[Review] Elton John (1970)

Holy Moses, Elton and Bernie sure didn’t show up empty-handed this time.

Kronomyth 2.0: You have selected Reggiecide.

Elton John is the work of a musical genius… and of an overstuffed bore. Half of this is just stunning: “Your Song,” “Border Song,” “Take Me To The Pilot.” The other half is stultifying: “First Episode at Heinton,” “The Greatest Discovery,” “I Need You To Turn To.” I lay the blame for the latter half at the feet of Gus Dudgeon and Paul Buckmaster, who made an equally pretentious mess out of David Bowie’s Man of Words, Man of Music.

Elton John is clearly the star of the show (with Bernie Taupin as an intriguing co-star), so you have to wonder why Dudgeon and Buckmaster cover him in a constellation of sounds. Admittedly, a simple song such as “I Need You To Turn To” could use the help, but “Your Song” doesn’t need strings to soar; its charm lies in its simplicity. The live performance captured on 11-17-70 blew me away with just piano, bass and drums. Elton with an orchestra (“Sixty Years On”) bores me to tears.

He has always shown remarkable range as a songwriter, capable of buckling your knees with a beautiful ballad or bringing you to your feet with a reviving shot of rock and roll . Those personalities make their first appearance here, as well as a penchant for honky-tonk music (“No Shoe Strings On Louise”) that would find fuller expression on Tumbleweed Connection. Elton wasn’t the only star to suffer under a surfeit of strings; the aforementioned Mr. Jones and Cat Stevens also come to mind.

What emerges on Elton John is a tale of two artists. Like a modern-day Jerry Lee Lewis, the man behind the piano is a charmer, channeling blues and country and gospel like he’d been spoon-fed the stuff from birth. The man behind the harpsichord, well, he’s still a stuffy schoolboy in thick glasses who is overly impressed with his new friend’s poetry. Maybe the closing tale of regicide is more prescient than it appears, as Elton would soon leave childish things behind to launch his star career in earnest. Long live the king, indeed.

Original LP Version

A1. Your Song (4:00)
A2. I Need You To Turn To (2:30)
A3. Take Me To The Pilot (3:48)
A4. No Shoe Strings On Louise (3:30)
A5. First Episode At Heinton (4:52)
B1. Sixty Years On (4:38)
B2. Border Song (3:19)
B3. The Greatest Discovery (4:11)
B4. The Cage (3:28)
B5. The King Must Die (5:09)

All selections written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. Bad Side of the Moon
12. Grey Seal
13. Rock ‘N’ Roll Madonna

Original 8-track version
A1.Your Song
A2. I Need You to Turn To
A3. First Episode at Heinton
B1. No Shoestrings on Louise
B2. Sixty Years On
B3. Border Song
C1. I Need You to Turn To
C2. Your Song
C3. The King Must Die
D1. Take Me to the Pilot
D2. The Greatest Discovery
D3. The Cage

The Players

Elton John (vocals, piano, harpsichord), Clive Hicks (guitars), Barry Morgan (drums), Caleb Quaye (lead guitar), Bernie Taupin (lyrics) with Madeline Bell (backing vocals), Paul Buckmaster (solo cello, arranger), Tony Burrows (backing vocals), Frank Clark (acoustic guitar, acoustic bass), Roger Cook (backing vocals), Terry Cox (drums), Brian Dee (organ), Leslie Duncan (backing vocals), Kay Garner (backing vocals), Colin Green (guitar, Spanish guitar), Roland Harker (guitar on A2), Tony Hazzard (backing vocals), Les Hurdie (bass guitar on B5), Skaila Kanga (harp), Diana Lewis (Moog synthesizer), Dennis Lopez (percussion), Barbara Moore (choir leader on B2), Tex Navarra (percussion on B4), Alan Parker (rhythm guitar on A3), Dave Richmond (bass guitar), Alan Weighll (bass guitar). Produced by Gus Dudgeon; co-ordinated by Steve Brown; engineered by Robin Geoffrey Cable.

The Pictures

Photography by Stowell Stanford. Art direction by David Larkham. Sleeve production by Jim Goff.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on April 10, 1970 in the UK (DJM, DJLPS/ZCDJL/Y8DJL-406), on July 22, 1970 in the US and Canada (Uni, /2-/8-73090) and in 1970 in Australia (DJM, SDJL-934065), Germany (Hansa, 80 807 IT) and Spain (DJM, 1J 062-92110) with gatefold cover; reached #11 on the UK charts and #4 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record). 8-track features different track order.

  1. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1971 in the US (Uni, 93090/UN2 93090) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1973 in the US (MCA, MCA-2012) with gatefold cover.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (DJM, 25AP-1552) with gatefold cover.
  4. Re-issued on elpee and 8-track in 1977 in the US (MCA, MCA/MCAT-3000) with gatefold cover.
  5. Re-issued on elpee in 1980 in the US (MCA, 37067).
  6. Re-issued on elpee in 1981 in Japan (DJM, K22P-202).
  7. Re-packaged with Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy on 2-for-1 cassette in 1982 in the US (MCA, MCAC2-6921).
  8. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in 1986 in the US (MCA, MCAD/MCAC-1614).
  9. Re-issued on compact disc in 1987 in the US (MCA, MCAD-31105).
  10. Re-issued on compact disc in the UK (DJM, DJM CD8).
  11. Re-issued on compact disc in 1992 in the US (Polydor, 827689).
  12. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 1996 in the US (Island/Rocket, 528 156) with 3 bonus tracks.
  13. Re-released on expanded super audio compact disc in 2004 in the UK (Mercury, 9824121) with 3 bonus tracks.
  14. Re-released on expanded 20-bit remastered compact disc in 1995 in Japan (Mercury, PHCR-4012) with 3 bonus tracks.
  15. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2006 in Japan (Universal, UICY-9101) with 3 bonus tracks.

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