Photos courtesy of UMe
Elton John continues his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour this summer and fall. Additional September and October dates now include shows in Santa Clara, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Elton’s trek concludes with three concerts in L.A. at Dodger Stadium on November 17th, 19th and 20th.
In November 2021, UMe/EMI record label released Elton: Jewel Box, an unrivaled collection containing 148 songs spanning 1965 to 2019 on 8CD, 4LP, 3LP, 2LP, digital download, and streaming formats. The ultimate exploration into Elton's extensive back catalog, Elton: Jewel Box covers deep cuts, rarities from the earliest stages of his and Bernie Taupin's musical journey, B-side spanning 30 years, and songs discussed in his best-selling, critically acclaimed 2019 memoir Me.
The 8 CD boxset of buried treasures comes in a beautiful hardcover book with the discs housed in the back, all wrapped in an outer slipcase. Each section comes accompanied by extensive notes, including a track-by-track commentary by Elton for Deep Cuts. Three different LP collections are also available: A LP gatefold black vinyl set of Deep Cuts (curated by Elton himself), a 3LP gatefold black vinyl set of Rarities and B-side highlights, and a 2LP gatefold black vinyl set. All audio was mastered at Abbey Road Studios by GRAMMY-winning mastering engineer Sean Magee. With an unprecedented number of previously unheard and unreleased tracks painstakingly excavated from deep within the UMG archives, this is the ultimate treasure trove for Elton John fans.
Speaking of the compilation, Elton says, "To delve back through every period of my career in such detail for Jewel Box has been an absolute pleasure. Hearing these long lost tracks again, I find it hard to comprehend just how prolific Bernie and I were during the early days. The songs just poured out of us, and the band were just unbelievable in the studio. I always want to push forward with everything I do and look to the future, but having time during lockdown to take stock and pull these moments from my memory from each era has been a joy. As a devout record collector myself, this project has really excited me, and I couldn't be happier with the level of craft involved in such a carefully curated, lovingly constructed boxset. I'm sure my fans will enjoy it as much as I have."
The UMe label in June 2022 issued the 50th-anniversary reissue of Elton John’s Madman Across the Water. Retail configurations are a 3-CD and 1 Blu-ray Super Deluxe Box Set, 4-LP, 1-LP Limited Edition colored vinyl, and 2-CD formats.
Madman Across the Water was Elton’s fourth studio album, released in November 1971, only two years after his debut. It was a foundation stone of what was to become a dazzlingly prolific decade for the global-icon-in-waiting. Madman Across the Water was largely written after Elton had made his initial foray to America, offering the opportunity for lyricist Bernie Taupin to witness first-hand the landscapes and people he’d only seen on a screen or on the page. Recorded at Trident Studios in Central London in February and August 1971, it was the first album where all five players of Elton’s fabled band lineup (Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson, Davey Johnstone, and Ray Cooper) were featured. The album also featured Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who plays Hammond organ on three songs.
While the UK’s love affair with Elton was on the precipice of exploding upon Madman’s release at the start of the ‘70s, these nine tracks immediately struck a chord with US audiences, reaching the Top 10 of the Billboard album charts. It also spawned two hit singles, “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer,” both reaching the US Top 50.
After years as a best-kept secret to Elton’s fans, “Tiny Dancer” has gone on to become one of his most loved songs with his worldwide fanbase, third only to “Rocket Man” and “Your Song” in global streaming numbers. Capturing the headiness of California at the time of Elton’s first US concerts, the song was utilized in Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film Almost Famous. Both “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer” remain live favorites to this day, taking pride of place in the setlist for Elton’s record-breaking Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour.
The Madman Across the Water formats contain Bob Ludwig’s 2016 remaster of the main album. There are 18 previously unreleased tracks across the Super Deluxe 3-CD/1-Blu-ray box set, which also contains rare, restored material from the era, piano demos of the album, and the audio of the BBC Sounds For Saturday concert, broadcast in 1972.
The Blu-Ray contains a 5.1 mix by Greg Penny, plus the Sounds For Saturday and his 1971 Old Grey Whistle Test performance. The audio of the Super Deluxe CD/Blu-ray set will also be available on a 4-LP set. The box set includes photos, an essay with interviews with those who helped make the album, as well as memorabilia and artwork taken from the Rocket archive. The album is also available as a limited edition blue and white-colored 180g LP.
In the seventies I saw Elton John at Doug Weston’s Troubadour club in West Hollywood and caught his June 21, 1975 UK Wembley stadium concert in England with the Eagles and Beach Boys where he unveiled Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. I attended Elton’s October 25, 1975 Dodger Stadium show in Los Angeles.
During the last 25 years I conducted a series of interviews with the visionary talent scout and former UNI/MCA Vice-president Russ Regan, who signed Elton John to the company for North American territories in 1970.
In 1980, Russ Regan became PolyGram Records' General Manager of West Coast Operations. He was the music consultant on the Flashdance soundtrack that sold 14 million copies. Regan was also Music Supervisor for Breakin, A Chorus Line, This is Spinal Tap, Karate Kid, and Chariots of Fire. In 1986 Russ was hired as President of Motown’s Creative Division. He worked on Smokey Robinson's comeback album, One Heartbeat, which went platinum. Regan remained with Motown until the company was sold in 1988.
In one of our interviews, Regan talked discovering Elton John and guiding his career in the US during the first part of the seventies.
“UNI Records was on 8255 Sunset Boulevard. Lenny Hodes was a song-plugger for Dick James Music. I knew of Dick James—he was the Beatles’ publisher—but had never met him. Lenny bought me this [Empty Sky] record and said, ‘DJM [Dick James Music] has a licensing deal with Larry Uttal of Bell Records, and they passed. I’ve shopped this everywhere, and it’s been turned down by five record companies. They think he sounds like Jose Feliciano.’”
Songwriter Roger Greenaway also praised Elton John to Regan at the Continental Hyatt Hotel at that breakfast supporting Regan’s impulsive decision to seriously consider signing Elton John to the UNI label.
“I took it, and around six o’clock that night, I put it on,” recalled Regan. “It was the Empty Sky album. ‘Oh my God,’ I thought, ‘this guy is good. What the hell is the problem?’ I loved his voice and the songs. ‘Skyline Pigeon’ and stuff like that. ‘Lady Samantha’ was in there. I called Lenny and said, ‘I like this artist. What’s the deal?’ He said, ‘If you like him, Russ, you got him for nothing.’ So, I said, ‘I want him, and I want to sign him.’
“He calls me the next day and says, ‘I just talked to Dick James, and we have a deal. But Dick wants you to buy another act along with this kid. We’re giving you Elton John for nothing, and Dick wants $10,000 for a band called Argosy; I replied, ‘because you guys are so nice to give me Elton John for nothin’, I’ll buy this other master for $10,000.’
“Bernie Taupin’s lyrics, if you analyze them, were incredible. He was way ahead of everybody. For a 21-year-old kid at the time he was amazingly talented. Paul Buckmaster the arranger. The arranger is important. Sometimes you have to play the song to a skeleton without any meat on it. The arranger comes along and puts the meat on the skeleton. It all comes together. An arranger takes a song for what it is and builds something around it and gives it life and dynamics.
“Then, before I could put out the Empty Sky album, I get the advance of the Elton John’ album. It came to me in the mail. I liked the Empty Sky album and here comes the Elton John album. And that’s when I shut the record label down for a couple of hours, brought the employees, sales and marketing, A&R, everybody, 30 people sitting on the floor of my office. I looked up to the sky and said, ‘Thank you God.’ I had never heard an album that good in my life. I played the album and everybody went out of their minds. That album had not even been out in England yet. Three Dog Night covered some Elton tunes. The first Elton John record deal was a three year deal, three albums,” he recalled.
“I had talked to Ray Williams, who had put Elton together with (lyricist) Bernie Taupin at Dick James Music, and earlier worked for Liberty Records in the UK. I equated that Elton John album to like Pet Sounds, it was so good. There was a buzz building at the company and we had to figure out a way to launch this act. And we had seen what had happened to Neil Diamond at the Troubadour who really got launched out of the Troubadour. Neil was incredible there. And Elton John was ready for America. Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson, Bernie Taupin wanted to come over.
“We got Neil Diamond to introduce Elton that first night at the Troubadour. I was busy at the label. Publicist Norman Winter got a double-decker red English bus to pick the boys up at LAX him up with a banner at the top that read ELTON JOHN HAS ARRIVED. He brought them back to the Continental Hyatt House Hotel on Sunset Blvd.
“And then the next day they were going to have a sound check at the Troubadour and I was so darn busy I couldn’t make the sound check. So, I sent Rick Frio who was working for me at UNI. After the sound check at the club, Rick Frio calls me and says, ‘Russ, you’re not gonna believe it. We got one here. We got one!’
“I was ringside opening night in late August 1970,” Russ reminisced. “There was Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini, Mike Love, Danny Hutton, Randy Newman, Mickey and Samantha Dolenz, Henry Mancini, T-Bone Burnett, Graham Nash, David Crosby, David Gates, Odetta, Van Dyke Parks, and Rodney Bingenheimer. Leon Russell, Denny Cordell, Gordon Lightfoot, and Brian Wilson attended other nights.
“I went out of my mind. I couldn’t believe I was so lucky to have an artist like Elton John. It wasn’t a feeling like when Brian (Wilson) would play me his records before they were released. It was beyond that. Brian playing me his records in advance was a great thrill. And a wonderful experience. But this was something euphoric. That evening was totally euphoric. I was so high naturally that I didn't come down for three days. I met Elton after the first show along with Bernie and the band. I went every night. I called everybody in town. Robert Hilburn’s review of the show in The Los Angeles Times was incredible. It happened at a time where a great review in a paper could help radio exposure. I didn’t realize Elton John was a superstar until the Troubadour.
Elton John’s career achievements to date are unsurpassed in their breadth and longevity. Elton is one of the top-selling solo artists of all time, with 1 diamond, 40 platinum or multi-platinum, 23 gold albums, over 50 Top 40 hits, and he has sold more than 300 million records worldwide. He holds the record for the biggest-selling single of all time, "Candle in the Wind 1997," which sold over 33 million copies. Diamonds, the Ultimate Greatest Hits album, reached the Top 5 of the UK album charts on its release in November 2017, becoming Elton's 40th UK Top 40 album in the process. This release celebrated 50 years of his songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin. August 2018 saw Elton named as the most successful male solo artist in Billboard Hot 100 chart history, having logged 67 entries, including nine No. 1 singles and 27 Top 10s.
Harvey Kubernik is the author of 20 books, including 2009’s Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon and 2014’s Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972. Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. In2021 they wrote Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child for Sterling/Barnes and Noble. Otherworld Cottage Industries in 2020 published Harvey’s Docs That Rock, Music That Matters. Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, including, The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski. Harvey wrote the liner notes to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, The Essential Carole King, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special, The Ramones’ End of the Century and Big Brother & the Holding Company Captured Live at The Monterey International Pop Festival.