Today we have the first Elton John album I include, even though it is actually his fifth studio release. “Honky Chateau” was rated as the #251 album by Rolling Stone on their Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and it certainly is a consistently strong album, reflective of the songwriting expertise and consistent musical talent of Elton and his lyricist Bernie Taupin. This was also the first album to include his primary traveling band on the studio tracks, to include Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson.
The album naturally opens with “Honky Cat”, which is a funky, ragtime song reminiscent of the many New Orleans piano-singers from that era. If you have never paid attention closely, Elton is a phenomenal piano talent in addition to his highly capable singing. Followed up by the bluesy ballad “Mellow”, this is Elton at his prime, avoiding some of the overtly pop sounds of his later career. Not surprisingly, the other highlight on side one is the space ode “Rocket Man”, which I have always enjoyed pairing up with “Space Oddity” by David Bowie.
Side two opens with another ballad, “Salvation”, another really strong piece with beautiful backing vocals as a song that gains momentum throughout its performance. I honestly never realized Elton had a song named “Amy”. Anybody who really knows me well will see the irony in that fact. And true to form, it is not one of my favorite songs on the album, it just doesn’t have the same impact as most of the other tracks and lays a bit flat. However, what follows is the best song on the album, Elton’s ode to New York City life, “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”, which he emotionally performed at “The Concert for New York” following 9/11.
Elton John is an artist I have had the good fortune to see many times in concert. He is a true titan in the world of singer-songwriters, and his career in that genre is essentially without parallel. It was great to go back into his catalog, listening to his work at his most authentic and highest quality.