A year ago I wrote a blog article called The Best Elton John Songs You Haven’t Heard Forever. In that piece I revealed my preference for the deeper cuts as opposed to those classics that get more airplay. In the last year, I have spent a lot more time revisiting some of my older Elton John catalogue. I have recently moved away from my stable of “go tos” on my digital playlist and dug out some of the old CDs that I haven’t listened to in their entirety for quite a while. In doing so I have gained a new appreciation for the incredible body of work Elton created in the 1970s into the early 80s. He produced so much that it actually probably worked against him in the way his work was judged critically at the time. But forty years on, these songs hold up and then some. In my first piece, last year, I selected 10 songs that you don’t hear much, if at all, on the radio now that are among my favorites. This time, I have selected 10 more. Rather than rank them in any particular order, I will simply list them chronologically and make my case for why they deserve special recognition. Each song title will also be a link to the song on Youtube. Do yourself a favor and go give them a listen.
No Shoestrings on Louise From Elton John (1970)
This song is just a straightforward blues tune about a woman. I love its lilting rhythm which almost gives the listener the feeing of riding a horse through the story. Elton’s delivery on this song seems a fairly obvious tip of the cap to Mick Jagger and the whole song has a very palpable Rolling Stones feel to it. All in all, just a great bluesy rock and roll song from Elton’s second studio album but first to be released in the U.S.
Razor Face From Madman Across the Water (1971)
This song is just awesome. It is a gritty tune with a mix of organ, piano, and guitars that blend seemlessly in and out of slow, understated verses into a hard driving chorus. The lyrics are interesting but, like a lot of Bernie Taupin’s poetry, somewhat ambiguous. I really couldn’t tell you exactly what the story of the song is about other than it involves an aging man…but that doesn’t matter. Art doesn’t have to have a clear, obvious meaning, sometimes we can just appreciate the beauty of words without needing a message. The most impressive aspect of this song, to me, is Elton’s vocals. His high falsetto is on display at its zenith here and nobody I know of was more skillful at transitioning in and out of falsetto as effortlessly as Elton John was able to do in his prime. You often can’t tell where his normal delivery ends and his falsetto kicks in. Any singer will tell you that’s not easy to pull off.
Mellow From Honky Chateau (1972)
This song is a great marriage of lyric and tune. It is the first of three cuts from the Honky Chateau album that I have selected. Unlike Razor Face, the lyrics of Mellow couldn’t be more clear. This is a ode to romance and to the mellow buzz of love and/or lust. The rhythm of the song seems to mirror the rhythms of love. The funky groove that pushes this song forward from start to finish just puts you in a mellow frame of mind.
Susie (Dramas) From Honky Chateau (1972)
I’m a sucker for a hard driving, funky beat so I was immediately drawn to this song from the moment I heard it. This song feels as if it might have fit perfectly well on the Tumbleweed Connection album because of its style and because the love story described in the lyrics seems as if it might be set in the old west. This is classic 70s rock at its finest.
I think I’m Going to Kill Myself From Honky Chateau (1972)
This is a song about teenage angst. What I love about it is Elton’s choice to juxtapose the disturbing theme of teenage suicide with a rollicking ragtime piano through the verses. This is actually a perfect mismatch to go with the lyrics which tell the story of an obviously immature teen who thinks he can pull one over on the world by killing himself and then sticking around to watch the reaction. And yet, the song goes from a fast paced frolick to a somber blue refrain when the lyrics reflect on the state of teenage blues. This is a really interesting study in how to play with interactions of words and music.
High Flying Bird From Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player (1973)
This is simply a gorgeous song. Multi-textured, rich music and vocals support beautiful lyrics. This song seems to be about a relationship broken by lack of trust.
“My high-flying bird has flown from out my arms/I thought myself her keeper/She thought I meant her harm/She thought I was the archer/A weather-man of words/But I could never shoot down/My high-flying bird.”
The song ends in a sweeping repeated refrain of the song title, with rich backing vocal harmonies in the style of a gospel song. Just a stunning number.
Roy Rogers From Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
I hesitate to place a song from such a classic and mammoth hit album as Yellow Brick Road on a list of more obscure songs but, the fact is, you just don’t ever hear this song on the radio, so it deserves a spot. There is no mystery to Taupin’s lyrics in this one. This is an unapologeticly nostalgic tip of the cap to the great westerns that Bernie loved so much as a child. The American West is a frequent theme in his work, in fact, the whole Tumbleweed Connection album is an ode to the old west. Elton set the words to the perfect western feeling tune and delivers the vocal with a little cowboy twang as well. Just a fun song all around.
We All Fall in Love Sometimes/Curtains From Captain Fantastic (1975)
Technically, these are two songs but, like Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, they are a matched set and really shouldn’t be separated. For my money, this is one of the most beautiful compositions in the whole of the John/Taupin catalogue–and THAT is saying something. The lyrics are beautiful and full of lush imagery, the tune captures perfectly the melancholy love poem. I get emotional every time I hear this song. Its ethereal feel carries me away on a cloud. It is a perfect closer to what is, for my money, a perfect album.
Cage the Songbird From Blue Moves (1976)
This song is a standout from the underrated double album, Blue Moves. Lyrically, this song has a bit of a similar tone to Goodbye Norma Jean because it tells the story of a female star who dies young. The lyrics are beautiful but what draws me into this song is the music and, especially, the vocals and harmonies. I love the acoustic guitar bed under the verses. In that way, it has a similar feel to my all-time favorite Elton John song, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. What makes this song pop for me is the harmony vocals which have a very distinct Crosby Stills and Nash vibe. I’d wager that most CSN fans would love this tune.
Chloe From The Fox (1981)
This might be my favorite Elton John song from the decade of the 80s. This is a sweet love song with a rich, almost cinematic orchestration. I absolutely love Elton’s vocal delivery and phrasing throughout this song, sometimes managing to squeeze 5 or 6 syllables into the name Chloe. The sweet simple verses transition into rich crescendo choruses wth a gospel choir feel. I never tire of listening to this song.