The Artful Dodger

I’m getting excited.

Elton John, my rock and roll hero for nearly 50 years, is performing Sunday night, November 20, from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Why is that a big deal, you say? Glad you asked.

One, this concert is his final North American appearance on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, which concludes next year. His last stop in the USA, over 50 years after his epic American debut at the Troubadour Club (also in L.A.). The L.A. Times music critic, Robert Hilburn, attended that show and predicted in his review, “He’s going to be one of rock’s biggest and most important stars.”

Boy, was he ever right.

Two, this event will be livestreamed on the Disney+ streaming service, beginning at 7:30 P.M., Pacific Standard Time, with “Countdown to Elton Live” from Dodger Stadium, with the concert scheduled to start about 25 minutes later.

Dodger Stadium, in case you didn’t know, holds an important place in Elton’s history, as well as the stadium’s.

He performed two sold out shows there in October, 1975. The last act to perform in Dodger Stadium prior to that was…the Beatles, in 1966.

In 1975, Elton John was the biggest thing in rock music. His two latest albums, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and Rock of the Westies, BOTH entered the Billboard Top 200 chart at Number One, the first time any artist had accomplished that. (Twice that year, he had four albums in the Top 200!) He sold out shows everywhere; over 100,000 people saw him over the two Dodger Stadium shows. He ruled the airwaves; you could hardly turn on the radio without hearing at least one of his hits.

Elton was at his zenith that weekend in Dodger Stadium, the biggest name in the world. Man, what that must have felt like.

And now, as he concludes a lifetime of touring, he returns to that summit one more time.

And he’s invited us all to join him. It’s gonna be an amazing experience, a helluva show.

I absolutely can…not…wait!

A Cat Named Hercules

On this date, March 25, in 1947, Reginald Kenneth Dwight was welcomed into the world, in Pinner, Middlesex, England.

He would grow up to become my rock and roll idol.

Elton. Hercules. John.

In case any of you forgot, let me remind you of this man’s accomplishments in the music world, courtesy of eltonjohn.com:

Elton has achieved 1 diamond, 32 platinum or multi-platinum, and 21 gold albums, over 70 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. Since launching his first tour in 1970, Elton has over 4,000 performances in more than 80 countries to his credit.

Elton is the most successful solo male in the history of the American charts and the third most successful artist overall, behind only Madonna and the Beatles. He has logged 67 Hot 100 entries between 1970 and 2000, including nine No. 1s and 27 top 10s. He achieved seven #1 albums in the three-and-a-half-year period from 1972 to 1975 — a period of concentrated success surpassed only by the Beatles.

Not bad, right? The guy’s had an absolutely awesome career. He’s an immensely talented musician and composer, and he knows how to put on a terrific show. I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing him in concert four times – once alongside Billy Joel – and he’s never failed to deliver.

(I do wish, though, I had seen him earlier in his career, performing in all those outrageous wardrobes and doing handstands on the piano. That must have been spectacular.)

Of course, he’s received a few awards and honors along the way. Again, from eltonjohn.com:

Besides his knighthood, Elton’s landmark awards include Best British Male Artist BRIT Award, 1991; Songwriters Hall of Fame (with Bernie Taupin), 1992; Officer of Arts & Letters (France) 1993; induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1994; Polar Music Prize, 1995; MusiCares Person of the Year, 2000; Kennedy Center Honor, 2004; Billboard Magazine Legend of Live Award, 2006; Songwriters Hall of Fame Johnny Mercer Award (with Bernie Taupin), 2013; BRITs Icon Award, 2013; Rockefeller Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, 2013 and the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative Leadership Award, 2013. In 2002, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music and in 2004 he became a Fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers.

Elton has won 13 Ivor Novello Awards between 1973 and 2001, been nominated for a Grammy Award 11 times (winning in 1986, 1991, 1994, 1997 and 2000), and received the Grammy Legend Award in 2001. Three of his albums have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, including his 1970 eponymous album. Elton has 4 Oscar Award nominations (winning in 1995 and 2020), and a Tony Award (with 4 nominations) for Best Original Score for Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aidain 2000.

Now, at 75, Elton remains part of the current music scene. His latest album, The Lockdown Sessions, includes collaborations with contemporary artists like Dua Lipa, Charlie Puth, Brandi Carlile and Lil Nas X. And he continues his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, no longer on hold due to COVID, on into 2023.

Add to that a happy home life with husband David Furnish and sons Elijah and Zachary, and his continued work with numerous charities like the Elton John Aids Foundation, and it’s clear this guy is not slowing down at 75. Good for him; I wish him all the best.

Happy Birthday, Sir Elton! From the first time I heard you (way back when), I’ve been a big fan. You and your longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin, have provided a remarkable soundtrack for my life, and I thank you.

Rock on!!

Living and loving, kissing and hugging,

Living and loving with a cat named Hercules

Elton John, “Hercules”, 1972.

Songs I Wish I’d Written

You got some time? Good, pull up a chair.

In my younger days, I fancied myself a songwriter. 🎵 I even imagined making a living at it, until I realized just how tough a profession it is in which to succeed. I’ve never been the kind to take rejection well, and there’s a lot of that in the music business.

Besides, I can be more critical of my work than anyone else can. Many times, I wrote something thinking it was pretty decent, only to later dismiss it as utter garbage. I still go through that sometimes with this darned blog, actually.

And, if I’m being totally honest, I just wasn’t willing to work that hard at it. It’s a character flaw of mine.

But I’ve always appreciated a well written song, and there are plenty of lyricists and composers I greatly admire. They are master craftsmen, (is craftswomen a word?) experts in creating a story or an image that moves me in some way. 🎶

In my life, I’ve heard plenty of songs I enjoy, and a great many I love and want to hear again and again.

And once in a while, I hear one that’s just so beautiful and powerful, I’m left sitting there with my jaw hanging down, thinking to myself…

Wow.

I wish I’d written that.

Not for monetary reasons, though that would certainly be nice. But for the satisfaction that comes from creating something so brilliant. To take a poem, a melody and a rhythm, and assemble all those pieces so they fit together as a perfect work of art, must feel indescribable. I’ve known just a hint of that feeling, and it’s pretty cool, I admit.

Here are some songs that got a wow out of me when I first heard them, listed with their writers:

I Can’t Make You Love Me/Allen Shamblin and Michael Reed. First time I heard Bonnie Raitt sing this, I knew it was something extraordinary. Nobody does heartache better than Bonnie, anyway, and this song rises to her level. Props also to Bruce Hornsby for his just right piano accompaniment. The whole thing is flawless, and the best set of lyrics I’ve heard in ages.

Say Something/Chad Vaccarino and Ian Axel. Absolutely devastated when I heard this piece by the group A Great Big World, made up of Vaccarino and Axel. It hooks you right at the outset, with the opening line, “Say something, I’m giving up on you.” The words and the melody, piano and vocals, all combine into a stunning and unforgettable piece of work.

Ticking/Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Elton ends his Caribou album with this compelling drama of a young man who comes unhinged, and the horrifying consequences. Some of Bernie’s very best lyrics; a story of mass murder, written in 1974, that has only become all too familiar in our time.

Make You Feel My Love/Bob Dylan. Dylan, as we all know, is a Nobel Prize winning songwriter, and his work includes many great pieces, but this one in particular resonated with me. Obviously he has more complex material in his oeuvre, but the simplicity of this song makes it more approachable. The first time I heard it was a performance by Billy Joel, and I like his voice better, so that probably made it more appealing to me, too.

(According to some, this song was written from the point of view of Jesus, impressing upon all us sinners the totality of His love for us.)

Scenes From an Italian Restaurant/Billy Joel. Speaking of Mr. Joel, I’m a longtime fan of his songwriting. This track, from his The Stranger album, is a wonderful little vignette of two old friends catching up and reminiscing. You can see these characters in your mind, and the music moves the story along perfectly.

Nether Lands/Dan Fogelberg. I’d never heard the late Dan Fogelberg before I listened to his album, Nether Lands in 1978 or ’79. But from the opening notes of the majestic title track, he had me. Dan was, to me, a true poet, a skilled wordsmith, as well as an extraordinary composer. I’ll always remember how awed I was listening to this beautiful piece.

You Say/Lauren Daigle, Jason Ingram and Paul Mabury. “I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough”, goes the opening line of Lauren Daigle’s powerful reaffirmation of her identity as a child of God. This song, delivered by Lauren’s amazing vocals, became a hit on both the pop and contemporary Christian charts with its universal message, “The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me.”

Tonight/Elton John and Bernie Taupin. From Elton’s Blue Moves album, the sound of a marriage gone sour. You can hear the weary resignation, yet a still barely burning ember of hope, in the earnest plea of the protagonist for just one night of truce. One of Elton’s most classical compositions, along with James Newton-Howard’s orchestration, gives us this splendid work.

Of course, there are so many other great songs by so many other great artists, more than I could name here, and more from around the world I don’t even know about, and they all have my sincere respect and admiration. Not just because they write songs, but because they write them so well, and so consistently, then share them with the rest of us lucky folks.

So we listen, we laugh, we cry, we think, we feel, we remember, we dance, and we sing along. 🎶

And how much richer are our lives for that?

Now, tell me: have you ever heard a song that just stopped you in your tracks, made you catch your breath and say Wow?

I’d love to hear it.

Superstar

February 3, 1959 was immortalized by singer Don McLean as “the day the music died”, because of the tragic, untimely deaths of rock and roll artists Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson in a plane crash.

I was born in July, 1959, so obviously, their deaths didn’t really impact me, tragic as they were.

For me, February 4, 1983 is The Day The Music Died.

Karen Carpenter lost her life, at the age of 32, to anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder most of us had never even heard of before. It was a tremendous shock, and a heartbreaking loss to me and my wife (my girlfriend at the time).

Carpenters, featuring Karen and her brother, Richard, were a big part of the soundtrack of my life in the 1970’s. Tunes like “(They Long to Be) Close to You”, “We’ve Only Just Begun”, “Yesterday Once More”, “Superstar”, “Top of the World”, “I Won’t Last a Day Without You” and so many more made Karen my favorite female vocalist, which she remains to this day.

Karen wasn’t a “power balladeer” like Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey. She didn’t have to be. She had an easy, unforced style of singing that could express love, joy, longing, sadness…all in that warm and lovely alto voice, with the kind of intimacy that made you feel she was singing only to you.

Her voice, and Richard’s brilliant arrangements, combined to make unforgettable music. However, due to their squeaky clean image, they and their music didn’t get the respect due them until years later. Back then, their music was more of a guilty pleasure; there was a stigma attached to being a Carpenters fan.

Thankfully, that’s changed. Now, many peers cite the Carpenters’ influence on their own music, and they are one of the top-selling artists of all time.

It’s a crying shame that Karen isn’t here to bask in the adulation, and to give us even more wonderful music. I miss her every time I hear her, but I’m so glad that beautiful voice, and that beautiful music, will go on forever.

Much love, Karen and Richard. Whenever I hear you, it’s Yesterday Once More.