Tuesday, August 27, 2013

'Big Ben Never Lost His Voice'

An interesting, yet recurring topic appeared on The Elton Fans group on Facebook. The old chestnut of Elton's singing voice. Whether you are a 'higher, higher' person or a 'lower, lower' fan. From the outset, I have no problems with Elton's singing voice. From any stage of his career. No other artist in his bracket has had such a dramatic change over the years. Not a deterioration, but merely a change in direction. Firstly by choice, secondly by lifestyle. His pre '77 voice is serene, I'll not go down the cliche route of naming songs. You know them. But he could still invoke and emote attitude. The rockers prove that. So if the world stopped in the summer of 1977, that's all we would have known. The subsequent discussion would have never existed. Yet, a pivotal moment happened in Seattle that Autumn. It may not have been earth shattering at the time, but the after effects resonate to this day. When Thom Bell, when you think about it had some front in doing it, told Elton how to breath properly and look further down his range a game changer took place. Because at that moment Elton found a range in his voice, that he didn't have to invent or create, but just activate. Suddenly his voice could be as a variable a tool to work his trade as his piano was. His high register was there, the falsetto was there. And the low register to compliment those two elements. Which gave a whole new dynamic to Elton in the studio and onstage. 

I think it was one of the pivotal of Elton's career, one that is often overlooked. Older songs that needed that little low end drama and tension suddenly got it. His studio work diversified, the famous radio review of Blue Eyes fooling everyone. But as Elton marched through the 80's...and marched with even greater tempo through the sherbert dip and Jamaican Woodbines washed down with the Devil's brew, it was inevitable his body would react. The vocal nodules being testament to that, but with one swipe of the laser in light sabre fashion they were gone. Did they impact negatively on the tour leading up to it? I don't think so, Live In Australia was my first Elton album so I've moved past that a long time ago. The years since then has seen his voice age gracefully, if he sang now like he did 40 years ago it would sound and look like a sparrows squeak out of a swan. Functional, but not in a sit up and take notice fashion. His voice in recent years has had it's ups and down, too many shows in close proximity doesn't do it any favours. Listen to any shows that he does after a long gap or at least a decent break and they are fantastic. No hoarseness, no effort, no struggle. He can still hit reasonably high notes if he looks for them. People on Facebook I know who would be more au fait with the various vocal idents speak, C5's and A3's etc.(sounds like cars if you ask me!) can pinpoint with a very unnerving accuracy when and where Elton hits the high points. Or not as the case may be. 

At the end of the day, Elton's music is a broad church. His voice has had many temples to which to worship at, I can honestly say I appreciate them all. My favourite is post '77, simply because it's a better balance and mix than went before. Which is good for us as much as Elton. Any interview with Elton that you hear him discuss his voice, he is more satisfied with it now than ever. Because he can explore more areas with it than he thought unimaginable before, we as the listener and fan can get an even deeper and rewarding experience from the process. Not bad all round I would say...


  1. Great post, Paul! Especially loved this (dare I say Taupin-esque) line: "The years since then has seen his voice age gracefully, if he sang now like he did 40 years ago it would sound and look like a sparrows squeak out of a swan."

    1. Thanks Kim. If you spot those lines in any future Elton song let me know. Because then I'll know Bernie has been on here watching us... ;-)