Elton John’s Honky Château at 50 Remains a Classic

While I know a good number of Elton John songs from throughout his 50-plus-year recording career, I cannot make that claim when it comes to his 30 studio albums. So why pick Honky Château to highlight in a post? Well, to start with, it includes Rocket Man, one of my all-time favorite tunes by John. I’ve also always dug Honky Cat. But the main reason for writing about Honky Château again today is the album’s 50th anniversary, another 1972 classic to hit the big milestone.*

Released on May 19, 1972, and named after Château d’Hérouville, an 18th-century French castle where it was recorded, Elton John’s fifth studio album is a gem that definitely has more to offer than the above-noted tunes. Moreover, it’s a significant album in his recording career. Honky Château became John’s first of seven consecutive no. 1 records in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. It also performed very well elsewhere: No. 2 in the UK, no. 3 in Canada and no. 4 in Australia, to name a few countries where it charted. John truly ruled during the first half of the ’70s!

Honky Château also marked the first record to feature core members of John’s road band: David Johnstone (acoustic and electric guitars, steel guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Dee Murray (bass) and Nigel Olsson (drums). Murray and Olsson had joined John’s touring band from The Spencer Davis Group. Johnstone, a session musician, had first played with John on predecessor Madman Across the Water from November 1971. He pretty much has been with John ever since. Johnstone, Murray and Olsson became instrumental in shaping Elton John’s sound during the ’70s.

Let’s get to some music, and what better way to start than with the opener  Honky Cat. Like all other songs on the record, the music was composed by John with lyrics from his long-time partner in crime Bernie Taupin. I always liked the tune’s New Orleans vibe. The brass section, which was arranged by producer Gus Dudgeon, featured Jacques Bolognesi  (trombone), Ivan Jullien (trumpet), as well as saxophonists Jean-Louis Chautemps and Alain HatotHonky Cat also appeared separately as the album’s second single in July 1972, backed by Slave.

I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself has some of Honky Cat’s New Orleans vibe as well. According to Songfacts, John said the song about a moody teenager’s suicide thoughts isn’t to be taken too seriously. I’m not sure a tune like this could be released today without causing controversy. Of course, the times they are a-changin’, and you could make the same observation for other ’70s tunes. The tap-dancing routine was performed by “Legs” Larry Smith, the former drummer of the comedy satirical rock group the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Smith was friends with George Harrison who would include a tribute song about him, His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen), on his 1975 studio album Extra Texture (Read All About It).

Closing out Side 1 is the majestic Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time), as it’s officially titled. Not surprisingly, the tale about a Mars-bound astronaut’s mixed feelings about leaving his family behind to carry out his mission became the album’s big hit. Separately released as the lead single in April 1972, backed by Susie (Dramas), it rose all the way to no. 2 in the UK and reached no. 6 in the U.S. Rocket Man also was a hit in various other countries, including Canada (no. 8), Germany (no. 18), Ireland (no. 6) and New Zealand (no. 11). It truly is a timeless classic!

Side 2 opens with Salvation. There isn’t much to say about this tune other than it’s the kind of ballad John excelled at in the ’70s, in my view.

Amy is another nice tune on Side 2. The song about young lust has a great groove. It features French jazz violinist and composer Jean-Luc Ponty on electric violin.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Honky Château’s closer Hercules. Initial plans to make Hercules the album’s third single did not materialize. While I haven’t read this anywhere, I’m wondering whether there may have been concerns it could have interfered with Crocodile Rock. One of John’s biggest hits, it was released in October 1972 as the lead single for his next studio album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player.

Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album.

Honky Château was generally well received by music critics at the time and is regarded as one of Elton John’s best albums. In October 1995, the record was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America  (RIAA), meaning it had reached certified sales of one million units.

In 2003, Honky Château was ranked at no. 357 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, a position that remained nearly unchanged (no. 359) in the 2012 list. Interestingly, the album moved up by more than 100 spots to no. 251 in the list’s most recent revision from September 2020.

* This post was originally published on May 31, 2021. It has been slightly updated.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

A Sunday morning (at least in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey, U.S.A.) means another Sunday Six is in store. I’m also introducing a new technical feature. Alternatively, you could call it catching up with 21st century technology: Embedded Spotify playlists. Admittedly, I shamefully stole the idea from fellow bloggers like Music Enthusiast, Aphoristic Album Reviews and Eclectic Music Lover, who have been using embedded Spotify playlists forever. With that being said, let’s get to the six random tunes I picked for this installment. Hope you enjoy – and look for the paylist at the end!

Tangerine Dream/Para Guy

I’d like to kick it off with some electronic music, a genre that with a few exceptions like Jean-Michel Jarre and Klaus Schulze I’ve pretty much ignored in the past. That being said, I’ve always liked spacy music. That’s part of the reason Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were and The Dark Side of the Moon are among my all-time favorite albums. This brings me to electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream, founded by Edgar Froese in 1967 in Berlin, Germany. According to their website, the group’s fifth studio album Phaedra from February 1974 became a milestone in electronic music and one of more than 100 studio albums they have released over the past 50-plus years. Para Guy is a from Tangerine Dream’s most recent EP Probe 6-8 that appeared a few weeks ago on November 26. The track is credited to band leader Thorsten Quaeschning, co-members Hoshiko Yamane and Paul Frick, as well as Froese who passed away in January 2015. Another current member of Tangerine Dream’s current line-up, which has been in place since Froese’s death, is Ulrich Schnauss.

Bob Dylan/Ballad of a Thin Man

If you asked me about my favorite Bob Dylan record, I’d pick Highway 61 Revisited, his sixth studio album from August 1965. Admittedly, the big caveat is my knowledge of Mr. Zimmerman’s catalog continues to have significant gaps. Regardless, I can’t imagine Dylan connoisseurs would argue over an album packed with gems, such as Like a Rolling Stone, Tombstone Blues, Desolation Row and Ballad of a Thin Man. According to Songfacts, While speculation remains rampant as to who “Mr. Jones” is and what exactly this song is supposed to mean, there is no definitive answer at this time. Shockingly, Dylan hasn’t hepled to clarify things. Asked about Mr. Jones at a press conference in 1965, he reportedly said, “I’m not going to tell you his first name. I’d get sued.” When prompted what the man does for a living, Zimmi answered, “He’s a pinboy. He also wears suspenders.” Frankly, I don’t really care much about any deeper meaning here, I just love everything about this tune: Dylan’s cynically sounding voice; the music, especially the keyboard; and the song’s dark feel!

Blind Melon/No Rain

Next let’s turn to the ’90s and a tune I’ve always found cool: No Rain by Blind Melon. The song is from the American rock band’s eponymous debut album that appeared in September 1992. It became their breakthrough single and biggest hit, climbing to no. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100; topping the charts in Canada; reaching no. 8 and no. 15 in Australia and New Zealand, respectively; and charting in various European countries. The tune is credited to all members of the band at the time: Shannon Hoon (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion), Rogers Stevens (lead guitar), Christopher Thorn (rhythm guitar), Brad Smith (bass, backing vocals) and Glen Graham (drums), as well as producer Rick Parashar. Blind Mellon are still around, though they were inactive between 1999 and 2006 and 2008 and 2010. I guess in part this explains their modest catalog, which to date only includes three studio albums, a live record and a few compilations. That said, Blind Mellon have released four singles since 2019. The band’s current members include Stevens, Thorn and Graham, along with Travis Warren (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and Nathan Towne (bass, backing vocals).

Pete Townshend/Give Blood

While the massive and monotonous drums on Face the Face, the lead single off Pete Townshend’s White City: A Novel, took a few listens before I found them cool, I immediately dug his fourth solo album when it came out in November 1985. I still do and wrote about it here back in February. Give Blood is the album’s excellent opener and also became its second single. Asked about the tune, following is what Townshend said, according to Wikipedia: Give Blood was one of the tracks I didn’t even play on. I brought in Simon Phillips [dums – CMM], Pino Palladino [bass -CMM] and David Gilmour [guitar – CMM] simply because I wanted to see my three favourite musicians of the time playing on something and, in fact, I didn’t have a song for them to work on, and sat down very, very quickly and rifled threw [sic] a box of stuff, said to Dave, “Do one of those kind of ricky-ticky-ricky-ticky things, and I’ll shout ‘Give Blood!’ in the microphone every five minutes and let’s see what happens.” And that’s what happened. Then I constructed the song around what they did.

Boz Scaggs/I’ve Got Your Love

When my streaming music provider served up I’ve Got Your Love by Boz Scaggs the other day, I immediately loved the tune’s soulful feel. Written solely by Scaggs, this song is from Come On Home, a studio album he released in April 1997. Even though Scaggs has put out records since 1965, sadly, the only tunes I can name are his two biggest hits Lowdown and Lido Shuffle, which were both included on his best-selling album Silk Degrees that came out in February 1976. Scaggs, who also played on the first two albums of Steve Miller Band in 1968, apparently remains active to this day. Damn, I’ve Got Your Love is such a great tune – so glad it was brought to me!

Elton John/Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding

For the sixth and final tune of this week’s zig-zag music journey, I picked a real classic off my favorite Elton John album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road from October 1973: Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. Borrowing from a previous post I did in December 2020, here’s what I said about the album’s magnificent opener: The first part is an instrumental of music John felt he’d like to be played at his funeral – one wonders a bit in what state of mind he was! It’s followed by Love Lies Bleeding, which Songfacts describes as an angry song about a broken relationship. Had it not been fused together with Funeral, something producer Gus Dudgeon had come up with, I would have included Love Lies Bleeding in my previous post about great Elton John rockers. While due to the total length of over just 11 minutes the track initially wasn’t released as a single, it became a fan favorite and staple of John’s live set lists. It’s easy to understand why!

And here it is…drum roll…Christian’s Music Musings is embracing 21st-century technology…my first embedded Spotify list. Take that Apple Music, despite my brilliant computer skills, I couldn’t figure out how to embed playlists using your platform so I won’t, at least not for playlist embeds!

Sources: Wikipedia; Tangerine Dream website; Songfacts; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Elton John/Honky Château

While I know a good number of Elton John songs from throughout his 50-plus-year recording career, I cannot make that claim when it comes to his 30 studio albums. So why pick Honky Château to highlight in a post? Well, to start with, it includes Rocket Man, one of my all-time favorite tunes by John. I’ve also always dug Honky Cat. But the main reason for writing about Honky Château now is that I recently grabbed a used vinyl copy of the album at a small vintage record store close to my house. The cover is captured in the images I used to illustrate the post.

Released in May 1972 and named after Château d’Hérouville, an 18th century French castle where it was recorded, Elton John’s fifth studio album is a gem that definitely has more to offer than the above noted tunes. It also is a significant album in his recording career. Honky Château became John’s first of seven consecutive no. 1 records in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. It also performed very well elsewhere: No. 2 in the UK, no. 3 in Canada and no. 4 in Australia, to name a few countries where it charted. John truly ruled during the first half of the ’70s!

Honky Château also marked the first record to feature core members of John’s road band: David Johnstone (acoustic and electric guitars, steel guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Dee Murray (bass) and Nigel Olsson (drums). Murray and Olsson had joined John’s touring band from The Spencer Davis Group. Johnstone, a session musician, had first played with John on predecessor Madman Across the Water from November 1971. He pretty much has been with John ever since. Johnstone, Murray and Olsson became instrumental in shaping Elton John’s sound during the ’70s.

Let’s get to some music, and what better way than to start than with the opener Honky Cat. Like all other songs on the record, the music was composed by John with lyrics from his long-time partner in crime Bernie Taupin. I always liked the tune’s New Orleans vibe. The brass section, which was arranged by producer Gus Dudgeon, featured Jacques Bolognesi (trombone), Ivan Jullien (trumpet), as well as saxophonists Jean-Louis Chautemps and Alain Hatot. Honky Cat also appeared separately as the album’s second single in July 1972, backed by Slave.

I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself has some of Honky Cat’s New Orleans vibe as well. According to Songfacts, John said the song about a moody teenager’s suicide thoughts isn’t to be taken too seriously. I’m not sure a tune like this could be released today without causing controversy. Of course, the times they are a-changin’, and you could make the same observation for other ’70s tunes. The tap dancing routine was performed by “Legs” Larry Smith, the former drummer of the comedy satirical rock group the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Smith was friends with George Harrison who would include a tribute song about him, His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen), on his 1975 studio album Extra Texture (Read All About It).

Closing out Side 1 is the majestic Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time), as it’s officially titled. Not surprisingly, the tale about a Mars-bound astronaut’s mixed feelings leaving his family behind to carry out his mission became the album’s big hit. Separately released as the lead single in April 1972, backed by Susie (Dramas), it rose all the way to no. 2 in the UK and reached no. 6 in the U.S. Rocket Man also was a hit in various other countries, including Canada (no. 8), Germany (no. 18), Ireland (no. 6) and New Zealand (no. 11). It truly is a timeless classic!

Side 2 opens with Salvation. There isn’t much to say about this tune other than it’s the kind of ballad John excelled at in the ’70s, in my view.

Amy is another nice tune on Side 2. The song about young lust has a great groove. It features French jazz violinist and composer Jean-Luc Ponty on electric violin.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Honky Château’s closer Hercules. Initial plans to make Hercules the album’s third single did not materialize. While I haven’t read this anywhere, I’m wondering whether there may have been concerns it could have interfered with Crocodile Rock. One of John’s biggest hits, it was released in October 1972 as the lead single for his next studio album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player.

Honky Château is regarded as one of Elton John’s best albums. It was generally well received by music critics. In October 1995, the album was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), meaning it had reached certified sales of one million units.

In 2003, Honky Château was ranked at no. 357 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, a position that remained nearly unchanged (no. 359) in the 2012 list. Interestingly, the album moved up by more than 100 spots to no. 251 in the list’s most recent revision from September 2020.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Elton John/Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

While I became aware of Elton John more than 40 years ago and have listened to him on and off ever since (admittedly more off for the past three decades), I mostly know him based on specific songs. Except for John’s 1983 album Too Low for Zero, which I really dug at the time and still enjoy to this day, I haven’t explored his albums in greater detail. This occurred to me the other day when I put together a post on Elton John rockers.

I always had been more fond of John’s earlier songs, so perhaps not surprisingly, once I decided to further explore his albums, it made the most sense to me to start looking at his releases from the first half of the ’70s. From there, it didn’t take long to get to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and realize why it’s widely considered to be John’s best album.

By the time Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was released in October 1973, John had established himself as one of the most successful pop music artists of the ’70s. With predecessors Honky Château and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, he already had two internationally successful studio records under his belt that had generated hits like Rocket Man, perhaps my favorite Elton tune, Crocodile Rock and Daniel.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road gatefold

Appearing only nine months after Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road came together during what arguably was the most productive period for John and his close partner in crime, lyricist Bernie Taupin. They had a total of 22 tracks, for which Taupin wrote the lyrics in just two and a half weeks while John composed most of the music in a whopping three days. Narrowing down the songs to 18 tracks still meant there were too many to fit on one LP. That’s why the album became a double LP, marking the first of John’s four such studio releases.

Inspired by The Rolling Stones’ Goats Head Soup, John wanted to record the album in Jamaica. Production there started in January 1973, but things became quickly hampered by technical challenges with the sound system and the studio piano, along with external distractions, including a professional box fight and political unrest. Work was speedily shifted to Studio d’enregistement Michel Magne at Château d’Hérouville located in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, France, where John had recorded his two previous above noted albums. The last-minute studio change apparently didn’t have a negative impact: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was recorded in just two weeks. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick things off with the magnificent opener Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. The first part is an instrumental of music John felt he’d like to be played at his funeral – one wonders a bit in what state of mind he was! It’s followed by Love Lies Bleeding, which Songfacts describes as an angry song about a broken relationship. Had it not been fused together with Funeral, something producer Gus Dudgeon had come up with, I would have included Love Lies Bleeding in my previous post about great Elton John rockers. While due to the total length of over just 11 minutes the track initially wasn’t released as a single, it became a fan favorite and staple of John’s live set lists. It’s easy to understand why!

I could easily fill up the remaining post with just the hits the album generated: Saturday’s Night’s Alright for Fighting, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Bennie and the Jets and Candle in the Wind. The one I really cannot ignore is the title track, another contender for my all-time favorite Elton song. According to Songfacts, the yellow brick road is an image taken from the movie The Wizard of Oz, and it was rumored the ballad is about Judy Garland. But instead the song seems to be about Taupin. Songfacts: The lyrics are about giving up a life of opulence for one of simplicity in a rural setting. Elton has enjoyed a very extravagant lifestyle, while Taupin prefers to keep it low key.

Grey Seal initially was recorded for John’s eponymous sophomore studio album from April 1970, but the tune didn’t make the record. Songfacts notes Taupin has said that it’s one of the songs he wrote with lyrics he never really understood, but somehow work. As for Elton, the song is one of his favorites, as he loves the way the music matches up to the lyrics. In the tradition of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” the lyrics form a series of images that are open to translation. Elton called it “Procol Harum-ish absurd, like a Dali painting.” I love this tune and can easily see why it appealed so much to John.

Next up is Sweet Painted Lady, a deeper cut from the album. From Songfacts: Written in the style of the British composer Noël Coward, this song is about sailors back from the sea and the “sweet painted ladies” – prostitutes – waiting for them at harbor brothels.

Let’s do one more: Harmony, the album’s closer, and a track that had been considered as a single. But the timing was deemed too close to Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, the lead single to John’s follow-on album Caribou. Instead, Harmony became the B-side to the U.S. version of the Bennie and the Jets single. Songfacts notes the tune gained a fervent following, especially on the New York City radio station WOR, it won the “Battle of the Hits,” voted on by listeners, for 33 consecutive weeks.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road became Elton John’s best-selling studio album. In February 2014, it reached 8x Platinum certification in the U.S. In 2003, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It’s also included in Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In the most recent revision from September 2020, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road held up pretty well, coming in at no. 112, down from 91 in the corresponding lists for 2012 and 2003.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube