[Review] Elton John: Honky Château (1972)

Elton’s platinum-selling #1 hit, recorded in the (in)famous Chateau d’Herouville.

Kronomyth 6.0: Hot chats.

Honky Château contains Elton John’s two greatest hits to date, “Honky Cat” and “Rocket Man.” The first is a ridiculously fun boogaloo song complete with French horn section, the second is a heavenly return to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (which was not coincidentally also produced by Gus Dudgeon). The rest of the record, unfortunately, contains nothing but shadows. They’re played well enough, and Elton doesn’t skimp on the energy, but you’ll forget them five minutes after they’re gone and go away humming the two hits for a long, long time.

As is turned out, two hits were all Elton needed to win the hearts of radio listeners, a phenomenon that wasn’t unique to him (cf. Wings at the Speed of Sound), but which he managed to parlay successfully into a string of platinum albums (Don’t Shoot Me, Caribou). The record is otherwise notable for the solidification of the Elton John band, which now prominently featured Davey Johnstone on guitars. A multi-tracked Johnstone on electric, acoustic and banjo steals the show on “Slave” and slips in a neat George Harrison-styled solo on “Hercules.”

Where Madman leaned toward progressive rock, Honky Château belongs to the post-breakup Beatles boogaloo camp, with shorter rock songs and occasionally shocking lyrics (e.g., “I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself”). Is this a great album? Well, I would tell you that it takes more than two great songs to make a great album, unless that album happens to be called Close To The Edge. Honestly, records like Honky Château are the reason that greatest hits albums were invented. That and greed. (Secret kronomyth klue, as if you kare: Jean-Luc Ponty also appeared on Hot Rats.)

Original LP Version

A1. Honky Cat (5:12)
A2. Mellow (5:30)
A3. I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself (3:32)
A4. Susie (Dramas) (3:24)
A5. Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long Long Time) (4:40)
B1. Salvation (3:26)
B2. Slave (4:20)
B3. Amy (4:02)
B4. Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters (5:00)
B5. Hercules (5:20)

CD reissue bonus track
11. Slave (alternative version)

All selections written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

The Players

Elton John (vocals, electric and acoustic piano, organ), Davey Johnstone (guitars, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals), Dee Murray (bass, backing vocals), Nigel Olsson (drums, tambourine, backing vocals) with Madeline Bell (backing vocals on B1), Jacques Bolognesi (trombone on A1), Jean Louis Chautemps (saxophone on A1), Ray Cooper (congas on B3), Gus Dudgeon (brass arrangement on A1, rhino whistle and backing vocals on 11), Alain Hatot (saxophone on A1), Tony Hazzard (backing vocals on B1), David Hentschel (ARP synthesizer on A5/B1), Ivan Julien (trumpet on A1), Jean-Luc Ponty (electric violin on A2/B3), “Legs” Larry Smith (tap dance on A3), Larry Steel (backing vocals on B1), Lisa Strike (backing vocals on B1). Produced by Gus Dudgeon; engineered by Ken Scott; co-ordinated by Steve Brown.

The Pictures

Cover photography by Ed Caraeff. Sleeve design and inner sleeve photography by Michael Ross. Liner photography by Michael Ross, Michael Childers & J.F. Rault.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track on May 19, 1972 in the UK (DJM, DJLPH-423), the US (Uni, UNI/8-93135), Argentina (Fermata, SLF-223), India (His Master Voice’s, DJLPH 423), Japan (DJM, IFP-80566), Spain (DJM/EMI-Odeon, 1J 064-93.508) and Venezuela (Promus, LPPS-2051) with gatefold cover; reached #2 on the UK charts and #1 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record). Released on elpee in 1973 in Yugoslavia (DJM/Jugoton, LSDJM 70507). 8-track features slightly different track order.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1973 in the US (MCA, MCA-2017) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Taiwan (First, FL-2238).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1980 in the US (MCA, MCA-37064) and Portugal (DJM, MM 8.017).
  4. Re-issued on elpee in 1981 in Japan (DJM/Seven Seas, K22P-205) with gatefold cover.
  5. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in the US (MCA, MCA/MCAC-1611).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (MCA, MCAD-31104).
  7. Re-released on remastered gold compact disc in August 1990 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 536).
  8. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 1995 in Japan (Mercury, PHCR-4016) with one bonus track.
  9. Re-released on expanded super audio compact disc in 2004 in the UK (Mercury, 9824 030) and the US (Island/Rocket, B0003609-36) with one bonus track.
  10. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2006 in Japan (Universal, UICY-9105) with one bonus track.
  11. Re-released on expanded, remastered super high material compact disc in 2008 in Japan (Universal, UICY-93669) with one bonus track.
  12. Re-released on remastered 180g vinyl elpee in 2017 in the US (Mercury, 5738307) with gatefold cover.

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