Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player" by Elton John (1973)

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl

Filed Between: Billy Joel and George Jones (I'm not hyperlinking those because I assume everybody knows who those two artists are.)

Key Tracks:
Well, none of the songs on this release are great.  Daniel and Crocodile Rock are considered staples I guess, but I've never been really impressed with Daniel's schticky seventies Mellotron and obtuse lyrics, and I think I have heard Crocodile Rock about fifty times too many at this point.  If I have to pick one, I'm gonna go with Midnight Creeper not because it's particularly good - quite the opposite - because it's representative of something Elton John does on a lot of tracks, he and his band play it as though it were a much better song.  It feels bigger and fuller than it really is.

Obvious Filler & Swings-and-Misses:
Blues for Baby and Me just plain wears me out.  It's tedious, dull and the longest track on the LP.  Texan Love Song just plain pisses me off.  You can't get away with such broad stereotypes and sweeping caricatures unless you come from the demographig you're railing at.  Look at the title again and you'll see that they don't.

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Seperately:
Average (2/4 stars)

Two words kept repeating themselves as my mind wandered while listening to "Don't Shoot Me..." - "between" and "waiting."  This LP came in between the two most significant moments in Elton's early career - his first big hit (Rocket Man) and his explosion into superstardom ("Goodbye Yellow Brick Road").  And this record very much feels like a waystation.  We know what he can do, we want to see him put it together for a sustained duration, and he wants to make that happen for us.  It's apparent that's what he's desperately trying to do here, but it needed just a little longer to simmer.

And it's not for lack of trying.  As noted above, Elton and the musicians do their level best to elevate the material and deliver something amazing.  I blame Bernie Taupin.  "Don't Shoot Me..." lays out a very clear case that Elton John trumps Bernie Taupin.  It makes a damn good case that producer Gus Dudgeon trumps Bernie Taupin.  I'll be honest.  I've never gotten the Cult of Taupin.  I don't think his lyrics are anything particularly special the majority of the time.  Cultists indicate that he writes vignettes - little slices of life that are poignant and kaleidoscopic in nature.  Let's reserve that kind of talk for Springsteen, okay?  I don't think his lyrics even qualify as vignettes, they're more like flashes. Taupin gets a helluva lot of mileage out of the variety of topics he chooses to write about, but that's an easy thing to do when the vast majority of his songs consist of just two mini-verses and a chorus.

And "Don't Shoot Me..." provides what I think is the most damning evidence to prove this.  Pop quiz: what's the first line that comes to mind when you think of Crocodile Rock?  I'll wager five dollers that I know what it is - "Laaaaaaaaa, la la la la la!"  Even if that wasn't what popped into your head, I guarantee it's what's stuck there now.  Brilliant lyricism indeed...

So, is it an album?  No.  This is always a tricky question with Sir Elton, especially in the Bernie years, because the lyrics are all over the map.  Like I said, he and the boys try their best to hold it together, but it's just too disjointed and disparate to qualify as an album.

Up next, the outlaw country or southern rock dispute kicks dust on its own Yosemite Sam mudflaps with "Saddle Tramp" by The Charlie Daniels Band.

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