Tuesday, August 12, 2014

'If At First... - Part III - Shine On Through'

Time for the next part. And it is a post about parts. The ending of one part of Elton's career and the start of another. The song this time doesn't have too many tweaks to it...but those that are effected are crucial. Let's go on through...

Thom Bell Sessions (1977)

The Thom Bell sessions are incredibly important in Elton's career. I've mentioned them before in relation to various aspects of Elton's career on this blog over the last year or so. His influence on Elton's vocal prowess set the stall out for the remainder of his career. The sessions overall are inoffensive in terms of the product that was doled out in various stages over the years. However, all was not perfect. Some things needed some fine tuning and 'Eltonising' very soon after.

For the first edition, there's a long piano intro. Very long. Occasional harp strums relieve the potential monotony. Elton's vocals, when they come in, are achingly slow. Not forced, just considered and measured. He was after all in uncharted waters at this time. A massive wall of strings with a very precise rhythm section gradually pitches up. It's all carefully choreographed so far. When the chorus kicks in, it's without any impact or power of delivery. This isn't immediately apparent, the later version will put it into context better. The slick production, the Philly sound in it's purest form, nearly engulfs the song in possibly too much baggage. However a fine line is held. The outro however is where it goes a bit wrong...long in the extreme. Instead of a natural end it becomes unnatural as vocal and orchestral jousting takes hold. Nearly eight minutes being a twelfth of an hour too long.

A Single Man (1978)

Very soon after this Elton decided to put his own stamp on it and recast the main players. Two of them in particular reclaimed the day. On this edition the piano is recorded better. It's heavier and that weight come through without bulk but with power. His vocal is now more comfortable, still hitting the lower notes he had been recently introduced to but carrying them with greater aplomb. An orchestral arrangement is still to be heard...this time Buckmaster cues it up wonderfully. Gone is the super slickness and in it's place are grittier, dynamic strings with the edginess coming through none more clearly than when you can detect the bows on the cello's almost hanging on the strings. But the pay off moment is still to come.

As I mentioned earlier, when the chorus came in first time around it sort of walked in laconically. This time when it does arrive it's devastating. The rhythm section is held back just for this very moment. The woodwinds are key here, the oboe yet again taking a lead and adding a terrific backup. Ray Coopers tambourine, a simple instrument in most peoples hands, an weapon of mass action when he has it, thuds and reverberates like a thousand babies rattles. Steve Holly's drums are more up front again, every fill is poised and communicated at the correct moment. The ending flourishes, it brings proceedings to a natural conclusion.

What do we have here then? Like I said the Thom Bell sessions are a nice side piece but at times the overtly dominant production wasn't necessary on strong songs. Second time around a far more tighter control was harnessed, with critical moments developed further. I suspect Elton, after hearing the first version, knew the strength of the song may have been undermined ad ultimately swamped with unnecessary additions. Adding some key men...we know who they are...never fail to deliver or disappoint. That, as we shall see, plays a major part in the final installment.

'If At First... - Part I - Skyline Pigeon'
'If At First... - Part II - Grey Seal'
'If At First... - Part IV - Where Have All The Good Times Gone'

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