Saturday, April 10, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Elton John (4/10/70) 40th Anniversary!

Sir Elton John’s eponymous album was released on April 10, 1970. It was his U.S. debut LP but his second in the U.K., following the Brit-only Empty Sky from April 1969 (that was eventually released in the U.S. in 1975 once Sir Reg reached superstardom on the left side of the Atlantic).

Elton John (playlist here) sired the careers of Elton and his songwriting sidekick Bernie Taupin, with two big AM pop hits, the funky “Take Me To The Pilot” and the languid, now-standard “Your Song” since becoming signature John/Taupin songs. But Elton John is more. It’s a perfectly-timed, early 70s showcase LP for the burgeoning singer/songwriting genre. It’s got plenty of soon-to-be-perfected piano/orchestra ballads (a la “Border Song,” a well-crafted companion to “Pilot”), light rockers (“The Cage,” which Warren Zevon likely borrowed almost a decade later), and heavily-orchestrated, over-produced melodies with harpsichords, violins and punching pianos. Yet Sir Reg does it all well on Elton John, a great debut and prelude to Honky Chateau and all the other great E.J. albums. Elton John is the door-opening listen to a hugely influential pop-rock career.

The visual cacophony of Elton John’s later career is absent on Elton John. That would all come later, and none too soon. The duck suits, big glasses, flamboyant hairdos and genre-busting wardrobes aren’t on Elton John. It’s just the early work of true and earnest 70s singer/songwriter looking for his big break. And he got it. Elton John can be purchased as a CD or mp3 downloads on Amazon or iPod files on iTunes.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

 

In Memoriam: Dale Hawkins, 1936 - 2010

In case you missed the news, Louisiana rockabilly star Dale Hawkins died a week ago Saturday at 73. Often (and unjustifiably) labelled a "one hit wonder," Hawkins surely had one massively memorable hit: “Susie Q” from 1957, mostly because the Stones and Creedence covered it with great effect in the 70s (click here for Dale’s TV performance from 1958). But Hawkins’ repertoire of “swamp rock” tunes (a mix of rock ‘n’ roll, country twang and deep Louisiana blues) were a huge influence on early rockers, and he’s always been counted with Elvis, Buddy, Bill Haley and others among the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll music.

Dale continued to record through the 60s, despite being cheated out of royalties for “Suzie Q.” He hosted a TV program and toured regularly in the 70s. And his work as a record producer is forever pressed in several classic 70s AM pop-rock gems he shepherded, including “Western Union” by the Five Americans, “Judy In Disguise” by John Fred & The Playboy Band, and “Do It Again – A Little Bit Slower” by Jon & Robin. After a lengthy 80s bout with prescription drugs and seclusion in Little Rock, AR where he founded and ran a rehab facility, Hawkins returned to recording in the late 90s with an album of new material - Wildcat Tamer – that received great reviews and sold modestly. Another comeback album was recorded after he contracted colon cancer in 2006.

(Incidentally, Dale’s cousin is Ronnie Hawkins, a stellar rockabilly artist in his own right and frontman for the 60s rock ‘n’ roll group The Hawks. The backing musicians in a mid-60s lineup of the band became known to the world as The Band in 1968.)

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