You know when you're on Youtube and you get those endless suggestions ranging from 'reaction' videos to 'influencers' waffling on about something as interesting as the inside of a burst balloon? Who knew so many bedrooms had so many cameras in them. And that's just the legitimate sites...
...anyway, once in a while something interesting does come along. Beyond interesting in fact. It may be one of the finds of the year, so far. Chase cutting as quickly as we can it's a treasure trove of gems. We're all paleontologists of Eltonism so this would be like the bone hunters finding a bone yard not only labeled but dated. It's as we've walked in, put our ear to the door and heard people of the past with tools of the day in hand and expertly creating. But it's at a specific point in the evolutionary timeline. One which we don't get to hear very often. Before we drill down in to some of these latter day (insert another word for fossil) let's lay out what we're dealing with.
Somebody, somewhere has unearthed intermittent basic unfinished tracks from the period 1973-1976. Incomplete songs before final mixing and overdubs had taken place. A mixture of original and/or guide vocals. Hearing these tracks gives great insight in to the thought processes that went through Gus Dudgeon's mind as to what, and most importantly, where he wanted certain dressings added. The most striking thing on first listen that people will notice are the trademark harmony vocals of the day in absentia. This blog always champions them but where they are absent on these early drafts certain (often unheard) elements are dusted off and revealed to the light.
I don't want to go through every track, we do live in an era of spoiler alerts after all. Every listener will find something new (either bad or good) to take away. But I'll give some quick comment on the tracks that by saying something less can still say something more. Be aware too the sound quality might not be up to the standard the ears of the 'streamers' are accustomed to but if you're familiar with medium wave radio reception (one there for the younger readers to check out) then you'll be on familiar ground. Sadly.
Only one track so far is available from GYBR. But it's the title track so we've not been dealt a bad hand. Devoid of backing vocals we see how they work not only as a counterpoint to the music but as a counterpoint to the lyrics. It's as if a reversal of fortune takes place, something which I took from some of the later examples too. There's an underlying sadness present, always has been of course, but without the tempering of the harmonies it's laid bare. Returning may not be seen to be a good thing nor to be celebrated. The absence of the fanned out melody line the orchestral arrangement expands upon delivers the music in a far more enclosed package.
The first large bulk comes from Caribou and are mostly at the same stage of embryonic development. Devoid of backing vocals with basic tracks (most of which are not in their final stage of mixing either). The Bitch Is Back though bucks the trend as it is purely a backing track with no lead vocal, but backing voices are still in situ. What jumps right out is Elton's piano. As we know on the final version it certainly has little or no role to play. Only in concert are we made aware of the fact that it should be there. But on this rough mix it helps the natural flow of the song, playing off very well with the harsh guitars and brass. Certain guitar parts and vocal lines are also a tad higher. We all know Elton is one of the very few who wrote consistently at that tempo on piano so not to highlight it does verge on the neglectful.
Like GYBR, Pinky in this pared back form flips the impression we have been used to. A lament rather than a rejoice. All songs are open to any interpretation but the marriage of music and words, like a fine chemical balance, when docked cleanly is the true result. Like a lot of the material we hear on this bunch docking has not yet been completed. In space nobody can hear you scream…or sing.
I've Seen The Saucers in its more basic construction has surprisingly more depth to it, more focus on the words and music is attained. Same goes for Cold Highway, the pared back approach has the dirty guitars more to the forefront.
The recent movie, ‘Yesterday’ envisioned a world where The Beatles did not exist. Shudder. A same world where Ed Sheeran did exist. Multiple violent shudders. Using that premise imagine a world where Paul Buckmaster had never existed.
Looking at couple of the songs he arranged on Blue Moves that are presented here we get a sneak preview of that nightmarish dystopian world. Arrangements that are as much part of the song as music and words. As One Horse Town slowly builds up the tension, with clock ticking, the explosion of the orchestra detonating never materialises. No propellant, no driving force. But still a massive crater of a gap. I know people will say the space is deliberately left clear for the orchestra to be inserted, And they are right. But any space on an Elton song is precious and luckily it was filled with a reciprocal insert in quality terms. Buckmaster could never be described as being lush but the strings and brass in the style he created are sorely missed. They’re the real dominant motivating part of the song.
Crazy Water is criminally cut short. Buckmaster’s truly thunderous arrangement, full of power , glory and a sheer force of nature has been blanked out. Up until the after the first chorus on the original it’s held back for maximum impact in delivery terms but in this case the basic track can still hold its own throughout. The backing vocals, intricately arranged and executed when missing show the effectiveness they provide. The brutal truncation was not a happy ending.
Chameleon, like Crazy Water, has its motif vocals yet to be added. Yet again we know that when they were added it evolved the song in to something really special. An addition both required and to be approved of.
However Bite Your Lip is in a really rough state of unfinishedness. Some untouched parts should have been left as found whilst others certainly needed some rethinking. The slide and rhythm guitars are higher up in the mix, in the style of Rock Of The Westies. Percussion is nonexistent that gives a more cleaner driving rock sound. I was surprised that before it was added there was no variation either in guitar or drums fills or solo’s from both. There’s enough opportunity to have varied things up during the incessant repetitive fade out. It’s as if they envisaged it as a straight ahead rocker but subsequent rethinks meant it swayed towards a dancey disco vibe. The outro however cries out, nay has a tantrum for the string arrangement. The synth line gives an early insight as to where things would go. Thankfully James Newton Howard‘s arrangement was inventive and full of fluctuating approaches.
I love this stuff. We don’t have any demos from this period as they were simply never executed in the same vein as earlier on in the decade. But to hear tracks broken down this way hovering somewhere between waking and sleeping deceives the ear in the same way you hear something when in that twilight state. There’s always some terrific layering on an Elton track regardless of how many or how few are present. Comparing the ‘who’ though is another thought for another day…
I've created a Youtube playlist for all of the tracks I've mentioned plus those I haven't. You'll see on the Youtube channel of the uploader other rare tracks that have been widely available for many years.
Rough Mixes 73-76