Monday, 20 August 2012

August 2012

The August 2012 blogs feature a look at The Who, Sugababes, and Elton John. To look at any of these blogs, click the relevant link to your right.























































"Assemble the musicians"

Sugababes

Let’s for a moment ignore all that nonsense about the Sugababes no longer having any original members in the band, because Napalm Death have already covered that base.

But it is fascinating to note that the current line up of the band are on hiatus, whilst the original three members are in the process of recording together. It is almost as if there is some sinister record company ploy at hand. But the original three will not be allowed to record under the Sugababes banner, not at least whilst the current line up continues to exist. It’s all quite interesting, but it does tend to take away from the fact that with Girls Aloud, the Sugababes were the other saviours of Pop in the post-Spice Girls world. The general consensus is that they lost their way with each line up change (four in total), but I quite like the fact that, in one form or another, they’ve kept going for over a decade. Most bands nowadays seem to form with a business model in mind, as if they know when they will be splitting up and when that career spanning greatest hits will appear, to coincide. In the world of pop, to release seven albums is quite impressive.

Throughout their years, the Sugababes went from All Saints style misery-pop, through to banging-Ibiza trance pop, via some other made up genres along the way. Maybe they never did quite top Girls Aloud in terms of sheer thrills, but they came close. And as the top 40 continues to be full of god awful blandness, as if it was 1983 all over again, let’s look back to the good old days when pop stars were still actually quite good.

The first incarnation of the band consisted of Keisha Buchanan, Siobhan Donaghy and Mutya Buena. Their debut album, “One Touch”, was issued in the fall of 2000 and was the subject of ecstatic reviews. The group had carved themselves something of a niche look and sound, they didn’t go down the usual pop star route of stripping off for FHM, or smiling that much, and their “glum pop” sound made them look pretty much unlike anybody else around at the time. The group were also incredibly young, and there was much comment about how such a youthful group could be writing such mature material.

But no sooner had the debut LP been released, than trouble started. Donaghy simply walked out on the group during promotional duties for the album during the following summer, with the real reason behind her departure often cited as being a falling out between her and the other two band members. By this point, the band had not performed live very often, and most appearances had been PA’s.

Promo work on the album subsequently ended, although by this point, four singles had been released, so it is doubtful as to whether or not any more singles would have been taken from the record. Donaghy was replaced by Heidi Range, who soon became the band’s pin up girl, with her blonde hair, and the group started their “glam” phase. I recall seeing the band a few times where the “Heidi, Heidi” chant filled the air.

The first single to be released with this line up was 2002’s “Freak Like Me”. It came in the middle of the ‘bootleg mash up’ craze, and was overseen by producer Richard X, who created a mixture of the Adina Howard original with Tubeway Army’s “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”. The original plan was to issue the mashup with Howard’s original vocals, but the request to do so was turned down, and the Sugababes were asked to record the vocals. It gave the band their first number 1, and was included on their next album, “Angels With Dirty Faces”, issued later the same year. The album represented a more “pop” feel when compared to “One Touch”, and indeed, every Sugababes album since would represent a more “upbeat” sound of the group.

Despite the critical acclaim lauded on “One Touch”, both the album and related singles had sometimes struggled to do much chartwise, especially outside the UK, but “Angels” and it’s attendant singles were big sellers. The next single, “Round Round”, topped the UK charts, and the band soon began to tour on a regular basis. A third album, “Three”, surfaced in 2003, and although the lead single “Hole In The Head” was another much loved, chart hit, it was the follow up “Too Lost In You” that was the LP’s highlight, a harmony filled ballad from the “Love Actually” movie that showcased another side to the group, and remains possibly their greatest moment.

Although the band were dogged by persistent rumours of a split, usually revolving around Buchanan and Buena “isolating” Range by using their own “special” language that Range didn’t understand, the second line up of the band recorded a fourth album, “Taller in More Ways”, issued in October 2005. The lead single, the sparkly power pop of “Push The Button” gave the band another ultra-hit single in the UK, and helped put the album at the top of the charts. But problems were afoot yet again. Just after the second single from the album, “Ugly”, had been released, Buena announced her departure, as she wanted to concentrate on bringing up her newborn baby. She was replaced by Amelle Berrabah. The decision was taken to re-vamp three songs from the album by getting Berrabah to record new vocals to replace Buena’s (“Gotta Be You”, “Red Dress” and “Follow Me Home”), as well as recording a brand new song to close the album, “Now You‘re Gone“. The ‘new vocal’ versions of “Red Dress” and “Follow Me Home” were later issued as singles, whilst the new version of the LP appeared in 2006 in a brand new cover.

A greatest hits set, “Overloaded”, appeared at the tail end of 2006. Just in time for Christmas. Despite it’s title being cribbed from the first hit single, the cover featured the current line up of the band, two thirds of which had had no involvement in said song. A couple of new songs, “Easy” and “Good To Be Gone“, were included on the album, with the former being released as a single to coincide. An accompanying DVD, featuring fourteen of the band’s videos, including “Easy”, was also released.

The first album to feature, for it’s entirety, the third line up of the band was 2007’s “Change”, trailed by the incendiary “About You Now” single, which was issued on an array of formats, including the band’s first commercially available 7” edition. The title track was issued as a single on a Memory Stick several weeks later, a format that a few bands and singers dabbled with at the time before the virtual death of the physical single. It was followed, in 2008, by “Catfights And Spotlights”. Like it’s predecessors, reviews were mostly positive, although some dissenters - including Mrs Shergold - claimed that the band were losing their way, and that the sound of the band was now wholly unrecognisable when compared to the earlier albums. Certainly, putting a duet with Taio Cruz on the album was the sign of a band either selling out or struggling to work out what to do next. Nonetheless, the two singles from the LP, “Girls” and “No Can Do”, were sprightly affairs, both denting the UK top 30, although Range later claimed that the longevity of the album as regards it’s chart run was poor, not because of the quality of the record, but because of the record companies’ failure to plug the album properly.

The band returned to work on their seventh studio album soon after, but once again, there was trouble at mill. A new single, “Get Sexy”, was issued in the summer of 2009, but soon after, rumours once again began circulating that a line up change was about to take place. Although there were rumours that Berrabah was the one who was about to leave, the situation behind the scenes was different. It was Range and Berrabah who were both considering leaving, as they had both had arguments with Buchanan in the last 12 months. Upon hearing this, bigwigs at the record label decided to offer them a deal - they would ask Buchanan to leave instead.

And so it was that the group’s “leader” was ousted. Buchanan released a statement saying she wished the girls all the best, and that she was leaving of her own free will. But the mixed messages coming out from both camps helped to cause some bad blood. Buchanan has apparently since forgiven her former bandmates, although Buena has not been so forthcoming, claiming that the record companies' decision to sack who was the one remaining founder member was proof that the label wanted to keep the Sugababes going as a brand name, more so than keeping them together as a group.

Within days of Buchanan going, Jade Ewen was ushered in as her replacement. Ewen had been mentioned as a replacement for Berrabah when all that hoo hah was going on, which goes someway to explaining how she was more or less already available to film the band’s next video. The rumour was Ewen knew she was already in the band before Buchanan knew she was out. Said single “About A Girl” was issued as a single in November 2009, barely six weeks after Buchanan had left. Along with a re-recorded “Get Sexy”, the band’s seventh album “Sweet 7” appeared in March 2010. However, the knives were out, and critics tore into the album, many of them citing Buchanan’s departure as the catalyst for the band’s fall from grace.

So where are we now? Well, legal issues mean that the Buchanan/Buena/Donaghy lineup will be required to release any new material under a new name. A bit like when bits of Yes formed Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe. Meanwhile, the eighth Sugababes album was apparently abandoned after the planned issue of a new single, “Freedom”, was met with shrugs of shoulders of indifference (the song surfaced as a download only), but Range and Co have already mentioned that although the band are currently “doing solo stuff”, plans to record again are being lined up for the end of 2012. And you know what? I hope they do. “Sweet 7” was not quite the unmitigated disaster people might tell you it was, and let’s face it, an eighth Sugababes album has got to be preferable to a Westlife comeback.

Discography

As ever, what follows are the important bits of the band’s back catalogue. Albums are the original pressings, whilst the singles list concentrates on formats with exclusive material, so one or two formats are missing. This includes a handful of singles that were issued in unique packaging, but with non-unique music. Promos, as usual, are not listed, although it is worth pointing out that some promo only singles exist, such as “Little Lady Love”, which are worth keeping an eye out for.

As regards the albums, the band have been unusual in that not one of these were ever issued as “limited edition” first pressing - never have the Sugababes issued their new LP with a free “watch once, then never again” 20-minute long bonus DVD. And as far as I can recall, none of these were ever reissued at a later date with any sort of bonus disc either. There are some unusual pressings from overseas - a “Greatest Hits” version of “Change”, with the album radically altered to include bits and pieces from the band’s past, and the “eco packaging” European pressings of the “Amelle” version of “Taller In More Ways”, which featured the CD tucked inside a tray which could be pulled out from the inside of the card sleeve packaging, but which had nothing in the way of lyrics, sleeve notes, or extra photos.

Like most bands, the Babes’ singles have been, for much of their existence, issued on at least two formats per single, although in many instances, the second format was not necessarily a second CD, and the list below includes a mix of MC’s, Vinyl and USB releases. For a short while, there was some sort of oddball merger of Island Records and MCA, meaning a handful of singles in the mid-noughties appeared on Island, but with MCA style catalogue numbers. This practice was stopped before the release of “Push The Button”.

ALBUMS

One Touch (CD, London 8573-86107-2)
Angels With Dirty Faces (CD, Island CID 8122)
Three (CD, Island CID 8137)
Taller In More Ways (“Mutya” version, CD, Island CID 8162)
Taller in More Ways (“Amelle” version, CD, Island CIDX 8162, alternate track listing, different p/s)
Overloaded (CD, Universal 170 9334)
Overloaded (DVD, Universal 171 3477)
Change (CD, Universal 174 7641)
Catfights And Spotlights (CD, Universal 178 7209)
Sweet 7 (CD, Universal 272 7295)

IMPORTANT 45’s

Overload (Album Version)/Lush Life/Overload (Capoeira Remix - Vocal Version) (12” in die cut sleeve, London LONX 449)
Overload (Original Edit)/Lush Life/Overload (Instrumental) (CD, London LONCD 449)
New Year (Single Version)/Sugababes On The Run/Forever (CD1, London LONCD 455)
New Year (Single Version)/Little Lady Love (About 2 Remix)/New Year (Protest Remix)/(Video) (CD2, London LOCDP 455, patterned p/s)
Run For Cover/Don’t Wanna Wait/Run For Cover (Zero Gravity Suga And Spice Vocal) (CD, London LONCD 459)
Run For Cover (Video)/Overload (Nick Faber Mix)/Overload (Edit Of Video)/New Year (Edit Of Video) (DVD, London LODVD 459, unique p/s)
Soul Sound (Radio Edit)/(Medway City Heights Edit) (Cassette, London LONCS 460, plays same both sides)
Soul Sound (Radio Edit)/Run For Cover (Live)/Soul Sound (Live)/(Video) (CD1, London LONCD 460)
Soul Sound (Soulchild Remix)/(Medway City Heights Mix)/(Joey Negro Club Mix) (CD2, London LOCDP 460, unique p/s)
Big Bag EP (CD, Warners 07382-003, Various Artists release sold exclusively via McDonalds in cardboard carry case, includes “One Touch (CREAM Remix)”)
Freak Like Me (Differentgear Mix)/(We Don’t Give A Damn Mix)/(Capoeira Twins Mix)/(Jameson Mix) (12”, Island 12IS 798)
Freak Like Me (Radio Edit)/(We Don’t Give A Damn Mix)/Breathe Easy (Acoustic)/Freak Like Me (Video) (CD, Island CID 798)
Round Round/Groove Is Going On/Freak Like Me (Girls On Top Dancehall Mix) (CD, Island CID 804)
Round Round (Craigie & Crichton Remix)/(Alternative Mix)/(Soulwax Remix)/(Seani B Remix featuring Zaguzaar) (12”, Island 12IS 804, unique p/s)
Stronger/Angels With Dirty Faces (Audio Drive Remix)/Stronger (Almighty Club Mix)/(Video) (CD1, Island CID 813)
Angels With Dirty Faces/Stronger (Antoine 909 Remix)/(Live Leeds University 5.10.2002)/Angels With Dirty Faces (Video) (CD2, Island CIDX 813)
Shape (Radio Mix)/Killer/Freak Like Me (Remix)/Shape (Video) (CD1, Island CID 817)
Shape (Album Version)/(Salaam Remi Remix)/(Double R Remix Featuring Romeo)/(D-Bop’s Vocal Breakdown Mix) (CD2, Island CIDX 817, different p/s)
Shape (Radio Mix)/Killer/Shape (Live London The Scala 11.11.2002) (Cassette, Island CIS 817, plays same both sides)
Hole In The Head/Who/Hole In The Head (Full Intention Vocal Mix)/(Video) (CD1, Island CID 836)
Hole In The Head (Clean Radio Edit)/This Ain’t A Party Thing/Hole In The Head (Gravitas Mix) (CD2, Island CIDX 836, different p/s)
Too Lost In You/Someone In My Bed/Too Lost In You (Kujay Dada’s Bass Shaker Mix)/(Video) (CD1, Island CID 844)
Too Lost In You (Love Actually Version)/Down Down/Too Lost In You (Kardinal Beats LA Remix) (CD2, Island CIDX 844, different p/s with calendar, some/all copies failed to include the whole calendar)
In The Middle (Radio Edit)/Disturbed (CD1, Island MCSTD 40360)
In The Middle/Colder In The Rain/In The Middle (Ruff & Jam Metaltronik Mix Edit)/(Hyper Remix Edit)/(Video) (CD2, Island MCSDX 40360, different colour sleeve)
In The Middle (Ruff & Jam Metaltronik Mix)/(Hyper Remix) (12”, Island MCST 40360, unique p/s)
Caught In A Moment (LP Version)/(D-Bop Remix) (CD1, Island MCSTD 40371)
Caught In A Moment/Conversation’s Over (Live)/Hole In The Head (Live) (CD2, Island MCSXD 40371, different p/s)
Push The Button/Favourite Song (CD1, Island CID 911)
Push The Button/Like The Weather/Push The Button (DJ Prom Remix)/(Video) (CD2, Island CIDX 911, blue text)
Ugly (Radio Edit)/Come Together (CD1, Island CID 918)
Ugly/Future Shokk!/Ugly (The Desert Eagle Discs Remix - Vocal)/(Suga Shaker Vocal Mix)/(Video) (CD2, Island CIDX 918, orange text)
Red Dress (Amelle Vocal)/I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor (Arctic Babes Mix) (CD1, Island CID 922)
Red Dress (Amelle Vocal)/(Cagedbaby Remix)/(Dennis Christopher Vocal Mix)/(Video) (CD2, Island CIDX 922, blue text)
Red Dress (Cagedbaby Remix)/(Dennis Christopher’s More Energy Dub)/Obsession (D-Bop Dub) (12”, Island 12IS 922)
Follow Me Home (Amelle Vocal)/Living For The Weekend (BBC Radio 1 Session Version) (CD1, Island CID 936)
Follow Me Home (Radio Edit)/Red Dress (Kardinal Beats Remix)/Follow Me Home (Soul Seekerz Vocal Mix)/(Video) (CD2, Island CIDX 936, different p/s)
Easy/Shake It (CD1, Island 171 2313)
Easy (LP Version)/(Seamus Haji & Paul Emmanuel Remix (Vocal))/(Seamus Haji & Paul Emmanuel Remix (Dub))/Hole in The Head (Live at the V Festival, August 2007) (CD2, Island 171 2314, “zoomed in” p/s)
Walk This Way (Original)/(Yoad Mix)/(Video)/(Behind The Scenes Footage - Video) (CD, Fascination 170 8478)
About You Now (Kissy Sell Out Remix)/(LP Version) (7”, Island 174 8658, unique p/s)
About You Now (Radio Edit)/Rocks (Napster Live Session Version) (CD1, Island 174 8515)
About You Now (LP Mix)/(Sticky Dirtypop Remix)/(Spencer & Hill Remix)/In Recline (CD2, Island 174 8657, different sleeve design)
Change (LP Version)/(Wideboys Remix)/(Vito Benito Remix)/About You Now (Radio One Live Lounge Session Version) (USB, Island 175 5581)
Change (LP Version)/(Wideboys Remix)/I Can’t Take It No More/About You Now (Radio One Live Lounge Session Version) (CD, Island 175 5606)
Denial (Radio Edit)/Hey There Delilah (Radio One Live Lounge Session Version)/Denial (Ian Carey Vocal Mix)/(Sanna & Pitron Remix) (CD, Island 176 5355)
Girls (Radio Edit)/Don’t Look Back/Girls (Danny Dove & Steve Smart Remix)/(Dennis Christopher Remix) (CD, Island 178 6986)
No Can Do (LP Version)/(Bimbo Jones Remix)/(Wawa Remix)/Spiralling (Radio One Version) (CD, Island 179 5155)
Get Sexy (Keisha Version)/(Max Sanna & Steve Pitron Remix)/(Bitrocka Remix)/(Superbass Vocal Mix) (CD, Island 271 7468)
About A Girl (LP Version)/(Martin Roth Nustyle Remix - Radio Edit)/(The Sharp Boys - Radio Edit)/(K-Gee Remix - Radio Edit) (CD, Island 272 5741)
Wear My Kiss (LP Version)/(7th Heaven Remix)/(Wawa Remix) (CD, Island 273 2016)

The band have also contributed other rarities to various artists collections, but I think I am missing a few of these, so if I can research this a bit more at some point, this might be worthy of a future article.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Classic Albums No.2: Live At Leeds

So if “Ziggy” is the best studio album of all time, then The Who’s 1970 offering “Live At Leeds” must be deemed the greatest ever live LP. You will hear about other contenders (such as “Made In Japan”), but “Live At Leeds” works so well because it captures, quite superbly, the ‘other side’ of the band. The Who, on stage, were always more loud, more ramshackle, and - once the LP was out - more un-produced than how their studio records sounded. Remember, this album was taped in the middle of a tour promoting 1969’s “Tommy”, but listen to the two side by side, and they sound like the work of two different bands. “Tommy” is clever, tuneful, polished, “Live At Leeds” is scratchy, ragged, and magnificently loud. And this was the whole point of the record.

Keen to try and capture their stage sound on record, the band taped a number of their American shows during 1969, and by the year end, had amassed a reported eighty hours of performances. The band could not face going through that amount of material to try and find 40 minutes of good stuff for a live album, so decided instead to play a pair of UK “Homecoming” concerts in February 1970, with the plan to record these shows and select material from the better of the two gigs for inclusion on the album. After a series of Opera House performances in Europe in January, the band played their two UK gigs on February 14th at Leeds University, and February 15th at Hull City Hall. Both were taped, just in case one gig “fell short” for any reason.

The setlists had remained fairly similar since the shows from the summer of 69, although some songs had been swapped around - “A Quick One While He’s Away” was performed at both Leeds and Hull immediately before the performance in full (more or less) of “Tommy”, but had featured much earlier on in the show at their debut Opera House gig in Amsterdam the previous year. The show opener on both nights was a new song, “Heaven And Hell”, a studio version of which would appear as a B-side by years end, and was followed by a slightly random mix of hits, album tracks, and covers. “Young Man Blues” was one such cover, and whilst it may have been new to most ears, a studio version of the song had been tossed away on a Track Records Sampler in 1969.

After about 40 minutes, the band would play “Tommy” from start to finish, although several songs were missing to try and streamline it a bit (“Underture“, “Sensation”, “Welcome” and “Cousin Kevin” were missing from both the Leeds and Hull shows - the Hull show saw Tommy polished off in just over 50 minutes, shaving 25 minutes off the original), and “Pinball Wizard“ was played earlier in the set on stage than on LP. The band would then run through covers of “Summertime Blues” and “Shakin’ All Over”, before performing a 15-minute long version of “My Generation”, which would see them incorporating bits and pieces of other songs during the 10 minute jam-finale, including bits from “Tommy”, just in case anybody hadn’t already had enough of it that evening. At the Leeds gig, the band summoned up enough energy to return for an encore of “Magic Bus”, but were too exhausted to do so at Hull, and thus left the stage after “My Generation“.

Of the two shows, the band preferred the Hull gig - they stated the acoustics in the hall sounded better, and opted to listen to this tape first to try and select the best material. But there seemed to be a problem - Entwistle’s bass parts were completely absent from “Heaven And Hell”, they were absent also from the second number “I Can’t Explain”, and so on. The first few songs the band listened to were all bass-less, and thus, assuming the whole gig was similarly affected, the band stopped listening to the tapes, and the Hull show was put into store. A listen to the Leeds gig revealed that Entwistle was present and correct on all songs, although his bass cable had caused crackles to appear throughout the recording (the liner notes in the 2010 boxset claim it was due to cables running from the stage mics not being properly connected) - but it was this show or nothing. The crackles were fairly noticeable on the opening number, but not so bad on “I Can’t Explain”, and seemed to have calmed down - for the most part - as the show progressed, so there was more than enough material to choose from. Townshend even advised engineers to not remove any of the crackles when the LP was being mastered, presumably to give it a bit of a bootleg feel.

Six numbers in total were chosen - three covers, and three singles. The decision to pick so many covers may seem a bit odd, but given that none of them had appeared on a Who LP before, you can see that there was probably a VFM approach being taken here (“Summertime Blues” had been taped by the band in the studio back in 1967, but remained unreleased until 1998). “Substitute” and “Magic Bus” were also on the LP, both of which had been released as stand alone 45’s, and would have made their debut appearance on a Who LP with this release, had the studio mixes of both not turned up on compilation albums in the UK and US in 1968. “My Generation” was the sixth number, presumably included on the basis that, apart from being the most famous Who song, it featured bits and pieces from “Tommy”, and would at least give the listener a clue that the band had played some of the album that evening, as not one number from “Tommy” was chosen for selection for the album that would, when finally released, be titled “Live At Leeds”.

In keeping with the bootleg feel, the album was to be released in a simple buff coloured sleeve, with nothing other than a logo “stamp” on the cover, with the band name, album title, and catalogue number in the top right (Track 2406 001). According to Wikipedia, the first 300 copies released in the UK featured the stamp in black ink, the next 200 used a blue stamp, and although subsequent third pressings still used the blue stamp, they were missing one item of “reproduced” memorabilia that had been included inside the elaborate gatefold sleeve packaging (a copy of the contract for the band’s 1969 Woodstock appearance). Even these later pressings still contain a multitude of goodies for the fans, and despite the bootleg style artwork (check out the handwritten labels on the vinyl copies, used instead of the standard Track Records labels at the band’s insistence), any copies of “Live At Leeds” that have all these inserts intact sell for a hell of a lot more than those without. By the time the album was being reissued at mid price by Polydor in the mid 80s, the blue ink had turned to red, the handwritten labels were replaced by standard red Polydor ones (Polydor SPELP 50), and the elaborate gatefold sleeve had been replaced by a single sleeve - with no inserts. The crackles, however, still remained intact.

“Summertime Blues” was issued as a single to promote the LP, with the aforementioned studio mix of “Heaven And Hell” on the flip. The band continued to tour in 1970, even doing a theatre tour in April just before the LP’s release (even though they were starting to become so popular, and such venues were really “beneath” them), and continued to play most of “Tommy” right up until the end of the year. However, some of the older material was dropped, and the band took to performing new songs from the unreleased, and never fully realised, “Lifehouse” project, parts of which were rescued for the 1971 classic “Who’s Next” long-player. “Live At Leeds” was issued in May 1970, and gave the band a big hit album, and was the subject of excitable reviews from the music press. The band had successfully captured their stage sound on vinyl, and the “greatest live album ever made” title was secured.

The first official appearance of another song from the Leeds show was in 1979, when “Happy Jack” turned up on the “Kids Are Alright” soundtrack LP. For some reason, when first issued, the booklet of the vinyl edition stated the recording was made during a 1967 show in Sweden, but the most recent CD pressing (from 2000) quite proudly states this version was taped at Leeds.

In 1994, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the band’s debut single (when they were still known as “The High Numbers”), Polydor issued a superb 4-CD Box Set called “30 Years Of Maximum R&B”. Everything from the Track and Polydor years was remixed for the box, and the entire first half of “Live At Leeds” was included - “Young Man Blues“, “Substitute“, “Summertime Blues“ and “Shakin‘ All Over“ - although not in that order. “Substitute” and “Young Man Blues” now featured Pete’s spoken word introductions to each, making reference to how they were about to play “three selected hit singles…the three easiest” before the former, and then talking about how the composer of “Young Man Blues”, Mose Allison, once referred to himself as a ’Jazz Sage’. The remixing process had not, however, removed the crackles. Another previously unheard track from the same gig was included in edited form, as a version of the final section of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” - often now famously credited, in it’s own right, as “See Me Feel Me” - was included, which was a mix of the “Tommy” version which then segued into the performance from the Leeds gig.

In 1995, a major Who reissue campaign was to be undertaken, where each of the band’s Track/Polydor studio albums were to be remixed, with relevant bonus tracks being tagged onto the end of each, where possible. To kick start the campaign, “Live At Leeds” was the first reissue to be made, tying in with it’s 25th anniversary, with the original 40 minute LP being expanded to CD length, by including all of the non-“Tommy” material the band had performed that night as extra tracks, along with the “Amazing Journey”/“Sparks” segment from “Thomas”, as Townshend had soon after it’s release started to call it (Polydor 527 169-2). Rather than put these extra tracks at the end, the songs were simply placed in the order in which they were performed on the night, so “Heaven And Hell” kick started it all, and “Magic Bus” closed the album just as it always had done. The remixing process was used to remove the crackles, meaning that the likes of “Substitute” were now appearing in their third variant mix, whilst the Blue Ink stamp was restored. Like the reissue of “Sell Out”, the reissue of “Live At Leeds” simply took everything to the next level - whilst the original track listing always looked a bit odd, with it’s over-reliance on covers, it’s ‘50% only’ version of “Substitute”, and that slightly messy version of the already shabby “Magic Bus”, the 1995 one just made a lot more sense.

The next appearance of previously unissued “Leeds” material occurred the following year, when the version of “Pinball Wizard” taped that night appeared as a B-side on a reissued “My Generation”, re-released to plug a Greatest Hits set of the same name.

In 2001, the band’s US label MCA had become part of the Universal Music Group. Universal had come up with the concept of the “Deluxe Edition”, and “Live At Leeds” was one of the first - if not the first - albums to receive this honour. Universal's plan for these Deluxe pressings was to include a second CD of rarities, whilst the first CD would - if there was suitable material - also include rare recordings to expand the disc to CD-length. The plan for “Live At Leeds”, therefore, was to include the whole of the Leeds gig across two discs. Everything was to be remixed slightly - so “Substitute” etc. were now appearing in their fourth variant - and the missing material, basically most of “Tommy”, was to be making it’s official debut on record (MCA 088 112 618-2. UK pressings from 2002 exist with slightly different catalogue number).

Controversially, the decision was taken to keep “Tommy” intact, so that the non-”Tommy” stuff would be on CD1, and “Tommy” on CD2. Whilst you can understand the logistics of doing this, I still find it difficult, when I listen to this version of “Live At Leeds”, to get used to the fact that after “Magic Bus” has careered to it’s feedback driven halt, there is another hours worth of material still to come. It’s worth pointing out that another performance of “Tommy”, from the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, had appeared officially on CD and Video in 1996, and that CD had featured the setlist in the order in which it was performed on the night - so on this release, “Tommy” comes slap bang in the middle, just like it should do. Another possible reason for splitting “Tommy” off from the rest of the Leeds gig, apart from allowing it to be dubbed “Tommy Live At Leeds”, was that there was a fault on the tapes when “Tommy” was started up (the pitch is different, sounding a bit like the tape is about to chew up any moment), so putting “Overture” straight after “A Quick One” might have resulted in a sound that did not “gel”.

Whilst the 2001 “Live At Leeds” was, to be fair, the best yet (track sequencing aside), no attempts were made to restore everything that could have been restored. Yes, the original mix of “Magic Bus” had been altered (as it had been in 1995) so that the ‘backwards guitar’ part concocted by Townshend in the studio to cover a glitch in the tapes back in 1970 was backwards no more, but the drastic edits made to this recording were still in place - the original performance on the night had lasted nearly ten minutes, but the released version was under eight minutes in length. I also mentioned, in my 2010 Who article, about the rumour that one song was still missing from this reissue. Well, it wasn’t quite a full song, but the band did, on the night, segue into a section of the song “Spoonful” during “Shakin’ All Over”, but not only was this missing from the 1970 mix, but was still missing from all subsequent versions, including the “Deluxe” pressing. So whilst the sound quality of this edition superseded all others, bootlegs of “Live At Leeds Complete” continued to do the rounds - albeit with all the crackles still intact. Nonetheless, it did seem that this version of the album should really have been the last word on the subject, because if they weren‘t going to restore the missing bits now, then they probably never would.

And yet, in the fall of 2010, the band announced they were releasing a 40th anniversary super-deluxe boxset edition of “Live At Leeds”. The big selling point was to be the inclusion of two CD’s containing the Hull performance. The very same show with the bass apparently missing? Indeed so. Because the bass was not quite as “missing” as people had thought it had been.

I mentioned in my last Who article that in 2009, the band had released a 2-CD best of called “Greatest Hits And More”, with the second CD being a collection of live recordings between 1965 and 2007, including a pair of songs from the Hull show. Back in 2007, the band had issued a double CD mail order only release called “View From A Backstage Pass”, featuring performances from the Moon era between 1969 and 1976. Several songs from the Hull gig were included. It turns out that had the band continued to listen to the Hull tapes back in 1970, then they would have realised that the bass suddenly kicked in after about 20 minutes, commencing with the performance of “Young Man Blues”, and was intact for the rest of the gig, “Overture” excepted. And so, a number of songs performed later that night were selected for this release. A revamped version of “Backstage Pass“, titled “Greatest Hits Live”, turned up first as a download, and then as a 22 track double-CD in March 2010, just after the “Greatest Hits And More” release. The “And More” disc was basically an edited highlights versions of the “Live” CD.

In order to restore the Hull gig in it’s entirety for the box, the decision was taken to “fly in” the bass parts from the affected songs from the Leeds show. A bit of a repair job had to be done during the middle of the “Tommy” set, and this was also achieved by dubbing in a few seconds from the Leeds gig, to cover for a drop out on the tapes of the Hull gig (“Fiddle About” was the song affected). And so, at the tail end of 2010, “Live At Leeds” appeared again.

The box set included a slightly tampered with version of the 2001 reissue, meaning that “Substitute” and co were now in their fifth variant mix, although the “pitch” problems with the “Tommy” material still seemed to be apparent. Discs 3 and 4 were the “Live At Hull” material, which was notable in that for this part of the box, the segment of “Spoonful” played during “Shakin’ All Over” was not edited out - it was still missing from the “Leeds” portion, and “Magic Bus” still remained in edited form. You also got a 7” single of “Summertime Blues”, housed in a fancy picture sleeve - effectively this was a reissue of one of the old foreign pressings, as this sleeve had been used on one of the original 1970 issues from overseas - and a repressing of the original 6 track vinyl LP, which retains the crackles, but I am told has been remixed - so “Substitute” et al thus apparently appear in their sixth mix!

The package came housed in a big box, with the front cover in black ink. Inside, you had the LP, 7” and CD’s held together in a fancy gatefold sleeve, and a 12”x12” hardback book (Polydor 275 0072). For the booklet and LP, the original album cover art was used on the front, but one with red ink, and the other with blue, thus giving the listener visual reproductions of all three variant sleeves in one go. The memorabilia from the 1970 version was absent, although some of these items were reprinted in the book, but you did instead get a Townshend poster tucked inside instead.

The Hull gig is a curio. There is a distinct lack of banter compared to the Leeds show, and even Townshend himself said that on the night, the crowd were just not quite into it until after they’d finished the “Tommy” section of the show. On first listen, it sounds alarmingly underwhelming, but I did go back and listen to it again recently, and the band themselves are at least at the peak of their powers, it’s just a shame you would need to shell out £80 for the box to hear this, as no attempt was made to issue the “Hull” discs as a separate release. This would have been a nice touch, and you could even have had a sleeve the same as the “Leeds” one - especially as when “Endless Wire” was issued in 2006, it originally came with a second CD featuring tracks taped at a gig in Lyon, and a “Live At Leeds” style mock cover for “Live At Lyon” was printed inside the packaging.

But let us for a moment ignore the financial misgivings of this release. Because you can understand why the boxset version of “Live At Leeds” exists. It is simply because it’s an exhilarating record, capturing one of the worlds’ greatest bands in full flight, and so kind of deserves to be “revamped“ every now and then. Think of it as the Kama Sutra of Rock And Roll, a guide to any aspiring band as to “how to play live music on stage”. Whereas a lot of live albums just seem to be there as a document of that last tour, offering no real new insight into the artist concerned, “Live At Leeds” was - and still is - an important historical document. Whilst the invention of the video allowed us, some years later, to see - as well as hear - just how great The Who are on stage, this LP was important, as it showed why the band had built up the reputation they had as a great live act. Quite simply, the greatest live LP ever made.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Elton John Part 1: The Pre-Rocket Years

Some years ago, I seem to recall hearing one of my wifes’ friends’ (now-ex) husband talking about how he had “discovered” Elton John. This was not in 1974, but thirty plus years later. And I did feel like saying to him, “have you been living on Mars since 1969?”

I suppose it is easy to “not get” Elton. With one or two notable exceptions, the general consensus is that he has not made a genuinely great record since the 70s, and he seems to be more well known nowadays for the hairpiece, that Diana song, David Furnish, and “Tantrums And Tiaras“, rather than the music. Which is a shame, because go back and listen to some of those albums - especially those 70s ones - and you realise just how good some of that stuff really is.

Before he started his own label, Rocket, in 1976, all his albums had been on the DJM label. In the mid 1990s, most of these records were reissued by Mercury under the banner of “The Classic Years” - some later reissues were not emblazoned with such a legend, which did seem to suggest they thought that stuff was therefore from the “Un-Classic Years”. However, unlike the Bowie reissues from 1999, these reissues not only - usually - included extra tracks, but in many instances, are the copies still on sale today. Some have been given deluxe reissues, with even extra tracks added, and Elton has not yet reissued an album, and removed the rarities from it. As such, the Elton albums from this period that remain on sale today, can be seen as the definitive articles at present.

This is the first in a series of articles looking at Elton’s UK releases on LP and 45, and in this first part, we look at the albums he released between 1969 and 1976, and the singles that were issued at the same time. Studio, Live, Compilations and Soundtracks are all detailed, and for the Studio and Live ones, the catalogue number shown relates to the most recent release. For the others, these have either never been reissued, or feature nothing rare on any later pressings, so the original vinyl edition is listed instead.

Whilst researching for this article, I stumbled across a discussion site which went into ludicrous depth about the differing sounds of the different reissues from over the years, with the suggestion that some CD editions of one album, sound different in parts to another CD edition of the same LP, due to the remastering process carried out each time. I am no expert, so for the most part, we shall not go into this much detail. However, it is worth pointing out that - correct me if I’m wrong - most/all of the studio and live albums listed below were first issued in the mid 80s by DJM, at a time when the use of barcodes on the packaging to record sales at the tills was NOT mandatory, and so the earliest pressings with “DJM CD” catalogue numbers and no barcode are possibly worth a small fortune. Later repressings were made in Europe, with slightly more anonymous looking “numeric” catalogue numbers, in the “800” series, before the bonus track editions surfaced in 1995/1996. These are the editions we shall be looking at in this article, for the most part. As for the singles, unless stated, all from this period were issued in standard company bags. Side projects, and duets with other acts (as opposed to duets BY another act, WITH Elton, trust me - there is a difference) are excluded, but I would suggest you check the excellent “Eltonography” site for more info about those.

Empty Sky (Mercury 528 157-2)

Like seemingly every other rock megastar, Elton had spent some years in the wilderness, before getting his big break. He had played in a band called Bluesology since the mid 60s, before signing to Philips in 1968. Even after this, he continued to work (usually with lyrics partner Bernie Taupin) on side projects, including writing songs for Eurovision contestants, as well as famously recording, anonymously, cover versions of hits of the day for those “Top of The Pops” albums you see in charity shops. More of that in a later article.

Elton released two singles on Philips, both of which flopped, although the second, “Lady Samantha”, is quite well known, having been shoved onto a few compilation records in it’s time. He then moved to DJM, which stood for “Dick James Music” - this was the company to whom Elton’s material was already being published by as well.

“Empty Sky” appeared in 1969 on DJM, although the US release of the album did not occur until 1975. Although Elton has since described the album as “na├»ve”, I have always had a soft spot for it, helped I suppose in part by it’s prog-style tendencies, the fact that it starts and ends with two lengthy numbers suggests a level of ambition not indulged in on the likes of “Honky Chateau”. The last song on “Empty Sky“ even features during it’s end part, briefs snatches of all the songs that precede it on the album, something you don’t hear too often. Suffice to say, most of the stuff on this record has rarely, if ever, been played live, although Elton rescued “Skyline Pigeon”, by re-recording it some years later as a b-side, as well as playing it live now and then throughout the years.

The album had been preceded by a single, “It’s Me That You Need”, which followed it’s predecessors by failing to chart. Not one of the six songs spread across those first three 45’s appeared on “Empty Sky”, although the A and B sides of both “Lady Samantha” and “It’s Me That You Need” were included as bonus tracks on the “Classic Years” reissue of the album. These four songs, and both sides of the debut 45 also appear on the 1992 rarities set, “Rare Masters” - indeed, many of the bonus tracks that appeared on the CD reissues from the mid 90s were actually sourced from this double-CD set. More details as we continue.

45’s

I’ve Been Loving You/Here’s To The Next Time (1968, 7”, Philips BF 1643)
Lady Samantha/All Across The Havens (1969, 7”, Philips BF 1739)
It’s Me That You Need/Just Like Strange Rain (1969, 7”, DJM DJS 205, p/s)

Elton John (Mercury 530 5559)

Possibly because it was the first LP to be issued in America, or possibly because he thought “Empty Sky” to be lacking, Elton’s second album was issued as a self titled affair in 1970. It’s an impressive effort, with a leap forward confidence wise - the ballads sound sweet, the big orchestral ones sound loud and brash. Huge chunks of this record have featured in setlists throughout the years, and it’s probably deserving of it’s celebrated status amongst fans and critics.

It took a while before the album really cemented Elton’s reputation as a singer and songwriter. “Border Song” was lifted as a 45, and stalled in the UK - but did better in North America. The b-side, “Bad Side Of The Moon”, later became something of a live favourite for a while. It was followed by a stand alone single, “Rock N Roll Madonna”, which also bombed. The b-side of this one, “Grey Seal”, was later re-recorded for 1973’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.

According to legend, Elton’s US label, then issued “Take Me To The Pilot” as a single, only for American DJ’s to start playing the flipside instead - another song from the LP entitled “Your Song”. In the UK early the following year, DJM issued “Your Song” on this basis, and it promptly became a hit. The rest is history.

The mid 90s reissue of “Elton John” added “Bad Side Of The Moon”, “Rock N Roll Madonna” and “Grey Seal”. In 2008, a deluxe edition reissue of the LP was released, which removed these three songs from the end of the LP, and placed them on a second CD, where they were joined by no less than 17 other demos, alternate takes, and rarities. This deluxe edition remains the definitive version of the LP, although if you do fancy tracking down a DJM Vinyl original, it does come in a nice “textured” gatefold sleeve. The b-side of “Your Song”, “Into The Old Man’s Shoes”, was actually taped during early sessions for the next LP, and as such, was added as a bonus to that record (“Tumbleweed Connection“) in the mid 90s rather than “Elton John”.

45’s

Border Song/Bad Side Of The Moon (1970, 7”, DJM DJS 217)
Rock N Roll Madonna/Grey Seal (1970, 7”, DJM DJS 222)
Your Song/Into The Old Man’s Shoes (1971, 7”, DJM DJS 233)

Tumbleweed Connection (Mercury 530 5255)

Regarded as the finest of the first trio of Elton LP’s, and very much the first truly “classic” Elton LP, “Tumbleweed Connection” was some sort of vague concept album, detailing Elton’s interest in Americana, and the Southern-USA Country And Western scene. Whilst the cover was presumably designed to give you the impression that the photo was taken in some dusty American Railroad station, the picture was actually taken on the preserved Bluebell Railway in Sussex, England!

No singles were taken from the record, although a number of songs have been played in concert throughout the years, specifically “Come Down in Time” and the incendiary album closer, “Burn Down the Mission”. The mid 1990s reissue added the aforementioned “Into The Old Man’s Shoes” and an early take of “Madman Across The Water”, left off the “Tumbleweed” album but resurrected later that same year for a new album of the same name. The current 2-CD edition includes both these tracks, plus various other demos and alternate takes, plus the never before released “Sisters Of The Cross”.

On the original pressing of the LP, the cover was effectively spread across the back of the gatefold sleeve, so when “unfolded”, you got to see Bernie Taupin on the left of the sleeve and Elton on the right - in other words, Bernie on the back, Elton on the front. The song titles were not printed on the back, only inside the packaging. The mid 90s reissue altered the back cover so that the song titles were listed on the rear, but the deluxe version, housed as it is in a digipack sleeve, restored the original artwork - minus the song titles once more.

Friends (Paramount SPFL 269)

Without a doubt, the most obscure Elton solo album, “Friends” was a soundtrack album from the film of the same name, but was issued not on DJM, but Paramount Records instead. It seems to have often been thought of as a soundtrack, rather than an Elton studio effort, and as such, as the rest of the DJM catalogue got reissued during the 80s, this album was left out, and by the early 90s, was out of print, with the songs not available anywhere else. Thankfully, everything on the LP got included on the second half of CD1 on “Rare Masters”, albeit in a different running order.

Rather strangely, given that Elton issued no less than four albums in 1971, it is odd to think that “Friends” was the only one to spawn a single, with the title track being issued by DJM as a 45. Another song from the LP, “Honey Roll”, appeared on the flip.

Elton is, of course, no stranger to the work of the soundtrack, and a number of other Elton albums were released in the nineties and beyond which doubled up as soundtracks, and have thus become “lost” amongst the discography. Elton also wrote scores for movies like “The Lion King”, but only performed on a handful of numbers on the soundtrack. I understand that Paramount Records have been swallowed up by the Universal Music group, to whom Elton is signed, which means that logistically there should be no problem in reissuing “Friends” in it’s own right, but it’s difficult to see who would be interested outside the collectors market, especially as “Rare Masters” is still on catalogue.

45’s

Friends/Honey Roll (1971, 7”, DJM DJS 244)

17-11-70 (Mercury 528 165 2)

As the title suggests, this live album was recorded in North America on 17th November 1970, and broadcast on US radio. The decision to release the album was based on the fact that, given that the show had been broadcast in FM Quality Sound, bootlegs were doing the rounds, and Elton’s label(s) decided to issue the record to try and stem the flow of these boots.

The trouble was, record companies have always had a phobia about double albums, and so “17-11-70” was thus restricted to a single slab of vinyl. This meant that a chunk of Elton’s set from that night was simply unable to fit onto the record, and thus bootlegs continued to circulate, as a number of songs remained unavailable on the official release. It has often been mentioned that sales of “17-11-70” were dented by the number of bootleg versions still available.

There was a concession of sorts when the “Classic Years” reissue was released, as another song from the set, “Amoreena” was included this time around. Furthermore, the entire show was remixed, so anybody who owned an original copy now had the chance to buy a record that was benefiting from improved sound. If you do fancy getting hold of an original version, you could do worse than go for the mid 70s budget reissue on the Pickwick label, housed in a different cover and titled “Live 17-11-70”. No singles were released from this LP.

Madman Across The Water (Mercury 528 161 2)

A curious record, this. You will find critics falling over themselves to praise this one nowadays, but it’s reputation had always been that it was one of Elton’s forgotten records. For years, the chances of you hearing Elton do anything on stage from this one were non-existent, and the fact that it spawned no singles in the UK meant it was either another “Tumbleweed” or an album that the record company didn’t know what to do with. Elton himself, for some years, hated it, claiming it was relentlessly downbeat. Indeed, the mid 90s reissue is bereft of any bonus tracks, which almost makes you think the record company just tossed it out again without much thought.

But now, it’s a different story. “Levon”, originally issued as a single in the USA when the album was first out, has become a regular gig favourite, whilst Cameron Crowe’s decision to use “Tiny Dancer” in the “Almost Famous” movie gave this song (also a US 45 in 1972) a second lease of life. In recent years, “Tiny Dancer” has become another concert staple, as has the title track. And then you have “Indian Sunset”, sampled for Tupac’s “Ghetto Gospel” some years ago, which saw Elton issue an edited mix of the song as a B-side on “Electricity” in 2005.

When “Rare Masters” was issued, pretty much everything on it was previously unreleased, and a track dating from the “Madman” period, “Rock Me When He’s Gone”, was included. Given that “Rare Masters” was used as the source for most of the bonus tracks on the records featured in this article, it seems a bit odd that “Rock Me” was not added to the reissued “Madman”. I can only think Mercury wanted to leave some stuff on “Rare Masters” that was still, well, rare.

Honky Chateau (Mercury 528 162-2)

This one, from May 72, is probably the point at which Elton started to move in a more “pop” direction. The prog rock of “Empty Sky” gone, the string laden sound of the Sophomore effort absent, and no Tumbleweed-style Americana, you only have to listen to the relentlessly upbeat and jaunty “Honky Cat” to realise that Elton seems to be having fun. Even the awesome “I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself” was written in a tongue in cheek style.

The first single from the LP was “Rocket Man”, housed in a picture sleeve, with some coming in a gatefold version with the lyrics printed on the inside. The two B-sides were both lifted from “Madman”. DJM decided to use a new catalogue system for picture sleeve singles (DJX instead of DJS, and this one started at a different point in their numbering system, becoming DJX 501) although this comcept would be abandoned within a few years.

The b-sides of “Honky Cat” were the A-sides of Elton’s second and third singles, which helped to give “Lady Samantha” a bit more exposure. DJM even released a rarities album of the same name some years after. With no particular outtakes seemingly in the vaults, it was thus an alternate take of album track “Slave” which was the bonus on the 1995 reissue, and which is also on “Rare Masters”.

45’s

Rocket Man/Holiday Inn/Goodbye (1972, 7”, DJM DJX 501, p/s, some in gatefold)
Honky Cat (7" Mix)/Lady Samantha/It’s Me That You Need (1972, 7”, DJM DJS 269)

Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player (Mercury 528 154-2)

This effort has been described as how Elton viewed America “through the world of the movies”, which explains the cover. This is my favourite Elton album cover, and was reportedly influenced by an incident at a party involving Elton and Groucho Marx, who pointed his fingers at Elton in the shape of a gun, causing Elton to remark “don’t shoot me, I’m only the piano player!”

The “pop” feel of “Honky Chateau” carries on here, with the genteel feel of “Daniel” opening proceedings, although it’s lyrical subject matter - the Vietnam War - was lost on most listeners. Elton wearing a ridiculous fur coat whilst performing it on “Top Of The Pops” probably didn’t help either. “Crocodile Rock”, the album’s lead 45, was a deliberate pastiche of 50’s doo-wop and Rock & Roll, but opened with such an infectious keyboard riff, it remains one of those Elton songs you are happy to see him play for the umpeenth time.

The mid 90s reissue, rather confusingly, adds B-sides from the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” period - “Screw You”, “Jack Rabbit” and “Whenever You’re Ready - plus the aforementioned “new” version of “Skyline Pigeon”, released as the B-side of “Daniel”. Once more, all of these also feature on “Rare Masters.

45’s

Crocodile Rock/Elderberry Wine (1972, 7”, DJM DJS 271)
Daniel/Skyline Pigeon (New Version) (1973, 7”, DJM DJS 275)

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Mercury 981 320-5)

Another stone cold classic, maybe the best one from this period, “GYBR” was Elton’s first double LP. It originally came in an elaborate fold out gatefold sleeve, with lyrics printed inside, and illustrations for each of the songs. The “drunk” illustration for “Saturday Night’s Alright” was also used on the picture sleeve of the single of the same name.

It really is a superb record. The opening number, the lengthy “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”, remains one of the most brilliant opening numbers on any album, starting off with a spooky fade in, then building and building through a climactic finale before rushing headfirst into the piano driven roar that starts “Love Lies Bleeding”. Although both songs were written separately, they were recorded as a single entity, and whenever “Funeral” has been played at an Elton gig, usually as the set opener, it has almost always segued into “Love Lies Bleeding”. Indeed, this medley was issued as a single in the late 70’s, but was obviously so long, the single could only be issued on 12”, and not 7”.

You probably know most of this album - the poignant Monroe tribute “Candle In the Wind”, the glam stomp of “Bennie And The Jets”, the incredible high notes that link the verses to the choruses in the title track, the mock reggae madness of “Jamaica Jerk Off” (initial recording sessions were conducted in Jamaica), the catchy-as-hell pop of “Grey Seal”, the lullaby style swing of “Sweet Painted Lady”, the raucous Elton-does-The Faces rock of “Saturday Night’s Alright”, this one really does deserve that “Classic Album” status.

When first released on CD, the record company knew they could make a few extra quid by issuing “GYBR” as a double CD, thus replicating the original double-vinyl release, and also allowing them to hike the price up. But for the mid 90’s reissue, the decision was taken to issue the album on a single CD, achievable because the album’s running time was several minutes less than what could be squeezed onto a single disc. The most recent release, from 2003, is a 3-disc set - the album appears as a two disc release again (with an SACD layer included), which allows for additional material to be put at the end of the LP on CD2. The three “out of place” bonus tracks from “Don’t Shoot Me” appear, along with a so called “acoustic” version of “Candle In The Wind”, which is actually the original version but with all overdubs removed except for Elton’s voice and Davey Johnstone’s acoustic guitar parts. This mix is unavailable anywhere else in the UK, but is on a US only CD EP called “Remixed“. Disc 3 is a DVD, featuring the “Classic Albums” documentary, which is also available to buy separately.

45’s

Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) (Edit)/Jack Rabbit/Whenever You’re Ready (We’ll Go Steady Again) (1973, 7”, DJM DJX 502, p/s)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road/Screw You (1973, 7”, DJM DJS 285)

Caribou (Mercury 528 158 2)

Now, for some reason, my sister - despite being a huge fan since the early 70's - seemed to be missing certain Elton LP’s until some years ago. I therefore always assumed that the missing ones were a bit rubbish. And some of them are rather patchy, such as “Breaking Hearts”. But “Caribou” is an odd one, because it spawned a couple of mega hits, but she didn’t seem to buy this one when it first came out. It might simply be that the garish cover put her off.

The album had been preceded by a stand alone Xmas single, the mighty “Step Into Christmas”, at the end of 1973, before DJM resumed their promotional campaign for the “Yellow Brick Road” LP by issuing “Candle In the Wind” as a 45 early the following year. In the summer of ‘74, the “lighters in the air” ballad “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” was lifted from the forthcoming “Caribou” as the next single, and gave Elton one of his most famous and biggest hits. The superior, and incredibly camp, “The Bitch Is Back” followed later the same year. One would assume that, with UK censorship being what it is nowadays, had he opted to play this at that Jubilee gig, the BBC would have beeped out the title every time he sang it.

The “expanded” version of “Caribou” adds “Step Into Christmas”, “Sick City” and “Cold Highway” - the latter two being B-sides from the period. It also includes Elton’s cover of “Pinball Wizard” (recorded for the soundtrack version of “Tommy”) despite the fact that it was not issued as a single until mid to late 1975.

45’s

Step Into Christmas/Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who’d Be A Turkey At Christmas) (1973, 7”, DJM DJS 290)
Candle In The Wind/Bennie And The Jets (1974, 7”, DJM DJS 297)
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me/Sick City (1974, 7”, DJM DJS 302)
The Bitch Is Back/Cold Highway (1974, 7”, DJM DJS 322)

Greatest Hits (DJM DJLPH 442)

Probably one of the more famous hits sets around, probably because being the first, everybody bought it, “Greatest Hits” is - to be honest - of little interest musically. Although Elton had recorded a number of stand alone 45’s by this point in his career, the decision was taken to opt for the really big hits for this album, and all of them had appeared on studio LP’s at the time, so the rarity factor here was zilch.

A CD reissue of the album in the mid 90s added a few oddities, but by this point, with “Rare Masters” in the shops, even that version of the album offered nothing unusual. The album had also been reissued earlier in the decade, with a slightly altered track listing.

It does make me laugh when compilation albums get included in “Best Ever Albums” lists, you are in danger of getting a top ten full of “Greatest Hits” releases, but nonetheless, it is worth pointing out that Rolling Stone claim this is the 135th best album of all time. Still seems like cheating to me.

“Greatest Hits” did spawn a follow up, “Volume 2”, in 1977, whilst there was an oddball US only Third Volume as well, which actually missed out a few years by not following on the sequence left by the 77 edition. All of them were effectively superseded by the “1970-2002” best of set from a decade ago. Elton’s later hits sets will be looked at in due course.

Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy (Mercury 0602 4983 17242)

Another concept album, this time concerning the story of “The Captain” (Elton) and the “Brown Dirt Cowboy” (Taupin) during their early years, trying to make a breakthrough into the pop world in the late 60’s. It came in a fantastically intricate cover, with the original gatefold sleeve copies also coming with not one but two booklets, one with the lyrics and another featuring photos of memorabilia entitled “Scraps”. There was also a picture disc edition, which came with a backing card only, and the vinyl tucked in front, which reproduced the front cover image.

Although “Captain Fantastic” is now thought of as something of a classic, enough for it to get a 30th Anniversary double CD reissue, Elton’s decision to play the album in full when it was first released at a Wembley Stadium gig has become the stuff of legend. Elton’s support act that day, 21st June 1975, was The Beach Boys, who rattled through a Greatest Hits set which delighted the crowd. So when Elton promptly decided to play the album, from start to finish, halfway through the show, the general consensus has always been that there was a feeling of deflation from parts of the crowd, who wanted him to do “the hits”. As such, there was no outing for “Your Song” on this day.

Of course, history gets re-written and the 2-CD version of “Captain Fantastic” actually includes, on disc 2, the entire Wembley performance of the album, plus the two songs Elton did as an encore thereafter. I have listened out for boos or shouts of “Judas”, but no such luck. Perhaps people actually enjoyed it after all.

As regards the singles - “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” was issued as a stand alone 45 in late 74, followed by the soul influenced “Philadelphia Freedom” (credited to “The Elton John Band”) in early 75. The b-side of the latter, “I Saw Her Standing There”, was taped at Madison Square Gardens on 28th November 1974 - and was one of three songs Elton played that night with John Lennon. Nobody knew it at the time, but this was to be the last time Lennon ever appeared onstage, as he had developed a fear of touring and playing live, and had stopped doing his own solo shows by this date. He only did this show as part of a bet he had with Elton. This version of “I Saw Her Standing There” would later be issued as a single in it’s own right after Lennon’s death, backed with the other two songs they played that night - Lennon‘s “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” and “Lucy”. Remixed versions of all three appear on the expanded “Here And There”.

The mid 90s version of “Captain Fantastic” adds both sides of the “Lucy” 7”, and “Philadelphia Freedom”. The other studio b-side from the period, “House Of Cards”, was omitted on the basis it was already on “Rare Masters”. The current double disc version now includes all these plus “House Of Cards” as well, plus the aforementioned Wembley show.

45’s

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds/One Day At A Time (1974, 7”, DJM DJS 340)
Philadelphia Freedom/I Saw Her Standing There (Live) (1975, 7”, DJM DJS 354, p/s)
Someone Saved My Life Tonight/House Of Cards (1975, 7”, DJM DJS 385)

Rock Of The Westies (Mercury 528 163 2)

Like “Caribou”, another one of the less celebrated Elton LP’s, and like “Caribou”, the cover’s a bit naff. I have probably only listened to this record a couple of times, and I can’t really remember it. “Island Girl” was a jaunty, un-Elton like foray into the world of calypso/disco, backed with the non-album “Sugar On The Floor”, followed by “Grow Some Funk Of Your Own” soon after. The b-side of this single, “I Feel Like A Bullet”, was lifted from the LP. At least one other song taped during the album sessions, “Planes”, remained in the vaults, but was obviously deemed not good enough to become a b-side, and would remain unreleased until making it onto “Rare Masters” in 92.

As has been previously mentioned, the next single following the end of the promo campaign for the LP was a cover of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”, before the release of another stand alone single, and the first for Elton’s Rocket label, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, a duet with Kiki Dee, in 1976. Depending on which country you buy a “Westies” reissue from, you will end up with different bonus tracks. The US reissue added “Sugar on The Floor” as a bonus, but the UK uses “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” instead. With Elton now off DJM in the summer of 76, the label issued what seemed to be an opportunistic release of the three year old “Bennie And The Jets” as a single later the same year.

The decision by Elton’s US label to offer an alternate bonus track in the mid 90s is probably some record company issue - in the UK, DJM and Rocket are actually all part of the Mercury stable, so there was no issue about using a “Rocket” era a-side on the UK edition of “Westies”. DJM continued to issue sporadic Elton singles after he started recording for Rocket, more about that in the next blog.

45’s

Island Girl/Sugar On The Floor (1975, 7”, DJM DJS 610, p/s)
Grow Some Funk Of Your Own (7" Edit)/I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford) (1975, 7”, DJM DJS 629)
Pinball Wizard/Harmony (1975, 7”, DJM DJS 652)
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart/Snow Queen (1976, 7”, Rocket ROKN 512, p/s)
Bennie And The Jets/Rock And Roll Madonna (1976, 7”, DJM DJS 10705)

Here And There (Mercury 528 164 2)

Although it was not released until 1976, “Here And There” was a live album dating from 1974. It does seem as though this was possibly released as a contract filler for DJM, to allow Elton to release his next LP, “Blue Moves”, on his Rocket Records imprint.

The album was split into two halves - side 1 was the “Here” disc, highlights of a show at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Given that he came from Pinner, a station with it’s own London Underground station, that explains why this was the “Here” part of the album. The “There” part referred to a gig taped in New York in the fall - this was the very same gig that Lennon appeared at, although none of the songs he performed with Elton that night were to be included on the LP. Again, later 1970s budget reissues opted for different sleeves and different titles.

The mid 90s reissue was mightily impressive. It was expanded over two CD’s, one per gig, and like “17-11-70” was the subject of remixing once more. The decision was taken to expand each disc so that the running time of each show now lasted about an hour. What is notable about the “Here” gig is that the setlist was played almost in chronological order (“Skyline Pigeon” opens proceedings, “Saturday Night’s Alright” closes), only “Bad Side Of The Moon” and “Your Song” are not quite in the right place. The “There” gig features all three of the songs that Lennon sang with Elton that night. The original nine-song LP now ran for twenty five songs, with about half of this previously unreleased. As mentioned earlier, there were no actual singles released from this album, although the three Lennon songs appeared on a three track 7” in 1980.

The Reissues

Given that virtually all of the B-sides from these singles have been made available elsewhere, mainly on “Rare Masters” (“Snow Queen“ is the odd one out), it means that later re-issues of selected titles might be of more interest, especially as some were issued with what are now rarer B-sides or mixes. And no sooner had Elton started to record for his own label, than DJM decided to get in on the act.

In 1977, DJM issued the dodgily-titled “Four From Four Eyes” EP, which included no less than three old hits - “Your Song”, “Rocket Man” and “Saturday Night’s Alright”. But this was nothing compared to DJM’s wholesale reissue campaign of 1978, which saw no less than 12 7” singles being released, all as AA sides in brand new picture sleeves.

According to the Eltonography site, the singles came housed in a box set, but I have only ever seen them issued for sale as individual discs. Each release coupled two oldies, sometimes opting to include album tracks as one of the A-sides. For the record, previous Elton 45’s that got a second bite of the cherry were “Lady Samantha”, “Your Song”, “Border Song”, “Honky Cat”, “Crocodile Rock”, “Rocket Man”, “Daniel”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, “Candle In The Wind”, “The Bitch Is Back”, “Grow Some Funk Of Your Own”, “Island Girl”, “Saturday Night’s Alright”, “Philadelphia Freedom”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Pinball Wizard” and “Bennie And The Jets”.

The 1987 live album “Live In Australia” spawned two singles, with both “Your Song” and “Candle In The Wind” being issued as live singles to help plug the LP. In 1990, one of the formats of the “Easier To Walk Away” single was issued as a four track “Christmas EP”, in a unique sleeve with “Step Into Christmas” as the lead track. This was then followed by a reissue of “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, followed then by a live duet of the self same track with George Michael, which did better than the reissue of the studio mix, and was taped in March 1991 in London.

Revamps of 70s singles continued in the 90s, with a new version of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” - this time with Ru Paul - surfacing in 1994, in conjunction with the previous years’ “Duets” album. But the most famous revamp was the re-recorded “1997” version of “Candle In The Wind”, which was issued as a AA side with “Something About The Way You Look Tonight”. 2001 saw a four track EP, “One Night Only: The Valentine Sampler”, given away free with a UK newspaper, which included recent live recordings from a New York Madison Square Gardens gig of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and a song from the Rocket years, “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”. It was issued to tie in with the “One Night Only” live CD. A re-recorded “Your Song”, with Alessandro Safina, was issued in 2002.

The list below details, in release date order, these reissues. Note, that ALL reissues on (virtually) all formats are shown, although some releases are of more interest than others (none of the "non remix" b-sides of the 1994 "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" are rare, for example). All of these releases come in picture sleeves.

Four From Four Eyes EP: Your Song/Rocket Man/Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)/Whenever You’re Ready (We’ll Go Steady Again) (1977, 7”, DJM DJR 18001)
Lady Samantha/Skyline Pigeon (1978, 7”, DJM DJS 10901)
Your Song/Border Song (1978, 7”, DJM DJS 10902)
Honky Cat/Sixty Years On (1978, 7”, DJM DJS 10903)
Country Comfort/Crocodile Rock (1978, 7”, DJM DJS 10904)
Rocket Man/Daniel (1978, 7”, DJM DJS 10905)
Sweet Painted Lady/Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1978, 7”, DJM DJS 10906)
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me/Someone Saved My Life Tonight (1978, 7”, DJM DJS 10907)
Candle In The Wind/I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford) (1978, 7”, DJM DJS 10908)
The Bitch Is Back/Grow Some Funk Of Your Own (1978, 7”, DJM DJS 10909)
Island Girl/Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) (1978, 7”, DJM DJS 10910)
Philadelphia Freedom/Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (1978, 7”, DJM DJS 10911)
Pinball Wizard/Bennie And The Jets (1978, 7”, DJM DJS 10912)
Your Song (Live In Australia)/Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Live In Australia) (1987, 7”, Rocket EJS 14)
Your Song (Live In Australia)/Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Live In Australia)/The Greatest Discovery (Live In Australia)/I Need You To Turn To (Live In Australia) (1987, 12”, Rocket EJS 1412)
Candle In The Wind (Live In Australia)/Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word (Live In Australia) (1988, 7”, Rocket EJS 15, picture disc copies also exist in clear sleeves)
Candle In The Wind (Live In Australia)/Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word (Live In Australia)/Your Song (Live In Australia)/Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Live In Australia) (1988, 12”, Rocket EJS 1512)
Candle In The Wind (Live In Australia)/Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word (Live In Australia)/Your Song (Live In Australia)/Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Live In Australia) (1988, CD, Rocket EJSCD 15)
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart +1 (1988, 7”, Old Gold OG 9789)
Christmas EP: Step Into Christmas/Cold As Christmas/Easier To Walk Away/I Swear I Heard The Night Talking (1990, 7”, Rocket EJSX 25)
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me/Song For Guy (1991, 7”, Rocket EJS 26)
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me/Song For Guy/Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word (1991, 12”, Rocket EJS 2612)
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me/Song For Guy/Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word (1991, CD, Rocket EJSCD 26)
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Live With George Michael)/I Believe (By George Michael) (1991, 7”, Epic 657646-7, other formats exist but with extra George Michael - and not Elton - bonus tracks)
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (With Ru Paul)/Donner Pour Donner (1994, 7”, Rocket EJS 33)
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (With Ru Paul)/Donner Pour Donner/A Woman’s Needs (1994, CD1, Rocket EJCD 33)
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (Moroder 7” Mix)/(Moroder 12” Mix)/(Serious Rope 7” Mix)/(Serious Rope 12” Mix)/(Instrumental)/(Dub) (1994, CD2, Rocket EJRMX 33)
Something About The Way You Look Tonight (Edit)/Candle In The Wind 1997/You Can Make History (Young Again) (1997, AA-side CD, Rocket PTCD 1)
One Night Only EP: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (Live In New York City 2000)/Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Live In New York City 2000)/Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word (Live In New York City 2000)/Someone Saved My Life Tonight (Live In New York City 2000) (2001, CD, Mercury INDEPENDENT 402, UK only newspaper freebie)
Your Song (2002)/(Instrumental)/(Video) (2002, CD, Mercury 0639972)

One or two old Elton tunes got issued as singles for the first time after he left DJM, these will be covered in future blogs. There were also several albums that seemed to be restricted to DJM era material, and these - plus later studio and live albums - will also be featured in the next blog.