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Pop - Released January 1, 1990 | Virgin EMI

This four-CD set has had a somewhat confused history, mostly owing to licensing changes and the mergers and acquisitions of various record labels. Prepared in the late '80s by MCA Records, which had the rights to Elton John's U.S. catalog, To Be Continued... marked a major improvement over the sound of his extant CDs of the period. But MCA's rights lapsed in the 1990s, and the Elton John catalog reverted to Polydor Records, which put it back out in upgraded editions on the Island Records label. This set was deleted by 1994, and was soon selling for serious amounts of money as a collector's item. Then, in 1999, MCA's parent company, Universal Music, bought Polydor, and suddenly this box reappeared. As to its virtues, the 68 songs here include all of the highlights of the first 25 years of Elton John's career -- not just the hits and the notable album tracks, but outtakes, unissued live tracks, and demos. Disc one opens with the first original song that Elton John ever recorded, a solo composition called "Come Back Baby," cut with Bluesology, his mid-'60s band, and also includes the solo demo of "Your Song" and a previously unissued outtake of "Gray Seal"; their presence alone ensures that most fans will regard this set as a must-own item. There's nothing quite as compelling as those early treasures, but disc two and disc three do pull together all of the essential sides from across ten years of history, including John's work with John Lennon, Kiki Dee, and France Gall, and includes a previously unissued live version of "I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)." Disc four, covering the years 1982-1990, is highlighted by the single mix of "Act of War," featuring Millie Jackson, and a previously unissued live version of "Carla Etude." The accompanying booklet includes some very interesting reminiscences by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, but obviously not enough on the specific tracks -- the producers felt compelled to add in a free-standing sheet detailing recording dates and personnel. Astonishingly, the sound on this set has held up extremely well, despite its dating back to the 1990 -- one can hear Caleb Quaye and Les Thatcher's guitars cleanly on the outtake of "Gray Seal," and the piano, bass, and orchestra on "Friends" are close and vivid. And the more recent stuff sounds even better. It's a rare occurrence in pop music reissues, especially with all of the upgrades in sound, sources, and technology going on all of the time, but producer Andy McKaie built something to last with this box. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
CD€20.99

Pop - Released January 1, 1976 | Virgin EMI

Although initially considered a contractually obligated release, when Here and There (1976) was upgraded in 1995 as part of Elton John's (piano/vocals) "Classic Years" catalog overhaul, it became the most definitive live document to date of his immortal '70s quintet that featured the pianist backed by Davey Johnstone (guitar/backing vocals), Dee Murray (bass/backing vocals), Nigel Olsson (drums), and Ray Cooper (percussion). What was originally a single vinyl long-player was expanded to nearly two hours and 20 minutes, spread over two CDs. The "Here" show was recorded at an Invalid Children's Aid Society Benefit at Royal Festival Hall in London on May 18, 1974. John begins with a pair of early solo numbers before being joined by the band for inspired readings of hits such as the rousing "Take Me to the Pilot" and "Crocodile Rock" as well as the equally integral deep cuts "Bad Side of the Moon" and a very special version of the ballad "Love Song" -- featuring a rare duet with the song's author and original co-vocalist Leslie Duncan (vocals). Another real treat is the funky and loose rendering of "Honky Cat" with some interesting interaction between John and Cooper. Six months later John and company hit Madison Square Garden in New York City for a series of shows over Thanksgiving weekend. In acknowledgement of a wager set forth between John and John Lennon that stated, if the duo's single "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" from Lennon's Walls and Bridges (1974) album topped the singles chart, Lennon would join Elton on-stage for a few numbers. Needless to say the song bound to the number one position, and the stage was literally set for the very first live appearance from Lennon in two years -- which would ironically and tragically likewise be the last he would ever give. Immediately differentiating the "There" show is the comparatively massive audience. This show is as much about spectacle (1974 style) as it is about music. Not that the music suffers in the least. Although John's voice has sounded better, the band are in top form as they rant and rave through the blistering "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" opener. Among the surprises are the romping live versions of "Grey Seal" and "You're So Static." However, the unmitigated highlight is Lennon's surprise three-song guest shot. Both legends perform their latest singles -- for Lennon it is the aforementioned "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" and for John it is the non-LP cover of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" -- both of which are quite powerful in terms of sheer vibe. Their finale of "I Saw Her Standing There" is ragged-but-right with Johnstone cleverly quoting "I Feel Fine" during the bridge from the verse to the chorus. While the remainder of the set hold its own, it pales in the wake of the preceding momentous performance. This should be considered essential listening for enthusiasts as well as curious music historians. © Lindsay Planer /TiVo

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Elton John in the magazine