Our inaugural ‘fantasy setlist’ just had to be the man of the moment, Sir Elton John. All the Hullabaloo about the Rocket Man film got me thinking, what if just once Elton would put aside the blues and focus on the ballads and the epic songs. Magic!
It may well be that the impact the Rocketman movie has on Elton’s public profile and music catalogue is something similar to that of Bohemian Rhapsody and Queen, but I doubt it. Elton’s music has tended to lean towards the blues, making his deeper vault of tracks inaccessible for many who don’t like that style - and I suspect, that includes the majority of people under the age of 30 for a start. Unlike Queen, who’s pop-rock sensibilities have turned out truly timeless, as well as captivating for younger generations.
The film does showcase effectively, some of Elton’s very best songs. The man can write a tune, and with Bernie Taupin’s lyrics his muse, Elton has the ability to conjure up magic, often with deceivingly complex melodies and true genius piano lines. That said, for a world class pop star who has made over 30 studio albums spanning a 50 year career, it might be argued that Elton’s true classics have come few and far between.
I’ve never been a big Elton fan personally (until now). My favourite tune of his was ‘Song For Guy’, with apologies to Bernie, as there are only five actual words in the whole song, towards the end. The only Elton album I am vaguely familiar with is Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
I suspect many people feel the same way about Elton. But, as it happens, I became more curious about his music roughly just about a year ago, before I even heard about the movie. I began with his very early albums: Tumbleweed Connection (1970), Madman Across The Water (1971) and Honky Chateau (1972). These three albums/years contain what many believe to be his finest work (which must be annoying for Elton given what he’s done since). Even with these records though, I am a little put off by the American blues obsession, and the honky tonky, plinky plonky soulman stuff.
Then what I did discover was that when Elton’s songs leave these bluesy tropes aside, they reveal a side to his music that really does appeal - beautifully melodic, often deeply melancholic and quietly epic songs - just greatness really. So, raking through his entire catalogue, collecting these types of songs together, I ended up with an Elton playlist that I reckon, could convert his doubters in one sitting.
And that’s where our fantasy setlist series comes into its own. I’ve never seen Elton live, and I would think it is truly a spectacle. But what I do imagine, is Elton doing something special for just one night only. What if he just decided he would play a simple, low key show - possibly at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard (where else? Okay maybe back to The Troubadour, but you get the idea) - where the setlist is all of these incredible songs, many of which must be favourites of some of his hardcore fans, and many more I doubt he’s played live for decades.
The set delivers something else as well that Elton might himself appreciate, in that it allows some of his more recent songs: ‘Oscar Wilde Gets Out’ (from the high quality Diving Board album of 2013), ‘The Bridge’, ‘Postcards From Richard Nixon’ (from his return to form record of 2006 The Captain and The Kid) to sit alongside those older classics, as equals. They stand up very well. And of course, it leaves much more of his work to be discovered, including many of his classic hits I’ve left out here (well, artists can never quite cover it all in one setlist can they?).
As Elton enters the room (maybe the garden?) and sits down at his Yamaha, he would open the set just as himself, no band - with a low key rendition of ‘Come Down In Time’, an understated and simply beautiful song from Tumbleweed Connection. And that’s that - we’re spellbound. A two-hour show of pure magic, and how about those last few tracks as encore?
Now Elton’s never going to do this of course, and you might not be anywhere near the Chateau Marmont anytime soon (you & me both, though if you do visit don’t have the chia pudding for breakfast) but don’t let it stop you playing Elton At The Chateau in the comfort of your own gaffe, or garden if you have one. On a lazy, hazy, summer Sunday morning perhaps.
Do yourself a favour. Stay in your dressing gown, put the coffee on. Vape if you vape. Fire up your phone. But do not be tempted to hit the muzak button. Elton’s sitting right there at the piano just for you.
Playback notes: the fantasy setlist says it all really, find the space and time and play it right through. You’ll feel miles better for it.
With thanks to Elton fan Col Turner for inspiration on the song choices. One of Col’s suggestions, ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ from Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, is now one of my favourite songs of all time. In this age of algorithmic music, there’s nothing quite as good as a recommendation from a friend.