Sunday, September 15, 2019

Elton John Blue Moves 1976

I've had time to overthink this one. Months ago I began writing the entry in my head, feeling that Blue Moves was one of Elton's lost classics that needed reconsideration. I've gone back to the record many times, and I do like it, but it seems I usually only go back to side three, and I'd been perhaps a bit too generous with the rest of it.

All this prompted me to think about Elton John's best records. I tend to think everything between Elton John 1970 and Blue Moves 1976 was great. But Caribou 1974 and Rock Of The Westies 1975 were lousy records carried by their singles, and even Madman Across The Water 1971 is less impressive in hindsight.

So, I'd say that the five best Elton John albums are: Tumbleweed Connection 1970, Honky Chateau 1972,  Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 1973, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy 1975, and Songs From The West Coast 2001. I also have to throw in 17-11-70, the early live recording that showed off a great trio with Dee Murray and Nigel Olssen, as some sort of honorable mention.

So, Blue Moves. The album starts with Your Starter For..., a Caleb Quaye instrumental that is fine, really, and very short. Then Tonight, a sad ballad of troubled love, features a symphony orchestra, and a strong lyric from Bernie Taupin (something that doesn't happen enough on this record). One Horse Town features a rocking arrangement that almost saves it, and Chameleon benefits from a chorus featuring Beach-Boys styled vocals courtesy of Bruce Johnston and Toni Tennille.  The funky backbeat and gospel choir help with Boogie Pilgrim, but it's pretty vapid. Graham Nash and David Crosby provide vocal support on the sweet, tender ballad Cage The Songbird. Crazy Water is upbeat and is funkified by a strong arrangement. Bernie writes a good story for Shoulder Holster, and the Brecker Brother's horns assist, but it's not a great one by any stretch.

Side three is where I return frequently, opening with Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word. Everything about the song works, Bernie's lyric, Elton's sympathetic melody, Ray Cooper's vibes, the lush strings. Out Of The Blue follows, and it's a nice rocking instrumental that sounds like it grew out from a band jam. Between Seventeen And Twenty is another killer ballad with all the elements: words, music, execution. Crosby and Nash help again on The Wide-Eyed And Laughing, but they don't save it. Someone's Final Song is a pretty suicide ballad with a sad topic. On the last side, only If There's A God Up In Heaven with it's funk, and the fading rock star of ballad Idol are much to hear. Where's The Shoorah?, Theme From A Non-Existent T.V. Series, and Bite Your Lip (Get Up And Dance!) are all throwaways that should have been left off.

With some editing, and maybe one or two more up-tempo numbers, it could have been solid. It would have been a respected record as a single LP release, although still too ballad-heavy. It is not the lost classic I had been thinking it was, but I still love side three.

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