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Elton's Early Work: Date and By No Means Complete
on March 11, 2005
Elton John has certainly cemented his place in the history of music. He is a legendary performer who has rode a wave of success unlike any artist. Elton John first came on the music scene in 1969. Once his 1970 hit "Your Song" of his self titled "Elton John" (his second) album was released, it would begin one of the most consistent music careers in the history of music. In fact, from 1969 until 1991 - there wasn't a calendar year that passed without the release of some sort of Elton John album. Even after that, Elton would only miss 2 calendar years without a release between 1991 and 2004 (those years being 1998 and 2003). On the plus side, not only has this given Elton John a level of consistency that has been unsurpassed, but it also has allowed him to build up an incredibly large music library. There is a minus side: With such frequent album releases, Elton's albums are often diluted. While there have been dozens of legendary tracks by Elton John, there aren't too many "complete" Elton albums that I would dub of legendary status. In other words, his albums usually contain 1 to 2 great tracks with the remainder of the tracks being lukewarm at best. It is this scenario that makes a Greatest Hits album very attractive to the Elton John fan - namely because it allows one to have a collection of those legendary tracks in one place. One such collection is the first Greatest Hits collection that Elton released entitled "Elton John Greatest Hits".
Elton has certainly no shortage of Greatest Hits albums as he has released several of them. There is this collection - "Greatest Hits", but there is also "Greatest Hits Volume 2", "Greatest Hits Volume III" (this one is a tough find), "Greatest Hits 1976-1986", and "Greatest Hits 1970-2002". Other compilations include: "To Be Continued" Boxed Set and "Love Songs" collections. "Elton John Greatest Hits" focuses on the early part of Elton's career - 1969 - 1974. It is worth noting that all of the songs that are contained on this collection are also found on the "To Be Continued" Boxed Set (although "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and "Candle in the Wind" are live versions on the boxed set). With the exception of "Border Song", all of these songs are found on the "Greatest Hits 1970-2002" set. The good thing is that "Greatest Hits" focuses on that early period in Elton's career - and this makes it a very attractive collection to have these songs. However, I would still be tempted to go for one of the two broader collections - either "Greatest Hits 1970-2002" or "To Be Continued" despite some of the minor differences.
For "Greatest Hits", there are 11 songs taken from 5 Elton John albums. For 1974, this is a pretty good sized collection of music to be available on a single album (This was before the days of CDs that could fit more music on a single unit). These albums are: "Elton John" ("Your Song", "Border Song"); "Honky Chateau" ("Honky Cat", "Rocket Man"); "Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player" ("Daniel", "Crocodile Rock"); "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" ("Candle in the Wind", "Bennie and the Jets", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting"); Caribou ("Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"). As you can see, the pattern with Elton John not having depth on his albums seems to apply - except for the case of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (but this had 17 tracks - more than most albums during that time).
Looking at the time period of 1969 through 1974, there are some glaring omissions of songs. For starters, there are no tracks from Elton debut "Empty Sky". "Empty Sky" might not be a well-known Elton John album, but there are other more obvious omissions. There are no songs taken from the better known albums such as "Tumbleweed Collection" (namely "Burn Down the Mission") and "Madman Across the Water" ("Tiny Dancer" and "Levon"). Also missing from "Caribou" is the popular track "The Bitch is Back". Much of these omissions go back to the fact that Elton probably wanted to put out a Greatest Hits album as a single entity. As a result, just two years later Elton would release another Greatest Hits album entitled "Elton John Greatest Hits Volume 2". This second collection would include some of the tunes that were omitted from this collection - namely "Levon" and "The Bitch is Back". However, the omissions of "Burn Down the Mission" and "Tiny Dancer" are too much to overcome. I consider these two of the best Elton John songs he has ever done. While I do realize songs like "Daniel", "Honky Cat", and "Crocodile Rock" are close to the hearts of Elton John fans, I would have easily traded any of these songs to have those two omitted songs to be included.
I'm also disappointed the collection is not in chronological order of the release of the songs. The reason I prefer this is because it allows me to see how the artist progresses over time. The songs seemed to be "mixed" in an order for some reason, but I haven't been able to decipher what the logic was behind this particular ordering.
The liner notes do contain some information, but not a lot. For each of the tracks, each of the musician credits are included along with a couple of production credits. They also tell the dates the songs were recorded, but they don't tell the album that the song was contained on. As with most Greatest Hits collections, there are no lyrics included with this collection. Even with some of the flaws, this was a good collection during its time. However with some of the more recent releases, if you are a serious of casual Elton John fan, you are probably going to want to consider some of the more complete collections.