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.

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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/