Tidal Catalog #27: Elton John

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also though that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Flash forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I have ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more. Facebook doesn’t exactly allow for great formatting, you know?

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.
  • Compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before)

Entrance Point: Elton John was all over the radio growing up in the 80s, so I grew up listening to the radio hits and all those shitty records he made over the course of a decade. And yet, I still was excited to go back to this catalog. So I had basically heard anything from like 78-95 or so going into this and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which was the only pre-80s album from him I had owned at the time.

Included: Duets, since they are new versions of old songs, his collaborations with Leon Russell and Pnau

Not Included: Elton John’s Christmas Party (a Starbucks release with mostly other artists), The Lion King Soundtrack (despite it being so huge and considered an Elton John release, he only performs on three songs), Gnomeo & Juliet Soundtrack (basically a greatest hits disc)

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale:

  • Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (10)

Okay, yes, I’m aware this is an oddball to have as my #1 Elton John album of all time. Elton is a great live performer but it’s not like this is a career defining album like Cheap Trick’s At Budokan was. However, it’s a great record – a brilliant record at that and one that showcases not only the talent of Elton’s songs but the Orchestra as well. When I was actively pursuing my record collection (every Billboard Hot 100 song in the 80s) I bought this on CD and fell in love with it immediately. I liked it not only because the songs were great but also because they weren’t just the major hits. He hits a bunch of non-singles off his second, self-titled album, like “Sixty Years On” “I Need You To Turn To” and “The King Must Die” – so he focused on songs that worked well with an orchestra and thus, none of the songs sound forced. That’s not to say that the hits aren’t great either. “Take Me to the Pilot” and “Tiny Dancer” are great in this version and then there’s of course his new version of “Candle in the Wind” reworked to be about Princess Diana instead of the original subject, Marilyn Monroe. While all one show, there are songs left out and an altered order on the disc, making some of the segues a little odd but I won’t hold that against such a great album.

  • Honky Chateau (9.5)

To understand what I mean when I say this is one of the most reserved Elton John records, you really only have to take a look at the cover art. Elton without flair. Scruffy. Exposed.

The second track on the album is called “Mellow” and that’s what this disc feels like. Apart from “Honky Cat” this is mostly mid-tempo rock, pop, country and blues, all blended together perfectly. “Rocket Man” comes from this album, so it’s not like it’s without flair. “Mona Lisa and the Mad Hatters” and “Hercules” close out the record and are two of the best non-singles that Elton has made. And as tends to be common with the John/Taupin pairing – there’s a track where the lyrics and music kind of contradict each other, this time with the upbeat, silly, “I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself.”

  • Blue Moves (9.5)
  • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (9)

“9” my ass, you say. I hear you. But it is what it is. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is fantastic, don’t get me wrong and you can tell the album you’re going to get from the first track, the 11+ minute “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” – in which the instrumental opening part transitions into the epic, grandiose “Love Lies Bleeding” part of the song. It sets the tone for some epic material splattered throughout this record, from the major hits like “Benny and the Jets” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” to “All the Girls Love Alice” and “I’ve Seen that Movie Too.” I’m totally nitpicking on the record when I say I think the sequencing is a bit off but when you’ve got a 40+ album catalog, these are the things that make records stand apart from others. There’s a lot of back and forth between upbeat, fun tracks and ballads and it kills the momentum at points. And as great as “Candle in the Wind” is, I don’t like it as the second track following “Love Lies Bleeding.” I think flipping it with “Saturday Night’s…” which is near the end of the disc, would have been the smart move here. And I detest the fade in as a general rule and this is a bit different but the way “Social Disease” starts off quietly and builds up for nearly 45 seconds until it reaches full volume, annoys me a lot. But hey, again, nitpicking.

  • Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (9)
  • Songs from the West Coast (9)

I don’t think there’s any doubt that this is the best of his work from the 90s forward. But whether you like it comes down to if you can accept that he’s creating adult contemporary music now. Elton’s output after say 1993 is suspect (you can go all the way back to like 1981 if you care to make a deeper argument there) and it’s not like he’s making songs that fit on the radio today but for what this is, Songs from the West Coast is good. I might have ranked it a bit high in the end as I think at the time I was desperate to find something from his later period to hang on to and well, this had a stretch from tracks from the single “I Want Love” at #7 through “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore” at #12 (closing the disc) that is better than anything from this period. Sure, Elton’s vocals are way too polished, sounding very studio processed and the music is what your grandpa would listen to but not sure what else to expect from a guy making music for 50 years. So listen to this and hang around a bit as it’s totally backloaded.

  • The Union w/ Leon Russell (9)
  • 17-11-70 (9)
  • Tumbleweed Connection (8.5)
  • Rock of the Westies (8.5)
  • Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player (8)
  • Good Morning to the Night w/ Pnau (8)
  • A Single Man (8)
  • Reg Strikes Back (7.5)

Whenever it is that you believe Elton John’s music went off the deep end, now and again he recovered. Reg Strikes Back was a tongue-in-cheek title to rag on the critics who hated everything he did in the decade. He even called this a “comeback” album himself. Comeback album is kind of interesting, since he had many hits in the 80s but really didn’t have a good album until this one. And even then, it’s not great. I appreciate that Elton adjusted to 80s trends and made music that fit with the climate but while he’s a great piano player, I never thought he utilized the keyboard well. But on Reg Strikes Back, the use of it is still very 80s sounding but he finally doesn’t overuse it. A perfect example is the subtle use of it in “A Word In Spanish” or in the fantastic “Since God Invented Girls.” He also had his best hit in years, with “I Don’t Wanna Go On with You Like That.” It’s still the 80s sound and it will never be compared to his greatest records but it did at least show that Reg had a bit of life left in him.

  • Elton John (7)
  • Captain & the Kid (7)
  • Caribou (6.5)
  • Peachtree Road (6.5)
  • Here and There (6.5)
  • The Diving Board (6.5)
  • Empty Sky (6)
  • Jump Up! (6)
  • Made in England (6)
  • Billy Elliot the Musical (6)
  • Friends Soundtrack (5.5)
  • Wonderful Crazy Night (5.5)
  • The One (5.5)

I loved this album back in 1992 and 1993 – with “The One” still going down as one of my favorite Elton John singles of all time. I clearly don’t love it now. Going into this catalog a few years ago, I actually expected this to be very near the top of my rankings and yet, I listened again and only gave it a 5.5. For my money, the first four tracks are as good as anything in his late period including “Sweat It Out,” a non-single that is still one of my favorite Elton John songs. Then it tails off sharply from there with the most egregious track being “Understanding Woman” which is a few keyboard notes away from a Depeche Mode track aka a song that should never be anywhere near an Elton John album. Something like that takes a lot of points away in a catalog like this. And especially when it falls right before “The Last Song” which is a georgeous ballad to end the disc. It’s way more scattered than I thought it was at the time and frankly as I was walking to school listening to this record maybe I never made it past track four. It wasn’t that long of a walk.

  • Madman Across the Water (5)
  • Aida (5)
  • The Road to El Dorado (5)
  • 21 at 33 (5)
  • Sleeping with the Past (5)
  • Too Low For Zero (4.5)
  • Breaking Hearts (4.5)
  • The Fox (4)
  • Duets (3.5)

These fucking albums. When you have an artist that’s been around forever and so loved by so many, you get these. Either a record company feels a record like this will be a great cash grab or the artist either wants to work with so many people or has so many that want to work with him that they think this is a great idea. Then they go into the studio and do what happened here – force artists to mesh together in places they don’t belong or force songs on people that don’t belong singing them. And in the end, it all comes out sounding like bullshit. And make no mistake, this is bullshit. You can tell from the opening tracks – the funky R&B number “Teardrops” (a Womack & Womack cover) w/ K.D. Lang in which this not only isn’t Lang’s style of music but you also really have no idea she’s on the song. That’s followed by an R&B ballad with P.M. Dawn of all artists. I love P.M. Dawn but how the two of these artists got together is baffling to me considering they weren’t even labelmates. Then you get the out of touch duets with older artists like Little Richard and Gladys Knight. And why do we need a duet with Kiki Dee, considering she was on quite a few Elton songs over the years anyway? The only song that was really a hit was the remake of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” with RuPaul – which is a novelty if there ever was one. Shit, the whole album is a novelty. Go ahead and forget it exists.

  • The Muse (3.5)
  • Ice on Fire (3.5)
  • One Night Only: The Greatest Hits Live (3)
  • Leather Jackets (2)
  • The Big Picture (1.5)
  • Victim of Love (1)

I had to talk about Victim of Love because it’s the first record in the 27 catalogs that I almost gave a 0 to. It’s also the only studio record of Elton’s that’s not on Tidal – so you know it’s loved. This is Elton’s disco record. He wrote nothing on it – neither did Bernie Taupin and Elton didn’t even play piano anywhere on this. It’s seven disco tracks that repeat themselves for what feels like eternity and absolutely have no business being part of Elton John’s body of work. The only reason this didn’t get a flat zero is because um, well, I might actually like Disco. Just not here. Blame the drug use for this one.

Summary: 42 albums, average 6.2