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Music Review: Elton John – Blue Moves

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1976 would find Elton John depressed, substance addicted, and the center of unwanted attention due to his sexuality. All the while, his professional relationship with long time lyricist, Bernie Taupin, was deteriorating. It was against this personal background that he released his second double album, Blue Moves.

It would be a long and somewhat rambling affair. It was also introspective and an unintended look into his troubled psyche. It was a lot less commercial that most of his past work and would be his first album since Honky Chateau not to reach number one in the United States.

I can’t help but think that it would have made a pretty good single disc release unlike his other double album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which was solid from beginning to end.

So what songs should have made the cut if this had only been one disc?

“One Horse Town” is a tune about boredom; its textures are anything but, however. There is a sophisticated use of strings and the tempo goes through a number of complicated changes. “Chameleon,” which follows it, features some wonderful harmonies courtesy of some of the Beach Boys. “Cage The Songbird,” a semi-accurate biographical song about French singer Edith Piaf, is somewhat reminiscent of the tone that “Candle In The Wind" previously evoked. The vocal support by David Crosby and Graham Nash, in particular, help the song to soar.

“Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” is a classic, if depressing, ballad about unfulfilled love and revenge, its single reaching the U.S. top ten. “Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance!)” is a club-type track that comes close to disco in its sound, especially in the second half. It was also issued as a 12” single, which was typical of the time period. “Between Seventeen and Twenty” is a poignant song about the break-up of Bernie Taupin’s marriage although it could also be applied to his partnership with Elton John at the time. Finally, “Boogie Pilgrim” and “Crazy Water,” while average at best, are at least a little fun when compared to the rest of this release.

And that’s about it — a single album's worth of good material culled from the original's four sides.

Today Blue Moves is only for the serious Elton John aficionado. If you just want his best or are seeking an enjoyable listen then there are a number of studio albums and greatest hits compilations that are more worthy of your time.

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About David Bowling

  • Robert Bishop

    One of my favourite albums of all time, let alone Elton John’s. The song are beautifully crafted and as B Pilgrim states, the remastered version is superb. I haven’t listened to this for some 20 years and I listened to it on my iPhone today and was blown away all over again, especially with ‘Idol’ …….magic, a ‘must listen’!

  • ed fastipe

    Tonight….one horse town….chameleon….cage the songbird….crazy water….shoulder holster….sorry seems….someones final song…idol…bite your lip (edit)

  • mpg

    Maybe there´are a few songs that the record doesn´t need; out of time, where´s the shoorah, the never ending coda of Bite your lip(if this song ends at 3 min it would be a great rock´n roll) but the first side is amazing and the second except for these few songs is amazing too. Sorry if my english is not the best but I´m from Uruguay and speak spanish.

  • mpg

    Don´t forget Shoulder Holster please!!!!

  • B. Pilgrim

    This is one of Elton’s best albums, for sure. Maybe should be one disc, but who could agree on what to cut? It looks like you would cut “Tonight,” which I find unconscionable — such a great arrangement by James Newton Howard. “Idol,” which you also apparently discount, is one of Elton’s best songs — great lyric about their impression of Elvis just before his death. “One Horse Town” is one of Elton’s best songs, too, maybe the best — so original and exciting. Also, the quality of the remastered version is amazing — I’m not an audiophile, so not really qualified to judge, but this always strikes me as one of the best-sounding CDs I own. (The single-disc non-remastered version not only sounds bad, it’s also missing songs!)

  • Andy Geisel

    I agree with Jason … this was a risky album that pays off with great musical dividends. It’s personal, dark, introspective, but cuts loose when it feels right. These are two guys in pain (particularly Bernie, who was going through a messy breakup, not to mention trying to get his head around the peaking of his and Elton’s superstardom) and they channeled it through the songs and the performances. I love the honesty, frankness and vulnerability in the album very much and can listen to it to this day with the same sense of sympathy and poignancy. That’s a testament to how good it was … and still is.

  • I think Blue Moves is a gem of a recording if you are into the craft of creating songs. With that release, Elton seemed to abandoned the song factory formula of production he and Taupin had been using to churn out hits for the previous several years. Blue Moves, to me, was risky, expansive, and poignant. The musicianship is fantastic, and the songs/arrangements are creative. I think Elton and Bernie knew that at some point the albums would stop debuting at number #1, so they made a very purposeful decision to record one that wouldn’t (playing the game on their own terms). Blue Moves can be a dark and often artistic collection of songs, and I have been told by one of the session players that it reflected more of Bernie’s mood than Elton’s at the time. In fact, Bernie was in such a dark place at the time that Elton had to turn down some of the lyrics due to subject matter. Elton claims this to be one of his favorite albums. It was a detour from his typical, slick classic sound- but it showed off his versatility and creativity.