Classic Album Selection (1970-1973)

Elton John

Universal, 2012

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/11/2012

Elton John’s long and glittery career had to start somewhere, and Universal music thought it would be good to remind us of that with the release of Classic Album Selection (1970-73) box set.  This collection pulls together five early studio albums to represent a “classic” period of modest hit production but prior to his true rock superstardom: Elton John (1970), Tumbleweed Connection (1970), Madman Across The Water (1971), Honky Château (1972) and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player (1973).  Notably, 1969’s Empty Sky must not have been considered classic enough, as it was left out of the collection altogether.

As a whole, the collection shows the upward trajectory of Elton’s career, from the syrupy sweet radio favorite “Your Song” to “Daniel.”  However, it stops short of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, where things really took off.  Many fans argue that these releases are the best of Elton’s work, but there are serious pitfalls here as well that show up throughout Elton’s career.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

First off, there is the issue of the writing team of Elton and longtime writing partner Bernie Taupin.  They were first put together by a record company to which they had each individually contributed submissions to a contest.  Neither had enough to go all the way, but potential was there and the suggestion that they work together was made.  And history tells the story from there.  John and Taupin undoubtedly have proven their worth as songwriters, and some of Elton’s music combined with Taupin’s lyrics is just gold, plain and simple.  But listening to these five albums in order, any listener can see that this was not a Lennon/McCartney or Leiber/Stoller quality team.  The gems of “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters” or “Rocket Man” are outweighed by odd topics or trying to place too many lyrics within the melody.  And unlike other great songwriting teams, there are few hidden gems within these albums.  The songs that became hits and rightfully remain in the pop culture mind were really the best the pair had to offer.

Within this box, Elton John and Madman Across The Water can be considered okay efforts while Honky Château and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player begin to cross the threshold into being “good” albums.  Tumbleweed Connection is set apart, as it was supposed to, as a concept album of Americana style music with western themes.  Tumbleweed is not bad, but it is just different, and clearly shows off Elton’s love for this semi-country style.  It would reemerge in later albums as well, such as in "Texan Love Song" from Don’t Shoot Me, which sounds like it should have been done by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

This box also provides some bonus tracks to the albums, but nothing that was not already available from previous CD remasters.  However, these do provide a couple of good tunes, with a better version of “Madman Across The Water” from the Tumbleweed Connection sessions, and a piano accompanied version of “Skyline Pigeon” from the Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player sessions that blows the annoying harpsichord and organ laden Empty Sky version out of the water.

All told, this box is available for about $40 on Amazon.com, which makes it far more reasonable than many other boxes would be.  While the songwriting is hit and miss, getting five solid albums for that price is a good pickup for a fan.

Rating: B-

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