Listen to this track from rock ‘n’ roll Monarch, and Tupelo, Mississippi favourite son Elvis Aaron Presley. It’s “American Trilogy” as performed as a part of one of the first concert-length satellite broadcasts in history, and captured for posterity on the concert film Elvis – Aloha from Hawaii.
The show itself was one of the most expensive projects of its time, costing a whopping 2.5 million dollars (about 13.5 million in today’s money), and broadcast internationally on January 14, 1973, one week after Presley’s 37th birthday. The album was released a month later.
The show itself came out of the idea that Elvis couldn’t play every major city in the world, and that a satellite broadcast would make up for it. This show was broadcast from Honolulu, with the same crack backing band that had defined his show from the late ’60s, including James Burton on lead guitar, and backed up by gospel vocal group the Stamps.
This was an historic show technologically, and Elvis and his band rose to the occasion. But, in my books, it was historic for other reasons besides, and in a bittersweet sort of way. Read more
Here’s a clip, and one of my favourite clips of all time, of the Fab Four – the Beatles, that is – at Shea Stadium 0n August 15th, 1965 – 46 years ago today. It’s “I’m Down”, the B-side to the single “Help”, and the closing number of the first large-scale concert in the age before your standard stadium show was standard. In fact, it was this very concert that convinced “the money”, for good or ill, that maybe this rock’n’ roll thing had legs where making tons of cash was concerned.*
*[March 2012 – as if to prove my point, EMI have blocked the clip because they own the rights to it. Sorry, kids.]
*[July 2014 – but here’s that clip again, thanks to Dailymotion. Suck it, The Man!]
But that aside, this was a key show for the band, just on the verge of transforming from a quartet of performing “moptops” to a serious studio entity, going well beyond the touring, radio, and TV appearance showbiz treadmill, to become what they’d always been – true artists. This in turn dovetailed with their growing disatisfaction with live performances, when their own chops as musicians were being lost in the screams of Beatlemania.
The specially-designed 100-Watt Vox amplifiers didn’t even make a dent. Read more
Listen to this track by pre-fab four once-upon-a-time television rock band turned the real thing, The Monkees. It’s their summer of 1967 single, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin no less, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, a tune that would feature on their TV show, and on their fourth album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltdin November of that same year. The song is built around a riff that echoes the sound of the Beatles circa the Revolver album, with a decidedly suburban thematic bent; the “status symbol land” of the Man In The Grey Flannel Suit, his family, and his neighbours.
But, an important thing to note is that, although the Beatles are a clear musical reference point by the time this song was laid down, the Monkees were an able studio band by this point.They had honed their skills during down time as their TV show was being shot using instruments that were left lying around the lot, and had become a real band. All four Monkees play on this; Mike Nesmith on guitar, Peter Tork on keyboards, and both Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz singing.
On the date of John Lennon’s assassination this year, here’s the follow-up post from writer, music fan, and world-traveler Geoff Moore, who’s treated us most kindly to the fruits of a bona fide musical pilgrimage. Here is part 2 of his tales of adventures in the magical city of Liverpool, home of favourite sons the Beatles, and the cradle of a whole industry; Beatle worship.
It’s of no surprise that the city has become a shining beacon to musical pilgrims, seeking to visit the location where their heroes sprung from obscurity, and delivering the whole city along with them. Heck, I’ve made the trip myself! But, is there a line between devotion and exploitation? At what point does a celebration of history become a means of kitchify-ing that history?
Let’s find out, in this second part in a series set in the great northern city where heroes have emerged …
The Delete Bin has a roving reporter in writer, cultural critic, and world-traveler Geoff Moore. More to the point, he’s conducted a musical pilgrimage in visiting one of the Holy Places of Rock ‘n’ Roll: the City of Liverpool, birthplace of Echo & the Bunnymen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Shack, The Pale Fountains, The Lightning Seeds, The Zutons, Gerry & the Pacemakers, The Searchers, the LA’s, and most importantly a little band called the Beatles, who put the city on the musical map.
And what did Geoff find there? A whole industry, and we’re not talking about the Albert Docks; at least not primarily.
So, let us take you down, ’cause we’re going to … Liverpool, mythical (for those who’ve never been, and even still to those who have) home of the Beatles, and the first part of two …
This month’s entry from pop music commentator and writer Geoff Moore has to do with a very important subject as dealt with in detail here at the ‘Bin: the cover version. There are good ones and bad. But, has the perception of the cover version changed over the decades that we call the rock/pop era? You betcher sweet bippy it has, kids! But, how? And for better, or worse?
A discordant trend in mainstream music these days is the proliferation of the needle-drop cover version. A recent example is Colin James’s take on Van Morrison’s ‘Into the Mystic.’ First, full marks to James for having the audacity to attempt one of Morrison’s greatest love songs, that is some serious nerve. The result however is rather pedestrian, Colin pointlessly sings Van. The arrangement seems to be virtually the same, so his cover neither expands or twists the original and therefore never feels like a natural fit with James’s own bluesy oeuvre.
A cynic may posit that James’s ‘Into the Mystic’ is aimed squarely at casual listeners who are unaware of the 40-year-old song’s provenance and pedigree; people who buy CDs released by American Idols or Susan Boyle. Perhaps televised karaoke contests are the genesis of the aping muck we find currently ourselves mired in.
In the early days of rock ‘n’ roll very few teen idols wrote their own material. There were massive exceptions to this generalization of course: Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and Roy Orbison to cite just three examples. Yet for the most part songwriting and song publishing was and still is an equally profitable industry synchronous to the record business. It could be argued that most hits from those times were cover versions as most artists only invested their performances in songs. There was a limited or little sense of ownership; you think of each edition of the Drifters as mouthpieces for the compositions of Leiber-Stoller or Goffin-King.
What’s interesting to note at this juncture is how the more things change, the more they stay the same. At one time the principal consumer commodity of the music industry was sheet music. Tin Pan Alley, the nickname for the area in New York City where the writers and publishers once clustered, survived and adapted to the threats of player piano rolls, Edison’s talking machine and Marconi’s wireless telegraphy. What it ultimately could not abide was the D.I.Y. ethos of rock ‘n’ roll, artists writing their own material. Denizens of the fabled Brill Building, Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Carole King and Paul Simon, saw the writing on the wall and became hit-makers in their own right. The decline and fall of a seemingly integral element of the music industry is not a new phenomenon.
The dozen years or so between the British Invasion and the rise of punk were an incredibly fertile time for rock ‘n’ roll and were maybe the heyday of meaningful cover versions. Artists with little or no formal musical training of any sort with heads full of ideas that soared far beyond simplistic, boy-meets-girl pop narratives were fans and rivals of one another, any approach to making music seemed fresh.
If you’re under 50, it’s difficult to imagine a time when Rod Stewart mattered. This is a guy who, so the story goes, cut ‘Street Fighting Man’ because he was afraid that people couldn’t understand the words as sung by Mick Jagger. Rod’s interpretation may not be better than the Stones track, but in his hands it becomes a Rod Stewart song. That is the alchemy involved in a worthy cover, an unmistakable, singular performance.
Memorable cover versions bring something new to the party. Something that was familiar, known – etched in vinyl – is uniquely re-imagined. Roxy Music’s chilly rendition of Wilson Pickett’s ‘In the Midnight Hour‘ with its weird, underwater counting intro (“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…”) is about as far away from Memphis as you can get without a rocket ship. The Talking Heads’ version of Al Green’s baptismal ‘Take Me to the River?’ Your first thought before actually hearing it is, this won’t end well at all.
A cover that absolutely trumps and transcends the original version is a rare, rare bird, but there are a few that spring to mind immediately (and certainly others worthy of animated discussion). Bob Dylan wrote and released ‘All Along the Watchtower’ before Jimi Hendrix got his hands on it, but when you think of the song, chances are it’s the Hendrix version that comes to mind. Even Dylan performs it using Hendrix’s arrangement. Aretha Franklin’s cover of ‘Respect’ over Otis Redding’s own version: “Sock it to me!” Nazareth’s manic, growly ‘This Flight Tonight’ is the definitive take of Joni Mitchell’s wistful ballad. ‘Suspicious Minds,’ Elvis Presley’s last number one single, was an utter stiff for writer and singer Mark James previously. With apologies to writer Richard Berry (no relation to Chuck) and the other 90 or so acts who have waxed it, ‘Louie Louie’ is a Kingsmen tune. The Isley’s ‘Twist and Shout’ might be one of the best rockers in the Beatles’ repertoire.
While Colin James’s cover of ‘Into the Mystic’ is neither bad nor good, just there, unneeded and uncalled for, miles beneath it lays a cesspool rife with wretched, butchered travesties of what were originally great songs. Best not to uncover those here.
Geoff Moore is a writer who lives in Calgary, Alberta. It would be difficult to guess which song he’d choose to cover given the chance, but we can very safely rule out ‘Dancing Queen’.
In this month’s piece by former Montrealer and current Calgarian music and sports aficionado, not to mention author, Geoff Moore, we take a look at a dying ember of the 20th century; the local record store. Even the word “record” is something of an oddity in today’s paradigm dominated by digital downloading, where seeking out new sounds is only as far away as the click of a mouse.
But, in days of yore, a visit to the record store, especially on Tuesdays when records have been traditionally released to an eager public, was more than just one step in the process of music distribution. It was a religious act, an act of sheer devotion, and never to be replaced in exactly the same way …
Yes, there used to be a record store right here (with apologies to Ol’ Blue Eyes.)
HMV Canada, the last chain standing because it has so far negotiated the transition from music retailer to entertainment retailer, last week launched HMVdigital.ca, a frostback alternative to iTunes. The site is unique in that MP3 fans can pay for their song selections via debit card, great news for the earbud set. You have to suspect that the shrinking square footage devoted to CDs in HMV’s steel and glass stores will get additional Preparation H treatments.
Last week CBC Calgary reported that Megatunes, a landmark independent music store on the once infamous 17th Avenue SW Red Mile, will close its doors when summer’s lease expires. Its sister location on Edmonton’s happening Whyte Avenue near the legendary Commercial Hotel (Blues on Whyte) will shut too. A colleague allowed that a little part of him died when he heard the news even though he eventually got fed up with paying too much for albums “with just one good song.”
Three weeks ago I pulled the trigger on a banked Amazon.ca gift certificate. For $103 and change and free shipping I got: Bruce Springsteen: London Calling (2 DVDs), Stones in Exile (DVD), Cadillac Records (DVD), Hot Chocolate’s Every 1’s a Winner and remasters of Beggars Banquet, John Wesley Harding and Roxy Music’s Flesh + Blood. If I’d taken a century note into HMV I could probably have scooped the more recent releases at prices that may or may not have been competitive with Amazon, but I could not have spent all of my allotted money. On the other hand, Megatunes might possibly have had everything I wanted in stock but I would have needed much more than a picture of Sir Robert Borden to purchase all seven items.
The only goal for fans like us is the acquisition of music at a fair price. These days it’s more efficient to shop without leaving your house as retail inventory is hideously limited. (In June I swooped on three HMVs before I found the discounted Exile remaster. One store manager told me: “Complain, e-mail Toronto, the accountants. They sent us 12 copies.”)
As a cost-conscious consumer of soon to be obsolete media I made out like a bandit trawling Amazon, but clicking a mouse, especially a cleft PC one for a lefty, is no fun. There’s no tactile experience. You can’t pick a disc up, turn it over and examine it, linger over the track listings while you mull over your purchasing decision. Browse is the wrong freaking verb to describe looking at a web site.
The intelligent software that helpfully suggests complementary artists and products makes me feel like a character in a Philip K. Dick story. And when you proceed to checkout, there’s nothing under your arm or in your hand, no instant gratification (although you can offset this crushing disappointment somewhat by selecting the cheapest shipping option, thereby inaugurating a game of mailbox lottery in the days to come).
There was a time, long before Tuesdays were designated new release day, when record buying just wasn’t mere shopping; it was a ritual that was part and parcel of being a rock devotee. Haunting record stores was like staying out all night to buy concert tickets, the music was always the end but the means, the preliminary legwork, somehow enhanced and became part of the overall listening experience. Record shopping was my primary social activity and while it’s much more of a challenge now (or an unsatisfying cinch sitting in front of a computer), it’s never gotten old.
So forgive me while I remember. If you think I’m a sad sack crank now, meet me at age 20:
Montreal, July 1980: I am drinking a quart of Molson ale and smoking a cigarette in Toe Blake’s (legendary Montreal Canadiens player and coach) Tavern on rue Ste-Catherine priming for a serious record jaunt. My part-time job in the produce department of the nearby A&P store nets me $135 a week. The rent on my one and a half room apartment near the Montreal Forum is $135 a month plus telephone. Tuition for the upcoming year at Concordia University will run me some $750 plus books. I’ve have never been so flush with cash in my life and never will be again.
Across the street is a massive A&A Records, aisles of bins and warped, creaky wooden floors. I’m a regular, in there about three or four times a week. One of the cashiers will give me a $2 discount from time to time because she once admired the Clash London Calling button on my jean jacket so I removed it and gave it to her; I had two of them anyway. I suppose the next logical step would’ve been to ask her out but my fear of public rejection is more powerful than my hormones. Beside A&A is a tiny Discus Warehouse outlet; most of the albums for sale have the corners of their sleeves clipped off making the store one giant, er, delete bin. Who is Clifford T. Ward?
Eastbound along Ste-Catherine to Bishop, Cheap Thrills is located on the second floor of what would have been a lovely greystone residence 100 years ago. Cheap Thrills is where I dump my mistakes and where I keep hoping some fool will unload the “Brown Sugar” maxi single with both “Bitch” and “Let It Rock” on the B-side. The next stop is Rock en Stock on Crescent Street, a store that has embraced punk and also specializes in European imports. Here is where I scooped a French pressing of the eight minute version of “Miss You” on pink vinyl. Around the corner, back on Ste-Catherine is Dutchy’s Record Cave: bootlegs and another fruitless search for the Stones’ Garden State ’78.
2000 Plus is one of those unique Montreal commercial names that works well in either French or English. The store’s address is 2000 Mansfield but despite its proximity to the McGill campus it’s a little pricey. The shop made local news a year or two previously when its graphic and gory window display promoting the Battered Wives’ first album was vandalized by protesters.
Continuing along Ste-Catherine I pass Eaton’s and The Bay. There is a morass of malls connecting the two department stores to the Metro system and there are a couple of Discus stores within but they’re geared to the weekday lunch crowd and not worth checking out. East of The Bay at the corner of Bleury is Discomanie, a retailer specializing in homegrown artists and English art rock – it remains an unfathomable mystery to me as to why Quebecers so whole-heartedly embraced prog. And Shawn Phillips. Discomanie is where I stock up on clear plastic sleeves to protect my album covers.
There is another A&A Records further east. Although it’s not quite as large as the one near Guy where I started my trip, it’s always worth a look because of its proximity to Sam the Record Man; competition is good. Sam’s is the biggest store in town. Smaller than its Yonge Street parent, but still three glorious floors of music. I’ll be here a while. Hang tough, you can find me in the blues or the reggae sections.
For the final store on the route I head north from Ste-Catherine to Park Avenue, Phantasmagoria beckons. There are no bins in Phantasmagoria. All of the albums for sale are displayed in angled wire racks or in wire baskets hooked into the pegboard walls. All trim and finishing in the store is polished blonde wood. It is simply a really nice store, my favourite in town. I bought two copies of the first Clash album here, the olive drab U.K. version and the blue American release.
What really makes Phantasmagoria special is actually across the street. Brasserie Henri Richard with its giant exterior wall mural of the Pocket Rocket and his older brother in action is a heavenly place to regroup before the long walk home. Five years retired from the Montreal Canadiens he sits in a rocking chair by the beer taps puffing on a giant stogie holding court with his customers. He wears one of his 11 Stanley Cup rings. I peel the cellophane from my purchases and examine the artwork and the inner sleeves. The beer’s delicious. Although I’m too shy to speak to him, me and Henri, we’re like this! And I’ve got an armload of new albums to listen to tonight. The world is a perfect place.
Home for a visit last May. I retraced my steps of 30 years ago. Amazingly, Cheap Thrills (cheapthrills.ca) is still in business although the store is now located few blocks east of Bishop on Metcalfe. Everything else, the hockey beer parlours and all of the other record stores are long gone. There’s a massive HMV at the corner of Peel and Ste-Catherine now.
Listen to this song by an electrified, and transformed Bob Dylan from his historic 1966 appearance at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. It’s the rocking ‘Tell Me Momma”, the opening salvo of the second half of the program when he was joined onstage by the Hawks. The performance, and indeed the whole concert, had been bootlegged for decades (known by the misnomer “Royal Albert Hall Concert”), finally getting an official release with 1998’s The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall Concert”.
Dylan ‘going electric’ is a high point in rock history, and what a rocky road it took to get to the place where it’s recognized as the artistic triumph that it was. The crowd at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in May of 1966 were fans of the solo Dylan, singing his tried and true folk songs as he’d done faithfully up until Newport in 1965. And to be fair, Dylan gave the audience what they wanted, within the confines of his own interpretation of those songs in his new paradigm, and pushing the limits of his audiences’ expectations of the songwriter.
The first half of the program was focused on Dylan with his acoustic guitar, albeit singing in a new voice, and with a new appearance. Checked shirts, short hair, and a down-home and earnest stage persona had been replaced by a wild mop of curls, shades, and an urbane wardrobe. He had transformed himself into a sort of beautifully wasted beat poet standing in the place of Woody Guthrie’s supposed heir apparent.
But, no one knew just how much things had changed until the Hawks joined Dylan for the second half of the show, and the band launched into the no-holds-barred rock n’ roll of “Tell Me Momma”.
No one had heard anything like this at the time, when the rules of rock music were only just being invented. It wasn’t the first time that an artist outraged an audience by challenging their expectations, but it was certainly the first time in rock history when it had been done so dramatically. The cries of ‘Judas’ , booing and jeering, and disgruntled concert-goers interviewed after this show and others are now a part of rock history as much as the performances are.
But what strikes me the most is the mystery of Dylan’s motivation. What was it that made him stray from a path that virtually guaranteed him an audience and lifetime career, in favour of such an artistic risk? I’m sure that his plugging-in wasn’t a completely spontaneous move. After all, the British Invasion proved that electrified guitar music had an audience, and quite a significant one. There was money to be made in playing it. But, nobody expected it from Dylan.
The change in artistic direction which is so much more common these days was virtually unheard of on this scale in 1965-66. I can only guess what inspired Dylan. And this is my guess: amazement. I think that the songs coming out of Dylan amazed even him. And perhaps in his head they demanded to be heard through pick-ups and amps, rather than through the PA systems of smaller theatres, coffee houses, and folk festivals.
Once again, the Delete Bin is proud to welcome a guest post from writer and music fan, Geoff Moore. This time, Geoff discusses one of the great rock talismans; the automobile. From “Rocket 88”, to “the Little Deuce Coup”, to Neil Young’s custom Chrome Dream, the automobile has been more than just a machine to the rock fan. It is has been a part of a grand tradition that celebrates identity, freedom, and the ineffable feeling of what it is to be teenager, even if you’re not…
Detroit muscle has atrophied since the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. The Oldsmobile, praised in ‘Rocket 88,’ arguably the first rock song, is an extinct though immortal American beast. Noted economist and Michigan native Bob Seger saw it coming as far back as 1982. Shame nobody ever spun Seger’s ‘Makin’ Thunderbirds’ for the Big Three CEOs*. However, it’s no surprise that one of rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest numbers was written about a car. Though it’s been ticking nearly 60 years, the rock ‘n’ roll heart remains eternally teenaged, the scion of the more world-weary blues. And teenagers, especially guys, are in love with their cars.
Train imagery, common in rock ‘n’ roll because of its musical roots and influences, is synonymous with older genres of American expression, country, folk and blues, all of which existed when rail travel was a way of life. In song, the train is about arrival, but mostly departure and almost always suggestive of vast distances. Boxcars west-bound through the Dust Bowl to the Big Rock Candy Mountain, Pullman coaches rattling north from Memphis to Chicago on lines of burnished steel, engines chugging, hauling their cargoes of lonesome migrants.
The automobile is rock ‘n’ roll’s train, flashy, individualistic, thoroughly modern and free to follow any road. The rock ‘n’ roll car, as subject, symbol, icon and metaphor, resonates with its younger, yearning, aspiring audience: ‘That car’s fine lookin’, man/It’s something else.’
There’s a scene in Taylor Hackford’s 1987 documentary homage Hail! Hail! Rock N’ Roll where Chuck Berry explains to the director that he was fully aware his audience was composed mainly of teenagers and purposely wrote about topics that would interest them. ‘Riding around in my automobile, my baby beside me, at the wheel…’ (For a soul-trembling adult update on Berry’s ‘No Particular Place to Go’ motif, seek out Smokey Robinson’s silky and sophisticated ‘Cruisin” and ease the seat back as far as it will go. Park first though.)
Brian Wilson understood his contemporaries. If he wasn’t writing about surfing, obsessing about his weight or struggling to compose his “teenage symphony to God“, life on the coast was all about getting around. After ‘Born to Run’ went supernova in 1975 and the inevitable backlash swelled, the facile dismissal of the Boss was that he just wrote songs about cars. Well, that’s sort of the point of it all, isn’t it? Neil Young’s latest record is a concept album about his home-grown, erm, home-made hybrid car. This from a guy who wrote ‘Long May You Run’ so it’s not a shock, but still, a fan worries about Shakey’s pot intake.
The car figures much less prominently in British rock ‘n’ roll. Perhaps because the music was an import, a final Lend-Lease transaction between a wealthy and prosperous ally and its battered and austere comrade-in-arms. If the United States executive has learned anything from the Civil War and the ensuing Reconstruction, it’s that wars are best fought a long, long way from home, away from America’s existing infrastructure. This has been the case ever since, a boon of the country’s geography.
In the States, the post-war wham-boom-bam! signed, sealed and delivered Herbert Hoover’s 1928 campaign promise of “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” By contrast, on V-E Day, Britain wasn’t in much better shape than her defeated enemies. Rationing there lasted a full nine years following the cessation of the Second World War.
The Old World is just that; olde.
Small countries with cities and towns haphazardly mapped out by medieval planners connected by roads originally surveyed by Roman engineers. When the first mass-produced automobile came off the line in Detroit in 1908, the republic was just 132-years-old, fresh out of the box with the ribbon and wrapping paper still crumpled beside it on the carpet. You’re struck by the absurd notion that Henry Ford and his Model T have had a more direct influence on the evolution of the United States than the Founding Fathers and their Constitution – America was created by drivers and for drivers.
Or maybe, baby, a Frazer Nash Sebring simply doesn’t quite spark the muse like an Oldsmobile 88, a little deuce coupe, a little red Corvette, a ’69 Chevy with a 396, a long black Cadillac or even a pink one.
Though a vehicle for teen melodrama and tragedy in hits like ‘The Last Kiss’ and ‘Dead Man’s Curve,’ the American automobile otherwise came as advertised. A chariot of deliverance with a V-8 motor and lots of chrome. The promise of a car, any car, is limitless: a simple Saturday night joyride, a Main Street cruise, the Don Quixote tilting of a street race and beyond the outskirts of town, out there in the darkness somewhere along Route 66, maybe a different destiny for the driver.
But the best thing about the rock ‘n’ roll car is that there’s always room for another rider up front. And the open door, the warm and beckoning interior with the radio playing, is the only sure-fire way to attract the fundamental, the elemental, the very essence of rock ‘n’ roll itself; the lover.
* Seger defended his later decision to allow Chevrolet to use ‘Like a Rock’ in its truck commercials by rationalizing that if his song helped GM sell more trucks, his core hometown audience working on the assembly line would ultimately benefit.
Geoff is a writer who lives in Calgary Alberta, and is the author of the novel Murder Incorporated. Geoff Moore has a class 7 driver’s license, which is a learner’s permit. He is 49-years-old. Sad, really.
Here’s a clip of a very green, not yet larger than life, Elton John in 1970 performing his early gem of a track “Burn Down the Mission” as taken from his Tumbleweed Connection album, which came out the following year.
When starting out, and at the moment of musical history in which he found himself, Elton John was awash with admiration for his contemporaries. And even if by the time he recorded Madman Across the Water and Tumbleweed Connection, he’d cemented his style and was putting consistent great albums anchored by his partnership with Bernie Taupin, Elton was still very much under the spell of his heroes. Gospel music clearly fed into his early work. But so did Leon Russell, and The Band.
After having seen Elton on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle TV show, apparently this song “Burn Down the Mission” was Elton’s attempt to do a song like something that Laura Nyro might have written, particularly all of the tempo changes for which Nyro was famous.
But, what he said on the program was that, much like Bob Dylan Laura Nyro opened up the possibilities for songwriting, in her case particularly for piano players like Elton John. No longer was he restrained to the verse chorus verse treadmill. He could throw in a middle section with a quick tempo, and then take it back to where it was. And like Nyro, he could put in a gospel feel, while making it a bit theatrical at the same time.
One thing which really came out of the interview with Elton John, and in how his music comes off too, is that he was always a music fan. And its clear that he was an intent listener, pulling in the influences of his contemporaries, and in older styles like gospel music too, and making it a platform for his own songwriting.
He would later begin to employ some more overt theatricality of course , with larger scale shows and outrageous costumes. But, many consider this early, more Americana-based songwriting, to be his most interesting period as a songwriter.