[Review] Elton John: Empty Sky (1969)

Elton and Bernie’s first can be filed alongside such false starts at Man of Words, Man of Music and Whatever’s For Us.

Kronomyth 1.0: Man of music, man of words.

Like the late-night prayers of little children, these early works slip smokewise out of music factory windows and into the cold, noisy world at play. In the din of 5 to 12, nobody hears them; they die, or dissipate, and the blush of idealism drains from another rose. Should the rose grow stronger later, these old tones become the glee of graverobbers who sell them off as saint’s relics.

And so it was that I encountered the early wonders of Saint Elton, a riddle wrapped in a Sphinx wrapping a reissue from 1975. Like the early albums of David Bowie (Man of Words…) and Joan Armatrading (Whatever’s For Us), Empty Sky belongs to that strange phase in the journey when an artist stands at the bottom of the mountain and imagines what the top must look like. With time, the summit becomes clearer in the artist’s mind, and the early imaginings are revealed for what they are. On songs like “Skyline Pigeon,” “Val-Hala” and “Western Ford Gateway,” Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin offer a glimpse of the great places they would go on later albums. But there’s nothing on Empty Sky that would instantly place them on the next plateau, no “Space Oddity” to catapult them into orbit. This is post-Traffic precocity: flutes, harpsichords, freaks in formaldehyde.

If you’re going to stare at Empty Sky at all, pick up the expanded remasters, which include the early singles “Lady Samantha” and “It’s Me That You Need.” Here, more than anywhere on Empty Sky, is the electric Elton anticipated. You can opt out of this album altogether with no sensible emptiness to suffer, but there’s no such dodging his next album, Elton John.

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Original LP Version

A1. Empty Sky (8:28)
A2. Val-Hala (4:12)
A3. Western Ford Gateway (3:16)
A4. Hymn 2000 (4:29)
B1. Lady What’s Tomorrow (3:10)
B2. Sails (3:45)
B3. The Scaffold (3:18)
B4. Skyline Pigeon (3:37)
B5. Gulliver / It’s Hay Chewed / Reprise (6:59)

CD reissue bonus tracks
10. Lady Samantha (3:02)
11. All Across The Heavens (2:53)
12. It’s Me That You Need (4:04)
13. Just Like Strange Rain (3:43)

All titles written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

The Players

Elton John (vocals, piano, organ, electric piano, harpsichord), Tony Murray (bass guitar), Roger Pope (drums, percussion), Caleb Quaye (electric and acoustic guitars, conga drums), Bernie Taupin (lyrics) with Don Fay (tenor saxophone, flute), Nigel Olsson (drums on B1), Graham Vickery (harmonica). Produced by Steve Brown; engineered by Frank Owen; tape operator & whistling by Clive Franks.

The Pictures

Sleeve design and illustration by Dave Larkham. Sleeve production and lunch by Jim Goff.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on June 3, 1969 in the UK (DJM, DJLPS-403) with gatefold cover.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1972 in Australia (Festival, L-34074) with different gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1975 in the US (MCA, MCA/MCAC-2130) and Japan (DJM, IFS-80174) with reissue gatefold cover; reached #6 on the US charts.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1981 in Japan (DJM, K22P-201) with reissue cover.
  4. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in May 1995 in the US (Rocket, I2-28157) with 4 bonus tracks.
  5. Re-packaged with Lady Samantha on 2-for-1 compact disc in 2000 in Japan (DJM, 33PD-359).
  6. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in Japan (Universal, UICY-9100) with 4 bonus tracks.
  7. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2002 in Brazil (Universal, 528157) with 4 bonus tracks.

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