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...
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.
Elton came back from rehab stronger than ever at the end of 1991. Here, in review, is the album that he brought back from the brink with him. The context, the music, the lyrics, the instrumentation - it's all given the analysis it deserves in this episode