Friday, September 14, 2007

elton john: why?

Been a long time, I know. The Camp for Climate Action turned out to be a staggering success and I've been enjoying time since away from political stuff, computers and news media. Hurrah for my allotment (apple crop time, unspeakably exciting) and the Firefly box set.

This hasn't stopped my questing pioneering mind from working, and I can report that one part Tia Maria in two or three parts chocolate soya milk is among the finest discoveries of our time.

I'll get back into blogging gently (a couple of things to write that came out of the Camp, and the new Tory eco-report needs talking about), but not quite yet. For now, let's turn our minds to the more pressing matter of Elton John.

He played the O2 Arena in London last week. The London Paper's review was headlined 'Elton Rocks It!'.

You need go no further. Elton John is clinically incapable of rocking. Across the entire spectrum of opinion on Elton, surely there's no point at which anybody can think that he can, does or ever could, rock. If we were to sort the human race into a thousand different degrees of ability to rock, Elton would be on a level with your gran and Arthur Lowe.

Whenever Elton does an interview he talks intelligently about popular music, very well informed and with impeccable taste. Then he goes and turns out another album of turgid turd.

People try to tell me he's a 'great songwriter'. My standard response is to ask for his ten greatest songs. I mean, with Jagger/Richards, Bowie, James Brown, Dylan, Patti Smith or whoever you run out of breath before you've got to the end of the list that comes off the top of your head. But with Elton John, by a faltering number five they're trying to tell me Nikita counts as a great song.

He played just after charity fundraiser Jane Tomlinson had died. He said that Paris Hilton and Britney Spears should take a lesson in dignity from Tomlinson.

As a diamond earring shaped like a cock and balls dangled from his ear.

Before he went back to playing songs in front of a 40 foot screen showing him driving about in a buggy that had a giant pair of glasses on the front.

Elton John, literally a dickhead


Anonymous said...

Actually, he was once capable of rocking. It was about 33 years ago, mind. And mostly about crocodiles.

(One of my favourite compositions is by Elton - Funeral for a Friend. It's notable that this is an instrumental...)

merrick said...

Crocodile Rock is a song about rocking. it does not, in and of itself, rock.

None of this is to say he can't write the odd good tune. I've always found Song For Guy very affecting (this, equally notably, is also an instrumental), and Sacrifice is a superb song.

But fuck me, forty fuckin years and all the inspirational assistance that unlimited money can buy and he's still not turned out enough of worth to fill a single CD. Sheesh.

Unknown said...

totally agree! drop me a mail as I'd love you to write for long time no speak!

Anonymous said...

bennie and the jets
mona lisas and mad hatters
rocket man
philadelphia freedom
the bitch is back
honky cat
saturday night's all right for fighting
i guess that's why they call it the blues
sad songs
circle of life (childhood bias, i suppose)
etc, etc, etc

crocodile rock (despite your disagreement)

RA said...

I Wanna Kiss the Bride... no you don't you want to polish a turd. I saw him play with "Blue" at the "Top of the Pops Awards" in Manchester in 2002. On the same bill were Elton, sorry, Sir Elton, Ronan Keating Kylie (he he ..grr) Moby, The Manic Street Preachers and some others. Elton didn't rock. Later that night we got wasted on champagne, had sex in every possible part of the room at the hotel and ended up conceiving our first child. We stole a spoon from the hotel and every time I use it to stir my tea now I think about us shagging vigorously over the end of the bed.

Moving on...

Allotments.. We are nearly at the top of the list to get one. Put our name down about two years ago. I bump into the guy who rums the allotment society now and then in the pub and he updates me on our remaining waiting time. We will be growing lots of leeks. With 3 or 4 varieties you can have a very long leek season. Plus rhubarb, gooseberry bushes.. spuds and maybe some sweetcorn and beans...... we are excited too. Kids are too little to undersatnd where food comes from at moment, but hopefully now they are going to grow up watching us grow some of their food. It'll be great.We should swap allotment tips.

On the day my grandad died my dad and I drove past him as he walked home from the allotment. We pulled over for a quick chat and he thrust a bag of spuds he'd just dug at us. We carried on our way and later had the spuds for tea. He died that night in his sleep. Not a bad last day...



merrick said...

Can anonymous poste4rs please leave a name? Any name you like, it's just that me and anyone else here can'tdistinguish between anonymous commenters.

anyway, anonyperson, are you seriously, hand on heart, trying to tell me Sad Songs is a great song?

Fuck me, i bet you could do better given a great studio, great sessionists, a great producer and a year or so. Don't you?

Benniw And The Jets, first off your list! Utterly forgetable tosh and, like almost everything Elton's ever done, entirely without meaning.

There's this hollowness, this lack of depth and heart to his stuff. Even when they sparkle on the surface there's nothing that feels like it's come from any real emotion, like it's trying to really move you, merely to entertain.

The man himself seems great. The music, alas, is vacuous. We deserve better.

Anonymous said...

I particularly liked:
"If we were to sort the human race into a thousand different degrees of ability to rock, Elton would be on a level with your gran and Arthur Lowe."

The anonymous poster above is clearly mad.

And anonymous for a reason, surely?

ive never even HEARD mona lisas and mad hatters, OR mellow, & isnt circle of life from disneys tarzan or some such drivel?

look, rocket man, ok, nice song. i think goodbye yellow brick road is pleasant, too. And, to tell the truth, i have come to be of the opinion that his recent-ish song This Train Don't Stop There Anymore is actually a very, very good song. maybe even his best. And after 40 years of almost textbook mediocrity that's the least we could ask.

But we're talking GREAT: Tangled Up in Blue, Visions of Johanna, Every Grain of Sand, Blind Willie Mctell GREAT. Hallelujah great. Pagan Poetry, All Is Full Of Love great. If I Was Your Girlfriend great. Pet Sounds, Astral Weeks, Horses great. Remain In Light great. THIS IS WHAT SHE'S LIKE great.

All these works are not only uniquely innovative, they each in their own way broke through the possible to achieve what no-one else, before or since, have been able to match. They are superhuman extensions of the human soul. They are great not just because they found popular acclaim or financial success, they are great because they glimpse & make manifest a depth & extent of the human spirit that the everyday world ignores & obscures. And in this way they are one with all great poetry & art.

And, as with all great art, they have the power to change you, almost literally CHANGE you, on some molecular level, into something else upon hearing them.

Nothing at all ever sounded like 'A Day In The Life' or 'Tomorrow never Knows' before. And you are a different human being after hearing them.

THIS list of songs, on the other hand:
mona lisas and mad hatters
rocket man
philadelphia freedom
the bitch is back
honky cat
saturday night's all right for fighting
i guess that's why they call it the blues
sad songs
circle of life

is nothing. it's nice pop music at best. it changes nothing. and at the end of the day it means nothing. the most that can be said about it is that it has soundtracked pleasant moments of your life down through the years, & maybe that's why - as with 'circle of life' - you have fond memories of it.

It really saddens me - deeply saddens me - that people are not equiped to think in terms of true greatness anymore. the most anyone means when they list what they think is great is what they LIKE. the blur & bustle of the everyday obscures the timeless & eternal. And perhaps it always has.

But things survive from those earlier times, rise up from the ashes of the past. Their voices speak to us now as they have done for hundreds of years, sometimes thousands, like the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, the works of Milton, Mozart, Shakespeare. They say these works will live forever. And so, they say, are great.


It has just stricken me, by the way, looking at that photo, that elton john now looks EXACTLY like my dad.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with catvincent - Funeral for a Friend is one of my favourites too, in spite of not liking EJ at all, much. I once had the experience of being round at a friend's and listening to what I took to be something like 'The LSO play someone or other's hits' and thought it was very good. 'Who's the music by?' I asked. I was very surprised to hear it was Elton John. The new arrangement had really improved it, I thought, all the better that Elton's tinny, whiny voice was missing. It was only when I listened closely that I realised that one of the loudspeakers was dead and the track with his vocals was lost. If you just get his music ALONE, without him or Bernie Taupin's godawful lyrics, it's not half bad. Of course, Funeral for a Friend is, as catvincent pointed out, instrumental only.
He managed to rock once, and once only, when he sang the role of The Pinball Wizard in Ken Russell's film version of The Who's rock opera Tommy - but then he didn't write that song. As for anonyperson's voting for 'Rocket Man' - may I just say: Stewie Griffin. His cover of that song in the Family Guy episode "And the Wiener Is..." (parodying William Shatner's) will confirm all you ever feared about it and Elton's ability to rock!
You can see it on:
And compare it with Shatner's 'original' here:
and here:
'Oh yes, that's the good stuff!'

merrick said...

M'hoop, I take your point and fully endorse it. As I've said elsewhere,

Our lives are too short to have mere audio wallpaper, to be taken in with mere show-offs preening themselves in front of us.

Music is a tool for expressing the inexpressable, for reaching the unattainble, for giving glimpses of the unseen, for touching the isolated. It is there to challenge, affirm, enrich, inspire, to help us understand what we are already and then help us become something more.

It is the one thing in your life that provides an unlimited on-tap supply of genuine magic.

It really can be all this.

It really *is* all this.

But that said, there's something else to consider. I know that you too, M'hoop, are a sucker for the inspired, well-crafted yet essentially meaningless pop song.

You understand the quick-fix, the lightning bolt, the ability to teleport you somehwere else then drop you back again three minutes later a little tingly but otherwise basically the same.

There is a place for such pop. Thing is, Elton John's not even very good at *that*. The list of his, ahem, great songs provided above wouldn't compare well with a list from, say, The Undertones.

Few things rile in the way over-ratedness does. In the canon of great pop music writers, Elton John's somewhere below KC & The Sunshine Band and Aztec Camera and but above The Troggs and Inspiral Carpets. Yet he's feted, knighted, awash in cash and generally fawned over. Utterly inexplicable.

RA said...

A friend of mine lives next door to Reg Presley from the Troggs....

Anonymous said...

Er... seems like blogger at my comment. Delete this one if it shows up twice.

I'd just like to add to the discussion the fact that I worked backstage at Wembley one summer when Elton John and Eric Clapton co-headlined a couple of stadium gigs.

For the record, Eric Clapton is a far far nicer bloke than I could possibly have imagined. Not saying he should be let anywhere near a stage, but fair's fair... he was a genuinely decent guy which came as a shock.

Elton John on the other hand is actually as big a git as you imagine. Except even more so.

Anonymous said...

why are u guys all making fun of elton john when he has more success to his name then any of u.. and throws one hell of a concert.

merrick said...

Anonyperson, 'one hell of a concert'?

Really, what does he do that you don't expect? What does he make you feel except for entertained? What difference is there at the end of one of his gigs except you're a bit older and he's walking off with a considerable amount of your money?

Regarding comparisons between me and him, it depends on your definition of 'success'. There are many things that I am more successful at than Elton John. I bet I grow far better beetroot and write better radio comedy, for example.

Forgive me if I misinterpret you, but I suspect you mean commercial success and the number of people who give him some sort of acclaim.

As I've said in a fine discussion of the meaning of music elsewhere, whilst it may be enough for you, forgive me for wanting more from an artist than the ability to be well marketed.

But if that's all you need then I hope you continue to enjoy Simple Minds, Westlife, The Osmonds, Black Lace and Foghat.

Anonymous said...

The giveaway for me was that he couldn't come up with a new song for Diana's funeral, he used a song about Norma Jean; "Candle in the Wind" for her. I realized then that Diana was a victim and Elton was a tool of the devil so to speak.

merrick said...

Ah, I loved that Diana performance. The bouncing eyebrow is incredible.

But my favourite bit is the Anglocentrism. Opening with 'Goodbye England's rose' - Princess of where?