[Review] Elton John: A Single Man (1978)

Elton gets a new lyricist and a new tailor, but it speaks volumes that the second single was an instrumental.

Kronomyth 16.0: A star + Osborne.

This is the first Elton John album without lyricist Bernie Taupin, and the last Elton John album of any real rock merit. Disco was beginning to creep into the mix, evidenced on the hit “Part-Time Love,” but like the later (actually, earlier) “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” confirmed, it wasn’t such a bad milieu for the well-manored maestro.

A Single Man could be seen as an extension of his second-phase 70s albums: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Captain Fantastic, Rock of the Westies. Those were better efforts, but audibly the work of the same artist. Here you have ballads (“Shine On Through”), faux island music (“Return To Paradise”), Kink-y humor (“Big Dipper”) and rock with strings (“I Don’t Care”). The epic “It Aint Gonna Be Easy” is another winner, the peak of intensity kept at a cool flame.

New lyricist Gary Osborne isn’t a liability. Taupin’s dark character studies are missed, but as Blue Moves proved, it took more than words to move the machine. Also featured here is a possible homage to David Bowie, “Shooting Star,” which sounds for the life of me like “Wild Is The Wind,” and his only instrumental hit, “Song For Guy.” That last track only features the words “Life / Isn’t death everything” sung quietly over an achingly sweet melody. While US audiences didn’t know what to make of it, our smarter UK cousins rightly appreciated it, vaunting it to #4. Perhaps it’s only fitting that the best song on an Elton John album without Bernie Taupin is an instrumental. I’d be leery of the albums after, but A Single Man successfully channels Elton’s star power for one more magical ride.

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Original LP Version

A1. Shine On Through (3:40)
A2. Return To Paradise (4:12)
A3. I Don’t Care (4:20)
A4. Big Dipper (4:00)
A5. It Ain’t Gonna Be Easy (8:23)
B1. Part-Time Love (3:12)
B2. Georgia (4:47)
B3. Shooting Star (2:43)
B4. Madness (5:23)
B5. Reverie (Elton John) (0:52)
B6. Song For Guy (Elton John) (6:34)

All selections written by Elton John & Gary Osborne unless noted.

CD reissue bonus tracks
12. Ego
13. Flintstone Boy
14. I Cry At Night
15. Lovesick
16, Strangers

The Players

Elton John (vocals, piano, clavinet, harmonium, church organ, Fender Rhodes, mellotron, polymoog, Solina string synthesizer), Paul Buckmaster (arrangements, synthesizer), Ray Cooper (percussion), Clive Franks (bass guitar), Steve Holley (drums, motor horn), Tim Renwick (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin) with Vicki Brown (backing vocals on A3/B1), B.J. Cole (pedal steel on B2), John Crocker (clarinet on A4, tenor saxophone on B3), Herbie Flowers (acoustic bass on B3), Patrick Halcox trumpet on A4), Davey Johnstone (lead guitar & backing vocals on B1), Stevie Lange (backing vocals on A3/B1), Henry Lowther (trumpet on A2), Gary Osborne (backing vocals on A1/A2/A3/B1), Jim Shepherd (trombone on A4), The South Audley Street Girl’s Choir (backing vocals on A4/B2), Joanne Stone (backing vocals on A3/B1), Chris Thompson (backing vocals on A3/B1), Watford Football Club (backing vocals on A4/B2). Produced by Elton John and Clive Franks; engineered by Phil Dunne, Stuart Epps, Clive Franks.

The Pictures

Photography by Terry O’Neill. Graphic design by Mike Storey. Sleeve design by David Costa.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, picture disc elpee, cassette and 8-track on October 16, 1978 in the UK (Rocket, TRAIN 1), the US (MCA, MCA/MCAT-3065, MCAC-37068, MCAP-14951), Argentina, Australia, Germany, India and the Netherlands (Rocket, 9103 500/7131 180), Japan (Rocket, RJ-7540), Mexico (Rocket, LPR-15171) and Yugoslavia (Philips/RTB, LP 5944) with gatefold cover and lyrics innersleeve; reached #8 on the UK charts and #15 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record).

  1. Re-issued on cassette in 1981 in the US (MCA, MCAC-1615).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1987 in the Soviet Union (Melodiya, roct 5289-80).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (MCA, MCAD-31181).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in Germany (Rocket, 826 805-2).
  5. Re-issued on expanded compact disc in 1998 in the US (Island, 558474) with 5 bonus tracks.

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