Saturday, 5 March 2016

"Elton John" by ELTON JOHN (2008 Universal 'Deluxe Edition' 2CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…You Can Tell Everyone...This One's For You…"

Reginald Dwight's 2nd album proper was recorded in a week in January 1970 at Trident Studios in London and then released in the spring of 1970. It included the monster hit "Your Song" and after years of soul-destroying session work and an underachieving debut album "Empty Sky” - both the single and the self-titled album finally kick-started Elton John's extraordinary career which is still strong nearly 45 years after the event.

This 2 June 2008 DELUXE EDITION of "Elton John" by ELTON JOHN on Universal/Mercury 0600753055595 (Barcode 600753055595) is a fully upgraded 2CD version of that forgotten 2nd album (far better than the 1995 single disc remaster) and along with the DELUXE EDITION of "Tumbleweed Connection" (the album that followed it - see my separate review) - these two beauties are in my books already up there as reissues of the year. Here are the (classily photographed) side-profile details…

Disc 1 (39:29 minutes):
1. Your Song
2. I Need You To Turn To
3. Take Me To The Pilot
4. No Shoe Strings For Louise
5. First Episode At Hienton
6. Sixty Years On
7. Border Song
8. The Greatest Discovery
9. The Cage
10. The King Must Die
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album “Elton John” originally released in the UK in April 1970 on DJM Records DJLPS 406 and in the USA on Uni Records 73090

Disc 2 (69:53 minutes):
1. Your Song (Demo Version)
2. I Need You To Turn To (Piano Demo)
3. Take Me To The Pilot (Piano Demo)
4. No Shoe Strings For Louise (Piano Demo)
5. Sixty Years On (Piano Demo)
6. The Greatest Discovery (Piano Demo)
7. The Cage (Demo)
8. The King Must Die (Piano Demo)
9. Rock And Roll Madonna (Piano Demo)
10. Thank You Mama (Piano Demo)
11. All The Way Down To El Paso (Piano Demo)
12. I’m Going Home (Piano Demo)
13. Grey Seal (Piano Demo)
14. Rock And Roll Madonna (Incomplete Band Demo)
15. Bad Side Of The Moon – non-album B-side of “Border Song” released March 1970 in the UK on DJM Records DJS 217
16. Grey Seal
17. Rock And Roll Madonna – 17 and 16 are the A & B-sides of a non-album UK 7” single released June 1970 on DJM Records DJS 222. The B-side “Grey Seal” is known here are the ‘1970 Version” as it differs to the track that later appeared on the 1973 double “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
18. Border Song (BBC Radio 1 Session, Sound Of The Seventies Show, July 1970)
19. Your Song (as per 18)
20. Take Me To The Pilot (as per 18)
Outside of the 3 non-album single sides noted above (15, 16 and 17) – the other 17 tracks are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED DEMO, PIANO and BBC VERSIONS.

The LP originally sported a matt gatefold sleeve, which has been faithfully reproduced in the upgraded 28-page booklet that accompanies this set. Along with period photos of Elton, there's a very informative new essay by noted writer JOHN TOBLER, session details on the bonus tracks, both CDs are picture discs and the booklet reflects both the rear sleeve ensemble photo and the lyrics on the inner spread in the same way they were on the gatefold of the original album - all very nice touches indeed. But the big news is the SOUND....

Sourcing the first generation original masters tapes from the Universal Archives, GIOVANNI SCATOLA and TONY COUSINS at Metropolis Mastering in London have carried out the remastering - and surely an EMMY awaits each of them! As the owner of way too many re-issue CDs, this (and Tumbleweed Connection) are simply the best remaster of old albums that I've ever heard! Twenty seconds into the overly familiar "Your Song", with its brand new piano and acoustic guitar clarity and its string-arranged beauty fully renewed, I was already writing a review and picking my jaw up off the table as I went!

So what's changed? When GUS DUDGEON replaced the useless 1980s CDs with the excellent 1995 remasters, he got the best sound out of the tapes that he could at the time (he sadly passed away a few years ago). But 13 years on to 2008 and that's a lifetime in remastering techniques. These 2008 versions BREATHE - you can hear everything - and clearly too. Songs like "First Episode At Hienton", "Sixty Years On" and "The King Must Die" heavily feature the fantastic string arrangements of PAUL BUCKMASTER (who did "Space Oddity" for Bowie) - well now you can hear how good they are! The sound is so clean, it makes you double take on almost every track - a TRULY BEAUTIFUL JOB DONE and easy to see why Elton would want these new versions out in the marketplace as soon as possible.

FRANK CLARK and COLIN GREEN provide sweet guitar work on "Your Song" and "Sixty Years On", while guest vocalists MADELINE BELL, TONY HAZZARD, LESLIE DUNCAN and ROGER COOK feature especially well on the brilliant "No Strings For Louise" and "The Cage". DIANA LEWIS plays Moog on the sparse "First Episode At Hienton". CALEB QUAYE of HOOKFOOT provides Lead Guitar on "Take Me To The Pilot" while TONY COX of PENTANGLE drums on "The Greatest Discovery" and the epic album closer "The King Must Die".

DISC 2 gives us 12 excellent PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Piano Demos in a row (1-12) along with two separate BBC sessions - the "Dave Lee Travis Show" from April 1970 and the "Sounds Of The Seventies Show" from July 1970 (tracks 18, 19 and 20). They vary in sound quality, but are more than pleasantly good. It should be noted that Track 1, the demo version of "Your Song" did turn up on the "To Be Continued" box set years back, but that was only briefly available. "Bad Side Of The Moon" is the non-album B-side of the 7" single "Border Song" issued March 1970 in the UK on DJM Records DJS 217, while "Rock & Roll Madonna" and "Grey Seal" are the A&B sides of the non-album 7" single DJS 222 issued in the UK in June 1970. "Grey Seal" was re-recorded and turned up on "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" - the version on this disc is often referred to as "Version 1970".  These 3 were originally bonus tracks on the 1995 reissue CD of the album; here they've upgraded sound quality.

Then comes a genuine sensation; recorded for the Radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis for his "Sound Of The Seventies" Sessions in July 1970 is an almost note-perfect rendition of "YOUR SONG" which frankly rivals the issued version. Luckily the sound is BEAUTIFUL, his performance heartfelt and not wearied by 38 years of playing the same song. It's FANTASTIC STUFF and a reminder of what initially drew so many music lovers to Elton in the first place - his great song-writing and vocal delivery. Whatever way you cut it, this version is an absolute gem and will thrill fans to the core!

To sum up: I've loved coming back to this album - the great sound quality - actual tunes with thought-provoking lyrics - the attention to detail in the well-thought out packaging - the bonuses you'll play more than once - all of it. For fans of this unduly forgotten album - an absolute must buy...

PS: see also my reviews for the DELUXE EDITION of "Tumbleweed Connection" 
and the 2004 SACD/Surround Sound variants of "Madman Across The Water" and "Honky Chateau" and the 2014 Bob Ludwig Remaster of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is CLASSIC 1970s ROCK - an E-Book with over 260 entries and 2450 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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