As good as “One Horse Town” is, the song is a lone exponent of loud music within the two records that make up “Blue Moves”. “Tonight” gives you an exact idea of the kind of compositions that define the disc, and it markedly highlights the somberness I mentioned in the first part of the review. It is not that Elton did never cut something somber before – “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” dealt with its fair share of touchy issues. But the instrumentation steered everything into a more joyous destination. The opposite can be said about “Blue Moves”.
And maybe one of the clearest examples of the contrast between the two double albums (they have to be contrasted – they were the only Elton ever issued) is found in the eulogies that are featured. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” had “Candle In The Wind”, and “Blue Moves” had “Cage The Songbird”. “Candle In The Wind” was for Marilyn Monroe. “Cage The Songbird” was for Edith Piaf. The first was lush and elegant instrumentally, the second was contrite and subdued, and were it not for Graham Cosby and Steve Nash’s harmonies it would even have been drab. Of course, “Candle In The Wind” was a lyric Elton had not a lot to refer to, not especially when placed against something like“Cage The Songbird”. The song dealt with Marilyn Monroe, and it focused on the price paid by those enslaved by showbiz. The perspective was 100 % Bernie, and if it had something to do with Elton, it had to do with the outward image he projected, and how the media used that persona to fabricate what it wished. “Cage The Songbird”, on the other hand, dealt with the passing of a master songstress. It wasn’t that difficult for Elton to get introspective at all.
Crosby and Nash also sing backup on “The Wide-Eyed And Laughing”, the one true curveball of the whole album, and a clear standout track both for Caleb and Davey. They play 12-string guitar and sitar respectively, laying the foundation for a Eastern-derived song which reminds us of the willingness to experiment that was at the core of everything that Elton did during his classic years. That was sadly being displaced further and further until it was too late to put in back into position.
And two tracks are graced by the Beach Boys singing backup, too, and much like “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” on “Caribou” these songs were to be refined and defined by their contributions. They are “Chameleon” (a song that was actually offered to them by Elton; they turned it down but agreed to sing on his own version of the song), and “Someone’s Final Song” , a valedictory tune where Bernie sounds jaded like never before – he was actually going to take a few years off after “Blue Moves”. The harmonized coda puts a fine (if utterly eerie) point to it all. Continue reading →
"Blue Moves" (1976) Was One Of The Moodiest Albums Of Elton John's Career, And Something Entirely Removed From "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (The Only Other Double Album He Ever Issued)
When being interviewed in 1991, Elton John remarked that he had not released a good album ever since 1976’s “Blue Moves”. He also termed it an album where he did absolutely what he wanted to do. He went to say that he wasn’t really thinking about pleasing anybody but himself, to come up with a record that he would like to listen afterwards. That might go some way into explaining why the double album yielded virtually no hit singles (“Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” was the lone exception, peaking at #6) and why it would take time for “Blue Moves” to grew into stature until it became one of his most respected works among critics and fans alike.
Certainly, if we were to compare “Blue Moves” with the only other double album Elton issued in his career (1973’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”) the difference is entirely apparent. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was an album for everybody, or (rather) an album where Elton performed in ways everybody was sure to appreciate. It was to become his most representative work to the public at large, and a true embodiment of every facet that defined his classic years. It was pop music at his best, and the way in which he approached issues like mortality and transience (“Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”, “Candle In The Wind”…) did attenuate the gravity at play. If anything, the music was so full of life that he could sing about just anything (“Social Disease”) and get away with it. A truly negative connotation could only surface if you looked for it, and if you looked for it in an extensive way at that.
On the contrary, “Blue Moves” was an album in which you could read negativity at every turn. Because it was an album where Elton clearly spoke to himself. There are fewer examples of John’s music sounding this introspective. And when it did, Elton was singing about a character (“Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy”). Here, you listen to him in the most direct and unstripped setting. No wonder “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was critically acclaimed from the beginning, and “Blue Moves” could only be appreciated in retrospective. Continue reading →
I haven’t talked a lot about the tracks that were contributed by fellow musicians yet. “Evolution” is Ronnie Lane’s all-acoustic take on a Small Faces track named “The Stone”, with him playing rhythm and Pete leading the way. For its part, “Forever’s Not Time At All” comprises mostly Billy Nicholls’ vocals and Caleb Quaye’s instrumentation – he handles bass, drums and guitars. “Forever’s Not Time At All”, incidentally, was a phrase inspired by Meher Baba. And the same applies to the coda of “Let’s See Action”, as “The Nothing & The Everything” was one of Baba’s teachings.
As far as Pete’s original compositions go, we have “Time Is Passing”, yet another song from the aborted Lifehouse project and one that did not surface as a Who recording until the remastered “Odds & Sods” saw release in 1999. A note on the Who’s version on that disc: what you listen to is only half the song. The other half (including a French horn and the full bass part) are missing, although the exactly opposite version of the song does exist, featuring the missing instruments and lacking the other ones. Some bootlegger even managed to combine the two mixes and come up with the “definitive” version of “Time Is Passing” by the Shepherd Bush’s combo.
The other original track is “Sheraton Gibson” a small ditty about hitting the road. Whether Pete alludes to touring or striking down the pathway of spiritual enlightenment is up to each listener… Continue reading →
Pete Townshend As Depicted On The Cover Of His First Solo Record, "Who Came First" (1972)
Pete Townshend’s love for Indian Avatar Meher Baba produced the critically-acclaimed Tommy album in 1969, but there was more to it. As a “Baba Lover”, Townshend was involved with other devotees in the production and internal release of albums that included not only music but also poetry readings. Those were to fall into the hands of bootleggers and be repackaged before too long, and that was the reason Pete’s record company offered him the chance to assemble an official disc. That disc was to be named “Who Came First”, it was issued in 1972, and it was to be Pete’s first release outside of The Who.
As I explained in the general introduction to Pete’s music, “Who Came First” was not really a “solo” album as a literal host contributed to the record. Caleb Quaye, Ronnie Lane and Billy Nicholls lent their interpretative skills to three of the nine tracks that were featured on “Who Came First”, and the album also included a painting by Mike McInnerney (he who had illustrated “Tommy”). Lyrics were likewise composed by other Baba lovers, with both McInnerney’s wife and Maud Kelly having writing credits of their own.
Pete provided some Who demos, a few original numbers and an adaptation of Baba’s Universal Prayer (“Parvardigar”). He also tackled Jim Reeves’ “There’s An Heartache Following Me”, as it was one of Baba’s favorite Western songs. The other was “Begin The Beguine”, and Pete did also cover it on another of those tribute albums. It didn’t make it into “Who Came First”, though.
The Who demos included “Pure & Easy” and “Let’s See Action”. The inclusion of “Pure & Easy” was phenomenal if only because a Who version was not issued until the “Odds & Sods” album almost 5 years later. The song was the genesis of the whole “Lifehouse” project, and its omission on the “Who’s Next” disc has always been mourned. As Dave Marsh said, it wouldn’t have “saved” the album itself. Rather, it would have “perfected” it. Continue reading →