Elton John To Be Continued (MCA)

To Be Continued (MCA)

Elton John

To Be Continued (MCA)

For those of a certain age -- say, anyone born after 1973's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road -- confessing a liking for Elton John is a risky proposition, but then anyone who appeals to jet-setting fashionistas and soccer moms alike must have something going on, right? John is the paradigm of the Baby Boom Rocker, having spent his early years soaking up as much high-life debauchery as he could fit up his nose, then getting sober and settling down into a family-friendly, extremely lucrative existence scoring Disney cartoons. Thankfully, he left his mark on popular music long before The Lion King. He's arguably the most significant rock & roll pianist since Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, double-handedly keeping the instrument from being completely subsumed in the onslaught of Hendrixes and Townshends; selling out Dodger Stadium at the height of the guitar-crazed Seventies is achievement enough for anyone. And let's not forget the number of his songs that have entered the ranks of latter-day standards. It's safe to say that at this moment, somewhere in the world, someone is onstage at a no-name karaoke bar singing their 401-Ked heart out to "Daniel" or "Crocodile Rock." To Be Continued, an only slightly bloated 4-CD collection originally issued in 1990, has the hits in spades, but it's the off-brand selections that make it worth seeking out -- which shouldn't be too hard, since it comes in an LP-sized box big enough to eat a meal off of. In terms of sheer exuberance, it's hard to beat Elton and John Lennon whipping their way through a live "I Saw Her Standing There" at a 1973 Madison Square Garden concert. For those softer moments, the 1969 demo of "Your Song" reveals that underneath all the wacky outfits and over-the-top showmanship lies a talented composer capable of heart-wrenching melodies. Shep Pettitbone's 1987 12-inch remix of "I Don't Want to Go On With You Like That" could have come from the Pet Shop Boys/New Order factory, and 1985's "Act of War" keeps a sharp, tense edge that rock & roll nearly lost in the attendant tide of mousse and early-MTV pose-striking. There's material on To Be Continued that should only be heard under nitrous at your local dentist's office -- could somebody please explain why "Bennie and the Jets" is so popular? -- but by keeping the original cutoff date, MCA has spared us things like the "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" duet with George Michael; the version on the box with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra works much better anyway. By and large, all the little hipsters only now investigating John after Cameron Crowe signed their permission slip with Almost Famous' "Tiny Dancer" sing-along scene are in for a pleasant surprise. Just don't tell your parents, kids, or they'll never let you hear the end of it.

***.5

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