Elton John and the Holy Grail

On most of EJ’s albums, there is what I call a “showcase song” – that is, a song which (you got it!) showcases Elton’s vocals and piano – and often just that.  The holy grail to an Elton fan like me!

These gems sometimes have a “big” message and are often some of Bernie’s most heartfelt and poetic lyrics. (I prefer to think they specifically chose to orchestrate them with Elton’s emotive voice and evocative piano accompaniment as a “showcase” for the lyrics).

The Elton Showcase

Without further adieu, here are, imho, Elton’s “showcase songs”:

  • Empty Sky (1969) – Skyline Pigeon: OK, so that’s a harpsichord, not piano, that Elton is playing here, but it’s still an Elton showcase piece.
  • Elton John (1970) – Sixty Years On, First Episode at Hienton (and arguably even The Greatest Discovery).  Wow, 3 on a single album!
  • Tumbleweed Connection (1970) – Talking Old Soldiers: The epitome of a signature song.
  • Madman Across the Water (1971) – I bet you thought I’d pick Tiny Dancer, but I’m going with Goodbye here…mostly because it fits my criteria of only Elton’s vocals and piano (oh, yes, and some strings).  Is that sarcasm in his voice?  I love the obtuse lyrics, too.
  • Honky Chateau (1972) – No question, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.  How could it not be a showcase song since it’s my all-time favorite?
  • Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player (1973) – There’s not a clear front runner on this album, so I’ll call it a draw between Blues for Baby and Me and  High Flying Bird.
  • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) – Although there are so many great songs to choose from on GBYBR, the showcase song (to me, anyway) is This Song Has No Title.  Elton plays all of the instruments for this tune.
  • Caribou (1974) – Ticking: Amazing, amazing piano accompaniment – it takes a voice of its own (and I love that Elton does his own background vocals and harmonies in this song).
  • Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975) – We All Fall in Love Sometimes.  An Elton ballad at its best.
  • Rock of the Westies (1975) – This was an outtake from RotW, but I’d nominate Planes as the showcase song from this album.   I had not heard it until a few years ago – what a beautiful song!
  • Blue Moves (1976) – Idol: I love the heavy sigh and the haunting sax in this song that’s supposedly about Elvis, but could also be about Elton.
  • A Single Man (1978) – A Song for Guy:  Perhaps I chose this song (an instrumental) because none of the songs on this album are written by Bernie.  Not that I’m biased.
  • Victim of Love (1979) – OK, so there are no showcase songs on this album! (One I bet even Elton would like to forget).
  • 21 at 33 (1980) – Sartorial Eloquence.  Gotta love it when he brings in the background singers.
  • The Fox (1981) – Carla-Etude-Fanfare and Chloe.  Big, classical orchestration gets me every time.  It lends a grandness and maturity to his music that most “pop” singers can’t even come close to, then or now.
  • Jump Up! (1982) – Giving us his best Sinatra with Blue Eyes.  (A close second to All Quiet on the Western Front).
  • Too Low for Zero (1983) – One More Arrow.
  • Breaking Hearts (1984) – Breaking Hearts (Ain’t What it Used to Be).  Elton, you crooner, you can break my heart any day.
  • Ice on Fire (1985) –  Shoot Down the Moon (not a big fan, but it does showcase his voice and piano).
  • Leather Jackets (1986) – Paris.
  • Reg Strikes Back (1988) – Japanese Hands.
  • Sleeping with the Past (1989) – Amazes Me.  I love it when he goes R&B/Gospel and brings in the backup singers.
  • To Be Continued (1990) – Although this is a compilation album (actually 4 CDs), I thought The Retreat was worthy of being included.  It was the B-side to I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.  It’s got that Civil War feel to it, reminiscent of Tumbleweed Connection.
  • The One (1992)- The showcase song from this album is written in memory of Ryan White and the first single to benefit EJAF.  Called The Last Song, I just saw the official music video for the first time and I have tears running down my face (no lie).  I guess I have the subject for my next blog post.
  • Made in England (1995) – Belfast.  Big orchestration at the start, and Elton’s somber vocals perfectly match the mood.
  • The Big Picture (1997) – Live Like Horses (or you may prefer the duet with Pavarotti, but then I guess that violates my criteria for a showcase song).
  • Songs from the West Coast (2001 ) – It has to be American Triangle, for so many reasons.
  • Peachtree Road (2004) – My Elusive Drug.  You know, I’m not a big fan of this song (mostly from a musicality standpoint), but it is a very personal one, and I think it deserves a spot in the showcase.
  • The Captain and the Kid (2006) – Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way (NYC).  I guess if Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters is a showcase song, it’s only fitting that this song is one, too.
  • The Union (2010) –  When Love is Dying.  Big EJ ballad, need I say more?

And there you have ’em.  I’ve blogged about several of these songs already, because they’re some of my favorites, and they’re also ones that I point people to who want to hear what I’d call the “real” Elton John (vs. the pop Elton John).  And I’m sure I’ll blog about the others at some point (can’t wait, can you)?

I highly recommend listening to at least some of them if you aren’t familiar.  I think you’ll understand why they’re on the list.

Little Kimmee and the extra long blog post

Ok, so I have to change the title to get a song named for me! (That and Kimoreena, of course).

This song came out when I was in college (I was a prodigy, dare you try to figure out my age).  I was interning at GM in Detroit (and living in Windsor, Canada), and my summer intern buddies gave me this moniker. (It couldn’t be because I made them listen to the album over and over again, could it)?  The nickname somehow made its way back to Georgia Tech (Jim Craig!) and surprise, surprise, all my computer printouts came out labeled “Kimmee.”  Then my friends at IBM called me “Kimmee,” and I guess it stuck.  I even had a personalized “Kimmee” license plate for a while. My family couldn’t believe that I actually let people call me that.  A few people still do…and it always makes me smile.

(BTW, the “ee” in “Kimmee” is because my name is “Kimberlee,” in case you were wondering.  Just don’t call me “Kimberly”)!

Anyway, back to the song…A good song, not a great song, although it did make it to #1 in the U.S.  And it wasn’t written with Bernie; it’s a collaboration with Gary Osborne.  But because I can “six degree” it back to me, I guess I have a special affinity for it.

Little Jeannie, you got so much time, little Jeannie
Though you’ve grown beyond your years, you still retain the fears of youth
Oh little Jeannie, you got so much time, little Jeannie
But you’re burning it up so fast, searching for some lasting truth

You got so much love, Little Jeannie

Little Jeannie (21 at 33 – 1980)

That summer in Detroit helped me to assert my independence – I even wrote a poem about it.   To this day, when I hear this song, I think about Detroit, I think about college and I think about how it felt to break free.  Pardon the length and the melodrama – I was twenty then, what can I say?

Little Kimmee

Deer eyes –
What have you done?
Why the tears?
You’ve got everything going for you
(or so they say)
But you know better
You’re so good at pretending.
Even though you hate it.
There must be something better –
But who can be sure.

If only they knew
If they looked into your eyes,
They’d see the fear –
That this is all you had to offer –
That you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time –
The fear of uncertainty.
And if they looked into your soul,
They’d see infinity –

Ah, but you can be so cruel –
And enjoy it so much.
As long as you get what you want.
And you want so much
But would settle for so little –

They expect so much of you.
But you –
You expect so little
And get just that
(And you wonder why)
No, you’re not to be pitied –
That’s not what you want, either –
But that’s just it –
You don’t know what you want
But that’s no excuse.

You’re at your best
Playing games
Caught in a whirlwind of confusion
That leaves you breathless
Always running
With no place to turn
Nowhere to go back to
Not sure what lies ahead.

You threw away security
To assert your independence
Yet that breeds loneliness.
You found that out the hard way.
But you’re learning fast:
Just a shrug of the shoulders can make the world seem new.
A blink of the eye-
And it all disappears.

Most of all
You are lonely
(Though you hate to admit it)
But you always have been, haven’t you?
(And you must concede)
You always will be.
Hiding behind the few that will listen
And the even fewer who say they care.
It’s not their fault –
Some silly illusion of grandeur –
Of a happiness that you’ve yet to know –
Of something –
Some place –
Someone –
To call home.
Was that too much to ask for?
Now –
It’s almost gone.
Now –
You find yourself searching –
Ever searching
For what you never really believed in.
And I think you know that
But refuse to admit it
That will get you nowhere.

So go on, Kim –
What’ve you got to lose?
Dream on, Kim –
At least that keeps you going.
Avec soin, Kim –
Things can’t be as bad as they seem.

Kim (After a summer in Detroit, 1980)

Tread neat so small those little feet

This post is for my brothers…I know, I’m being very literal here, but since they both are now subscribers of my blog (thank you very much!), I figured I’d dedicate a song (and a blog post) to them.

The Greatest Discovery is one of my all-time favorite Elton John songs.  I’ve always loved it, but I appreciate it much more now that I have children of my own. I experienced my own “Greatest Discovery” moment when my son came into my hospital room after the birth of my daughter and exclaimed (in the most mellifluous voice I’ve ever heard) “Baby Chloe!”

Can you believe it was recorded in 1969?  Elton was 22 and Bernie 19 (can you believe it – 19!!!) at the time.  To write such poignant lyrics and elegant music at that age (well, at any age) astounds me.

Of course, the song is about a child waking up one morning to discover he has a new brother (in this case, Bernie’s brother Kit).  The innocence and wonder are captured so beautifully by Bernie.  And the music/orchestration provide such magical accompaniment. Paul Buckmaster’s string arrangement is perfect and Elton’s vocals are superb.

I’m going to include the full lyrics here – they are pure poetry.  (Take the words I chose for the title of this post – amazing.  Dare I say it again – 19!!!).  To share any less would be a disservice.

Peering out of tiny eyes
The grubby hands that gripped the rail
Wiped the window clean of frost
As the morning air laid on the latch

A whistle awakened someone there
Next door to the nursery just down the hall
A strange new sound you never heard before
A strange new sound that makes boys explore

Tread neat so small those little feet
Amid the morning his small heart beats
So much excitement yesterday
That must be rewarded must be displayed

Large hands lift him through the air
Excited eyes contain him there
The eyes of those he loves and knows
But what’s this extra bed just here

His puzzled head tipped to one side
Amazement swims in those bright green eyes
Glancing down upon this thing
That make strange sounds, strange sounds that sing

In those silent happy seconds
That surround the sound of this event
A parent smile is made in moments
They have made for you a friend

And all you ever learned from them
Until you grew much older
Did not compare with when they said
This is your brand new brother
This is your brand new brother
This is your brand new brother

I think, for me, the Greatest Discovery has been realizing that my siblings – my sisters and my brothers both – are among my best friends.  Who would’ve thought that when we were growing up?  Not I, that’s for sure.  I didn’t like growing up in such a big family, and I couldn’t wait to get out of our small town.  Now, I count it (them) a blessing.  Each and every one.

So, brothers, this one’s for you!

Next time I see you guys, I’ll sing it to you (god help us all).  Ok, maybe I’ll just play it for you.  Now, let me dig up those Frito  Bandito photos…

The Greatest Discovery (Elton John – 1996)

I have to say that I like the way his music sounded before…

WHAT? Did she really say that?  Well, if it got you to read my blog, then it worked – even if it isn’t quite true.  Of course, I do like the way his music sounded before, but I also like the way it sounds now, too.

Idol is supposedly about Elvis, who was a big influence on both Elton and Bernie (“the boy from Tupelo”).  And I can see that:

`Cause the fifties shifted out of gear
He was an idol then, now he’s an idol here
But his face has changed, he’s not the same no more
And I have to say that I like the way his music sounded before

But part of me wonders if it’s also a foreshadowing of what was to come with Elton’s own career and idolatry.  The song was recorded in 1976, which was when his popularity was just beginning to wane.  I suspect they both knew that the spectacle couldn’t last forever, and that at some point, they might find themselves in a similar predicament as Elvis.

But don’t bet them
They can’t take him
To the very bottom
Because they made him and they’ll waste him
And I don’t believe that I want to watch them

Love the sigh in that last line…

They certainly fought their own demons, but they made it through.  Yes, they made it through!  And though he’s never risen to that same level of popularity as the early ’70s:

Highly prized in the wallet size
The number one crush in a schoolgirl’s eyes

…He’s certainly stuck around, hasn’t he?

And don’t you just love the sax?  It’s amazing.  (Duh!  It’s David Sanborn).


Idol (Blue Moves – 1976)