Some of the more interesting rock reads are those where there is on the surface an incongruity between the writer and the subject material. Oddly enough the results are usually as fascinating if not more so than the material. Case in point is Byron Coley's Motley Crue book I recently wrote about, as well as Bangs' Rod Stewart and Blondie books (interestingly, Bangs did not rate very highly Blondie's later records in much the same manner of his dislike of most of Rod the Mod's solo career). Thankfully Seymour Stein and Sire Records in the mid-70's sponsored a slew of rock bios and today we feature Greg Shaw's "Elton John: A Biography in Words and Music" - nice cover shot, no? In the 70's, if you wanted an lp that was the antithesis of Luciano Cilio's "Dell 'Univero Assente," look no further than Elton at his most bombastic.
I remember seeing at least 10 copies of this for peanuts years back at a shop and passing on it. So, back in LA earlier this year prior to the return to the NZ bush, the time was right as I had just finished the essential "Bomp 2: Born in the Garage" - (a public service by Suzy Shaw and Mike Stax if there ever was one). So, Michael Gira, thank you and Alice Bag for the inspiration to reinvestigate the John catalog. You are dead on that there is something in the austerity of those early records and Greg Shaw perfectly articulates that "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" is "a powerful, hard-rocking single in the style of Slade." I couldn't have put it better myself. Greg even proclaims the single "the party record of the year." Strangely enough, "Daniel" had been the previous single. The schizophrenic nature of those first 6-8 records all within a relatively short time period is fascinating and the volume of output obviously fueled by some serious substances. The singer-songwriter with strings v. the glam/pop hits. Can't really make up our minds. Do we thank Elton for inspiring some of the lesser junk shop glam cash ins? Not unlike people who hate the Doors/Jim Morrison but lavish praise on those undeniably inspired by that font of greatness. For some reason when I see the Creem greatest hit below, I am now reminded of Nick Kent's great anecdote about luckily being confused with Elton's guitar player.
Elton gets a lot of slams for the "persona," but who else knew both Nick Drake (and demoed Drake's and John and Linda Martyn's great early songs with Linda Thompson) and Iggy Stooge - and championed them both - in real time while both Drake and the Stooges were recording. The only other Drake/Iggy connection I can think of and which I have been writing about to post here soon, is Francoise Hardy, whose 1971 lp, "La Question," I usually rate in my top 10 records.
Last time I was at the Hollywood Bowl, it was checking out John Fogerty perform an awesome 4th of July show a couple years back - man, is his guitar playing underrated. However, there were not five pianos on stage nor Groucho, Elvis and Beatle impersonators. It would have livened it up. And Linda Lovelace was not the emcee. As Gira asks, where is the audacity of the performer today and why are they hiding under rocks. I quote: "creatures like him are what make the rest of us retreat and slink away into the murk of daily existence, cowering and furtive, only to emerge again when the light and sound and magic of an Elton John lures us, hypnotized, out of our dismal caves." NB: I always thought that "Philadelphia Freedom" was a bicentennial ode but in fact, Greg Shaw notes that it was a simultaneous tribute to Gamble & Huff - thus the Philly connection with strings - and his favorite tennis player Billie Jean King. Poor Booby Riggs. Not even Bowie on "Young Americans," ripping off the same sound, could pen him a tribute.