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3.6 out of 5 stars
The Complete Thom Bell Sessions
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73 of 74 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2003
Format: Audio CD
This album has an unusual history. It was Elton John's first project immediately after his underappreciated masterwork, Blue Moves. Contrary to what others have written, Elton had not yet entered a period of declining popularity or sales when he recorded with Thom Bell. Blue Moves was a platinum album and was preceded with the non-album mega-hit "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" which racked up 4 weeks at #1 in the U.S. in the summer of 1976. Immediately afterwards in the fall of 1976, Blue Moves was released. Elton described Blue Moves as an album he made for himself and without consideration of singles, but there were two. "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" was issued along with the album, and it peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the spring of 1977, a second single, an edit of the song "Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance)" was remixed by then hot remixer Tom Moulton and issued as a single. It could be argued that it was the beginning of slump if one considers a #28 hit a failure.
Elton and Bernie Taupin went to Philadelphia in the fall of 1977 to begin work with Thom Bell. They tried writing songs together, but apparently "Nice and Slow" was the only one recorded. The rest of the songs were from Thom Bell and his various collaborators including his nephew, Leroy Bell. Oddly, an Elton John-Gary Osborne track, "Shine On Through" was recorded during the sessions and would later be reworked for A Single Man. As Thom Bell is best known for his work with the Delfonics, The Stylistics, and The Spinners, he brought the same trademark sound to these six tracks and even had vocals by the Spinners on three. The Spinners had just lost their lead vocalist, Philippe Wynne. "Are You Ready For Love" was recorded as a duet with the new vocalist, John Edwards. For whatever reasons, Elton ultimately decided not to issue the Thom Bell Sessions. Instead, Greatest Hits Vol. 2 was issued in time for the 1977 holiday buying season.
An Elton- Bernie Taupin song, "Ego" was issued as a single in April 1978 and peaked at #34. The relative lack of success for a song Elton was reportedly very fond of undoubtedly led to the changes A Single Man would usher in. The album was his first to be written with another lyricist, Gary Osborne. Elton attempted to tone down his image (he was having some problems from his Rolling Stone interview in which he admitted he was bisexual.) Two singles from the album, "Part-Time Love"(#22)and an instrumental, "Song For Guy" (did not chart in the U.S., but was a #4 smash in UK) failed to return Elton to the top ten in the U.S. So, in January 1979, Elton and his engineer, Clive Franks, dusted off the Thom Bell tapes and remixed them looking for a new angle. Three of the songs were remixed with "Are You Ready For Love" removing lead vocals of the Spinners and replacing those parts with Elton leads. "Mama Can't Buy You Love" was issued as a single and became a major hit (#9) and earned Elton a gold record.
It would have been very interesting to know if the Thom Bell Sessions had been issued in 1977 if the chart prospects would have been as good. My personal opinion is that both "Mama Can't Buy You Love" and "Are You Ready For Love" would have been as big as they were in 1979 and oddly 2003. I love the vast majority of Thom Bell's work, and considering that it was Elton's first project in which he was mostly just being a singer and not creating the music from his genius, I can't help but think that was the real reason the project was shelved. Perhaps a little time away from the project made him rethink that sometimes being just a singer isn't necessarily a bad thing. His very next project was an album in which he had no input whatsoever aside from showing up to do lead vocals, the album Victim of Love. That one was written, produced, and contracted by Pete Bellotte best known for his work with Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer. This is Elton's least satisfying album in my opinion as Bellotte is no Thom Bell. There is no variety. It is all non-stop disco. Not that disco in itself is bad. That said, the title track was edited to a single and was a #31 hit in the fall of 1979. Afterwards, Elton would return to writing his own material and working with a variety of collaborators.
In the 1990's MCA Records issued the Complete Thom Bell Sessions on CD. It is interesting to note that even though the credits claim the CD has the January 1979 remix of the material, I believe it is the original Thom Bell mixes as "Are You Ready For Love" is a full duet with The Spinners. It's really a fine record and an essential addition to any Elton John or Thom Bell collection. Be told!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
This should be one of the best-known and most beloved moments in Elton John's career - but it isn't. Two iconic sounds of the 70's combine and the result is rich, buttery ear candy - but it gets consistently glossed-over when people run down the handful of enduring pop music from the disco era. Elton makes his bid to be one of the great blue-eyed-soul singers of his time - and few even notice. Elton would quickly move on from here, but echoes of this benchmark can be heard in all that follows. A true forgotten classic in every sense.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICEon December 7, 2001
Format: Audio CD
"Complete Thom Bell Sessions" is one of the forgotten albums in Elton John's career; one overlooked by both his fans and critics. It works as an excellent musical tribute by Elton to Philadelphia's soul sound, with more than a passing nod to disco. Yet more importantly, this is the recording where Elton changed his style of singing, following producer Thom Bell's advice. Virtually all of the songs were written by Thom Bell and others, though it does include a version of the Elton John/Gary Osborne song "Shine On Through", which would appear in "A Single Man". Musically, this is undoubtedly a far better album than "Victim Of Love", which Elton recorded with disco producer Pete Bellotte.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
An oddity in the Elton John discography (although not as odd as the awful "Victim of Love" disco album)as its one of the few projects that Elton didn't play any instruments on, "The Complete Thom Bell Sessions" finds Elton going for the Philly Soul sound for a complete release (although to be honest most of it was recorded in Seattle), Elton evidently wasn't completely happy at the time with these sessions as he only originally released three tracks with "Mama Can't Buy You Love" becoming a hit single for him.

This CD reissue features ALL the tracks completed at the sessions (although at least two tracks have alternate mixes to the original versions on the vinyl EP if I recall correctly)and will be essential for Elton John fans. The only complaint I have with this set is that it would have been nice to see the original mixes for the tracks not included on the CD added as bonus tracks here. Also, it would have been nice to have a complete booklet discussing the making of the original EP. The mix of Elton with the Philly Soul Sound isn't unusual or a surprise; remember that he used elements of that "sound" on "Philadelphia Freedom" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" (his duet with Kiki Dee which he and Bernie wrote under pseudonyms).

These are minor flaws though for a fun set. "Nice and Slow" (not on the original release) receives a nice, extended, rearranged work out from Bell (who earns a songwriting credit with his rearrangement/additions). "Shine on Through" which would also show up on "A Single Man" sounds quite different from the stark arrangement on the other album. "Country Love Song" is a nice previously unreleased song. "Are You Ready for Love" (in a slightly different mix) and "Three Way Love Affair" appeared on the original EP along with "Mama Can't Buy You Love" and feature the MFSB horns backing Elton and there's a cameo appearance on "Are You Ready for Love" by the Spinners.

The mastering here is fine as it's pre "Loudness Wars". The production compliments John and allows him to blossom as a singer. This is a fine edition that expands on the original EP running over double the time of the original vinyl EP at nearly 35 minutes (almost a full album by 70's standards). Recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2004
Format: Audio CD
Jimmy Wade's review was right on - this one is a hidden gem from Elton. Of the tracks on the EP, only "Mama Can't Buy You Love" went in the Top 40 at the time, though recently the reissued "Are You Ready For Love?" topped the charts in the US and England. What's most interesting about the disc is the range of material. As Jimmy notes, it's not really a "disco" album - just pure, good Philly Soul, most of the tracks done w/ the Spinners (I think they play on all the tracks, though they don't sing on all of them) and all produced by Thom Bell. The mixes of the songs originally included on the vinyl 3 song EP in 1979 are (as Jimmy points out) NOT the Elton John/Clive Franks mixes, but the original Bell mixes. The complete EJ/Clive Franks mixes can, however, be found as addl. tracks on the CD single for "The Last Song", and "Are You Ready For Love?" and "Three Way Love Affair" are on the recent single edition of "Are You Ready...?" Pick it up and give it a spin - it's a lot of fun and very well done. Check out "Country Love Song" and "Nice and Slow" - these would have been great singles at the time as well! Enjoy!
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2003
Format: Audio CD
Elton John at the time of this recording was not doing very well. He was no longer the monster on the charts that he used to be. Now he was struggling to get hits. A Single Man had done decently, and Victim of Love just bombed. The less said about that sad endeavor the better. Enter the Thom Bell Sessions. You could say this was a much more successful disco entry than Victim of Love was, however there are some elements in the album that are not disco. Shine on Trough, which Elton would rerecord for A Single Man, has more an R&B sound, with a hint of gospel. With this album, Elton managed to come up with a completely different sound than had been previously heard from him. Unfortunately, it was not heard by many people, and it was only in 1990 that the full sessions were made available. That is a shame. This album, coupled with A Single Man could have made that album a hit in my opinion. Now, as it stands, the remastered album of A Single Man needs no more tracks, as it received 5 extra songs that really flesh out and complete the album. (I highly recommend A Single Man, with Elton having gone back to his basic sound, and created a well-crafted album). However with these six songs on the Thom Bell Sessions clocking in at 36 minutes, this can stand as an album in it's own right. Elton has said that Bell really taught him to use his voice, and it shows. Elton really is all over the map in terms of vocals. Two great examples are Shine on Through, and Country Love Songs. In both Elton uses both his baritone and falsetto vocals. And of course, this album features Elton's big hit, Mama Can't Buy You Love. Like Bennie and the Jets, this was a big R&B hit, and it's no wonder why. The songs is very catchy, with a rhythm one can't help but "groove" to. Also on this album is the "hit that should have been". What am I talking about? Are you ready for love? As it stands, Elton has re-released this single on vinyl, and it should be available July 7th 2003. On the album cut, however, you hear Elton giving up many of the vocals to two other singers. On the new remixed single, it's just Elton singing all the way through, so I highly recommend that as well. All in all, while The Thom Bell Sessions don't stand as Elton's greatest work, they are enjoyable. It's truly a shame he never went back and recorded some more songs with Bell. Who knows, maybe he would have been able to regain his superstar status sooner?
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2003
Format: Audio CD
Thom Bell scores big with this Elton (backed by the Spinners) concept. The chord changes are pure Philly, and the only reason I can figure why this wasn't released is that Elton may have felt marginalized due to his dearth of songwriting here and restrained vocals(Bell's decision)? . It's interesting to note that Thom Bell played the keyboards, with Elton receiving nary a black key's worth of recognition. Now, maybe that's to be factored in with the above. "Are You Ready For Love" is the best example of the slow burn of the excellent musicianship. This is a lost and found masterpiece...
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 1998
Format: Audio CD
Not high on my priority of EJ albums to have. I liked the version of "Shine on through" but in general I thought that too many 3-4 minute songs were needlessly dragged out, with the addition of synthesizers and percussions, to undesirable lengths. Elton explores an interestingly variable voice range in bellowing out certain selections. Some may like this better than me...but caveat emptor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2010
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
This a great early Elton album - best known song from the album "Mama can't buy you love" but the other songs are great!
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on September 22, 2004
Format: Audio CD
So Elton was trying his hand at the Philadelphia sound. And the results are pleasing. So why didn't he hop on the Seattle sound bandwagon years later? It's just named after a different city, after all.

One has to wonder why Thom Bell felt the need to repeat the choruses of some songs over and over... Well, maybe so you wont be able to forget the song titles. Or to fit in with the Hey Jude disco craze of the time.

But there are some great songs here; excellent hooks, beaut melodies and a very smooth, delicate soul sound. It is also notable that this is where Elton shifted his vocal stylings (except the first two songs). He's struggling very much on 'Shine on through', which is a bit of a weak track, but the rest of it works like a charm. Rating ***1/2.

PS don't worry, it's all acoustic drums, no head-hurting, pounding electronic drums.
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