When I was young, I really loved Elton John and owned all of his albums, but I totally went off him after punk happened and never really thought about him much after that. He seemed like a spent force in the 80s, but then again so did most of his 70s contemporaries. After a point the cocaine stopped working for him and started working against him…
A few years ago, I put together a 5.1 surround sound system and was looking for stuff to play on it, when I saw that the classic Elton John albums had been remixed in 5.1 and I thought Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (an album once ruined for me by a girlfriend who played it in heavy rotation for years around our apartment) would probably sound pretty good. And so I bought it and it did. Then, in short order, I (re)bought Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy, Madman Across the Water and Honky Chateau. (Those albums are among the very best-sounding recordings I’ve ever heard. You can hear the sound of his feet on the pedals of his piano, they’re so good).
In any case, I became a born-again Elton John fan, at least to a certain point. Here, then, are two prime examples of Elton John—back when he was legitimately “cool”—live in concert. The first, a BBC In Concert set from 1970, captures the pensive piano man singer-songwriter with a setlist drawn from his earliest records, abd backed by a small orchestra. It’s all very Nick Drake.
Sixty Years On
Take Me To The Pilot
The Greatest Discovery
I Need You To Turn To
Burn Down The Mission
The second, a much more full-on affair—broadcast live in 1974 on The Old Grey Whistle Test from the Hamersmith Apollo—is more of a “greatest hits” show, with the raging Elton John Band backing him up.
It’s remarkable to compare the difference between the way Elton John presented himself when he was first starting to make it, versus the completely over-the-top showman he became just a (very) short time later.
As I was saying before, cocaine, it’s a hell of a drug…
The Alice Cooper Certificate of Insanity (issued by the School for the Hopelessly Insane) was a limited edition document given away free with Cooper’s album From the Inside, in 1978. Whether this was a recommendation or, a comment on the quality of the record, was never made clear. What is known is that rather like the source for Malcolm Lowry’s excellent novella Lunar Caustic, Cooper’s album was similarly inspired by the singer’s stint in a New York sanitarium for his alcoholism.
From the Inside was co-written with Elton John’s song-writing partner, Bernie Taupin.
Drummer with the Bonzo Dog Band, “Legs” Larry Smith upstages Elton John at the Royal Command Variety Performance Show in 1972.
Not be the best picture, but still an enjoyable moment, one which was quite risky for Elton to sing a cheerful ditty about a needy teen and his manipulative approach to suicide to the rich and spoilt Royals . And yes, this is still miles better than Coldplay.
Bonus solo version of ‘I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself’, after the jump…
After a series of massive hits in the early 1960s ( “Calendar Girl,” “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen”) and a sharp career decline post-British Invasion, singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka staged an improbable comeback after Elton John signed him to his newly formed Rocket Records label in 1973.
“It had been like Elvis coming up and giving us the chance to release his records. We couldn’t believe our luck,” the future Sir Elton, a huge Neil Sedaka fan, said at the time.
The second album Sedaka released on Rocket Records was The Hungry Years in 1975. “Bad Blood,” the first single from the album was essentially a “call and response” style duet between Neil Sedaka and an un-credited Elton. The song’s lyrics basically essay two “bros” giving a third some hard-knock advice about a woman who is taking advantage of him. (Don’t expect that you’ll ever be hearing “Bad Blood” sung by two female contestants on Duets is all I have to say!)
“Bad Blood” spent three weeks at the top of the US singles chart in October and was certified gold. (The song would ironically be knocked off its #1 perch by Elton John’s “Island Girl.” I recall buying both singles as an Elton John crazy 9-year-old with my birthday money and playing both records until the grooves wore out).
Oregon -based artist Kay Petal makes these whimsical sculptural needle-felted rock star dolls. Kay says, “Using single, barbed felting needles I sculpt wool fibers into solid felted wool characters with heart and soul. My characters are soft and flexible yet strong and durable.”
And guess what? Kay will even make one of YOU! You can contact her on the website Felt Alive for more information.
The platform shoes to-die-for were Frank N. Furter’s in The Rocky Horror Picture Show - those bejeweled white heels made Tim Curry’s first appearance as the sweet transvestite the epitome of glam. And gorgeous he was too.
Elton John may arguably have had the best platform shoes, but his tended to veer into stage props, eventually leading to those sky-high Doctor Marten boots in Ken Russell’s Tommy. And of course, there was David Bowie, Twiggy, and a host of pop stars sashaying around London on pairs of ankle-breakers. Like Oxford bags, bell bottoms, high-waisters, and bomber jackets, the platform shoe epitomized the androgynous nature of seventies fashions. Originally devised as stage shoes in Greek theater, platforms have been in and out of style through the centuries, at various times used by prostitutes to signal their availability and profession (to literally stand out from the crowd), and were popular in the 18th century as shit-steppers, used to avoid effluent on the road. However, their greatest impact was in the 1970s, when they were the boot of choice for seemingly everyone under 30.
I had a pair of 5 inch heels, blue patent leather, divine to walk in, impossible to run in, and not the expected school uniform. This British Pathe featurette takes a look at the trend of platform shoes from 1977.
If you want to know what British TV was like in the 1970s, well, apart from watching the repeats on BBC4, this will give you a fair idea. Elton John and Michael Caine getting all “Knees-up Mother Brown” round the olde joanna on Michael Parkinson‘s show.
All this the same year The Sex Pistols released “Anarchy in the U.K.” on EMI, The Ramones singled “Blitzkreig Bop” and Patti Smith “Pissing in a River”. Cor blimey, guvnor.
Although I have always appreciated his music (“Ride a White Swan” was one of the first 45s I ever bought), I have never been what you would call a Marc Bolan/T-Rex fanatic. Don’t get me wrong, I am indeed a fan, but I’ve always put Marc Bolan in the same category as I do Chuck Berry, Little Richard or Eddie Cochran. Translation: a decent greatest hits is probably all I probably really need to own (Bolan also stole shamelessly from each of these artists, of course).
In actual fact, I own quite a few T-Rex albums, even some releases from the deeper catalog. Probably my favorite song by Bolan is the little known “Jasper C. Debussy.” It’s not like I’m ignorant of his work, it’s just that a lot of it sounds pretty formulaic and “samey” to me. Bolan had “a thing” that he did quite well, but he just kept doing it and that’s the problem I have with his music.
Having offered the above disclaimer, last week I picked up a Japanese import copy of the “deluxe” Born To Boogie DVD reissue from a few years back in the bargain bin for a mere $7 bucks. A friend of mine had the film on VHS and I saw it twenty years ago and quite enjoyed it, but the DVD version, with a monstrously powerful 5.1 surround mix done by the great producer Tony Visconti, truly blew me away. It must be the apex of Bolan’s artistry. Nothing short of stunning.
You know there’s always one guy on every block who has one of those huge fuck-off audio systems that the neighbors for a quarter mile radius can hear? I’m that guy. After watching Born To Boogie on an HDTV with the sound cranked up so loud it would have drowned out a airplane landing on my rooftop, I finally, after nearly 40 years, really got Marc Bolan, and can see clearly why the flame of eternal fan love for him will never die.
Born To Boogie was directed by Ringo Starr and produced by Apple Films. The concert segments were filmed at the Wembley Empire Pool in 1972 at the absolute height of T-Rextasy and Bolan, Mickey Finn and the band are in fine, fine form. Bolan’s guitar is just FAT sounding here and the 5.1 mix is outstanding. Listening to it cranked up is like having, well… a Tyrannosaurus Rex stomp all over your head… in a good way!
There’s also a stellar jam session with Elton John and Ringo that was captured at the Apple Studio on Saville Row and some “surreal hijinks”—like the Mad Hatter’s party bit which was filmed on John Lennon’s estate—that bring to mind Magical Mystery Tour. Still, it’s the concert segments that dazzle the most with Bolan’s 500 megawatt charisma in full effect.
If, like me, you missed out on Born To Boogie when I came out in 2005, and this sounds like something you might enjoy, chances are you probably will. There are TONS of extras and both the earlier, late afternoon concert and the full show that was used in the film are included.
10/10 for content, audio/visual quality and overall “Wow factor.”
Below, “Children of the Revolution” with Sir Elton and Ringo.
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