Welcome To AlbumLinerNotes.com
"The #1 Archive of Liner Notes in the World!"

Your Subtitle text
Eric Lustbader EJ Essay
To Be Continued ...

Why is it that when we think of Elton John and Bernie Taupin we think of Hollywood, not London; Sunset Strip, not Kensington High Street; the Roxy, not the Marquee Club?

Here’s the reason:

1. Crossing The Border

In Boston, the lights go out. The audience moves restlessly, buzzing in the darkness. Glasses clink, and here and there a burst of laughter lends punctuation to the steady hum of the amps, red-eyed shadows lining each side of the stage. Someone strikes a lone guitar chord, and there is a smattering of applause; silence.

It is a chilly Halloween night in 1970. The Boston Tea Party is filled to capacity. Outside, snow swirls along the Charles River, obscuring the bridges, and traffic grinds to a halt. Inside, it is hot, and getting hotter.

A chunky silhouette enters stage left, sits down at the piano and, without fanfare or introduction, begins to play. The instant this happens the crowd fall silent. They hear the first chords, as chunky as the player, a syncopated beat, a signature tempo that at once recalls the beloved traditions of the origins of America’s best-loved creation, rock ‘n’ roll, and brings to that tradition something entirely fresh, and unexpected twist of the kaleidoscope which, like the first taste of premium champagne, is both unforgettable and addictive.

Then the voice is lifted in song and everyone present instinctively knows that they are witnessing something special. The voice is filled with nuance. In it can be found the influences of gospel, the folk blues of the Mississippi Delta, the smooth, infectious soul of Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound, and the kind of refined balladeering that had and – more than twenty years later – still has no peer.

That voice, with its echoes of America and so many things native to America; that voice, which was yet quintessentially English, with its English sensibilities and sense of music hall fun; that amazing voice transfixes the crowd that night, enrapturing them as it will so many millions through the world in the coming decades.

The band – Nigel Olsson on drums, Dee Murray on bass – comes on as Elton stands, displaying in all its eye-popping splendor one of his many outrageous outfits: lurid purple tights, flaming red jumpsuit, black velvet cape and stovepipe hat, a glorious, intoxicating mixture of Disney cartoon and filmic Phantom of the Opera.

He ploughs into a furious, electrifying rendition of Take Me To The Pilot, then segues into the more introspective Border Song, the sweetness of its lyrics so flawlessly blended with the aching beauty of the melody it brings tears to the eyes. It’s clear this is going to be a great night, a celebratory night.

This is Elton John’s opening concert on his first American tour that will take him to the Electric Factory in San Francisco, the Santa Monica Civic Center, a TV appearance on the David Frost Show, and into New York for what will become the legendary appearance at the Fillmore East. Now everything is new, vibrant with energy and delight, a whole new world to conquer and, after hearing Your Song on American radio for the first time, Elton, elated, says just before he takes the stage, “I’m ready for anything. I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”

And rock ‘n’ roll he does, bringing down the house in the course of the sweat-filled two hours he plays at the Boston Tea party. The crowd is hoarse from shouting, Elton can’t keep from grinning with the intense excitement of the moment. An then, in the middle of it all, he gets up from the piano, dances to the edge of the stage, singing as all the stage lights are extinguished and in perfect time to the song’s pulse, a plastic Mickey Mouse head glows on and off, on and off at Elton’s crotch.

Good Golly, America, you’d better be ready to rock!

That night at the Boston Tea Party was not, however, the first time Elton John had set an American audience on its ear. Before that historic tour even began, Elton had flown over for one fateful date at L.A.s Troubadour, where he set the entire town raving about him. Several weeks later, Elton’s record company, Uni, feted him with an industry-only showcase at the Playboy Club in New York. Pretty weird place, the Playboy Club, especially as a venue for rock ‘n’ roll, but no matter, in a replay of the already legendary Troubadour gig, Elton knocked ‘em dead here, as well, turning hardened I’ve-heard-it-all professionals into confirmed fans.
It was one of the first but by no means the last example of Elton’s mastery of the physical aspects of his art. Elton John, born Reginald Dwight, was truly born to be a performer, happy in the glow of the spotlights, charged up by the creation of live music, urged on to new heights by the delirious reaction of his audience.

Reg Dwight was born on March 25, 1947 in the county of Middlesex and, just three years later, was already playing the piano. His first public appearance was a resounding success when he played in a British music festival.

His prowess at the piano subsequently won him a scholarship for part-time studies at London’s Royal Academy of Music, where he studied for five years. At eighteen, Elton hooked up with a well-known English pop-music musician by the name of Long John Baldry. Elton played piano in Baldry’s band, Bluesology, and for a time at least, that was a ton of fun.

But all too soon Elton began to chafe under the restrictions of Bluesology’s limited musical repertory. He longed to write and record his own songs without interference; already his mind was conceiving of music that would burst though the boundaries of modern pop music, that would shatter all previous frames of reference of what pop music could be.

He always was an assiduous reader of the music industry weeklies. In the New Musical Express he discovered an ad placed by Liberty Records, looking for songwriters. Elton decided he had nothing to lose, and answered it. So, as it happened, did someone else.
Bernie Taupin, born on May 22, 1950 in the flatlands of Lincolnshire, had come to London almost reluctantly. He was essentially a poet, a youth who much preferred the silence of the countryside to the urban sounds of cars, trucks and buses. He was an altogether serious minded lad who nevertheless was drawn to the big lights of London because he, too, held a burning desire to have his works published. Though the audition didn’t work out, Bernie and Elton were put together by Liberty’s A&R exec Ray Williams, and sent to a publishing company administered by Dick James Music.

As the story goes, when producer George Martin first heard a certain Liverpudlian quartet, he called his friend Dick James, and said, ‘Dick, come down to the studio. I have some lads here, I’m going to produce their records, and when you hear their songs, I’m certain you’ll want to publish them.’

Whether this story about how Dick James came to publish the Beatles songs is apocryphal or not is beside the point. What mattered to Elton and Bernie was that, for the moment at least, Dick James had the personnel, the studio wherewithal and the industry clout to develop talent.

Thinking back on it, it’s a wonder that these two – the energetic, ever restless, extrovert rock ‘n’ roller and the grave, high-minded introvert poet – ever became friends. What did they see in one another? Did Elton recognize, as one would like to imagine, that the divine spark of creativity burning inside him was also burning inside Bernie? Did Bernie recognize in Elton the river of notes that would someday carry his words on the radios, stereos, Walkmans, and CD players to millions of people all around the world?
Or was this merely a meeting of two kids united by a mutual love of music and the naivete of youth?

In fact, Elton and Bernie’s initial efforts at Dick James Music studios failed to impress anyone, including themselves, because, as Bernie puts it, “We were writing Engelbert Humperdinck – style ballads, and we hated them.” But a year later, when Steve Brown came to work for Dick James, all that changed. “The thing was,” Steve Brown said, “in the beginning, Elton and Bernie were determined to write quote hit songs unquote, whatever that means. I told them to forget about that, to just write the kind of music they liked best.”

Steve’s advice was sound because just two weeks later the dynamic duo presented him with two finished songs, Lady Samantha and Skyline Pigeon. Steve was so impressed that he rushed Elton into Dick James’ tiny studio. He produced the sessions and subsequently, Lady Samantha was released as a single in England where it garnered terrific reviews and immediate airplay.

It’s funny. Memory says that we in America all knew from the beginning that Elton was a wildman on stage but history disabuses us of that particular fantasy. The fact is that, with its intense music and the artistic photo of Elton on it’s cover, the Elton John album presented it’s performer as a rather introspective intellectual kind of guy.
What a shock, then, to see Elton on stage! Part self-parodying peacock, part hell-bent holy rock ‘n’ roller Elton John quite understandably became an instant sensation. What to make of him?

“In those long ago early days I used to get asked over and over why I come onstage in tights and a cape as opposed to dirty denims and a t-shirt,” Elton says. “But see, that’s all part of the fun. I’m always hunting around for something outrageous to wear. The more outrageous the better. The idea is to provoke a reaction, to have the audience say, ‘God, he’s got to be kidding!’” He laughs. “I remember coming onstage one night in Mickey Mouse ears, and I sang Your Song and he audience couldn’t believe it.”

2. Rocket Men

The Fillmore East gig was something else altogether. In November, 1970 Bill Graham’s Fillmore East was THE premiere venue for rock in New York. It was the last of the city’s Old World music theatres, combining the cache of the insiders hangout in the center of the financial rock universe – if you could make it there, you could make it any where – oh yeah! - with the authentic funk and great acoustics impossible to reproduce in the modern world.

Elton had just returned east from having turned the West Coast upside down with his sold-out concerts. Just three nights earlier, Elton and the band had played a truly awe-inspiring concert in New York at A&R’s studio 1A before a small but enthusiastic audience, broadcast over radio station WABC-FM. Later, tracks culled from that concert would appear as 11/17/70, the first of Elton’s three live albums. No one wanted to leave the studio. Even hours after the concert had come to its stunning climax, the members of the audience milled around the studio, reluctant to leave, as if believing that just by being there they could reabsorb the music so recently performed. Everyone present was simultaneously drained and elated.

After this historic live performance for American radio, it was difficult to see how Elton could top the emotionalism of the moment, but his particular rocket had already blasted off, and up was the only direction possible for him.

The Fillmore East gig was headlined by Leon Russell. It was his first solo tour after playing piano with Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Joe Cocker’s band. Russell had been one of many who had been knocked out by Elton in L.A., and he had immediately phoned Bill Graham, requesting that the promoter pair him with Elton in New York.
As soon as Elton’s name was announced on the bill, the Fillmore East box office was inundated with calls asking for tickets to ‘The Elton John Concert.’ So much for Leon Russell. The rocket had just reached stage two.

Nobody really believed what was happening yet, or as least the enormity of it. We were all too close, too involved, too afraid-still-that it wasn’t going to work. Walking down St. Marks Place one windswept day in November, when Bernie and I were on our way to a rehearsal at the Fillmore, I remember saying to him, ‘I think you’d better savor your anonymity now. It’ll be gone soon enough.’

Bernie just laughed.

That was before those four electrifying shows at the Fillmore East, before the parade of celebrities made their way backstage to pay homage to the newest star that had crossed over the horizon and was lighting up the firmament.

Interestingly, in all the madness attendant on such a swift rise to superstardom, it’s possible to pinpoint the moment when Elton and Bernie knew they had arrived. It wasn’t when the fans made Elton the headliner; it wasn’t when the audiences stood on the Fillmore’s ancient velvet seats to shout their approval of the music, the energy, the sheer theatrical brilliance of the set. No, it was the moment, just after the third show when Bob Dylan stepped into their dressing room, a small nebbishly figure in a shabby raincoat, but a god nonetheless, a genuine icon whom Elton and Bernie had idolized for years.

That moment, an awestruck quiet in the otherwise dinfilled night of tumultuous emotion and physical energy, made real what the duo had already begun to suspect. Life had become a dream, once ground-rooted boys had begun to orbit the world with such breathtaking speed that, until that moment, the wild rush of events had been impossible to comprehend. But the presence of Dylan, his kind words about the concert, his ability to reduce both Elton and Bernie to quivering husks, served to return a sense of reality to the weekend. So it’s true, they thought, everyone recognizes what we can do.

Cannes. The South of France. The Mediterranean lapping passively along the long crescent sweep of rocky shore. On the right, lines of cream-colored rococo hotels, on the left, phalanxes of multi-million dollar yachts anchored off-shore, creating their own skyline.

It is the last week in January, 1971, and representatives from the entire music industry have gathered here, as they do every year, for MIDEM, the international music festival. During the day, deals are struck, at night, performers new and established are showcased for the world.

It is here at MIDEM that it has been decided to launch Elton John’s career in Europe. The hope is that the dizzying success he has achieved in the United States will be duplicated here.

To that end, Elton is to perform last on the first of two shows that Tuesday night. The early show is chosen because that is the one that will be broadcast live throughout Europe.

From the moment Elton arrives there is the scent of disaster in the air. The French who, as always, are running MIDEM, are not the best of organizers. Everything is behind schedule, the backstage area is a mess, behind schedule, broadcast equipment has yet to arrive. Through it all, Elton remains calm, in good spirits. He is eager to show all of Europe what he is about. Over the past year, he has spent so much time cementing his success in America that already he almost feels like a foreigner in Europe. This show will change all that, and Elton can feel that he is on the verge of another breakthrough, one that is very important to him.

The show starts badly, it is late and, with each successive performer, it gets more behind schedule. Normally, this would not matter much but, because this show is a live broadcast, there is a specific window of opportunity, radio air time has been blocked out beyond which the broadcast cannot be aired.

Now, with only Eric Burdon and War to go, there is just an hour of air time remaining. Fine, Burdon will play his half-hour set and Elton will play his.

But Burdon – for whatever reason – decides to make the show a forum for his own unpleasant brand of surprises. His set doesn’t end at its allotted time. Instead, as the band vamps behind him, Burdon launches into a kind of embarrassing mumbo-jumbo. Half-singing, half-shouting unintelligible words, mystifying invective, half-baked polemics, the singer runs his ragged set all the way to the end of air time, shutting Elton out.

Meanwhile, backstage, all hell has broken loose. Elton’s people have been pleading with the show’s organizers to pull the plug on Burdon but, in the confusion, nothing is done. Now the organizers, embarrassed and chagrined, offer Elton the last spot on the second show, telling his management that they have cleared the change in order with Richie Havens, who had been set to close the show.

The trouble is, no one can find Elton. Oh, my God, where is he? Has he gone back to the airport to fly home? Is he in the process of drinking himself into oblivion? Has he, as one hysteric suggests, thrown himself into the Mediterranean?

An hour later, with the second show already in progress, Elton is found in a bar, sitting by himself, a glass of untouched beer in front of him. What must he be feeling? Six months of complex planning, negotiating with the MIDEM committees, rearranging international schedules, all for this one moment that had meant so much to him, and now would never be.

What I remember most vividly about that evening is that it did not end sadly for Elton, but triumphantly, and it was all his doing.

When he was told that Havens had agreed to let him close the show, he went back to the theater. Backstage, he went to see Havens. The two were good friends, and had a kind of mutual admiration society. Elton thanked Havens for his generosity but said, ‘I want you to close the show, Richie. We all should hear Freedom as the last song of the evening.’

That night, when Elton went on just before Havens, everyone at MIDEM knew what had happened. People jammed themselves into the theater so that every conceivable inch of space was taken up by bodies. No one sat and, when Elton took the stage to a thunderous ovation, the night was already a triumph for him.

He then went on to play one of the most dynamic, emotional sets he’s ever performed. It was amazing to peer out from backstage to see the audience of music professionals singing along with him on every song.

Richie Havens did indeed end that night singing his inspiring signature song, Freedom, but the true inspiration came from Elton John.

3. Once Upon A Time In America

The love affair Elton John and Bernie Taupin have with America began a long time ago. Sitting in small, airless English movie theaters, watching, rapt, the magic of Hollywood. Listening on cheap phonographs to scratchy 45s of Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Spinners, Bob Dylan. They dreamed of all things American: drive-in’s, Chevys with big fins, burgers and fries, chocolate malteds, Deco chrome diners framed by a Western sunset, crowned by pink and blue neon signs proclaiming EATS; Icons of the silver screen in front of Grauman’s Chinese, bronzed Beach Boys and babes, fast cars fleeing down nightlit Sunset Boulevard, high palm trees and huge swimming pools, pink stucco mansions, and tons of sun; black leather jackets, duck-tail haircuts and gleaming Harley motorcycles, sweaty R&B clubs on the wrong side of Chicago and Philly, rock ‘n’ roll, raw and elemental pouring out of gritty urban arenas. The essence of American culture they absorbed defined, in a way, both what they did not have and what they wanted most.

It is not surprising, then, that Elton John and Bernie made their first assault on America, that they became famous first in America, that they remain, today, most popular in America – although it must be said that rarely has one performer been so consistently successful in virtually every country in the world.

It’s often all too easy for Americans to take for granted what they have. But for Elton and Bernie everything in America was new and wondrous. It seems clear now that we were all affected so immediately by Elton and Bernie’s music because it showed us in both words and music what they – and, by extension, we – loved best about America. And, in hearing it filtered through their English sensibilities – distilling one by one the icons we had lived with all our lives – we discovered the joys of our culture all over again.

From Take Me To The Pilot, Burn Down The Mission, Levon, Honky Cat to Crocodile Rock, Bennie and the Jets, Philadelphia Freedom, and Since God Invented Girls, Elton and Bernie have shown a knack of drawing on the American traditions of blues, folk, R&B and California pop, blending all of these into a unique whole that moves us so deeply because each song contains a series of musical and lyric snapshots of our own lives. Listening, we recognize ourselves – forever young – and the people and places we knew, and we happily relive those times.

The Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across The Water albums are all of a piece, pure early Elton, with his still rough-hewn voice and chunky chords; pure early Taupin, the lyrics filled with childlike, ethereal English longings, down home American country comforts, a surprisingly deep understanding of the peculiar suffering of the Civil War, and allusions to mythic Western heroes. They also contain Come Down In Time and Tiny Dancer, two of the most exquisite love songs the duo have ever written.

Some might find it odd to compare Elton and Bernie to the Rolling stones but, consider: both acts were bred on American music, both were heavily influenced by R&B. Jagger and Richards, not surprisingly, were drawn to the raw and raunchy Chicago sound, more rhythm than blues, while Elton and Bernie were attracted to the other side of the tracks, the Philadelphia sound, more blues than rhythm.

In the lustrous stylings of Philadelphia’s best soul artists, Elton found a source of inspiration on which he has worked his own particular magic for decades. There is a sense in him of wanting to explore the depths of his own vocal range, an odyssey possible with the kind of musical truthfulness only R&B can provide.

After Madman Across The Water, Elton took himself to France, to find a new sound. Stripped of the lush Paul Buckmaster arrangements, with more energy and verve, Honky Chateau emerged as Elton’s fastest selling album to date. Besides the Bowie-esque Rocket Man, it contained Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, the first of many songs that would mark Bernie’s scarifying observations on American urban life. The lyrics were written during a stay in midtown Manhattan when a man was shot in the street just below Taupin’s hotel room window, and one can hear that edgy sense of impending disaster in every phrase.

The next two albums, Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road began and ended another phase filled with change. ‘I started experimenting with my voice on Don’t Shoot Me’ Elton says. ‘High Flying Bird, for instance, was very Van Morrison-ish. While singing Teacher I Need You, I though of every Bobby Vee record I’d ever heard, and there are sections of Teenage Idol that show Marc Bolans’ influence on me.’

Taupin is able to take a subject about which whole libraries have books have been written, and by creating a string of powerful images, move us in ways we had never suspected we could be moved.

My Father’s Gun, about the Civil War and Indian Summer, about the plight of the native American Indian are two examples that immediately come to mind. But perhaps Bernie’s most enduring archetype is Candle In The Wind, for it shows the power of words and music to convey a message on many different levels.

Candle In The Wind was written in 1973 for the double album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which Elton has described as ‘the ultimate Elton John album – it’s got all my influences from the word go.’ Because the song begins, ‘Goodbye Norma Jean,’ it was widely assumed that Candle was Taupin’s paean to the memory of Marilyn Monroe. But to do so is to seriously underestimate the song. In fact, Bernie was never particularly taken with Monroe. He wrote Candle In The Wind to illustrate how the Hollywood star system could destroy that which it so desperately sought to create. This wasn’t merely Marilyn Taupin was writing about, it was anyone caught up in the myth of Hollywood superstardom. And the haunting shadow of American pop culture which is at the core of Candle transforms what many saw as an elegy into a far richer, more complex morality tale.

But on another level, Bernie was able to accomplish what many others had sought and failed to do. Because he hadn’t tried to discover the secret of the myth of Marilyn Monroe, because he was writing about a larger concern, he had captured the perfect ephemeral metaphor for her tragic life: and it seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind never knowing who to cling to when the rain set in.

In retrospect, one wonders, too, whether there wasn’t a degree of biography and autobiography in the song. The myth of superstardom had already cast its spell over Elton and Bernie. In L.A., where they now lived for much of the year, life had turned into a fantasy – ‘Reality, it seems, was just a dream.’

And Elton, always on the go, always moving forward as if there was a shadow following him, had already reinvented himself several times.

Which meant that 1974’s Caribou called for yet another reinvention. Although Elton was known as a quick-change artist (many of his earlier albums were recorded within a span of 10 days), the making of Caribou was particularly stressful. “We were under unbelievable pressure to finish the album in just over a week because we had to go right into a tour of Japan and Australia,’ Elton said just after Caribou’s release. ‘I used to find putting my vocals on in the studio a very cold process. I’d do two or three takes and then get fed up. Now I find I spend a lot more time on my vocals. I suppose that’s because I’m happier with my voice. It’s jut plain better. We’d never have written a song like Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me for the Elton John album because I couldn’t have sung it.’

4. Beyond The Number One Event Horizon

Then there was the night Elton John changed John Lennon’s life. Elton met Lennon for the first time in October, 1973. They were introduced in the studio in L.A. where Lennon was recording his Rock ‘n’ Roll album, produced by Phil Spector. Elton’s long-time friend, Tony King invited Elton to the sessions. ‘I remember sitting in the front row and trembling,’ Elton says, ‘not because of John but because of Spector.’

Spector, of course, remained aloof and unattainable, but Lennon was another matter altogether. One of the reasons Lennon and Elton became friends was that Elton wasn’t intimidated by him. By July, 1974, when Lennon was working on his Walls and Bridges album, he asked Elton to sing Whatever Gets You Through The Night with him.

During a break in those sessions, Elton made Lennon a bet. ‘I said to him, ‘John, if Walls and Bridges goes to number one, I’m going to ask you to play Madison Square Garden with me.’ Elton said ‘John just laughed nervously, I mean he hadn’t been on stage for years and you could tell he hated the idea of going back, but he said okay because, I think, basically he didn’t believe the album would ever do that well.’

When Walls and Bridges reached the number one spot on the music charts, Elton called in his bet. It was Thanksgiving weekend, 1974. ‘The thought of playing Garden with him was such a rush, I knew it would be great fun for me.’ Elton said, ‘But I also did it for John. I thought it would do him good to get out of his shell.’

Backstage the night he went on, Lennon was a nervous wreck. He was clearly terrified. White-faced and restless, he did everything he could to get out of going on. Elton was about half way through the set when they called John on stage. ‘Christ,’ he whispered, and immediately ran to the men’s room and threw up.

Everybody’s Restless

On stage, tension was running high. Up to this point, Elton’s set had gone well, but everyone was nervous that at the last minute Lennon would lose his nerve completely and not go on. Somehow, as is always the case in these things, the audience had gotten wind of Lennon’s impending appearance, and the excitement was electrifying.

Everybody’s Scared

When, to the relief of Elton and the band, Lennon did wander on stage, the audience went crazy. On the surface, it appeared as if Lennon was taking in the adulation with a great deal of equanimity, but in reality he was in a complete state of shock. It was as if some other John Lennon had played world tours with Paul, George and Ringo to vast venues like Shea Stadium.

Everybody’s Lookin’ For Something That Ain’t There…

It was Elton who got this John Lennon into the concert. In order to survive, Lennon had to disremember his former life, he had to reinvent himself. In often seemed as if this need was a basis for his abiding friendship with Elton, as if deep down he recognized a kindred spirit.

It’s hard to describe how wonderful it was to see Lennon back on stage, loosening up, beginning to enjoy himself, in the end reveling the persona of JOHN LENNON all over again. So much so that, later, at the post-concert party, when I said to him, ‘You must be tired of hearing this, but your music changed my life,’ he smiled kindly, his face aglow, and said, ‘You’re right, I do hear that a lot, but I never get tired of hearing it.’

Lennon was not quite honest. He had been tired – or, perhaps more accurately, frightened – of hearing about the impact of the old days. It had weighed on him like a millstone. But not tonight. In a curious way, he had been reborn, reawakened to find that the powerful aura of the old John Lennon still had its positive side for him.

Los Angeles, the place where dreams are born. It was here in June, 1975 that Elton and Bernie were face to face their most difficult challenge. It was here they got word and their autobiographical album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, had reached the number one spot on the charts in its first week out. How to follow that up? They did, just five months later, with Rock of the Westies, which also topped the charts in its first week of reporting.

‘We were elated and devastated all at once,’ Bernie recalls. ‘We thought, ‘Well, we’ve finally done it’; but then we thought, ‘Where to now?’

There were hard choices to be made, then. Like mountain climbers who forever have had the vision of their goal in front of them, and who now have reached that goal, Elton and Bernie had reached the summit of their world. In the thunderous silence that inevitably comes after such momentous achievements, they could feel their lives catching up to them. So many songs written, so many albums recorded, so many tours performed, so many interviews given, so many parties thrown. It was becoming clear that, if not checked, the kind of permanent burnout that had afflicted The Beatles and so many other superstars would destroy them. ‘We had spent so much time together,’ Elton said, ‘and so much compressed time that, really, we were hardly aware of what had happened to us or who we really were. So much had happened in so short a time.’

And Bernie echoed the sentiment: ‘We could feel ourselves spinning out of control. Not our professional personas, but us as private people. It was time to take a vacation from the constant pressure of being who we had become.’

In the end, that wise decision saved them. After a hiatus of less than two years, Elton and Bernie came back together to forge a new kind of working relationship. In the interim, each had worked with other songwriters with varying degrees of commercial success. All that was irrelevant. It was the Elton/John entity that need to survive, and survive it did. A new, more mature sound was emerging, evidenced by the magnificent double album, Blue Moves, a kind of audio film noir, scarifying in the honesty and bleakness of its vision.

Over the next ten years – and nine albums – this metamorphosis was often painful but hardly without its own exhilarating moments (I’m Still Standing is a perfect case in point). Clearly, a musical adolescence had been shed, and a world at times darker but certainly more realistic, more profound – and more mysterious – was reflected in the facets of Bernie’s lyrics.

As Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was an ending of an era, Sleeping With The Past seems to be the beginning of a new one for Elton and Bernie. It’s their first concept album since Blue Moves and, because of that, retains a coherence of thought and direction we haven’t seen from them in some time. Elton and Bernie like to say that Sleeping is a homage to all their R&B influences, but it could be they’re wrong – or at least only partly right. Homage is an imitation, no matter how well crafted, and there is nothing imitative about the songs on Sleeping. Rather, Elton and Bernie have once again worked their magic, transforming traditions we have been brought up with into entirely new creations. The R&B heritage that enriches each song is a background hue on a palette that contains sumptuous colors of yet another exciting reinvention.

Elton has always had a horror of standing still, of writing the same kind of songs over and over. The last decade has shown that he and Bernie are capable of covering territories that they never dreamed of when they took their time off. That, of course, was the purpose. Fifteen years after the crucial decision to balance the artistic with the commercial, to remain happy amid the crushing pressures of superstardom, not to lose their selves in the seductive sprawl of the image, that purpose is still being fulfilled.

Goodbye Norma Jean, Hello Elton and Bernie.

- Eric V. Lustbader

Eric V. Lustbader spent fifteen years in the music business working, variously, for Cash Box magazine, Elektra Records, Dick James Music and CBS Records, as well as writing freelance for numerous consumer magazines.

He was the first journalist in America to write about Elton John. In 1970, after listening to an import copy of Empty Sky, he predicted in Cash Box that Elton John would be a superstar. This led directly to a close friendship with Elton and Bernie that has lasted more than twenty years.

In 1974 he wrote and field produced a Profile on Elton for NBC-TV’s Nightly News. Four years later Lustbader left the music industry to pursue a full-time career as a novelist. In 1980, his novel The Ninja became an international best-seller. Since then he has written 14 other best-sellers, including Black Heart, The Miko, Jian, Shan, French Kiss, White Ninja, and Angel Eyes.

Website Builder