The Complete Thom Bell Sessions

Elton John

MCA Records, 1979

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


It's summertime, and that means it's time to play that funky music, shake your groove thing, do the Y.M.C.A,…well do you see where I am going with this?. Disco lives on.

When someone hears the word "disco," strong images come to mind. Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, lit-up dance floors, so on and so forth. However, I would bet Elton John does not jump to mind, with good reason. In the late 70's, Elton was experiencing a major crisis, as his popularity was waning both in the US and Britain. Desperate to shake things up, Elton went to Seattle in 1979 to record some songs with legendary Philly producer Thomas Bell. The result was The Complete Thom Bell Sessions.

It is important to note right off the bat that Elton neither wrote nor played on any of the songs recorded during the sessions. His contributions were strictly vocal, and Bell was to do the rest. Many would think a union like this would not work, but it did.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Thom Bell was a legend for "creating" the Philly Sound in the late '70s. Groups like the Spinners made a successful living off this new sound. It was current, and that is why Elton chose Thom Bell. The only question was whether Elton could adapt to this new style. The answer is yes.

Elton John had a very good voice prior to the Sessions. He had an even better one after them. Bell worked with Elton, and developed his already strong skills. The change is evident on the EP. Elton goes from falsetto's in "Country Love Affair", to a deeper, stronger inflection on the hit single "Mama Can't Buy You Love." Elton's range had certainly improved. Check out the gospel stylings on "Shine on Through," arguably some of his best vocal work on record. So Elton held up his end of the bargain, could Bell do the same?

Was there really any doubt? Thomas Bell was one of the foremost producers in the country, and his work here reflects that. Every song has catchy beats and hooks, with disco trademarks like sugary orchestral interjections. You won't be able to help yourself from dancing. And that is before you get to the extended dance breaks themselves, the best example of which is "Are You Ready For Love." More on that particular song next.

The Thom Bell Sessions have gotten some notice as of late, with Elton's re-release of a track from the sessions -- "Are You Ready For Love" -- as a single in June of 2003. It debuted at number one in Britain, giving Elton his fourth number one single in the UK since 1990. The differences between that track and the one on the Sessions EP are noticeable. For one, the original mix had Elton singing only one verse, with members of the Spinners singing the others. In 2003, Elton sings the whole song. The whole song itself was remixed, with some new instrumentation. As for which version is better, I would say the 2003 edit is the superior song. Elton is in the forefront, he is not relegated to being one singer among three, and the instrumental break that closes the song is greatly improved.

The Complete Thom Bell Sessions were not released until 1990. Elton, after giving the songs some thought in 1979, decided they were too "sugary." Plans to record new songs in Seattle were scrapped. That truly was a shame. Elton's career was suffering, and this record might have shaken him out of that funk.

Rating: A-

User Rating: C



© 2004 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.