A new book about Elton's early work has been published in the UK, and will be available in the USA in October.
Eltonjohnworld.com has recently been in touch with the author, Peter Kearns, about On Track . . . Elton John: Every Album, Every Song 1969 to 1979. . . .
EJW: In ''On Track,'' one of the first projects cited is the Empty Sky album. Although It was released in 1969 in the UK, the disc didn't reach American shores until 1975. By then the front and back cover art changed quite a bit, didn't it?
PK: Yes that's right. David Larkham's original cover illustration was replaced by Jean Michel Folon's blue Egyptian painting. A generic sky shot with clouds filled up both sides of the inner cover. The back had a shot of Elton sitting by the piano at home in Pinner in the late '60s.
EJW: The last LP in your book is Victim of Love. As so many critics automatically have dismissed this album, it's refreshing to read a more balanced perspective. As you point out, it did reach a decent #20 in Australia. Another supposed flop prior to that was Grow Some Funk of Your Own, a Rock of The Westies single. This wasn't necessary the case, right?
PK: Most stations flipped the record and gave more attention to the B-Side, 'I Feel Like a Bullet', which went top 20 in America. But 'Grow Some Funk...' was a top ten hit in Canada where that was the side they went for. So you're right, I'd say both songs were a success.
EJW: You note that Don't Go Breaking My Heart was recorded during the Blue Moves sessions. Why was it released separately and who was considered for the duet before Kiki Dee?
PK: According to one source, the track in progress just didn't seem to fit with the others, which can always happen in the making of an album. It was also the thing in those days to issue singles that were not included on albums, so anything that didn't fit but that was still good would've potentially been auditioned as a single possibility. Whether Elton saw the song as a solo track at first has been difficult to determine. But I understand the song was seen as a duet quite early in the process. Dusty Springfield was asked first but declined.
EJW: Song For Guy, part of A Single Man, which came out in 1978, was assumed by many to have been written as a tribute to a messenger boy at Rocket Records, who was killed in a motorcycle accident. But that's not the full story, according to your book. Could you elaborate?
PK: Elton was toying with some chords, imagining the soul leaving the body. Clive Franks was there so they proceeded to record the piece straight away. It just happened to be the same day that Guy Burchett died in a motorcycle accident. So the bulk of the recording, minus a couple of overdubs, existed before Elton learned of the death the following day. The piece was then dedicated to Guy Burchett.
EJW: You mention a number of artists who have covered the pop star's songs--everyone from the more obscure Edwin Bee to the popular Three Dog Night. It's also interesting to see how various releases have fared in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in ''On Track.'' Were there any differences that stood out for you?
PK: The main difference which stood out to me was how cover singers didn't research the lyrics and sometimes seemed to be singing them from memory. In a couple of cases lyrics were changed on purpose. But specifically I thought Mary McCreary's cover of Levon that changed the line 'Sits on the porch swing watching them fly' to 'Sits on the porch swing watching balloons go by,' was particularly baffling.
EJW: The photo section includes a look at an unusual singalong, between Elton, Michael Parkinson, and Michael Caine. When did this take place, and what did they perform together?
PK: This was on the Parkinson show in 1976 and they sung Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner.
EJW: One of the entertainers you've worked with is Judie Tzuke, who co-wrote Give Me The Love for 21 at 33, which came out in 1980. Did you record or perform together?
PK: Judie and I wrote and recorded a song from a distance in 2006. It's called Wise Up and is on her 2010 album, Songs 2.
EJW: You're based in New Zealand, where Elton's former soundman retired. Clive Franks also pitched is during recordings, including playing bass on A Single Man in 1978, as ''On Track'' mentions--and which he also helped produce. Have you ever met him or other Elton John associates besides Tzuke?
PK: Around 2005 I became aware Clive lived about 20 miles from me near Christchurch, New Zealand. I was part of the music community here but I never met him. He moved to the north island I believe, most likely after all the earthquakes we had down here in 2010 and 2011. I did meet Chris Thomas in 2007 when he was in Christchurch staying with some common friends. But a very interesting one for me was as a 17-year-old in February 1984 when I was working on a TV show here. I went and sat in the green room one day and three guys were sitting on the couch opposite me. I realised it was Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson, who'd all been idols of mine growing up. I was a bit dumbstruck and didn't speak unfortunately. Later they were in the audience when we were rehearsing. That night was the first concert of the Too Low For Zero tour. I went to the show and that was the night Dee fell off the drum rostrum a few songs in. The show came to a halt for five minutes but then everything was fine. And I had a good long chat with bassist Kenny Passarelli for the book too, which was great.