Monday, February 13, 2017

Elton John: Empty Sky (1969)

Listening to certain records brings back vivid memories of being a kid, and this record is one that brings back tons of memories. Music was always a big part of my life, and I remember hanging out with friends and listening to record after record of whatever we could get our hands on. Sometimes, this meant questionable music drawn from our parents' collections (such as Barry Manilow, Jim Croce, The Carpenters, and John Denver - I know, I have offended some people here), or records from older brothers and sisters (like KISS, Simon and Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Alice Cooper, among many others). At other times, it meant we shared from our own collections. I remember listening to lots of new music that way, from Graham Parker to Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello in later years. In high school and university, the musical choices were a bit more avante garde.

I will defend my appreciation of early Elton John by referencing (indirectly) my age and noting the nostalgia I have when hearing some of his earlier tunes today. His first five albums (plus a couple of others) are really fine, and I think that they have stood the test of time, for the most part. Later, he became almost a parody of himself, especially when he toured with Billy Joel. There is really nothing in the 80s from Elton that lived up to his early output. Oh, and I know that I have made fun of his music here before.

The first 45 RPM 7" singles I ever bought were by Elton John and some of my first LPs were Elton John records. I still remember buying some 45s at a strange shop on the main street of my hometown. In this store -- the name of which has long ago escaped me -- you could buy costume jewellery, paper products, snacks, toys, and near the checkout, there were 45 RPM records hanging on pegs on the wall. When I was very little, I remember seeing a copy of a Who record, and all I could think was that they had stolen part of their name from The Guess Who. I guess CanCon was in full force even back then.

Empty Sky, the first Elton John record, is uneven but I think we can see where he was going. Overall, I would say that the record is underrated, probably because there were no major hits. The album starts out strongly with Empty Sky, the title track. It's a good Elton rocker. Other strong tracks are Western Ford Gateway, Sails, and Skyline Pigeon, a live version of which can be heard on Here and There, the live album from 1976.

This record was released in 1969, but the North American release didn't happen until 1975, by which time, Elton was a star. Those pressings in Canada and the USA all included a different cover, for some bizarre reason. I have a US pressing from 1975.

I wouldn't put this in my top five favourite Elton records, but it has a certain je ne sais quoi, and it's good to throw it on the platter from time to time. I have no Elton John recordings on CD, suggesting that I really left him behind, but once I set up my turntable, his music is something that I wanted to listen to on vinyl.

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