Tuesday, August 12, 2014

'If At First... - Part II - Grey Seal'

For the second installment we stay in the early 70's and look at two wildly contrasting versions of the same theme.

B-side of Rock And Roll Madonna (1970)

The original concept has a very quick electric piano intro giving way to acoustic piano. The rhythm section is gently introduced, carefully interwoven by Buckmaster with the orchestral arrangement. The piano breaks are very sparse, the welcoming of the second verse ups the pace. The chorus has a great string part with gradually descending chords, Elton's vocal keeping to a straight line. His early vocal style is clearly at play here. The outro with it's zig zagging strings crisscrossing with the funky vibes. Buckmaster is very much at play here again, his wildly imaginative arrangement reflects the equally visionary lyrics terrifically. 

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

Jump forward three years and it's time to revisit the song. Gus, who produced the first example, comes up with as far removed as possible take on it from what he did first time around. It shows that his mind was full of invention, he could take the same song and create a totally different beast from the same DNA. 

The intro this time is far from gentile, a bootful kick from Nigel and the rippling piano (a trait that runs through the song) with some powerful strokes from Davey draw us in. Elton's vocal is softer this time, the attitude of the first attempt has been tempered. The mulitracking of it shows Elton is as good a harmoniser with his own voice than anyone else could be. A talent of his not often acknowledged. The piano breaks are similar in idea, but harder in execution. Davey's mirroring of the melody line contributes that punch. The drums here are massive, the bass completely expressive. Compare the (excellent) carefully arranged rhythm section from the first go, this has a greater cut and run feel. Buckmaster's arrangement has been greatly supplanted by Elton on the Mellotron. The other worldly feel it emotes carefully in tune with the lyrical evocation. The outro is a killer, Davey on the 'wah-wah', Nigel on the conga's and the discreet backing vocals all add up to a climatic and fulfilling finale. Not so grand on the earlier version, but the contrasting ways they both leave us is a dilemma of choice.

To conclude, which has the yay and which is nay. The first edition is carefully created, it's a more sedater affair that desires to break free but can't find the route. The second coming with it's new found freedom which it celebrates wholly and with joy unbounded. A theme of both examples so far, without giving the game away I suspect to be a theme that'll run through the series. 

'If At First... - Part I - Skyline Pigeon'
'If At First... - Part III - Shine On Through'
'If At First... - Part IV - Where Have All The Good Times Gone'

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