Elton John and Me

Way back in the 1970’s when I was a shy gawky teenager, one of my very best friends was a big fan of the Moody Blues. Everything that ever happened to him, life, love, romance, anything and everything really, he related back to something on one of the Moody Blues’ many concept albums. I really wanted something like that, a band or musician I could relate to and follow as they created more music. Very quickly I discovered Elton John.

I was sure Elton was American and it was with some surprise that I later found out he was English.

Elton was born Reginald Dwight in 1947 in Pinner, Middlesex. He started playing his grandmother’s piano as a young boy and began formal music lessons at the age of 7. At the age of 11 he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.

When he was 14 his parents divorced and his mother re-married and Elton, his mum and new step dad moved into a flat at 1A Frome Court in Pinner. According to Wikipedia he stayed there until he had 4 albums simultaneously in the US top 40.

1973 was probably my first record buying year. Up until then I really had little interest in music. The Beatles had pretty much passed me by and I was more interested in TV and film music rather than the pop charts. For Christmas 1972 my brother and received a shared present, a new stereo record player. Of course having a record player meant that I needed something to play on it. That’s when I discovered Elton John.

A big hit for Elton in 1973 was Candle in the Wind, Elton’s ode to Marilyn Monroe. I remember hearing it regularly on radio 1. After some investigation I found it was from an album by Elton, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I picked up the title track single cheaply, probably from a little music store I used to visit in Wilmslow, Cheshire where we were living at the time. Later I got to know more and more music stores, particularly in Manchester which I would visit every Saturday flicking through singles in the reduced section. Incidentally the flip side or B side on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was another great track, Bennie and the Jets.

Later I bought the Album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road which must be Elton’s best ever work. It was a classic double album and contained more hit singles like Saturday Nights alright for fighting.

I discovered Elton’s back catalogue and began buying albums like Empty Sky, Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, Friends and Madman across the Water.

Elton’s next album was Caribou. I have to say I was a little disappointed at the album cover art. Yellow Brick Road had such an amazing cover and here was Elton’s next album with an oddball amateur looking cover of an embarrassed looking Elton with what appeared to be a Polaroid snap! The album wasn’t so great either.

His next album was Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, a nostalgic look back at Elton and his co-writer Bernie Taupin’s own lives. The title track is one of my all-time favourite Elton John tracks and the album came complete with little inserts of photo albums and other bits and pieces.

It’s worth stopping here for a moment to look at how Elton and Bernie’s partnership came together. In 1967 the pair answered an advertisement in the New Musical Express. Liberty Records were asking for musical talent and when Elton arrived at Liberty’s offices he was given a sheaf of lyrics written by Bernie Taupin and so Elton promptly began writing music to Bernie’s words. Their writing partnership continues to this day.

Back in the 1970’s Radio 1 began running the Elton John Story in various parts which I recorded onto cassette tapes. On one of the tapes, the two discuss their big hit ‘Your Song’. Elton claims Bernie wrote the lyrics about his then current girlfriend. Bernie denied that saying he wrote the lyrics after having eaten bacon and eggs at Elton’s mother’s flat in Pinner, while Elton was having a bath!

In 1975 Elton appeared in the film version of the rock musical Tommy and his version of Pinball Wizard became another chart hit. Another hit single was Elton’s fabulous version of John Lennon’s Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds with Lennon himself playing guest guitar on the track.

Elton’s next album was Rock of the Westies a sort of rock/funk album. It was, well OK I suppose but as we went into the 1980’s I found myself not really caring for Elton’s music much anymore. I liked the poignant Song for Guy, a song named after a young lad from Elton’s record company who was killed in a road accident but little of Elton’s music interested me in that period.

In 2001 Elton released the album Songs from the West Coast. The album was received warmly by the media and I remember hearing many great reviews saying how Elton had returned to his piano based roots and so on. On Wikipedia I see that the album was recorded on analogue tape as Elton felt that gave the sound a warmer feel. OK I thought, sounds like a good time to try some of Elton’s latest music. While I was waiting to pay for the CD in HMV I noticed another album of Elton’s, Made in England, in the reduced section so I grabbed that while I was there.

Anyway Songs from the West Coast was a total disappointment for me and not only that, I thought the whole thing had a tinny sound to it, not a warm one.

A few months later I noticed Made in England lying unplayed on a shelf so I popped it into my car to give it an airing. I’m so glad I did because Made In England is the album that to me, sounds much like his classic 70’s stuff with some outstanding tracks. A fabulous album just as good as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Pity I missed the Elton John film Rocket Man. I’ll have to look out for it on DVD. I was going to finish with a YouTube clip from the film but I’ve always liked this TV advert from 2018. Enjoy . .


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Will the Real Fifth Beatle Please Stand Up?

The story of the Beatles is a story that envelops anyone who is interested in music. A whole generation grew up with them and watched them morph from mop tops to hippies and beyond. That same generation was shattered when John Lennon was killed and saddened when George succumbed to cancer. The Beatles have always been there and have always been a part of our lives. It seems to me that there is always something in the media about the Beatles and one thing that comes up time after time is the mysterious fifth Beatle. The fifth Beatle is a sort of honary title bestowed either by the media or the Beatles themselves. We all know who the Beatles were; John, Paul, George and Ringo, so who was the fifth Beatle? Here are a few of the contenders.

beatlesStuart Sutcliffe.
Stuart was a great friend of John Lennon’s and John invited him to join the band despite his lack of musical talent. In fact he couldn’t even play the guitar properly which dismayed Paul McCartney no end. However, John was the creator of the band and the leader. John and Stuart met at Art College in Liverpool where Stuart had a reputation for being a talented artist. Stuart later went to Hamburg with the Beatles where they had a long term gig as the resident band at a club in the Reeperbahn district. There he met and became involved with a young photographer called Astrid Kirchherr and stayed with her when the rest of the Beatles returned to the UK. Sutcliffe enrolled in Hamburg art college to further his artwork. Astrid was a stylish influence on the Beatles and encouraged them to abandon Brylcream and try the now famous mop top haircut which was popular at the time with students in Hamburg. She was studying art and photography and took many famous photos of the group.
Sutcliffe began to experience severe headaches and after one such episode in 1962 he was rushed to hospital. He died on the way there, the cause of death later diagnosed as a cerebral haemorrhage.

Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Brian Epstein.
Brian Epstein was the manager of his family’s music store in Liverpool city centre, NEMS. Epstein worked hard to make the store a success and it became one of the biggest music stores in the North of England. The story goes that a local music fan came into the store and ordered a copy of ‘My Bonnie’ which the Beatles had recorded with Tony Sheridan in Germany. Epstein was curious and made enquiries about the group, later going to see them at the Cavern in Liverpool. Some have dismissed this story, as Epstein was bound to be aware of the Beatles through the local magazine Merseybeat which was on sale in NEMS and featured the Beatles in their second edition. Whatever the original facts are, Epstein liked the Beatles immediately, watched their performances several times at the Cavern and eventually approached them with an offer to be their manager. Brian Epstein went on to manage the Beatles until his death in 1967. His management of their business lives was not too successful as he was perhaps, like everyone, not prepared for the whirlwind global stardom into which the Beatles were catapulted. Marketing and licensing opportunities were lost and other artists that Epstein managed felt that they were overlooked as Brian concentrated on the Beatles.
Brian Epstein died in August 1967. The coroner recorded his death as an accidental overdose.

George Martin.
Brian Epstein made many attempts to get his band a recording contract with little success. One record producer famously told Epstein that ‘Guitar groups are on the way out!’ Epstein persevered and managed to get George Martin, a producer for the EMI label Parlophone to record the Beatles. Martin, who had previously worked on comedy records with stars like Peter Sellers, was reportedly not completely impressed with the Beatles’ music but more so with their wit and banter. Drummer Pete Best did not impress Martin either and he engaged a session drummer to work with the Beatles on their first recordings. That was to have important repercussions for Pete and the band later.

John Lennon and me . .

John Lennon and me . .

George Martin paired his formal musical expertise with the Beatles raw talent and in fact either wrote or performed many of the orchestral arrangements on their recordings. The violin quartet on ‘Yesterday’ was one of Martin’s ideas.
He died at the age of 90 in 2016.

Pete Best.
Pete Best joined the Beatles in 1960 on the eve of their departure for Hamburg. He became a popular member of the group, especially with the fans and was noted for his James Dean-like moody good looks.
His mother Mona, had bought a large house in Liverpool that was formerly the West Derby Conservative club and she modelled the basement into a coffee bar which opened in the early sixties as the ‘Casbah’ and Pete played there regularly with his group the ‘Black Jacks’. Paul McCartney spotted Pete there and convinced him to join the Beatles in Hamburg.
On New Year’s Day 1962 the Beatles, including Pete on the drums, recorded fifteen songs as part of an audition for Decca. Decca ultimately rejected the Beatles but Epstein bought the tapes and managed to get George Martin from Parlophone to listen to the tracks. He liked them, offered a possible recording contract to Epstein but wanted to record the Beatles himself first. In June of 1962 the group went to Abbey Road studios to play in the recording studio for George Martin. They played a number of songs but then Martin decided he wanted a session drummer to stand in for Best. Later, the Beatles learned that at the next recording session, planned for September of 62, the engineers still wanted a session drummer so they decided that it was time to replace Best. Their new drummer, Ringo Starr, was also replaced by a session drummer and George Martin has said he was surprised that the group wanted to get rid of Pete. Pete at the time, was the most popular Beatle with the fans. Whatever the ins and outs of the issue, whether it was Pete’s drumming, the fact that he was a bit of a loner and spent little time with the others, or just didn’t fit in well with them, we will never know for sure. The three other Beatles, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison tasked Brian Epstein with giving Pete Best the sack. He was out and Ringo Starr was in.
Pete Best had missed out by a whisker on global fame and fortune on a massive scale.

beatles-alternate-album-cover-a-hard-days-night-mono-33.gifDerek Taylor.
Taylor was a journalist who worked for newspapers in the North West. He wrote a review of the Beatles in concert and gradually became a trusted insider and confidante of the group. Later, Brian Epstein asked him to become their press officer. He left the Beatles after their US concert tour in 1964 but returned in 1968 to become the press officer for the Beatles’ Apple Corps. In the late seventies Taylor collaborated with George Harrison on his memoir, ‘I, Me, Mine.’

Derek Taylor died in 1997 while still working for Apple on the Beatles’ Anthology book.

Neil Aspinall.
Neil Aspinall was the Beatles’ road manager and personal assistant and surprisingly, he was originally employed by Pete Best on behalf of the band. Neil drove the band up and down the UK to various gigs in a small Commer van for which he paid £80. Aspinall was a great friend of Pete Best and offered to resign from his work with the Beatles in sympathy with Best’s sacking but Best apparently felt Aspinall should carry on. Later, Aspinall became manager of the Apple Corps when Brian Epstein died. He was the executive producer for the Beatles’ Anthology.
He died in New York in 2008.

Murray the K.
Murray the K was a New York disc jockey in the early sixties. When the Beatles first went to the USA in 1964 Murray was an instant hit with the band. He accompanied them to various events in the US and even broadcast his radio show from the Beatles’ Plaza hotel suite. He claimed to have been named the fifth Beatle by either George Harrison or Ringo Starr and his radio station WINS built him up as the ‘Fifth Beatle’ in their publicity.


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10 Random Hits from the World of the Vinyl Single

10 hits from the world of the vinyl singleAs a teenager there was one, really important thing in my life. Music. And by music I am talking about singles. The BBC top twenty was all important to me and every Saturday night my mate Steve and I would drink beer and talk about women, sci fi and music. I bought numerous singles every Saturday. It’s very rare that I would buy something already in the charts for the full price. I’d usually wait until the record I wanted started to drop down the placings then I’d snap it up for half price. I spent a lot of time flicking through boxes of records in record stores with the end result that now, in 2016; I have a considerable amount of boxes of records. Ninety nine percent of them are singles. I was never one for albums because mostly albums let you down. You’d hear some great single by somebody new, buy their album and it rarely lived up to the single.

Singles are a whole different ball game in these days of downloading. There are those with even more records than I have but my records fill half a small room, whereas my young friends today have their entire music collection on their mobile phone or mp3 device. Not for them the allure of the soft dark vinyl or the album art or sleeve notes. No personal annotations like there were on my record sleeves with the discreet addition of the date I bought the record. The first single I ever bought was in 1973 and it was Olivia Newton-John’s version of ‘If Not For You’. Reduced to half price it was 24 pence. One day I’ll have to sit down and work out which was the last ever vinyl single I ever bought.
Here are a few of my very favourite singles.

I’m Not in Love by 10cc
Forget about the Smiths and Oasis and all those other whiney bands. 10cc were a proper Manchester band making some great music from the early seventies all the way through to 1983. There were two distinct groups within 10cc, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme and Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman. Godley and Creme left in 1976 to work with a musical device they invented called the Gizmatron and Stewart and Gouldman kept 10cc going until 1983 although the band did reform in later years. This fabulous track was recorded at Strawberry studios in Stockport and was originally an album track until public demand made the group release the track as a single.

I’ve Got the Music In Me by Kiki Dee
Most people associate Kiki Dee with Elton John and the hit single ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ but Kiki had a pretty successful solo career and this is a great up-tempo rock number.

Escape (The Pina colada Song) by Rupert Holmes
This was a hit in 1979. What I really love about it are the lyrics. It’s about two lovers who have perhaps lost each other but then find each other again.

Yesterday by the Beatles
Hey, it’s a list of great music! Of course there is going to be a Beatles track! This is really something of a Paul McCartney solo piece and it’s interesting to wonder how it might have turned out without the influence of George Martin, the Beatles’ producer but anyway, it’s a wonderful song. (I have to admit that this is one single I don’t have on vinyl though!)

Only You by Yazoo
Yazoo comprised Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke who later went their separate ways. There was a cover version of Only You by the Flying Pickets, a vocal group who were a group of out of work actors. Their version was just as good as the original and was a Christmas number one in 1983.

Into the Groove by Madonna
This was the theme from the movie ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’, one of my all-time favourite films. It’s actually a great candidate film for a 2016 remake because the plot of the film which involves a girl who follows the personal ads in a newspaper would be perfect for the current internet social media age. Check out the video below with clips from the movie.

Loves Theme by the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
Love Unlimited were, if you didn’t know, Barry White’s backing band and if you’ve never heard this before just imagine one of Barry White’s tracks without him singing and you’ll get the idea. I’ve always loved this single and there used to be a bar in Manchester I used to frequent called the ‘Playground’. It was a sort of disco bar and the DJ used this as his theme song. Read more about the Playground in my novel Floating In Space.

How Long by Ace.
Now this is a serious contender for my all-time favourite single ever. Written by Ace vocalist Paul Carrack who went on to work with other bands like Mike and the Mechanics and later become a solo artist. Paul’s other great songs include ‘The Living Years’ and ‘Over My Shoulder.’

The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range.
A great eighties track dating from 1986. Bruce Hornsby was an American singer and songwriter. I’m not sure if Bruce had any other hits but this one is a great piano driven rock song that I’ve always loved.

Gonna make you a star by David Essex.
This was a hit in 1974 and I have written a post already about David and his white suit and the impact it had on me. Read more about it here. One quick word of advice though, don’t travel on a grimy old bus wearing a white suit!

If you enjoyed this post, why not try my novel, ‘Floating In Space’? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.