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…