Forget the tantrums, tiaras, flowers, sunglasses, knighthood, '80s cocaine habit, Dolce & Gabanna row, ridiculous '90s Louis XIV costume and even the extremely admirable work that's carried out by the Elton John Aids Foundation. Elton Hercules John is not a "national treasure"; he's a rock star. It's time for rock snobs to give Elton John and his band the credit they deserve.
Many realise that the Elton John Band are still making records and playing over 100 shows a year. They certainly don't need any articles like this to continue selling out arenas and stadiums all over the world. It is a fact, however, that too many music fans aren't checking out their back catalogue in as much depth as they would other '70s acts like David Bowie, Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen.
To detractors who think Elton John isn't as capable of reinventing himself as Bowie, check out this progressive rock, this glam rock, this folk, this blue eyed soul and this dance. There are many more genres that his music has covered. His 2013 performance of "Streets of Philadelphia" is arguably better than the Springsteen original. And, for those who think he's simply worlds apart from Bob Dylan, buy and listen to the whole Tumbleweed Connection record. Dylan himself even said that he thought the lyrics to "Ballad of a Well-Known Gun" are great.
That's all well and good but it might suggest that Elton John is merely a heritage artist, whose '70s output is all that's worth paying much attention to. It's true that he's released his fair share of very mediocre albums, especially during the '80s, when he fired vintage Elton John Band members, such as drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray, and was bulimic, alcoholic and addicted to cocaine. Nonetheless, even records that were met with a lukewarm reception, such as Jump Up! and The Fox, have a couple great tunes on though, like "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)" and "Chloe" respectively.
It's also overlooked that he's made a truly great record in each of the last five decades: Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirty Cowboy in the '70s, Too Low For Zero in the '80s, The One and Made In England in the '90s, Songs From The West Coast in the '00s and The Union just six years ago. And that's disregarding the many other very good albums he's made in between.
I'm 25 and the vast majority of proper rock music fans my age will have heard of records like The Next Day, Modern Times and Alone In The Universe. How many can I discuss Songs of the West Coast and The Union with though? I'm delighted that I recently met someone my age who is as excited about Elton John's new record, Wonderful Crazy Night, as I am. Some old school acts have even had a major new lease of life and become trendy again. Though he's unmistakable and a respected "pillar of the establishment", people have forgotten what made Elton John famous in the first place.
That, in their 60s, him and his band are playing live better than they ever have is something that more people should know. I would go as far as to say there is not a better band playing live today. It's not something than can be illustrated with a Youtube clip. These are real, working musicians who can easily make a mistake at any moment. It's a spectacle that will become rarer, as the major music tours become more saturated with choreography and lip syncing.
Elton John is a monster piano player and his keyboardist, Kim Bullard, who has worked with Crosby, Stills & Nash and Nine Inch Nails, is in the same league. The band are some of the best rock musicians on the LA scene, with bassist Matt Bissonette having previously worked with ELO and Ringo Starr. There's probably not a better guitar player in the business than Davey Johnstone, who is also the bona fide rock star. Nigel Olsson, who has been playing live with him since 1969, has the best drum sound I've ever heard, which is as much a testament to the world class sound crew that work on the show as it is to his and the percussionist, John Mahon's, wonderful laidback style.
It's been a tragic year for rock 'n' roll with the untimely passing of Bowie and Glenn Frey. This should serve as a reminder that we should all check out live acts like Dylan, Billy Joel, Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac and, especially, the Elton John Band before it is too late and they have retired.
It's not only live, however, that Elton John is overlooked by music snobs and those unwilling to listen to anything more obscure than "Rocket Man". The last 15 years have been a purple patch for him in the studio. Together with his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, he drew a line in the sand with Songs of the West Coast, a brilliant record that included the hit "I Want Love" but, more importantly, was a return to the classic Elton John sound. His best '70s work was all produced by Gus Dudgeon (who worked on "Space Oddity" with Bowie) and he's now forged a similar alliance with Americana aristocracy, T Bone Burnett, who first sat behind the mixing desk for John on The Union, a collaboration record with the '70s maverick songwriter and session musician, Leon Russell. The album was one the finest albums he's ever made and "Hey Ahab" is a song that is received as warmly live as the likes of "I'm Still Standing".
Still, he sounds his best with his touring band, as the chemistry developed from over 40 years on the road together, cannot be replaced. The likes of Johnstone and Olsson played on 2004's Peachtree Road and 2006's The Captain and The Kid, both of which were super albums but suffered from a lack of promotion. The Elton John Band are back for this year's new record and Island Records are doing their best to push it to the top of the Billboard 200. It's an upbeat, rock 'n' roll album, played live in the studio. How many records like this are even released anymore? It's high time people's modern day experience of Elton John consisted of more than the occasional drunken singalong to "Crocodile Rock" at a wedding or the cheese floor at Oceana, or a (no doubt largely fictional) Mail Online account of his recent phonecall with Vladimir Putin. He's a great musician and that's all we should focus on. I, for one, will be ordering a vinyl copy of Wonderful Crazy Night and can't wait for its arrival on February 5th. If you are fan of real music, played by real musicians, you should join me.
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