This was my first Elton John album. I bought it on the strength of “Daniel”, a song I had always been moved by. I admit that even back then, when I had no other albums of his, I had certain a feeling when I listened to it… a sort of hunch that told me “this guy can do better”. And now, having listened to Elton’s output both sides of it, I am sad to say that the record is not only average at best, but it is also the point where his work became saccharine for all the wrong reasons.
To me, “Don’t Shoot Me…” marks the instance where singles began having priority over albums within Elton’s career. The problem was somehow more evident in forthcoming ’70s albums like “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, and the ’80s were characterized by such an issue, of course.
Of course, the two A-sides here are so monumental that everything is forgiven for a minute. In addition to “Daniel” (a top 5 hit) we have “Crocodile Rock”, Elton’s first chart topper and a song where the farcical element that many saddle Elton with is put to the best possible use.
The rest of the record… it is uneven at best. “Teacher I Need You” and “Elderberry Wine” are two of the best songs on offer here. They are tracks two and three respectively, and on any other album by Elton they would have been quite filler-ish. Still, “Teacher I Need You” has a very solid piano intro that (to me) stands as the prototype for the song “Bitter Fingers” from “Captain Fantastic” (1975). The closing number (“High Flying Bird”) also stands out, if only because the harmonies are so realized.
The remainder of the album is too slight to stick in your mind. Having listened to it a trillion times I have grown fond of “Texan Love Song” and “Blues For Baby And Me” but that doesn’t count. If you can not live without music and wind up stranded in a place where the only song that is played is “SOS” by The Jonas Brothers you are going to cherish it sooner or later. And under no concept do I listen enthusiastically to “Midnight Creeper”, “I’m Gonna Be A Teenage Idol” or the absurdly over-dramatic “Have Mercy On The Criminal”.
Something good about the album: Davey Johnstone made his official debut as a member of the Elton John Band here. That is cause of celebration indeed, as Dave would prove to be Elton’s main instrumental pillar throughout the years, recording with him even when Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson and even Bernie Taupin took a leave.
The CD has 4 bonus tracks, of which the rerecorded “Skyline Pigeon” (originally included in “Empty Sky“) is the obvious high point. This new version is a piano-led one, and an orchestra is also in attendance. I have read some comments claiming that the song is a telltale sign of Elton’s “ballad” syndrome, but that is not right. “It’s Me That You Need” (one of his first singles, featured as a bonus track on Empty Sky) already had had him charting those waters.
In finishing, “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player” is an album that is mostly (and justly) forgotten. Two truly good songs don’t make an album memorable, and when they are so great that they make the remaining tunes stick like a sore thumb they simply have the opposite effect. You will only need this record if you can’t rest until you have laid your hands on every album that reads “Elton John” on the cover. Otherwise, any “Best Of” compilation will have your needs duly covered.