“The DIving Board” Revists the ’70s Capitol Years.

Deluxe Diving Board CD
While much has been said about The Diving Board marking a return to Elton’s 1970 Piano/Drums/Bass core format, there’s another “back to the future” element:  The CD itself.  Perhaps my favorite feature of the new album art is how Elton marked his move to the Capitol label using it’s 1970s record label design on the CD.  Look at this  and one immediately thinks of the 1970s-era albums by The Band and more. 

But there’s more retro.  The classic Capitol “dome” logo is there, as well as a return to the Mercury logo that graced albums for decades.  Capitol is Elton’s U.S. label. Although Mercury is a Chicago-born label, it now is used almost exclusively in the U.K. .  Mercury UK distributes Elton’s records there.

A lot of fun for us record collectors–even more fun on Tuesday when we get to see the label on the vinyl.  What will it be?


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No Respect? Elton In The 1980s…An Overview

Virtually every artist who has had a career that has covered multiple decades is bound to have peaks and valleys along the way. However, the music that Elton John created in the 1980s seems to always get unfair criticism when his music is discussed by many critics and bloggers. It’s important to put things into context, of which this rarely happens for Elton, for those comparing his recordings in the 1970s to the 1980s.

For instance, when looking at his contemporaries during the same time period, Elton often gets the short end of the stick. Let’s take the Rolling Stones as an example. We all know their early 70’s output was classic but will we ever compare their classic 1972’s Exile On Main Street album to 1986’s Still Life? Their lackluster cover version of Harlem Shuffle will hardly be confused with Tumbling Dice. Yet, they get somewhat of a free pass. Or how about Eric Clapton? The soaring guitars of the early 70’s Layla were a far cry from the Phil Collins produced ’86 album August, which resulted in the overtly slick It’s In The Way That You Use It hit. And Rod Stewart? Well let’s face it, ever since Maggie May kicked him out of bed, the singer-songwriter in him left the building. He has coasted ever since with simple, albeit catchy, pop songs. He clearly chose the easy road during this decade. And let’s not forget, he did actually sing Love Touch.

How then, does Elton’s music in the 1980s rank? Well, that depends of course your own musical taste and preference. And there is no disputing the fact that Elton has had two distinct overriding legacy’s in the 1970s. The first is the Elton John from his first album through Madman Across The Water. These albums were grand if not majestic early recordings that secured his credibly early on. Once Honky Chateau was released 1972 however, Elton became a pop sensation through the remaining part of the decade (with the help of Rocket Man and Honky Cat from that album to jump start it.) When the 1980s arrived, Elton seemed to take a more conservative approach as he appeared to be finding his feet again in the pop world. This led to a couple of early 80’s albums of inconsistency (21 at 33 and The Fox) to what became his first official comeback album called Jump Up! In 1982. It’s widely noted that this album is remembered mostly for Empty Garden and Blue Eyes, but there were some other great tracks that made for an overall solid album. But it was the 1983 album Too Low For Zero and 1984’s Breaking Hearts release that meshed together Elton’s pop hooks with the new video age and moved him into the decade of the levels he encountered in the mid-70s. I’m Still Standing, I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues and Sad Songs made Elton one of the darlings of MTV and introduced him to a new generation of fans.

He made the successful transition from 1970s icon to 1980s rock star by updating with the times. Plus, the albums included not just the hits but incredible album tracks that may have been long forgotten now but are no less stellar in his overall songbook. Songs like Cold As Christmas, Too Low For Zero, One More Arrow, Restless, In Neon, Burning Buildings and Passengers were as good as anything that came from the ‘70s.

The mid-point of the decade is the weakest link during this decade. Ice On Fire and Leather Jackets were rather mediocre but still contained hidden gems (Cry To Heaven, Paris, Slow Rivers to name a few). That brief dip wouldn’t last long as the decade ended with one very strong album, Reg Strikes Back (hailed by critics at the time as the official comeback #2!) and an outright classic, 1989’s Sleeping With The Past. Both contained big hits and were evident of a renewed commitment to making quality albums again from start to finish.

Another factor during the 1980s was of course, his songwriting partners. It took a few years before Taupin returned as his exclusive lyricist (1983’s Too Low For Zero). And Elton was using studio musicians for a brief time as well (1980-1982) and changed the band members several times after that. Not to mention that a variety of producers were at the helm for his albums too. Simply put, this will lead to different production techniques, arrangements, etc. During Elton’s 1970s hey day, Gus Dudgeon was his sole producer from 1970-1976. And Gus only returned in the 1980s briefly and produced his biggest hit from those sessions with Nikita. Imagine if you will that George Martin didn’t produce the last 4 Beatles albums. Things mostly likely would have been different, right?

And lastly, while Bernie Taupin was back in full swing for most of the albums, he lyrics became less descriptive and his narratives were more based on variations of love, heartache and despair. Long gone were the days of storytelling songs in the vein of Indian Sunset, Danny Bailey, Country Comfort and Roy Rogers. Taupin was now writing in simple, short phrases that were ideal for the syn-pop marketplace of the day. While he was consistent and delivered the goods most of the time, the lyrics were not conducive to the themes that established he and Elton in the early days – perhaps that’s why they didn’t try (maybe a case of been there and done that?)

In summary, I certainly agree that what Elton John accomplished in those early years were never captured again but I contend that among his slick pop hits during the 1980s, there were some treasures that were equal to the classics. I wish that his 1980s output didn’t get such a bum rap. Some of it is deserved for sure (anyone remember Act of War?), but when compared to others of his legendary status during the same time, Elton held his own and survived. And every casual fan should explore that piece of his history as well

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David Sigler & Billboard Bob Countdown Elton’s Top 30


Mark your calendars for June 16. David Sigler, host of the all Elton and Taupin radio show, Two Rooms, will be the co-host for the show Charted Course. Hosted by Billboard Bob, join them as they count down Elton John’s Top 30 biggest hits according to Billboard magazine. You won’t want to miss it!!! Save the date and time: Thursday, June 16, 2011, 9:00 PM-Midnight USA/EST!!!!! LIVE!!!!! Streaming worldwide at www.womr.org.

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The Union: “As good as anything Elton John released 35 years ago”

With the release of 2001’s Songs From The West Coast, Elton John claimed that he was drawing a line in the sand regarding the overall songwriting quality of future album projects. Because he felt so strong about that album, he didn’t want to make anything that hit below that mark. He subsequently released, Peachtree Road in 2004 and The Captain and The Kid in 2006, both of which continued that commitment (though Peachtree Road slipped a bit in places, it has grown on me considerably over the years). So, I’m pleased to report that 2010’s The Union, a collaborative effort with his musical hero, Leon Russell, has not only continued this hot streak but may have even exceeded his expectations.

Furthermore, what makes The Union so special is how unexpected it is. Who’d have thought, that nearly 35 years after they first met, the pair would team up? Bring in a fresh new band, hot producer T. Bone Burnett and of course, his trusty lyric partner, Bernie Taupin, and you have the ingredients for a first rate album that matches both John and Russell’s best work.

The Union runs the gamut of musical styles throughout but maintains a fundamental dedication to quality from start to finish. There are no fillers here. Each track builds upon the previous one and never loses its focus (there are 14 tracks on the release, with 2 bonus tracks on the deluxe version – get that one if you can). From the album oriented rock of If It Wasn’t For Bad, the flat out charging of Hey Ahab, a touching civil war tribute in Gone To Shiloh, the funky brass infused Monkey Suit, and honky-tonk piano of A Dream Come True, this album finds both artists respectively doing what each other does best. But they also merge together so well, one has to wonder what took them so long to get together.

Vocally, John’s voice is deeper these days but still delivers an emotional punch and when Russell sings his lines, the aging of his southern drawl brings an authenticity to the often heartfelt and bleak lyrically themes.

Songwriting duties are mostly by Elton and Taupin but some are pairings of Leon and Taupin and in some cases, a complete collaborative effort by all including producer Burnett. This added spike in the mix only adds to the excitement where everyone partners up and yet the outcome works extremely well regardless of who wrote what melody or lyric.

Burnett gives the songs the kind of touch and arrangements that hark back to Elton’s earlier work i.e. Tumbleweed Connection and Honky Chateau. It’s not a retread by any means, but Burnett taps into the spirit of those early Elton John albums with a tip of the hat to Elton’s best producer, Gus Dudgeon. Real instruments are used and there are no studio gimmicks or tricks trying to keep up with modern times. Just listen to
to understand how one of Taupin’s best lyrics is driven by a simple shuffle beat and steel guitar.

It should be noted that the piano playing by John and Russell was recorded separately, John on the left side and Russell on the right. This allows for the listener to hear the artists distinctive piano playing, John’s classic rock vamping and Russell’s boogie-woogie flourishes. This makes for a unique listening experience that captures both of their styles flawlessly.

There are no songs about John and Russell being long lost buddies or looking back at when they first met. And thank goodness for that. Instead, we have two great songwriters (and Taupin and Burnett cannot be excluded) coming together to write some songs and see what transpires. Luckily for us, they wrote and delivered an engaging set of memorable tunes.

A lot has been written that this is John’s best album in 35 years. Well, I disagree. The statement should be that The Union is as good as anything Elton John released 35 years ago



Posted in Album Discussions, Bernie Taupin, Discography, Honky Chateau, Peachtree Road, Songs From The West Coast, The Captain and The Kid, The Union, Tumbleweed Connection | Leave a comment

REVIEW: “The Union” Film Premiere & Mini Elton Concert

Let me begin by stating my thanks to Jim for operating The Row all these years. Although there are now many other venues in which to obtain Elton related news, The Row (and its readers) are like old friends to me and I enjoy reading it. Now onto the subject at hand…

I was fortunate to attend the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of The Union film last night in Manhattan. The premiere of the film was followed by a mini live concert by Elton, who sounded great! The premiere was attended by Bernie Taupin and T Bone Burnett, as well as other luminaries such as Martin Scorcese and Dennis Leary among others.

The event was free and all one needed to do was to obtain a bracelet, which guaranteed one access to either seated or standing areas. I arrived from work around 1pm (as I work a few blocks from the location where the bracelets were distributed) and waited in line until 4pm. When I arrived the line consisted of maybe 100-125 people, however it grew rapidly from there. When I left after obtaining my allotted two bracelets, the line was wrapped around at least two blocks.

Upon arriving at my seats which were center stage and maybe 6 rows away from the stage, my wife Laurel and I settled down to await the event! It began at 8pm, with Elton striding towards the stage a few minutes before, surrounded by an entourage that included Bernie. Had I seen him approach, I could have almost reached out and touched Elton! After pretty lackluster opening remarks (Dennis Leary) and a performance by the Bangles (!), accompanied by the P.S. 122 school choir, things began in earnest. One notable (and disappointing event) was Marty Scorcese introducing Elton as Sir John. Elton made some opening remarks, as did Cameron Crowe and Leon Russell via tape and the film began.

I was very impressed with Cameron Crowe’s film. It was quite well done and even at times very moving, as well as funny. The part where Leon debuts his In The Hands Of Angels is not to be missed, nor is Elton’s phone call with the Mighty Hannibal, pure unscripted comedy! Contrasting those moments with say anything from Tantrums And Tiaras, should provide a better idea at the human Elton truly is. However, the film also gives great insight to the genius of those involved with this project, from Elton and Leon’s incredible songwriting talents, to the genius that is Brian Wilson. I will be purchasing this film, despite having seen it already, that is how much I enjoyed it.

The film was followed by a 45 minute solo performance by Sir Elton. The sound was great, although I remain unimpressed with the instrumental and vocal synth sounds. However, Elton performed the following songs:

  • Tiny Dancer
  • Rocket Man
  • Gone To Shiloh
  • You’re Never Too Old
  • I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
  • Your Song

The concert was performed in some rather brutal weather conditions and Elton made a number of comments about how cold his hands were. Despite the less than ideal temps, Elton still worked up a decent sweat! Elton also gave a brief shout out to Leon, who he said was on tour in Australia, with a new bus and band. He also commented that he had money in the bank again and spoke of all the accolades that were long overdue for Leon and that were finally being bestowed. I felt the comments were very genuine and human, and they showed how much Elton cares for Leon. All in all, a great event and one of the very reasons my wife and I moved to Manhattan. Lastly, this marked the 41st time that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Elton live and it was a great time to boot!

Rick LeClear

Posted in Album Discussions, Bernie Taupin, Concert Reviews, Feature Films, The Making of The Union, The Union, Uncategorized, Video | Leave a comment

OPINION: Record Store Day-A missed opportunity for Elton

So, I wonder if anyone besides me thinks that Elton and his camp missed a great opportunity by not having a special release for Record Store Day this past Saturday (April 16)?  The yearly event is getting bigger each year and this year saw exclusive, very limited releases by Adele, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, The Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, Dennis Coffey, Joan Jett and many, many others.  I think that Elton and Decca Records missed a great opportunity to promote The Union by not having a special release.

It’s no secret that Elton still loves vinyl. (A couple years ago he told his label he wanted his entire back-catalog released on vinyl.  Only a few titles actually made it to the format.)  His last two albums have come out on vinyl so why not do something for Record Store Day?  I think a limited, live LP of Elton and Leon Russell from their current tour doing songs from The Union would have been great!  It could have helped promote the studio album and also given fans an exciting piece to enjoy.  I guess no one was paying attention to the opportunity, which is surprising since Decca just reserviced The Union to radio hoping to push sales of this great album further.

While next year will be too late for a live release of live Union tracks from Elton and Leon, let’s hope they come up with something for the event.


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Elton Plays Peoria

[ Peoria, IL, Monday, April 18, 2010 ]

The “Greatest Hits” seemed fresher than in the past!

1.  Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
2.  Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
3.  Levon
4.  Madman Across the Water (‘Girl From Impanema’ mixed in piano solo)
5.  Tiny Dancer
6.  Philadelphia Freedom
7.  Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
8.  Daniel
9.  Rocket Man
10. I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
11. Hey Ahab
12. The Best Part of the Day
13. Gone To Shiloh
14. Monkey Suit
15. When Love Is Dying
16. Sad Songs Say So Much
17. Take Me To The Pilot
18. Sorry Seems To Be The hardest Word
19. Candle In The Wind
20. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
21. Burn Down The Mission
22. Bennie And The Jets
23. The Bitch Is Back
24. Crocodile Rock


25. Your Song

The concert was about 2 hours and 50 minutes long.

[ The Peoria Journal Star featured a series of articles about the concert. The following are a list of links: ]

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Mini-Review: Elton Performs, Plays SNL

Elton hosted NBC’s Saturday Night Live last night.  Elton also served as the musical guest, along with Leon Russell.

As far as the skits and humor goes, it was pretty typical SNL.  In my humble opinion, I liked Elton’s performance best when he portrayed other characters; the piano player in pink, the gay cowboy and and the moody member of a greying, kissing gay coupled TV show hosts.  I had to do double-takes with his cowboy act to make sure it was really him. The skits where he played himself were, ironically, a little less convincing–All IMHO. The gay humor got a little too stereotypical at times.

Elton and Leon were joined by the Elton John Band for Hey Ahab and Monkey Suit.  These performances were probably my favorite part of the show.  While some have criticized these tracks as sounding repetitive on The Union album, the live performances demonstrated how engaging they are to audience, to a degree like trance rock or the extended jams by the likes of the Grateful Dead.  I am not sure if it was my TV sound system or the show itself, but the mix for both songs seemed off.  Elton’s voice was a little too loud during both songs, as was one of the backup singers’ voices during Monkey Suit.  Leon’s vocal’s seemed a bit buried, but less so during Monkey Suit.  His role as co-musical guest seemed downplayed in the coming attractions.  I hope that wasn’t because of his health.  Leon is so expressive of his appreciation of what Elton has done for him–and many of us fans are grateful for what Leon has done for Elton.

Summary:  As an Elton fan, it’s “must-see TV.”  As an SNL fan, it was average.

Elton was also on Jimmy Fallon and it was Elton night on American Idol earlier this week.

Elton’s appearance on SNL can be viewed at http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/april-2-elton-john/1317582/

Elton’s appearance on Jimmy Fallon can be viewed at http://www.latenightwithjimmyfallon.com/video/thursday-march-31-2011/1317255/

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Elton Wants To Record Album of Rock and Roll Standards

RollingStone.com features a video interview with Leon Russell backstage after this week’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions.  Leon told Rolling Stone that Elton wants to record an album of Rock and Roll standards with him on piano and  T-Bone Burnett as producer.

You can see and hear Leon in his own words in this Rolling Stone video clip, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-leon-russell-20110315

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Leon Russell in “Keyboard”

Leon & Elton on Keyboard

[ March 2, 2011 ] Leon Russell is interviewed for the March 2011 issue of Keyboard magazine.

Elton, along with Leon, is featured on the cover.  Leon talks about the whole process of working with Elton on The Union.

A “Must Read” for anyone serious about Elton and Bernie’s music.

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