Elton: Jewel Box
If you haven’t reached the unavoidable point in life where every time you hear “Bennie and the Jets,” “Candle In the Wind,” and “Crocodile Rock,” without being overcome with waves of vertigo, nausea, and impossible diarrhea, rest assured Elton John has. So, we have Elton: Jewel Box an 8 CD, 127 song, damn near nine-hour voyage into an alternate reality where those songs and others don’t exist as the career markers (albatrosses?) they’ve become. It’s a huge investment of time and money, but if you listen to it like you did back then, when everything of Elton’s was new and you couldn’t wait to hear it, there’s no way you’ll be disappointed. Lighter in the wallet? Yes, it will cost you a $100. But disappointed? Never.
Discs 1 & 2 are thirty-one deep cuts from albums many of the above hits unkindly overshadowed. Curated by Elton as if it were a dream set list sans “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” you begin to recall or discover the oceanic depth of the Elton John/Bernie Taupin collaboration. That three of the songs are from 2010’s triumphant “The Union” with Leon Russell and two from 2013’s stunning “The Diving Board” speaks volumes to Elton’s desire to perform something other than “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and, should we ever get back to concert going, I for one say, yea EJ, let it rip! I know “The Bitch Is Back” like the back of my veiny hand. So, yes please, let’s hear “Where To Now, St. Peter?” “Gone To Shiloh,” “The New Fever Waltz,” “Ticking,” and “Monkey Suit.”
Discs 3 -5 are a desired cornucopia of rarities, demos, mishaps and gems from 1965-1971. What strikes you instantly is how musically adept and adventurous John was and how Taupin’s storytelling met the challenge and then some. Right out of the box these guys were bound for glory. “Come Back Baby” from Bluesology, Elton’s first band, is a poppish mid-60’s nugget, quickly balanced with EJ alone at the piano for the stately “Velvet Fountain,” the playful “Country Side Love Affair,” “I Get A Little Bit Lonely” and a host of other tunes that leave you pondering how two guys could have so much stored up and that you haven’t heard these. (Well, we bootleggers have, but we’re a peculiar breed by nature.) Included are delicious demos of such familiar tunes as “Skyline Pigeon,” “Amoreena,” “Burn Down The Mission,” “Razor Face,” and “Madman Across The Water.” My bitch here (you know I always have one) is where on Earth is the jazzy, 1970 trio take of “Come Down In Time” released as a teaser for the set?
A wonky if not questionable collection of B-sides from 1976-2005 compromise Discs 6 & 7. Save for a select few (“Snow Queen,” “Tortured,” “Take Me Down to The Ocean”) some things are just meant to be B-sides. Yet they still in some small, odd way fully exhibit why John/Taupin deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as say, Lennon/McCartney, Goffin/King, etc. Disc 8 is a supposed soundtrack to his 2019 autobiography with more personal faves (“Empty Sky,” “Lady Samantha,” “I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself.”) A hundred-page hardcover book of Elton’s liner notes and other career ephemera rounds out the perfect Christmas gift for the Elton John fan in your life.
Mike Jurkovic is the pop/rock music critic for Lightwood. He is president of CAPS, Calling All Poers, a reading series in the Hudson Valley. And a prolific poet and writer.