Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only The Piano Player

Elton John

Island, 1973

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/12/2006

Believe it or not, it wasn't until 1973 that Elton John completely devoted himself to pop music for an entire album. In fact, this is something that pisses me off with regards to how Elton is perceived. These days, those who are not familiar with the bulk of John's catalogue deride him as the man who sang "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" or "Candle In The Wind" at Princess Di's funeral.

Back in the day; John was considered a great talent, at the head of the singer/songwriter movement. And even when his sights were set squarely on the pop landscape, he had the potential to be a master craftsman of the genre. Look no further than Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only The Piano Player for evidence.

Right off the bat, we get one of John's biggest hits, "Daniel." Definitely one of his most affecting vocals, "Daniel" is the story of a Vietnam vet leaving for Spain. While the track may sounds too much like a track from the early 70s, that hasn't changed the quality of its understated beauty. The mandolin and synth riffs swirl around the listener, adding to the ethereal nature of the track. It was a risk for John to come out with "Daniel" as the first single, but it paid off.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Of course, the other huge hit was "Crocodile Rock." An ode to the 50s, both lyrically and musically, this was John at his pop-making, hit-churning best. Featuring an absolutely irresistible chorus and "la la la" hook, it is not difficult to see how the song rocketed to the top of the charts. Unfortunately, my personal enthusiasm for the track has diminished due to the extreme overplay the song receives on radio. Thirty years have passed since the album's release, and you can hear "Crocodile Rock" on any oldies station every day.

Lost in the shuffle are some tremendous album tracks that rival the quality of the big hits. "Teacher I Need You," (which happens to be my dad's favorite EJ track) is a rollicking little ditty, as a student lusts after his teacher, though not quite to Van Halen levels. "Elderberry Wine" owes more to R&B than pop, with Elton driving the song through sheer force of personality, and I love the pounding piano chords and sax interjections. "Blues For My Baby And Me" is one of John's most underrated ballads, by far. Starting off relatively simply, the track slowly grows more and more complex and layered, as do Elton's vocals, which gain more and more intensity. Paul Buckmaster helps the cause greatly with some great orchestral flourishes, reminiscent of something off Elton John or Madman Across The Water.

The second half of the album is where the momentum is slowed and the material weakens. Besides the oddness of the lyrics to "Midnight Creeper," John fails to hit the right note in finding a suitable hook. However, the horn section on this track is better than anything off of Caribou. "I'm Gonna Be A Teenage Idol" falls victim to the same flaws, though it's scary how well Bernie Taupin predicted Elton's future. "Texan Love Song" is hokey, and has John singing with that country twang he loves ever so much. While somewhat capturing a country vibe, it's hard to get past the silliness of the lyrics.



"Have Mercy On The Criminal" is this album's "Madman Across The Water," with a dark tone and brilliant manipulation of mood with the various backing tracks, once again especially the strings. "High Flying Bird" is another underrated effort, with its wide sweeping wall of sound approach. The harmonies from Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray, and Nigel Olsen send shivers down my spine every time.

Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only The Piano Player is quite close to being one of those must-have Elton John albums, but it falters just enough to keep it from reaching that level. Still, Don't Shoot Me set the table perfectly for what was to come in the immediate future.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+


Comments

The first Elton John album I bought and the one that brought to him to the brink of superstar status. The range of musical styles makes it a fitting forerunner to 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'. The band sounds great and the songs and the lyrics moved up a gear from what came before. I don't listen to it so much now, but as far I'm concerned it deserves a place among Elton's top ten albums.








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