Friday, November 4, 2011
40 Years Ago Today: Elton John's Madman Across the Water released
Though, commercially, it was one of the least successful of Elton John's albums in the UK, Madman Across the Water ( released November 5, 1971) stayed in the US charts for nearly a year. That's despite having no major hit singles. Still, Madman remains , next to 1970's Tumbleweed Connection, 1001Songs's all time favorite Elton John album. One of five Elton recorded in an 18 month period, Madman is an album you can relax around. Most of the cuts top five minutes and eventually become good, solid friends.
It begins with one of Elton John's greatest songs, written about lyricist Bernie Taupin's first wife. To this day Taupin says Madman Across the Water reminds him of driving down LA freeways listening to the car radio. No, Elton isn't asking Tony Danza to hold him closer. In 1971, Danza was still an unknown college student at The University of Dubuque.
Named after Band drummer Levon Helm, "Levon" hit #24 in the US charts. There are live cuts available on YouTube but you lose the orchestration which takes this song ( which seems to be about father/ son relationships) to an extraordinary level.
"Razor Face" is the third cut. Another character sketch, Razor Face sounds like a rough looking dude with a drinking problem and a good heart. Rick Wakeman plays keyboards on the album track.
The title cut is another classic song. Taupin has said this is his most misunderstood lyric. Many people suggested it was about the troubled President Richard Nixon. Taupin has refused to explain the lyrics further. Good for him. Madmen were big topics in the early 70's among John/Taupin contemporaries David Bowie, James Taylor and Alice Cooper. That's Chris Spedding with the repetitive electric guitar line. And Paul Buckmaster with the string arrangements. (Buckmaster orchestrated strings for The Bee Gees Odessa and Bowie's "Space Oddity")
"Indian Sunset" is sung from the point of view of a young Indian warrior who sees his race, culture and art facing extinction.
Elton's contribution to the rock'n'roll road song. He explains the track better than I could at the beginning of the video clip above.
A man who's seen hard time in prison works the peach orchards of South Carolina and Georgia. Another character study that reveals Taupin's tremendous gift.
Things get proggy on "All The Nasties" with the addition of the Cantores em Ecclesia Choir. Elton has said the song is a reaction to all the nasty critics out there. This might have given the critics some extra fuel.
Madman ends with the beautiful, sad and brief "Goodbye". As with "Levon", are we getting another reference to Jesus with the lyrics about wine flowing into the land to feed his lambs?