Sunday, October 18, 2009

Melody Made Easy: the Musical Genius of Elton John

It's no secret to those who know me well that I'm a big fan of Elton John's music. In the history of rock song-writing, only Brian Wilson, in my view, rivals Elton's gift for effortless melodic craftsmanship. Emphasis on the effortless.

It's a well-known fact that Elton never writes his own lyrics (he's most frequently worked with lyricist Bernie Taupin), but many people don't realize how quickly he works. In fact, the majority of his classic melodies were composed in a matter of minutes, which may account for how he managed to release ten albums of new material between 1970 and 1975.

Youtube is a virtual treasure trove for fans of Elton's classic period, with countless live performances from the 70s, early demos, unreleased tracks, and a multitude of interviews. Below are three videos I've found particularly interesting. In the first, Elton composes a song on the spot from a set of oven instructions. In the second, he performs a similar trick from the pages of a play. The final video, however, is perhaps the most notable. It presents rare interview footage from 1971, filmed before the release of Madman Across the Water, in which Elton demonstrates his songwriting process by performing a little ditty he'd knocked out just a coupla days earlier, a little something called "Tiny Dancer." Since the track had not even been recorded yet, this is the oldest existing performance of that song.


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