Thursday, August 14, 2014

'If At First... - Part IV - Where Have All The Good Times Gone'

The final part of this short series finds us in early 80's territory. And what a number we have to round things up. Where did the time go...

Jump Up! (1982)

The first attempt at this song is truly excellent. Of the all songs we've looked at so far it's probably the best initial effort. Taupin's nostalgic lyric cues a lot of things of the song. James Newton Howard's arrangement evokes the soulful style of the 60's & 70's ('remember all those good old Four Tops songs'), it's left, right, left, right military style again taking lyrical inspiration ('as time goes marching to a different beat'). Jeff Porcaro's heavy drum beat keeps that hard line in check, the bridge, as is usually the case with Elton's musical prowess, hits home. The desperation of the lyric is off set by the rise up, levelling out on a higher plain. Acoustic piano appears on the outro, harping back to that earlier notion. A contrast to the intro with electric piano. The production, thanks to Chris Thomas, catches the songs mood and encourages a greater exploration of it's sentiment. The whole thing has been perfectly matched. Once dispatched to the outside world, it would hatch into something quite different.

The 1982 tour was Elton's most rockiest. Look back on my tour retrospective to get a better flavour of that time. No matter what the song was, no matter where it's root lay it was given the rock treatment. This song being one such case. Whatever the reasons were during the sessions for Too Low Zero in September 1982 it was decided to record another version of it. If it were possible to top what was already a terrific piece, this could claim that crown.

B-side of All Quiet On The Western Front (1982)

As soon as proceedings commence, we know we're in for a ride. A fast one. Elton's acoustic piano has a much more rapid arrival, it's in before you know it. And brighter too. His vocal is much deeper than the first go with an added degree of urgency. Dee's bass has been pushed further up for a number of reasons. Primarily to replace the orchestral arrangement with one slay of his hands. It's incredibly vocal and chatty throughout. With plenty of purposeful things to say for itself. Nigel's drumming is incredibly brutal at times. The slap rhythms that transfer us into the first chorus and then back out of it are determined as they are effective. Davey's layered guitars are like stinging tendrils. His collage of sounds take up that absent orchestral space in tandem with Dee, his solo on the outro boils up and melts all before it. The three backing vocals combine with short interjections but are ultimately very necessary harmonies. This version rocks, it's tight uncompromising attitude leaves the pulse at a much faster rate (in three digits I suspect)  than when we started. 

Chris Thomas, often criticised in some quarters for 'filling the spaces', came very close to capturing a live stage performance in the studio. Listen to any version up that point on the tour and what you hear on disc is merely a version recorded in front of a few people. That's the only difference. The energy Elton and the band had on stage was channelled onto disc seamlessly. Like Gus earlier on Grey Seal, he showed his talent is more than one trick by taking the same song and reworking it but not reducing it's appeal. Stripped back with the remaining players acting out multiple roles.

What have we learned overall from these examples? I'll try and sum up...

The original Skyline Pigeon, whilst charming in it's own right, needed to be redone in order to bring it's full personality out. Grey Seal with it's funky feel and clever arrangement was a bit too slow placed which was rightly rectified. Shine On Through was over developed that in turn helped it to get lost under all that cladding. Once the crucial bits were retained and proper editing introduced it became a quality result second time around. Where Have All The Good Times is the most difficult here to separate. The original is terrific, if it had stopped there then nobody would have complained. The only way to have topped it would be to get Nigel, Dee and Davey in to butter it up. The aftermath of what they did to it is clear to hear. It matches it, no doubt there. For me the revised version gets the nod, merely because some things never seem to last...and they've gone away.

Why these and not others were chosen to be revisited is an interesting thought. There's talk on the street...and other places...that Elton may be going to redo some of the older classics for the forthcoming biopic. I suspect if they do go down that road it'll be like the Blondie situation I mentioned in the first part. These four examples were merely chosen at random and threw up intriguing and varying end results. Their unique quirkiness will never be replicated.

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