Superstar’s 1975 LP debuts at No. 1 with new lineup
In 1975, Elton John was at the top of his game. His first album of the year, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, an autobiographical concept album, debuted at No.1.
Following that blockbuster, the Pinball Wizard and piano virtuoso re-vamped his band. John fired longtime drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray. He replaced Olsson with longtime friend Roger Pope (who played on John’s first few albums). Former Joe Walsh sidekick Kenny Passarelli assumed bass playing duties. John also added keyboardist James Newton Howard. Guitarist Davey Johnstone and percussionist Ray Cooper were retained. John added Caleb Quaye as a second ax man.
The overhauled band released Rock of the Westies, another album that debuted at No. 1.
The second blockbuster for John in a truly magical year remains perhaps the most creative work since 1970’s Tumbleweed Connection.
Rock of the Westies represented hard-core kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll at its finest. John lets his hair hang down here and the result is one of the best rock masterpieces in history. John’s previous works were comprised mostly of ballads with a few three-chord rock songs sprinkled in for balance.
Rock of the Westies was a reversal of sorts. It rocks from the outset and somewhat echoes some early works from the Rolling Stones. Songs like “Medley,” Yell Help,” Wednesday Night, Ugly,” “Grow Some Funk of Your Own,” “Hard Luck Story” and “Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future)” are creative rockers.
On this LP, John unabashedly exhibits his rock roots and also tackles (thanks to lyricist Bernie Taupin) explores street life in tunes like “Feed Me” and “Street Kids.”
Prostitution is the theme in the light-hearted “Island Girl,” which was released as a single before the album hit record store shelves. It was the work’s only No. 1 hit.
That tune was followed on the LP by “Grow Some Funk of Your Own,” perhaps John’s best rock tune about a man who parties in Mexico and puts the move on the wrong girl who had a ‘brass-knuckled boyfriend.”
Of course, no Elton John album would be complete without a ballad and a song referencing the Old West. John and Taupin deliver both with the rueful tearjerker “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford).” That tune was about Taupin’s failed first marriage to wife Maxine (who was also the inspiration for 1974’s “The Bitch is Back,” a phrase she once uttered when making an appearance in front of the songwriting duo). The song’s Old West twist is the mention of Ford, who gunned down Jesse James.
John was experimental on this album and that’s obvious with the new band, which brings a fresh sound.
More than anything, it proved that Elton had a Midas Touch in 1970s and he was truly the artist of the decade (like Elvis in the 1950s and the Beatles and Stones a decade later).
The songwriting duo penned “Hard Luck Story” under the pseudonyms of Ann Orson (John) and Carte Blanche (Taupin). The pseudonym means “a cart and a horse” and that songwriting team also brought fans “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” in 1976.
In addition to “Island Girl,” the LP spawned “Funk” and “Ford,” which was a double-A sided single in 1976.
The legendary duo gets a songwriting hand from Johnstone, who received the first of many writing credits with “Grow Some Funk of Your Own.”
The LP is fresh (and remains so today) and it is one of the Elton John Band’s most underappreciated works.