Elton John’s Blue Moves (33 1/3)
A while back someone told me to check out Elton John’s Blue Moves album – I knew of it but hadn’t spent a lot of time with it; the advice was that it was a hidden gem. Not many hits at all (really just the one mega hit – Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word) but worth the ride. I bought the double LP and spent some time with it, really digging it. I liked it a lot. And it sent me off on a path to look through some of the other lesser known/maligned Elton records (I’d grown up with his 80s catalogue so I was pretty aware of the hit-miss factor that kicked in after that phenomenal run in the 1970s.
So, a book about Elton’s Blue Moves album is right up my alley and I probably don’t need quite the level of convincing as might be the case for others. Also I’m a card-carrying fan of the 33 1/3 series, it’s been a while since I’ve written about any of them but I’ve covered about 15 of the more recent ones here and though the series is starting to get away on me I have read over 100 of the now 150ish titles. I generally enjoy them even if they don’t convince me to do more than a surface skim back through the album in question.
But this volume I sat reading it while listening to the record. I fell totally in love with Blue Moves and I was gripped by Restall’s narrative – including his discovery of the record by mistake. He had gone to buy Greatest Hits Vol. II – slightly reluctantly and a bad copy had him taking the counter-clerk’s tip to get the then-new EJ studio album. So he spends times with the record despite not being sold initially. In fact the book opens in a way that is unique for this series;
“Blue Moves is an Elton John album. It is not his best.”
From there we learn about Restall’s origin story with the record and then the wider context of the delivery of the record. This is the key. It arrives on the back of an unheralded run, Elton John records, at one point, accounting for 2% of all global record sales. He has hit after hit after his 1970/71 first payday. And for the next five years he is unstoppable and running at a relentless pace. Randy Newman once joked that Elton John made several records while he was still brushing his teeth. It is extraordinary to look back at how ubiquitous his hits were – on every station and all the time. The albums coming twice a year, the touring never stopping. And in the background of all of this Elton was exhausted – of course. He was also living a lie. He had tried to come out without ever really truly coming out but the open secret was largely ignored.
So Blue Moves becomes his coming out album. At first he tells the world he’s bisexual. The world isn’t listening. And soon the world decides it isn’t listening to Elton John records any longer. After Blue Moves the Taupin/John songwriting partnership falls to pieces and Elton makes a disco record high on coke and nowhere near a keyboard. It’s a disastrous and strange period.
But the album in question not only offers clues around John’s unhappiness it also shows more intriguing orchestrations and changes in musical mood. They were ignored at the time but Elton has always been a fan of this record, mentioning it where he can, playing an album cut or two in shows. And Restall looks at all of this and draws the link to one of the album’s super-fans, George Michael. There are obvious parallels between John and Michael, they were fans of each other and of course George Michael basically ended up owning the song Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. He also covered two tunes from Blue Moves. And talked up the record frequently.
Subtly, Restall looks at the difficulties both men had with managing their public image and the recklessness and burnout that plagued them at various times in their career; how Elton’s cautionary tale couldn’t be the lesson for George either.
So there’s all of this – and some spot on musical analysis.
Making this book one of the best in the series – and one of the best music books I’ve read in a while. I highly recommend a dip into this and a dive into the album.
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