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BACKSTAGE: Elton's musical tips

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Talks to Ingrid Sischy
Sunday 30 November 2003 @ 13:20 - GMT

Elton gives reporter Ingrid Sischy his musical tip sheet for Interview magazine on September 1, 2003:

INGRID SISCHY: So, Elton, before we go into what you're listening to right now, I want to ask: Do the big hits from the summer normally carry over into the fall, or does the season change demand a switch, psychologically, from listeners?

Elton: If it's a great record, it'll carry over, no doubt about it. In fact, a lot of the records I'm going to talk about will probably still be going strong well into the fall. It's usually a single that catches on rather than an album--for example, in 1976, I had a huge summer hit with the song "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," and it stayed around forever. If you have the right record out in the summer, it'll sell a lot of albums for you.

IS: When is traditionally considered the best time of year to release an album?

EJ: Record companies want to have a good fourth quarter, so they tend to hold their strongest stuff until the end of the year. You get a lot of big-name releases coming out between September and December because of the Christmas market.

IS: When you've had big hits, have they defied this conventional wisdom?

EJ: A record will have a life of its own. We never even put out a single for the version of "Candle in the Wind" from my Live in Australia album [1987], but it caught on with radio programmers, and the song became a big, big hit. That's the pleasure of the record business sometimes: Something will happen when you least expect it. Ironically enough, there's a song I recorded years ago called "Are You Ready for Love" that's climbing the British dance charts right now. It's from an EP I did with [record producer] Thom Bell in 1977 called The Thorn Bell Sessions. A British DJ discovered the track and played it so much that it ended up becoming the dance hit of the summer in England. It's even going to be released this month as a single on Fatboy Slim's label, Southern Fried Records. So that's the sort of surprising thing that you can't stop.

IS: What records do you think will carry over from this summer?

EJ: One of them is Jason Mraz's album Waiting for My Rocket to Come [Elektra]. This guy is going to be like the John Mayer of this year. It's a really strong album--great songs that are beautifully sung, great musicianship. It's been in my CD player nonstop, as has the new album by Jewel, 0304 [Atlantic]. The record's pop-oriented sound is a complete change of direction for Jewel, but she's taken a big risk and it suits her. Her record is going to be around for a long while.

IS: What about John Mellencamp's record Trouble No More [Columbia], which also came out this summer? It's not a typical summer album.

EJ: John Mellencamp has gone back to making the kind of American roots music that he loves, covering songs by people like Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie. It's a labor of love, much like Natalie Merchant's new folk record [The House Carpenter's Daughter [Myth America], which sounds very traditional, like an old Fairport Convention album Neither album is particularly commercial, but both will appeal to people who love that kind of music

IS: So, we've dealt with the past. What does the future have in store for us?

EJ: Well, to start. Skin, who used to be the singer in the British group Skunk Anansie, has a new record called Fleshwounds [EMI]. It's not out yet in America, but it blew me away. Because Skunk Anansie was a really loud rock band, I think people were expecting Skin to sound like Marilyn Manson, but her record is very reflective and deeply personal. I've also been playing Shelby Lynne's new album, Identity Crisis [Capitol]. It's a welcome return to form after her last album, which was really overproduced--this one is very stripped back and simple. It's not a particularly commercial record, but it shows off her voice in its best context. Leona Naess has a new album coming out as well [Leona Naess, MCA], It's very pretty and introspective, and she has such an attractive voice--a lot like Natalie Merchant's or Shelby Lynne's

IS: What about the renaissance that's happening right now in rock? The success of Coldplay and the White Stripes seems to have ushered in a real moment for bands.

EJ: There are a lot of great rock 'n' roll records that are either already out or coming out in the next few months. There's an excellent new album by Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers [S-Curve Records]. The first single, "Stacy's Mom," is about a guy who falls in love with his girlfriend's mother--the lyrics are fabulous. They're a very colloquial band, sort of like an American version of Squeeze, but the album is a total delight. Another band I really like is Kings of Leon. Their album, Youth and Young Manhood [RCA], just completely rocks. I don't know where they got the band's name--maybe from Leon Russell--but they sound very Southern. I've been bouncing along to their record in my car ever since I first put it on. There's also an English group called the Darkness that I think is going to really break out--Permission to Land [Must Destroy/Atlantic] is just straight up rock 'n' roll. Their singer, Justin Hawkins. reminds me of those great rock front men in the 1970s like Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury. Like the Skin album, it hasn't been released yet in America, but keep an eye out. And, of course, there's the new Black Rebel Motorcycle Club record [Take Them On, On Your Own, Virgin]--I love this band.

IS: What do you love about them?

EJ: They're just fun. They make the kind of groovy, hip-shaking music that the Rolling Stones used to make. I loved their first record [B.R.M.C., 2002] as well. I also really like Paloalto, a group from California that I've been raving about for a while now. Their record Heroes and Villains [American Recordings] came out this summer and was produced by Rick Rubin--he's worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, you name it. It's so melodic. I think they're a band to watch as well.

IS: Why do you think this is such an unbelievable time for rock music?

EJ: There's just so much choice--I can't remember a time in the recent past when there were a bunch of rock 'n' roll albums out by bands that were so good. It all started with the White Stripes' album Elephant [V2 Records], from earlier this year, but since then the floodgates seem to have opened. All the bands I mentioned make music that sounds the way rock 'n' roll is supposed to sound--up-tempo and joyous. Etta James' latest record, Let's Roll [Private Music], which came out this summer, exemplifies that spirit. It's just a great, bluesy rock 'n' roll album--you put it on and you want to smile.

Elton John's Tip Sheet appears regularly in Interview.