for good measure. For a non-Elt fan, it's a revelation hearing the album played live, giving some insight into why it's so revered by his fans, not to mention the superbly rocking Pinball Wizard (as sung by Elt on the previous year's excellent Ken Russell-directed film of Tommy). Just the one obvious 'Tron track, with new keys man James (Newton) Howard replicating the flute part on We All Fall In Love Sometimes, though, yet again, seemingly nothing on Curtains, while all the string parts are string synth.

Elt's second album of '75, Rock of the Westies, is a classic case of 'too much, too soon', suffering from a lack of musical ideas, several tracks sounding rather over-extended to my ears, although the catchy Island Girl was a hit, also its sole Mellotron track. There's actually startlingly little 'Tron on it, with nowt but a fast flute melody from James Newton Howard again, so don't go out of your way for this one.

1976's Blue Moves, another double, is slightly stronger than its immediate predecessors, with highlights including the orchestral Tonight, the rocking One Horse Town and the (relatively) lengthy instrumental Out Of The Blue, although its best-known track is the typical big ballad Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word. A really rather good flute part on Cage The Songbird, again from James Newton Howard, is the only Mellotron this time round; never one to overuse it, I suspect Elton was tiring of it by this point, with polysynths obviously just around the corner.

'78's A Single Man heads ever further towards bland-out territory, opening ballad Shine On Through being fairly typical of its contents, the whole barely scraping three stars (like he cares). The best thing here is six-minute closer Song For Guy (prefaced by the brief Reverie), written as an elegy for Guy Burkett, a messenger at his label, Rocket, who died in a motorbike accident. An almost-instrumental solo keyboard track, most of the keys are piano and synths, but a brief 'Tron flute line comes in halfway through in typical Elton style.

Elton abandoned the Mellotron at this point, switching to polysynths like everyone else, although the story doesn't quite end here. After twenty years of going with the flow, recording-wise, he went back to his roots on 2001's Songs From the West Coast, recording onto 24-track analogue, and refusing to use Pro-Tools, sampling etc. He's working with Bernie Taupin again, not to mention guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson from his regular '70s band, marking what everyone's calling a remarkable return to form. To prove his point, producer Patrick Leonard plays Mellotron on Love Her Like Me, although a background string line isn't really in the same league as some of his better '70s 'Tron Tracks.

So...; hmmm. If you like Elton (you can't refer to him as 'John', can you?), you'll like most, if not all of these albums, and you'll probably own them anyway. He has to be considered a fairly major Mellotron user, though more like David Bowie than Genesis, say (!), so none of the above albums even comes close to 'Tron classic status. Of the dozen or so listed above, I'd say the best tracks for their 'Tron content would be Daniel, This Song Has No Title, Grey Seal, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, We All Fall In Love Sometimes and Cage The Songbird. Every highlighted track above wouldn't fill a CD-R, but it's nice to see a mainstream performer use it on a whole string of albums. Songs From the West Coast is a definite move in the right direction, but next time round, could we have a bit more, please? Ta.

bootlegs
Elton John, 'Louder Than Concorde'

Louder Than Concorde (But Not Quite as Pretty!): Madison Square Garden, New York, 15th August 1976  (171.20)  ***/T

Grow Some Funk of Your Own
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Island Girl
Rocket Man
Hercules
Bennie and the Jets
Funeral for a Friend/Love
  Lies Bleeding
Love Song
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
Empty Sky
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Don't Go Breaking My Heart
I Got the Music in Me
Philadelphia Freedom
We All Fall in Love Sometimes
Curtains
Tell Me When the Whistle Blows
Band introductions
Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)
Your Song
Pinball Wizard

Elton John bootlegs from his brief 'live Mellotron' period (mid-'70s, basically) aren't too common, so this set, from NYC's MSG in August '76, is going to have to suffice, at least for the moment. Stories of Elt's three-hour sets clearly aren't exaggerated; he only plays twenty-two songs here, but many of them stretch to way over ten minutes (Hercules is nearer twenty), in a way that doubtless worked well onstage at the time, but sounds a little self-indulgent in the cold light of day, well over thirty years later. Then again, was he playing for the bootleg listener of the future? No, he was not. Given that this is an audience recording, its fidelity is impressive, all things considered, with relatively little 'local' crowd noise and decent instrumental separation. The set covers the majority of Elt's releases up to that point, not to mention a couple of single-only tracks, including his cheesy Kiki Dee duet Don't Go Breaking My Heart, followed by her own I Got the Music In Me, all played with enormous energy, given that the band tackled sets of this length most nights on the era's gruelling tours.

Non-piano keys man James Newton Howard definitely has a Mellotron in his setup, giving us the ridiculously fast flute solo from the studio version of Island Girl, the strings during the verses of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (probably) and the flute solo (definitely) and the flutes on We All Fall In Love Sometimes, although the strings on several tracks, notably Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Don't Go Breaking My Heart, are almost certainly string synth. Do you bother finding this? Yes for Elton fans, no for anyone wishing to hear some live Mellotron; it's here, but only just.

links

Official site

See: Kiki Dee


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