Elton John a perspective

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“Rocket Man ” was the first Elton John song that I fell in love with. It wasn’t even mine, my brother Kenny bought it, god rest his soul. The first single I bought on my own was “Daniel”, which I traded away. I guess I was disappointed at the time because it wasn’t a rocket like lot of his stuff was. Today I can say, “you IDIOT, why would you give that record away? It was a great song!” Maybe I share Elton’s lack of judgement; in his recent book Me, he admits that he thought “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me ” was a terrible song: funny how things will look so different in retrospect.

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He was fortunate to have ‘come out ‘ in 1967, the very year that the UK struck down its law making homosexuality illegal. Or we should say he was Found out by his boss Long John Baldry: “Oh come on, don’t you know you’re gay?”(or words to that effect).

It never bothered me that Elton was bi or gay or whatever. I just loved the music, his preferences were his own business. Gay wasn’t a thing people talked about when I was growing up, at least not around me, so I didn’t have a chance to be indoctrinated by anybody’s paranoid ravings. It’s just funny now. For instance I always liked Queen from the beginning and I never got the gay reference in their very name. Didn’t know, didn’t care. Those fellas could still rock.

Elton’s early records came out on the Uni label, a division of MCA Records, which is how his early singles like “Rocket Man ” looked like that in America but by the time “Daniel ” came along everything was on that black MCA label.

Oddly enough the songs I listened to first weren’t actually sung by Elton. “Lady Samantha” was a song I loved and picked up on my dad’s Three Dog Night record from 1969, ‘Suitable For Framing “. I remember we were at his cabin in Lake Land Village,  a development over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge near Allyn, Washington. Three Dog Night was also the first band I heard doing “Your Song ” on an album I got for Christmas of 1971, “Golden Biscuits “. Elton’s version was already a year old by then.

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Of course he was also notable for announcing that he was retiring, and then coming right out of retirement a few months later. For some reason retirement just didn’t seem to take with Elton. The first time he said that was 1976 or ’77: didn’t last long.  He’d be in a slump for a while but that was okay: he’d give himself a jumpstart like his live Melbourne shows in ’86 or ‘The Lion King ‘ soundtrack.

Maybe I also liked Elton because he wore glasses.  So did John Denver but see the thing was, in the 1970s glasses were not sexy. I always wore glasses and I was never good at sports at any level of schooling. If you wore glasses, you were a four eyes: if you couldn’t play ball, you  were a faggot–sorry, their words.

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Elton wore ’em, so did John Lennon. Not only that but Elton made them a fashion statement.  He had a gift for flamboyance unmatched in the rock world,  which is saying something considering it was par for the course with acts like David Bowie and KISS on the loose. I always appreciated Elton’s music and his example, and I thought I’d say so now.

The foregoing was inspired by Elton John ‘s 2019 biography Me, published by Henry Holt and Company.

me elton john book

December 15, 1969 Peace for Christmas at the Lyceum Ballroom, London

From December 2 to the 12th, George Harrison made his first stage appearance outside the confines of the Beatles when he sat in as an anonymous member of Delaney & Bonnie’s tour, alongside Eric Clapton who’d persuaded George to join in on what would be a enjoyable and fulfilling concert experience.

Is it a coincidence that every time John Lennon performed “Cold Turkey” live, in 1969 anyway, Eric Clapton was on hand to reprise his epic guitar riff? Organized to benefit UNICEF, John pulled together a larger Plastic Ono Band in just under 48 hours.  The other acts performing included the Hot Chocolate Band, the Pioneers, the Rascals, Jimmy Cliff and Black Velvet.

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George was also present, the first time that two Beatles had appeared on a stage together since 1966. And if George had wanted to fade into the background, he succeeded as his guitar was barely perceptible amongst all the other gathered artists that day who included John, Yoko, George, Eric, Klaus Voormann, the incomparable Bobby Keys, Billy Preston, Keith Moon, Alan White, Jim Gordon and Delaney & Bonnie. John would later to refer to this gathering as the Plastic Ono Supergroup. “Cold Turkey” had already become a concert favorite for John, this being the second time he’d performed it live. It’s a respectable reproduction of his terrifying single, though the screams don’t reach the same drug-fever pitch until the six-minute mark.

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Next up is Yoko with “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand in the Snow”. This is an exercise in dissonance. If I were a child and my mother sang this to me, I would be very frightened. Before the song begins she’s crying “John! I love you! Britain! You killed Hanratty, you murderer!” (James Hanratty (4 October 1936 – 4 April 1962), also known as the A6 Murderer, was a British criminal who was one of the final eight people in the UK to be executed before capital punishment was effectively abolished. c/o Wikipedia)

One harsh riff settles into a groove over the usual screaming, interspersed with Yoko wailing “Kyoko! Don’t Cry!”, with too few horns to accentuate her cat-like shrieking. Fifteen minutes they had to endure which only ended because the drummers sped up in a desperate attempt to end the song. Unfortunately the band raced along to keep up as well, so it still dragged on until John wound it up with his guitar blaring feedback from a speaker.

Beatles Bible: Plastic Ono Band Live at Lyceum 1969:

Plastic Ono Band live at Lyceum Ballroom, London

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Available on: Side One of the Live Jam LP included with Some Time in New York City

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Release date: June 1972

Remixed with Overdub in New York, 1971 by Geoff Emerick, with Nicky Hopkins on electric piano, replacing the original organ track. (P.S. the original performance of “Don’t Worry Kyoko ran for 40 minutes but it was trimmed down to 15 minutes for the album release. Emerick was forced to change reels during the song, and there are three edits evident in the Live Jam version. )

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Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

 

 

‘Give Peace A Chance’, 50 years young this year

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(photo by Roy Kerwood, May 1969)

I may be cheating, ’cause technically this isn’t a live number at all. It wasn’t even recorded at the same bed-in. The first bed-in, immortalized in the soon-to-be borning single “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, began March 25 to 31st in Room 902 at the Amsterdam Hilton, the Netherlands, five days after their wedding in Gibraltar. Media saturation was the key, bringing in TV and film interviewers, or anyone with a camera or tape recorder to hear their message of peace. Of course it was all recorded and released as film and audio.

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For the second bed-in they settled into Room 1742, Hotel Reine-Elizabeth in Montreal, Quebec. From May 26 to June 2nd, they again hosted radio and TV broadcasters, journalists and other visitors, and on the second-to-last day recorded one of the most enduring peace anthems of our generation in five minutes flat. It was taped on borrowed equipment with John on acoustic guitar and a host of friends chanting along to the chorus. A simple song with a powerful and irresistible message. Soon it would be established as part of John’s concert entourage, in one form or another.

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Single release date: July 4, 1969 (UK)

Available on: Apple single 1809, anthologized on Shaved Fish (1975), The John Lennon Collection (1982 Geffen), Lennon Legend (1997), Working Class Hero: the Definitive Lennon (2003), Power to the People-The Hits (2010). A rehearsal recording was released on John Lennon Anthology, CD-1 Ascot (1998).

Selected audio highlights from the first bed-in from Amsterdam comprised Side Two of their last experimental LP, The Wedding Album, released November 7, 1969.

Filmed highlights: Honeymoon (1969, 60 minutes), Imagine: John Lennon (1988), John and Yoko: the Bed-In (1990 home video), Bed Peace (2011)

Links: 

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/Kerwood+took+this+1969+photo+John+Lennon+Yoko+record+Give+Peace+Chance+their+famous+Peace+Queen+Elizabeth+Hotel+Montreal+Timothy+Leary+bottom+photo+Tommy+Smothers+playing+guitar+with+Lennon+Teenage+photographer+Kerwood+event+Montreal+radio/9521595/story.html

The Beatles Bible:

Give Peace A Chance

 

December 11, 1968 The Dirty Mac at the Rock and Roll Circus

In what might be the last act of the Beatles-vs-Stones rivalry, following a year after Magical Mystery Tour bombed, the Rolling Stones unleashed a literal circus of their own. A better production was presented to all, though it wouldn’t see the light of day till 1996. The Rock and Roll Circus incorporated actual elements from Sir Robert Fossett’s Circus, including acrobats, a fire-eater and a trained tiger, for starters, along with Jethro Tull, coming off their first album, Taj Mahal, The Who and Marianne Faithful. Also debuting for the first and only time was the Dirty Mac, a super group headlined by Beatle John Lennon.

Directing chores fell to Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who’d already helmed many of the Beatles’ promotional films (“Rain”, “Paperback Writer”, “Hey Jude” and “Revolution”), and was doomed to direct the Get Back/ Let It Be film. The irony is not lost here as this special was filmed partly as a promotional  tool for the Stones’ just-released record Begger’s Banquet. When his turn came, John and Mick Jagger sat through an awkward introductory segment wherein Mick almost completely loses his accent. Then John joins his mates live before an invited studio audience.

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For this two-song set John assembled a stellar backing combo: Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience on drums, with Keith Richards from the Stones on bass and John on rhythm guitar. And what’s that black bag moving on the floor?…Oh right, that’s Yoko.

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First up is a thumping rendition of “Yer Blues”, fresh from The White Album which had only just arrived in record stores three weeks before. This was a rockin’ cover considering that, for the most part it’s clearly not the same players. First John takes the solo, then Clapton steps in, and never was a sideman more apropos to a blues rendition.

The Dirty Mac circus

Now joined by ‘perpetual violinist’ Ivry Gitlis, Yoko Ono emerges from her bag after this first song for what starts out as a pleasant little jam. Yoko’s screams don’t even start until they’re a minute and a half in. Luckily they only had to jam for four and a half minutes. Provisionally titled “Her Blues” by John, it wound up on the eventual album release as “Whole Lotta Yoko”.

By the time the Stones took the stage it was 2 am and most of the studio audience had left. Even so, John introduced them with a sly “And now…”, at which point they jump right into “Jumping Jack Flash”. And if some of the audience had left, a lot of those who were left, in their fancy dress and red or yellow blankets were on their feet dancing. Now all that was left was to prepare for broadcast.

This gathering of the stars would not see the light for another couple of decades, however. One story says the Stones felt upstaged by the Who’s performance of “A Quick One While He’s Away”. Another is that they were disappointed in their own performance. That’s a hard one to swallow since, despite the fact that the Stones were exhausted and quite honestly on drugs, they put on a pretty damn good show. One possible reason that rises above the others might be that this was the last public appearance of Brian Jones with the group. The less said the better, for though he was present, well…apart from his slide guitar on “No Expectations”, most of his contributions were inaudible. In an odd turn of events, neither Brian nor John would be around to see this special released to the public.

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Available on: The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, released on VHS, laser disc and CD, October 1996, following two days of screenings at the Walter Reade Theater during the New York Film Festival. The DVD followed in October 2004. This was reissued as The Rock and Roll Circus Expanded Edition 2-CD set & The Deluxe CD-DVD-Blue-Ray Edition in April 2019.

Note: the reissue includes unreleased tracks such as “Revolution Rehearsal”, a disjointed uptempo version of “Revolution 1” from The White Album, which slaps the ‘all right’ refrain on top instead of the bottom of the song; a “Warmup Jam” and an unused second take of “Yer Blues” where Clapton lays down an even bluesier twang.

 

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

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Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

 

March 2, 1969 Lady Mitchell Hall, Cambridge University UK–“Cambridge 1969”

For a man who became understandably reluctant to perform as a Beatle, John Lennon managed to put in plenty of time as a solo performer. Even more astounding is how much live material was actually available in his own lifetime. And to show how much time I have to muck around I propose to review said performances. I will not be including John’s all-star 31st birthday party, as while he played a range of songs, this was done for the entertainment of friends and well-wishers, besides not qualifying as a public concert.

Now I might have said that John clocked in an amazing amount of time as a solo performer. I never said a lot of it was listenable. We can attribute that in part to the avante garde leanings of Yoko Ono. While such screeching might appeal to an undisciplined art student, it is certainly less tolerable to the average listener. I’m not trying to slander Yoko; when she wants to, her singing voice can be gorgeous. “Who Has Seen the Wind” is hauntingly beautiful. Say what you will about the Some Time in New York City LP, the most enjoyable cuts were often those by Yoko–‘Angela” or ‘Sisters, O Sisters” for example. “Cambridge 1969” is not in the same category.

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“Cambridge 1969” isn’t technically a John song at all; it was Yoko who was invited to perform at Lady Mitchell Hall, Cambridge early in 1969, for an audience of 500. But John sat in on the set, in the shadows in the back. I hope Yoko had plenty of water around ’cause she put her throat through a wringer with this piece. This ‘song’ was seemingly designed to torture small dog’s ears. Yoko opens with a short, almost shy introduction–then wails like a banshee for the next 57 seconds, pausing for breath before continuing on. John was there basically to provide guitar feedback, which had none of the resonance he gave to the opening of “I Feel Fine”.

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We’re about nine minutes in before the feedback gets interesting, rising in pitch till at 9:50 it’s like a fire alarm going off. Only towards the end were they joined by a saxophonist and percussionist. This goes on for the entire first side of the Life With the Lions LP. God help the poor bastards–I mean, the student audience who sat in to endure 26 & ½ minutes of Yoko shrieking like a yowling cat.

 

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Available on: Unfinished Music #2: Life With the Lions

Release date: May 9, 1969 (UK)

The Beatles’ Bible entry:

John Lennon and Yoko Ono perform in Cambridge

 

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Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

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The spirit of Woodstock should animate us all

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We don’t need a Woodstock 50. Right now we are so divided, so unrighteous as a so-called Christian people, we could never pull it off. You know what, yes, it was messy, there was drugs in the juice you drank and frankly once it was over, Yasgur’s Farm probably looked like a war zone. It actually happened in Bethel, NY, 43 miles from the actual Woodstock. And it was the last time such an event could happen. But god, think about it.

Damn right, just stop, think about this. At its peak there were 400,000 young people gathered in its muddy fields. Apart from two people who died {one from being accidentally run over by a tractor and the other from ‘insulin usage’], there was no violence, no murders–but there were two births. Almost half a million kids got together for four days of peace and music. I would challenge any Trump rally to boast as much.

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Never mind, they can’t. Their forte is rancor and racism. Every time I put on Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s song “Woodstock”, I repeat it, at least four times. One, because I love it and two, I think we could all do with getting back to the land, back to the ideal. It became part of a story I once wrote about a concert, a very special concert. I was five years old when Woodstock happened, but that whole ’60’s vibe kind of informs the writing I do, that spirit of unity and brotherhood that crossed artifices such as race and gender.

I’d probably sell more books if I had pursued the whole Dystopian Future model. It certainly worked for the Hunger Games. I don’t think we need that. We’re already heading for a dystopian future as far as I’m concerned. You don’t have a future if its built on cynicism. All you wind up with is…well, what we’ve got now. I don’t want the people I write about to be in a world so f—ed up that I wouldn’t want to live in it. We have to believe we’re better than this. If we don’t believe we can make things better [and I’m speaking broadly here], we’ll never work to make it happen. And then we might as well all be the mindless drones our rich oligarchs expect us to be.

Naïve? Perhaps, but until something better comes along I’ll stick with it.

 

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Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

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Elton John & John Lennon live: Yeah, but what about the show?

So many blogs have been written about the last legendary concert appearance by John Lennon, alongside Elton John in Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1974. Clearly you’d think there was nothing new to say. The problem with all these pieces is that they all say THE SAME DAMN THINGS–it’s John Lennon’s last live show, he and Yoko got back together after the show, he’d done it after a bet over his hit single “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, yada yada. No one ever talks about the actual performance.

Ya know what? I’m not going over all that crap again. We know it. I’m going to leave some links at the end of this blog, if that’s the kind of background you want. This is my blog, my observations. The rest you can easily find elsewhere.

Among the frequent hand-me-downs from my brother Kenny was an Elton John Band single from 1975, “Philadelphia Freedom” (MCA-40364), a damn good song in its own right. The B-side, ‘Recorded Live’ the year before, was “I Saw Her Standing There”. Beneath the song title in small letters it read ‘Featuring John Lennon’.

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I didn’t know he’d done a live show with Elton John, beyond that one song. I wasn’t reading a lot of the nascent rock music press; I was barely aware there WAS one. Oh I knew about Rolling Stone, peripherally. My thing was comic books, Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 and the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. Those were my ways of distracting myself from my dad’s marriages and divorces, our frequent moving back in forth between two towns. From the time my mom and dad split up to the beginning of high school, I’d attended three elementary schools and bounced three times between two junior highs. I was also learning how to impale myself with insulin shots, after five years of having them inflicted on me.

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-two examples of the inevitable bootlegs-

Putting the foregoing aside, I think I was very lucky, certainly better off because of my parents and siblings. Back to cases, that single was the only official release of that singular performance, outside of the inevitable bootlegs. Elton’s live LP Here and Now (1976) was a contract-fulfillment item. While good, it was a truncated single-LP collection culled from two performances done a year apart. Side One was taken from a London performance for invalid children at the Royal Festival Hall in May1974; Side Two from the aforementioned Madison Square Garden show.

In the 1970s an Elton John concert was a thing not to be missed. And because I was underage, I always did; I didn’t turn 16 years old until May of 1980. In 1995 Gus Dudgeon compiled a 2-CD album of both concerts in their entirety. CD-2 features that long-lost three-song set featuring John and Elton: “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There”. I’ve just finished listening to those CDs today in my car. I’m here to rate that performance while it’s still strong in my head.

Just to start with right after Elton’s introduction, while John is tuning his guitar I heard a few bars of “I Feel Fine”. I’d listened to this deluxe CD before and I’d never noticed that before. Both Johns give an energetic performance of “Whatever gets You Through the Night”, and I’ll bet John Lennon was having more fun doing this than he’s had in years. No politics, no preaching, just two guys duetting beautifully together, jamming on pure rock ‘n’ roll.

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John is less prominent on “Lucy In The Sky”, but it IS Elton’s cover. He’s there for backing vocals and reggae rhythm guitar; you can hear his guitar in the right channel on your stereo. What’s never mentioned is the fact that this is the ONLY time John Lennon performed “Lucy” live in any capacity. The Muscle Shoals Horns blowing in the chorus add an extra zest to the live version.

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Finally John announces “a number from an old estranged fiancée of mine called Paul”, the first and only time he sang “I Saw Her Standing There”, as it was always Paul’s vocal. With Elton’s band behind him, John gives a roaring performance, vastly superior to the pussified version that Tiffany foisted on us in 1988. Really, how DARE she emasculate a Beatles classic that way? There were tears all around, and Elton allowed the pandemonium to go on and on, even though he still had 40 minutes left to go in his concert.

That was John’s last glory moment on a live stage, almost the last anyone would hear of him for five years. The times we would have with him during his brief comeback season in 1980 would be too tragically short.

 

Available on: “I Saw Her Standing There”, released as the B-side to Elton John’s single “Philadelphia Freedom”, MCA 40364, released February 24, 1975.

The entire set with both Johns appeared on the complete 2-CD reissue of Elton’s 1976 live album, Here and There (1996 Rocket)

Links:

John Lennon joins Elton John onstage at Madison Square Garden, New York

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/john-lennon-last-concert/