The release of Honky Chateau in May of 1972 signaled Elton John’s emergence as one the most popular artists in the world, a status he has maintained for nearly four decades. It marked the first of seven consecutive Number One albums in the United States, all of which would ultimately sell close to seventy million copies.
Elton John also began to take his sound in a different direction. Gone was the piano balladeer and in its place was the pop/rock artist. While he would continue to produce elegant and beautiful ballads, his up-tempo material would be more energetic than in the past and would have some musical bite.
This is also the first album where guitarist Davey Johnstone, bassist Dee Murray, and drummer Nigel Olsson were recognized as his personal band. Their contributions to his live and studio sound over the years cannot be underestimated.
It may be that he and Bernie Taupin purposely set out to create a more commercial sound but whatever their intent they succeed in producing an accessible album that crossed musical styles and appealed to several generations of music buyers.
Honky Chateau was propelled by two songs that became huge singles and, in time, classics. “Honky Cat” has almost a New Orleans bar feel with some great piano work and its staccato beat. It still makes me smile. “Rocket Man” is one of his eternal songs as it just soars. The lyrics were about an astronaut leaving his family behind but it is his vocal that gives it an almost sonic feel.
The album concludes with two excellent but often over looked tracks. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” is a ballad as beautiful as anything he would ever create. “Hercules” is just five minutes of powerful rock which further proved that he was moving in a new musical direction.
The other track that deserves mention is “I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself” as it’s music and message run counterpoint to each other. In addition, how many times do you get honky-tonk piano, spoons, and a tap-dancing sound in one song?
Honky Chateau is a wonderful album that has stood the test of time as it remains one of the better releases of its era.