I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Elton John Podcast

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June 17, 2019  

Episode 31 - Empty Sky at 50

 

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Empty Sky, Elton’s debut album, and also his most honest, laid-back sounding set of songs, hit the shelves 50 years ago this month. It didn’t make much impact at the time, but it is greatly loved, both by fans, and by the people that created it. 

This episode tells the story of the album through interviews with the gang of ‘lost boys’ who were credited on the sleeve – Elton, Bernie, Caleb, Steve Brown and David Larkham. In the process, their musical influences are identified, the lyrics are analysed, and the music is teased apart to reveal what lies under the surface.

In preparation for this episode, I have sequenced a 6 CD ‘possible deluxe edition’, based on what is known to exist. The first 3 CDs are discussed in this episode. They contain the stereo and mono mix of the music recorded in these sessions, alternate mixes that can be found on acetate, BBC sessions and live recordings.

The remaining CDs (full of demos, unreleased tracks, Elton's studio sessions, and covers by other artists) will be discussed in forthcoming episodes. The full tracklisting can be found in this pdf.

The image for this episode is the David Larkham photograph that was used as the basis for his cover illustration. 

There’s also a rant about Rocketman... 

April 17, 2019  

Episode 30 - Listening Session with Peter Thomas

 

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You are invited to a very special listening session and conversation with Peter Thomas, the preeminent Elton John collector and archivist.

Peter Thomas, in his role as founder of monitor and speaker company PMC, has worked with the finest studios, mastering houses and broadcasters in the world. He has a passion for sound quality, and this extends into his hobby, which is researching and collecting Elton's earliest and most obscure recordings. 

In this episode you will get to hear some snippets of Peter's favourite acquisitions, as well as the histories around the acetates and reels of tape that carry these sounds through to the present day. 

The image for this episode is Peter's promo copy of 'I've Been Loving You', along with the handwritten release and contact details, featuring Elton's home phone number in Pinner. 

Once again I'd like to thank Peter for the wonderful generosity he has shown, sharing his time, his treasures, and his memories. 

March 6, 2019  

Episode 29 - Top of the Charts with a ROCKET, ft. The Lambrettas

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This episode counts down the 15 biggest non-Elton singles on Rocket, and in the process, tells the story of the label, attempts to define the Rocket sound (spoiler - there isn’t one), and draws out the connections with Elton’s music, where these exist. The chart itself can be viewed here.

Thanks to Doug Sanders from The Lambrettas, who was interviewed for this episode, and gave some wonderful insight into what it was like to be the most successful Rocket artist (apart from Elton perhaps) at the turn of the eighties. The full interview can be found here. Doug has supplied some wonderful pictures from 1980, including the band posing outside the then Rocket HQ, and receiving their Silver Discs for Poison Ivy. Spot the familiar faces!

The signed Kiki Dee Box Set that I mention in the episode can be purchased (in the UK) here. 

The Elton-penned song featured at the end of the episode can be found on my YouTube channel here.

February 19, 2019  

Episode 28 - Alternate Versions, Mixes and Edits

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This episode revels in the obscure, picking up the curios in the discography, studying them, and making an attempt at explaining them. Here are the early versions, the erroneous edits that never should have been heard, the remixes, the rough mixes and the acoustic mixes.

The highlight of this episode, for me, is the mono mix of Hymn 2000, which is played in full. Empty Sky in mono is so rare, it was thought for years not to exist at all.

You will have heard some of these, I'm sure, but I would be very surprised if you had heard them all!

February 5, 2019  

Episode 27 - Breaking Down ‘Passengers’

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This is the story of Elton's personal redemption, through the prism of the song 'Passengers', the UK top 5 hit single with the unique songwriting credit - Elton, Bernie, Davey and South African musician Phineas Mkhize. 

This episode follows Elton from the lows of being placed on the UN's cultural blacklist in 1983, for playing at Sun City, to the highs of being recognised as Harvard's 'Man of the Year' for his charity work, particularly in Africa, in 2017.

At the heart of the episode is an email interview with Phineas' son Bennett. His story helps us to connect Elton - the megastar who wanted to make a statement about apartheid - with Phineas - the maskandi musician who hated politics. 

January 22, 2019  

Episode 26 - Rare Masters Vol. 2 (Part 2)

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In this episode, I finish going through the imaginary box-set. First, I detail all of the non-album tracks that were released between 1984 and 1990 (CD3 of the collection that I have programmed), and I then go on to discuss the rarities that might find their way onto Rare Masters Vol. 2 (annexed off onto CD4).

If you're inspired enough to get some of your singles out, to see how they compare against the transfers I've used in this episode, let me know how it turns out. I would love to hear some improved transfers of this material. It looks like we're on our own with this stuff. Someone must have a pristine Conquer The Sun out there!

A couple of minor errors have been corrected in the accompanying document, and the audio for Episode 25 has been subtly changed to reflect this. 

January 8, 2019  

Episode 25 - Rare Masters Vol. 2 (Part 1)

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The Elton John Podcast with the unwieldy name goes where the record company dare not go - Rare Masters Vol. 2. We all loved the first volume when it came out, and many of us have been going grey waiting for the next instalment. It didn't look like it was going to happen, so I've just gone ahead and done it. 

All of the non-album A and B-sides recorded between 1976 and 1990 have been collected and collated, and three wonderful CDs are the result. Unfortunately it's not actually available - the best I can do to provide this is this YouTube playlist that I've compiled.

This episode discusses CD1 and CD2, which takes us up to the end of 1983. The next episode will be about CD3 and also about the unreleased material that might find its way onto such a collection. 

All of the material has been thoroughly researched, in an attempt to determine what was recorded when, and in some cases who played on what. This is basic information, something that should be a matter of public record, but there are no reliable sources out there. This lack of information, alongside the the fact that we can't even buy the music, represents an insult to Elton and his collaborators, and to the fans that want to hear it. 

I have compiled a document to accompany the episode. Send me an email, let me know how well I've done, and where I've gone wrong - there are bound to be mistakes. I intend to update the YouTube playlist with improved sources, including my own in those instances where none of the transfers currently on YouTube are up to scratch. Please feel free to upload your own transfers - the more the merrier!

October 31, 2018  

Episode 23 - Bernie’s Auction - What We’ve Learned

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In this episode, I attempt to play (and sing in one case) the three ‘new’ songs from 1967 that have come to light via Bernie’s upcoming auction. I also go through the working lyrics that Bernie is selling in New York on the 9th of November, and talk about what they tell us about Bernie’s process.

You can currently download the pdf featuring the lyric sheets here (click on the download arrow at the bottom of the page).

September 15, 2018  

Episode 20 - Elton’s Buried Treasure vol. 2

Elton Shocked

In this episode the cake is unbaked, and every ingredient of the Elton John recipe is celebrated. Complex drum and percussion sounds are unpicked, backing vocals are highlighted, lead vocals are isolated, and previously buried piano tracks are brought to the surface. 

A few techniques are used. As well as the out of phase stereo technique, (used extensively in episode 1), I make use of isolated channels from the 5.1 surround sound remixes, as well as multitracks of some songs, breaking them down and building them back up, track by track.

July 30, 2018  

Episode 18 - Elton’s Anonymous Cover Versions - ft. Dana Gillespie

Elton in 1969

In his formative years as a session musician, in fact even after the recording of his third album, Elton earned some extra cash recording cover versions of the hits of the day, anonymously, for budget record labels. These long player albums retailed at around the same price as a regular single, and they would be rushed out to share the shelves with their 'legitimate' counterparts. Until the record labels worked out that they could make money by making compilations out of the actual recordings, these records sold in their millions. 

For years, these records sat at the back of people's collections, and in piles in charity shops, before Elton's fans started going through them. More than 50 recordings featuring his voice have since been identified, and many more remain to be discovered.

In these sessions, Elton sang and played keyboard along with many now-familiar names, including David Byron, who went on to front Uriah Heap, and Dana Gillespie.

Dana's biography is long and impressive, taking in connections with Jimmy Page, Donovan, Dylan, Bowie and Lionel Bart. She was also the original Mary Magdalene in the Jesus Christ Superstar stage show, and a four-time British Junior Waterski champion.  Dana very kindly agreed to be interviewed for this episode, and her recollections are here, bringing the story of these sessions to life.

Featured in the episode are recordings that did not find their way onto the collections that came out under titles such as 'Reg Dwight's Piano Goes Pop' in the nineties. I've tried to find less commonly-heard recordings, and in the process I have uncovered a couple of recordings that are new to YouTube (and uploaded them to my channel). 

I am indebted to the work of all the Elton John fans who have researched this material. The hall of fame must include David Bodoh, whose 'Eltonography' website hosts a wonderful list of the tracks that Elton is throught to have contributed to. Thanks also go to the gentleman who compiles the tobekompleated discography. His discography features images and track-listings of many of the records that collectors might want to investigate.

Anyone with an interest in these records would also enjoy the following web pages that are devoted to them - hitcovers, copycatcovers, and topofthepops

Here are the other links that I make reference to in the episode: 

The remainder of the interview with Dana - about her incredible career

A recording of Dana tackling 'That Same Old Feeling', a beautiful song, a top 10 hit for Pickettywitch in January 1970.  

David Byron's take on 'Let's Work Together' by Canned Heat

Elton taking secondary vocals on 'Wand'rin' Star' by Lee Marvin

The full playlist of tracks on '28 International Top Songs'. Here's a blog post about this record. 

March 21, 2018  

Episode 15 - Ego at 40

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24 months passed between the recording sessions for Crazy Water, and those for Elton's next (major) single, the angry, jagged Ego. From the sound of the record, Elton hadn't been able to find much solace in the interim. Ego twists with the energy of a tantrum. It's dark and humourous, petulant and self-mocking, all at once. 

Backed with Flintstone Boy, a lightly subversive slice of queer country music, this single was Elton's state of the nation address for Spring 1978, and a real artistic statement. Unfortunately for Elton, punk had come, the new wave was in the ascendancy, and younger record buyers were not looking in his direction. For their part, Elton's own fanbase were alienated by the lack of a singable hook in the song. Released 40 years ago today, Ego stalled at number 34 on both sides of the Atlantic.

This episode is a celebration of this vital single release. Part biography, part musical analysis, the episode looks at 1977/1978 Elton, and these two songs, from every conceivable angle. 

The episode takes some of its shape from the excellent Elton John biography 'Captain Fantastic' by David DeCouto

The two centre extractions that I talk over can be heard in full on my new YouTube channel

 

February 25, 2018  

Episode 12 - Bernie’s Early Themes - ‘67-’69

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A thematic analysis of Bernie's early work, with a particular focus on his songs about incarceration and exile. One very special rarity is included.