‘High Flying Bird’ is the final track on the album and an appropriately sweeping ballad to close out the record. John says he was trying to evoke the music of Van Morrison with this song, which has become one of his favorites.
Keeping up his incredible pace in the early 70s, Elton John released his fifth album in four years with 1973’s Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player. This record, like Honky Chateau before it, went to #1 in the U.S.
Opening track ‘Daniel’ is the standout on this one, and it made my playlist alongside the playful, nostalgic ‘Crocodile Rock’ (shout out to the excellent use of that song in Rocketman). But two songs new to me also made the cut.
The obvious keepers on Honky Chateau are ‘Honky Cat,’ ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.’ The latter two songs would be at or near the top if I were to rank the 37 songs I ended up with on my Elton John playlist.
This is a big, anthemic piano ballad that makes good use of a gospel choir. My hunch is that if it didn’t have such an off-putting title phrase it could have been a hit. This song plus ‘Holiday Inn’ anchor Side Two of Madman Across the Water, making the album a rewarding listen start to finish.
Elton John followed up his 1970 self-titled album with Tumbleweed Connection later the same year. I’m leaving that country-themed album out of my rundown because the songs I kept from it were already known to me: ‘Come Down in Time,’ ‘My Father’s Gun,’ and ‘Amoreena.’ Nothing else from the album really won me over.
It’s a very different story for 1971’s Madman Across the Water, which would definitely vie for my award as John’s best album overall.
My overall enjoyment of the movie Rocketman sent me down a bit of an Elton John rabbit hole.
I created a playlist of his most notable albums (particularly those released between 1970 and 1975 plus a couple of entries from the 80s) and listened to them all in order. I wanted to see what I’d been missing, as I’m primarily a fan only through his best-known songs.
After spending a few weeks on the exercise, the simple verdict is that John is primarily a greatest hits artist for me. But not entirely.
Elton John’s Madman Across the Water is my seventh favorite album of 1971, though it would be more accurate to say the first side of Madman Across the Water made the list. When ‘Tiny Dancer,’ ‘Levon’ and ‘Madman Across the Water’ are three of your first four songs, you can pretty much hang up your hat and call it a day.
The other tracks — ‘Razor Face,’ ‘Indian Sunset,’ ‘Holiday Inn,’ ‘Rotten Peaches,’ ‘All the Nasties’ and ‘Goodbye’ — are all solid, if not up to the level of the opening classics.