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

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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. 

May 14, 2018  

Episode 17 - The New Routes of Davey Johnstone - 1971-73

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The second of a two-part biography of Davey Johnstone's early musical history. 

Davey's range, and his scope for development, were apparent to all at his first Elton John session, for Holiday Inn. Elton wasn't going to let a talent like Davey slip through his fingers. 

This episode takes in Davey's astonishing work for Madman, Honky Chateau and Don't Shoot Me, his early live work with the band, the sessions that he continued to do, and tracks from his solo album, released in 1973. Some tracks are presented in centre extraction, in order to highlight Davey's parts. 

I would like to thank the YouTube channel 'The Sessions' for very kindly giving me permission to use their interview with Davey. Their channel can be found here.

 

May 13, 2018  

Episode 16 - The Folk Roots of Davey Johnstone - 1951-71

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The first of a two-part biography of Davey Johnstone's early musical history. 

Just three years after getting his first guitar, a 14-year-old Davey could be found in folk clubs around Scotland, a class apart from the groups of seasoned musicians who welcomed him. At 17 he moved to London. He quickly found his home on the road and in the studio, where he was becoming an in-demand session player. 

I would like to thank the YouTube channel 'The Sessions' for very kindly giving me permission to use their interview with Davey. Their channel can be found here.

This episide features an interview with Russell Laing, the son of the leader of Davey's second band, The Fife Reivers. I would like to thank Russell for sharing his wonderful memories of those days. Here is a link to Russell's story about David Bowie that I mention in the episode. Russell still makes otherworldly music, some of which can be found here. I also mention the fascinating booking diary for Russell's dad's folk club, one of many fascinating documents and photographs collected by his dad. The image for this episode comes from that collection, featuring Jim, Davey and Russell doing their party piece. 

Thanks as ever to Keith Hayward, who has written two of the best biographies of Elton. Plenty of information relating to Magna Carta and Noel Murphy comes via the second of those books

It has been rather a large interim this time - things should be back to normal now, whatever normal is.

 

 

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

 

March 4, 2018  

Episode 14 - The Songs They Gave Away

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Elton wrote a lot of incredible music over the years, in fact, more than he needed at some points of his career. This is the story of the songs that Elton gave away, either by design, or by default. Two of Elton's demos are featured - both of them are significant upgrades in terms of sound quality over what generally circulates. 

March 1, 2018  

Episode 13 - I’ve Been Loving You (For Precisely 50 Years)

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50 years ago today, on the 1st of March 1968, a 20-year-old Elton released his first solo single, 'I've Been Loving You', on Philips. Today's episode is an all-encompassing celebration of that moment, telling the story through the people around Elton, and the music they were making at the time. Two practically impossible rarities are included to mark the moment. 

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. 

February 14, 2018  

Episode 11 - The Greatest Covers

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If you like Elton John songs, then you'll probably like these relatively obscure renditions of Elton John songs, by musicians who tried to do something original with the material. 

 

February 10, 2018  

Episode 10 - The One - 25 And A Half Years On

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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

December 31, 2017  

Episode 9 - At Home With Sheila and Reg

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A tribute to Elton's first musical mentor - his mother Sheila. This episode is a trip through the music of the 1950s that was dear to Sheila, to her mum Ivy, and to Reg. On the way, we take in the story of how Reg came to play the piano, and get an idea of the pieces of music that were in his early repertoire. We go all the way up to 1962, when Little Reg sees Little Richard live, and the 'Elton John' touchpaper is lit.

December 11, 2017  

Episode 8 - Dee Murray Love-In

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Dee Murray was a truly innovative force in the Elton John band. In this episode I look at what made him special, from the jigsaw puzzle of ideas that Dee and Elton threw around in the 3-piece band; taking in the almost-soul of Philadelphia Freedom; and beyond, into the 1980s. A biographical, loving, and detailed look at the work of the man that made the music we love even lovlier. And all of this without mentioning his incredible backing vocals once (ooops). 

Homemade bass transcriptions from YouTube are used throughout to highlight the parts – thank you so much to:

Enormous thanks also to Brian for the interview.

 

November 25, 2017  

Episode 7 - Reconstructing ‘A Song For Europe 1969′

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I attempt to piece together the weekly Saturday evening TV shows, hosted by the impish Lulu, that led up to the UK's selection being made for the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest, and follow up the progress of the careers of the six sets of songwriters who got through to that final stage. Whatever became of them?