Archive for August, 2007


Elton John “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy”

More over-the-top presentation, this one, from 1975, opens like a double record, with some insane color photos inside. The outrageous 1970s dress-up photo of Elton and the band is especially good. I love the one of Bernie Taupin, too, with no shirt and taken through like a foot of gauze. The other side of the album cover (where there isn’t a record) holds TWO 8 by 11 inch full color 16 PAGE booklets! One is lyrics and photos, and the other is a “scrapbook” with clippings, articles, photos, and a cartoon history of Elton and Bernie that is pretty much rubbish.

What’s funny about all this biographical info, though, is that this record is like another version of the Elton John history. It’s presented pretty much like a movie, actually– and it’s really pretty compelling– I got caught up in it, and the story the album tells, in a kind of seemingly fictionalized, metaphorical, poetic form– really rings true. I was surprised how much I got involved with this one– mostly because it begins and ends well.

“Captain Fantastic” is a good song, starting slowly and building nicely– and it sets up the story of Elton and Bernie, two guys who couldn’t be more opposite, who met and became partners (and the rest is history).  “The Tower of Babel” is pretty powerful, and got me thinking that I’ve been underestimating BT’s lyric writing. Then a couple of dull songs, and the side ends with one of my favorites, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” The official story is that this song is about Elton deciding not to get married to this woman he was seeing, but I don’t buy that. It sounds to me like it’s about a time when Elton and Bernie were living together, writing songs, and obviously in love. Along with the lyrics there is a picture of the flat where they live. Lines like “sitting like a princess perched in her electric chair” seem to refer more to Elton than a woman. I see this story not as a man (EJ) who is trying to “come out,” but almost sucked into a hetero life, but as a charismatic monster (EJ) who has given BT a voice, and they are almost one person, and the straight BT who has been sucked into EJ’s world, finally has to reject it (and not necessarily because he isn’t gay, but because he’s being eaten alive). “I’m strangled by your haunted social scene/just a pawn outplayed by a dominating queen/it’s four o’clock in the morning damnit/listen to me good/I’m sleeping with myself tonight.”

It’s a strange thing, one man writing songs for another man to sing. But with something like all the heavy drinking songs, I suppose they both drank a lot– but it was Elton who it nearly destroyed. (BT may or may not have struggled with alcoholism as well, but with EJ it was public.) But I can’t believe that every lyric that BT wrote for EJ to sing was about EJ’s persona– and especially on this record. This is like Bernie Taupin’s record. This is about their friendship, their power, their love affair, and finally their breakup (though they continued to work together– but I get a feeling that not so closely).

Side two is a lot of crap (though one song called “Writing” is interesting in that it’s about writing), until the last two songs, which are beautiful. “We All Fall In Love Sometimes”– what does it mean? It is so melancholy– which is odd– why would that sentiment be melancholy unless it was a goodbye to someone else. And then the last song, “Curtains,” is like a continuation of the previous, and this is the end of the movie, and it’s the end of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. But of course it isn’t. It should have been. If this record was accompanied by the story of these two men’s love affair and breakup, and then if they had never worked together again, this would be one of the most tragically romantic records of all time. It still is, but you have to wade through all the lies and construct your own story. And maybe, like it did for me, as a creative participant, that makes it even better.


Elton John “Caribou”

Again, “The Bitch is Back” is a song made forever unlistenable by classic rock radio. It is really funny how low budget everything about this record is– on purpose– photos in front of fake landscape backdrops– and really low quality photos, too! After that huge booklet in “Don’t Shoot Me” and the double album (with a cover that folds out like a triple album) of “Yellow Brick Road”– I’m wondering if the record company really DID want to cut costs– and these guys, having good senses of humor, made the cheapest, crappiest looking presentation possible. I guess there is probably a story there, but I’d just rather make up my own.

Maybe I’ve been too harsh on Bernie Taupin– after all, look at some of these song titles: “Pinky”, “Grimsby”, “Dixie Lily”, “Solar Prestige A Gammon” (what is that?!– you can’t argue with THOSE lyrics!), “Stinker” (apt title). Obviously he wants to be an American, but that’s okay. Unfortunately, most of this record is ashtray material, with the exception of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.” That one is overplayed, but it seems not so much as the other hits– or maybe I just like it better– it’s a pretty great song. I suppose it must be a karaoke staple– it’s just got to be– though I don’t really know– it would take a half gallon of tequila and a stun-gun to get me into a karaoke bar.


Elton John “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player”

This one is from 1972 as well (and the next, “Yellow Brick Road” was 1973– he was really cranking out the songs! I wonder if anyone has compared Elton John to Ryan Adams?– probably). This album cover opens up to more color photos, plus there is a TWELVE PAGE, full color, album-sized booklet inside– with giant photos of Elton, Bernie Taupin, and the band. Can you imagine someone spending that much on presentation now? What is really hard to imagine is the royal treatment for a lyricist. That goes back to the old days of songwriters, but this has to be the last example of it in the rock’n’roll era. And for a second rate lyricist at that. Elton John must have been a good guy to be friends with!

This is a pretty nice record, though I’d prefer to never listen to “Daniel” ever again. Or “Crocodile Rock” –or  “Teacher I Need You” for that matter. But “Elderberry Wine” is a pretty great song. The rest of the songs, sadly, are kind of weak. I guess I could easily say good-bye to this record. I like the booklet the best (check out Elton in the aviator glasses!)– but what do you do with such a thing?


Elton John “Honky Chateau”

I like the title “Honky Chateau” as maybe a comment on the different directions Elton John was moving in at the time, whether being pushed, pulled, and by outside forces or inner conflicts. I like the picture of him on the cover (1972). I think before this his music was wimpier, and even though he is numbingly familiar for all time, I found I was able to sit back and enjoy his aggressive piano playing and singing. Unfortunately, his best songs are dead to me now, thanks to classic rock radio, radio in general, advertising, and our generally dull, lifeless American culture. I can not listen to “Honky Cat” ever again. “Rocket Man” isn’t much easier to listen to– wasn’t that in some damn commercial? Some of the rest of the album is just weak. And the country boy in the big city theme is uninteresting to me. I just can’t find myself caring about this record.


David Johansen “David Johansen”

I still think of this as one of my favorite records of all time, but that has to be partly due to going to see him at the Cleveland Agora not long after this record came out in 1978. I was 18 and could go to a bar, and this was the first time I saw a band I really liked at a bar (rather than a concert venue) and I was amazed at how close to the stage I could get. I hadn’t ever really listened to the New York Dolls, and from the pictures on the album cover, I expected the band to be wearing pretty much all black leather– so I was pretty shocked when David Johansen came out wearing  an all bright yellow suit with matching hat and started dancing around like a maniac. It was a great show, maybe my favorite rock show ever– the energy was overwhelming to me.

So over the years since, I STILL get the feeling back from these songs. The interesting thing is that I have changed my favorite songs over the years. I’m sure of that. The geekiest thing I can think of to do right now would be to rank the songs (all of which I really like) according to how I feel about them NOW. But I won’t do that. Okay (from least to favorite): 9. Lonely Tenement 8. Pain In My Heart 7. Girls 6. Cool Metro 5. I’m a Lover 4. Donna 3. Not That Much 2. Funky But Chic 1. Frenchette. I could go on and on about these songs forever, but I won’t. (I’m sure this was the first time I ever heard a CONCEPT like “I’m in love with you daddy, but not that much.”)

It’s no secret that the New York Dolls are my favorite rock’n’roll band of all time, but by the time I listened to them they were in the distant past. I suppose this record might have been a disappointment to Dolls fans, the cover and back cover pictures are kind of screaming “I’m not in drag!” But for me at the time, nothing seemed cooler than that pack of Lucky Strikes sitting on the floor. The band picture on the inner sleeve is hilarious– the band looks like the cast of “Mean Streets”– well, the one guy looks just like young Bill Wyman. My favorite is the bass player, Buzz Verno (nicknamed definitely NOT after his haircut) who, live, as I recall, was wearing a couple of huge white leather belts, hanging down low. The two guitarists look pretty much the same– which is always a nice look for a band. It says a “Joe Perry” played on Cool Metro (as well as Sylvain Sylvain)– and if it was THAT Joe Perry, I’m wondering if there was a contest that day in the studio for protruding cheekbones and puckered lips.

Anyway, I think this is a record that I’ll ALWAYS be able to listen to. (I’m kind of sad I don’t have his next one, “In Style” which is pretty good, too.) I know it’s personal, though, and has to do with circumstances. Every time I listen to a New York Dolls record I think about that.


Joe Jackson “Look Sharp!” & “I’m The Man”

Okay, I know this is out of alphabetical order (I alphabetized it under JOE, rather than Jackson– whoops!) By the way, the reason I am into the “J’s” already is because this first crate of records is rather small. I created this crate as kind of a facsimile of the records that I had in high school and then into the next few years after that. Though a lot of those records are gone now. And I didn’t get real precise about it– I had to make them fit this one crate. (After this, I have a BIG crate of stuff I’ve acquired since, or in some cases just like better than this first crate. Then I have another big crate of records I’m just pretty unsure about.)

I put these two Joe Jackson records together because they both came out in 1979. It’s getting so when I see the date 1979 I cringe– why did so much crap come out in that year? I bought these records at the time I was buying anyone reviewed in Rolling Stone who was considered “New Wave.” A good amount of that I can’t listen to now. I really did like Joe Jackson at the time– but I think I liked anyone who played fast once in a while, had remotely interesting and cynical lyrics, or did things like abruptly ending a song because it’s been repeating and repeating the last line of the chorus.

It’s really funny how many songs he has against love and couples. I kind of appreciate his single mindedness– only I wish it was even more extreme. I haven’t thought about or been compelled to listen to these records in years, and I probably won’t ever again. It’s interesting, though, how familiar they still sound. Remember that pukey song, “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”

I guess there are a couple of interesting songs, like, “Look Sharp!” and “Kinda Kute” but overall it sounds like he was just following a trend. I feel like he seemed much happier a few years later doing jazz standards.

I just thought of something– wasn’t there a movie where the ghost of Joe Jackson The Baseball Player came out of a cornfield or something? Wouldn’t it have been cool to have THIS Joe Jackson play him? He kind of looks like he’s from another time period, and he’s all misshapen and pale, and he looks like one of those kids who was going bald in sixth grade. Okay, sorry for that. Clearly I don’t want to write about these records.


Jethro Tull “M.U. The Best of Jethro Tull”

This greatest hits record came out in 1976 and contains songs from like 7 lps– they’ve been around forever– and they have kept releasing records and playing– and you can probably see them right now at the nearest convention for the brain-dead near you. I guess I thought I should keep this record around in case I ever had a “Tull Attack”– though that has never happened. I guess this all-white album cover with light grey print is no “White Album” or anything close, and it really pales next to most of my other early 70s records, including Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung,” which I wish I had instead of this.

“Teacher,” “Living in the Past,” and “Skating Away” (which sounds like Cat Stevens) are okay if you’re getting nostalgic for these guys, and I still like “Aqualung”– though I wish I never had to hear that solo again! “Locomotive Breath” is just okay. “Bungle in the Jungle” is dumb, and the rest is garbage.

But what does “M.U.” stand for? That’s the musical question. It could simply be “mixed up.” But that’s too easy. How about Mating Underwater? Or Mildewed Underwear? Or Map of the Underground? I kind of like that one– someone can use that if they want to.

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August 2007