Thursday, April 24, 2008

No. 468: Elton John

Band: Elton John
Album: Elton John
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Elton John's first American album (his actual debut wouldn't be released until 1975) is his most subdued and pretty. The opening track is one of Elton John's greatest songs, if not his best.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: There are a ton of mediocre midtempo rock songs on the album.
Best song: "Your Song." Of course.
Worst song: "No Shoestrings on Louise" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It's uneven.

I've mentioned that I don't like love songs and I tend to stand by that. Of course, there are great loves songs and those are the ones I adore. The opening song from "Elton John," "Your Song," is one of those songs.

What makes "Your Song" one of pop music's the greatest love songs?

There are love songs that end up on big lists that don't really work. "Wonderful Tonight," as we learned, was written in sarcasm. "You are so Beautiful" isn't good, it's patronizing. "Brown Eyed Girl" is just mediocre. "Nothing Compares 2 U" is mentioned in several lits I've seen and, uh, that song's about a breakup.

I guess my own predeliction is to songs that speak to a visceral, unmeasurable feeling about love. I like songs that contain some level of humility. "I Will," a McCartney-penned Beatles track, is a favorite of mine because it speaks to the undying love a man has for his lady. It's been bruised and dinged, but it remains and the song's protaginist will "wait a lonely lifetime" for her.

Similarly, George Harrison's "Something" is not a song that proclaims a woman's beauty or any particular quantifiable quality. It's just... something. It's in the way she moves and the way she is. That, to me, is beautiful and romantic.

But, of course, lyrics aren't the only part of a great love song. "I Will" is lilting and a little quick, lead by an acoustic guitar. "Something" has a gorgeous lead guitar line and features Harrison's soft vocal.

"Your Song" is similar in its beauty. Elton John's tenor is pleasant and pretty, while the large orchestral arrangement lifts his voice. Bernie Taupin's lyrics are gorgeous in their confessional style, as Elton John croons the final verse wherein he can't describe his lady's eyes. The chorus' humility -- both in lyric and voice -- is striking in its simplicity.

It is the pair's greatest composition.


bob_vinyl said...

I think you really nailed what makes a great love song. The humility and the give regardless of take gets to the root of real love versus the superficial stuff that most pop music deals with.

Lemming of the BDA said...

I own a copy of this album on vinyl and I was really disappointed with it. I agree with what you said about "Your Song" and I do think it's one of the best love songs ever written. I also think it's the only reason anybody still cares about this album.

"Take Me To The Pilot," is the only other really good song on here. Other than those two songs, this album is either bland and dull or just okay like "The King Must Die". Bernie Taupin's lyrics here are good in a few spots (as with the aforementioned "Your Song") but mostly they're hoakey and pretentious and they don't add much to the album.