I found a minty copy of Elton John‘s debut album locally recently.
No! Not that one! His 1969 DJM (Dick James Music) release Empty Sky, distributed by Pye records!
I’m constantly amazed at the diversity of records and record labels I find here in Spokane. We are a military town, which I’m assuming accounts for many of the “import” albums I find here in the wild.
Even so, I’ve never even found the mid-70s re-release of this album in my years of digging… I never expected to find the original in translucent vinyl.
It is a John/Taupin collaboration and hints at much of the style and substance that would come from that collaboration over the next decade. Players include Caleb Quayle and Roger Pope who would revolve in the Elton John orbit for years to come, and Troggs bassist Tony Murray. It even contains what may be the first collaboration of John’s most famous drummer, Specer Davis Group alumni Nigel Olsson, on the first song, side 2.
A few of the songs would inhabit B-sides of later singles and be rehashed in early live appearances, but my favorite song is the second song on side two entitled Sails.
Hindsight album reviews claimed Empty Sky held no hidden gems… but did portend the future of the Superstar recording artist. I suppose that is correct in the sense that none of these songs included on this album are played in perpetuity on classic rock radio stations. As I spin this record, this is the first time I’ve ever heard any of these songs! But I guess, for me anyway, that would be the case with almost every Elton John album produced since 1976.
So, if you’re an Elton John fan, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Empty Sky, whether the original British pressing or the reissue… it paints a really good picture of what this artist was like at 22… before fame and fortune. An Original O-Reginald!
“Now I know, Spanish Harlem are not just pretty words to say”
That lyric has been bouncing around in my head for weeks after hearing Heart cover it at a recent concert. The song is Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.
From the 1972 album Honky Château, this is one of my all time favorite Elton John songs:
“I thought I knew, but now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City”
This record has the hits Honky Cat and Rocket Man on side A. Besides Mona Lisas, another standout track on side B is Slave, his take on Antebellum America:
“Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true, You stand at the edge, while people run you through”
Honky Château continues Elton John’s departure from balladeer towards bandleader. This is his first record to feature his touring band, Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson exclusively on an album. There is even a spot on the album cover devoted to violinist Jean-Luc Ponty as a band member (even though he only appeared on two of the albums non-hit tunes)!
“And I thank the Lord, there’s people out there like you, I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you”
I met Elton John because of Neil Sedaka. Sedaka tunes were all over the AM radio of my childhood and Sedaka himself seemed ubiquitous on the TV specials of the day. One day I saw Sedaka on some variety show singing the song Bad Blood.
Soon after, some elementary school friend had the Elton John’s Greatest Hits LP and was playing it on a school record player. “This is the guy singing with Neil Sedaka on that song Bad Blood.” Oh? “Yup, he does that song Crocodile Rock.”
I’ve been collecting Elton John records ever since.
How nothing from Madman Across the Water made it on that first greatest hits record, I’ll never understand, but Madman has always been one of my favorite Elton John albums. I’d let it sit idle for quite a while, but a (kind of) recent release of a remastered Tumbleweed Connection CD contains a killer extended version of the song Madman. Enjoy!