It’s that time of the year again…unfortunately. When the music of the continent collides. And what a car wreck the Eurovision is. In times past we were ‘treated’ to it one day of the week. Now that ‘treat’ has been extended, like something on a torture rack, so that we got two semi finals during the week. Spoiled aren’t we…by the rotters.
Anybody not of this area that stretches from as far west as Iceland to as far east as Israel in terms of competitors may like to Google what it’s all about. On second thoughts, don’t. Keep Pandora ’s Box closed is my advice. Anyway, considering the day that’s in it I’d thought I’d delve into one of Elton’s European excursions. Thankfully he hasn’t got involved (yet) with this annual showcase of musical nonsense and tomfoolery. The day he does a light will go out, for sure.
At school I learnt French. Not very well, I'm afraid. I never had any real use of it since then...which makes listening to these songs a bit of an odd exercise. I should know what they're singing about...but I don't. But that doesn't mean I can't connect with them. Because I can. If you cheat and read the translation then you're fully clued in. Once that's sorted the rest is a breeze. As breezy as France Gall's voice...
France Gall was and still is a big star in France. Check out her discog and it's pretty much stacked since the 60's. Her late husband Michel Berger was also a major star during the same period till his death in 1992. Berger has a pretty unique contribution to make here. Which leads us to the songwriting credits. The A-side, Les Aveux, is an Elton John/Michel Berger composition. The B-side, Donner Pour Donner, is a Michel Berger/Bernie Taupin effort. So whilst Elton and Bernie are both involved, neither contributions from their two rooms ended up meeting each other. Plus Michel Berger I think is the only person to have written with each of the golden duo separately. So all in all it's pretty unique so far. But are these songs any good...
Both were recorded in April 1980 in Los Angeles. The personnel involved are top class. Nigel and Dee add that confident and distinctive backing, it's slick and tidy. James Newton Howard adds some trademark electric piano, typical of Elton's sound around the turn of the decade. Richie Zito's angular guitar solo is superb. Not mentioned Richie much on the blog so far, I must remedy that error. Needless to say he's a terrific guitarist. Check out his solo on the outro to Someone Saved My Life Tonight from Central Park on Youtube. I'll not spoil it if you're unfamiliar with it. I expect the repeat button to be clicked again is all I'll say...Marty Paich adds some neat strings to it, the sweeping arrangement on Les Aveux are carefully crafted. On Donner Pour Donner they rise at the start like a gentle alarm going off, on the verse before the second chorus they really kick in. Not romantic, but something beyond that even. Elton's is a fluent French speaker so his vocal is easy and relaxed. Unlike others who sing in a foreign tongue phonetically. France's vocal, especially on Donner Pour Donner, is incredibly sexy. It's playful without teasing. Her segue on the B-side into the sax is impossible to detect a fault line between. Like when a wave hits the beach, impossible to pinpoint the precise spot. But still a thing of beauty.
Les Aveux is a colossal number. Both in delivery and where it originates from. The strings are strategically timed for maximum impact. Nigel's drumming in incredible here. His typical delays and precise timing signatures grasp each moment. It's restrained in a fashion only he can deploy. Dee's bass is equally measured, when these combined like this the song is always the winner. Richie's angular guitar solo slowly but surely climbs to its summit. Adding that West Coast rock sound to a Gallic love-in. James's organ line is added to the final chorus with a some great hanging chords. A tremendous climax.
Donner Pour Donner is a mid tempo contrarian to the A-side. The two vocalists switch back and forth from solo to harmonising similar to the other song. The softer vocals sound better here, as if they're really speaking to each other without falling into talking territory. Both songs are totally contrasting and show that the two voices worked great with varying styles. The songs do exactly what they say on the tin, pure pop with a clash of international styles. Elton doing his thing, West Coast rock gibing it hat hard edge and Euro pop that mercifully doesn’t fall into stereotypes. Just stereo bliss.
On the surface they appear like some cheesefest gone wrong. Not sure what you get when you mix Cheddar with Brie, but the musical equivalent goes down very well. With a nice flavour once you try a bit. Would either of these songs triumph in tonight’s circus? They’d have to rig the vote first…in order to make the whole thing fair in the first place!!