This article really shows you how incredibly BIG a star Elton John was in the middle of the 70s. His fame have remained almost constant since then and he certainly still is one of the most well-known people on this planet today. Well done, Elton!
The Artful Dodger
Nobody has played Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles since the Beatles in 1966. Elton John changed all that last week. To celebrate the occasion he chartered a jet and flew 120 people over there. Among those on board was Elton`s mum – and Mick Brown.
I FIND out this is Elton John Week in Los Angeles on the 10 o’clock sleazo-input news. Wedged between an item linking bacon with cancer and a story about a 13-year-old girl being shot in all-girl gang war, there is film of Elton in a chartreuse suit and sequined bowler hat inaugurating his star on the pavement of Hollywood Boulevard. The stars on the pavement of Hollywood Boulevard extend for some three miles, both sides of the street. They were planted in the Thirties, a monument to Hollywood’s infatuation with itself and the Dream. It is probably the only shred of tradition you will find in this town.
Everybody who was ever anybody in Hollywood has a star — Myrna Loy, Bob Hope, Clarke Gable, Doris Day, even Lassie. But Elton’s is the first rock star. He looks pleased: makes a speech. England’s in a bit of a bad way at the moment, he says, so it’s a bit of a boost in the old arm for this to be made Elton John Week. He jumps around and makes jokes and laughs a lot and waves to the crowd. Then back into his limousine and up to his house in Beverley Hills.
Elton lives up in Beverley Hills in a house he bought from the head of Warner Bros pictures. On a clear day those hills are like paradise. with the city spread out below, as far as the eye can see. Other days the smog hangs in a thick grey/yellow blanket and the view over Babylon is obscured. This is Elton John’s town, and for him the Dream is made real. What Elton wants, Elton has.
Occasionally he may descend from his chateau to distribute the largesse of his presence like bread on the waters of this unholy town. Into Tower Records on the Strip, the largest record-store in the world, to spend — what 500, 1,000 dollars? on albums. Elton is a fan, and isn’t that every fan’s dream? Or to phone up a local radio station and become a dee-jay for the day? He does that too…
Sometimes a 60 ft facsimile of Elton peers down on Sunset Strip where all the world — or all those who matter — pass in their Coup de Villes and English Bentleys. But this is Elton John’s town, and Elton John Week and on Saturday and Sunday he plays the 60,000 seater Dodger stadium and all the tickets were sold out in an hour and a half, so who needs his facsimile on Sunset Strip? Right now it’s Bruce Springsteen — rock ‘n’ roll’s future the billboard says.
Nonetheless, it is impossible to escape the sense of Elton’s presence. You can’t go more than 15 minutes without hearing one of his songs on the radio; every record shop has an Elton John display in its window or his record catalogue on special offer, and the street and the business grapevines are crawling with rumour, gossip and high anticipation. This is, after all, the biggest — the very biggest — thing to hit LA in ages.
Southern California is Elton John territory. It was his appearance at the Los Angeles Troubadour five years ago which catalysed the metamorphosis of Reg Dwight, journeyman musician into Elton John superstar, and neither Elton nor Southern California are about to forget it. He has performed in California each year for the past five years now. Last year he played five consecutive nights at the Angeles forum, packing 18,000 paying customers a night. In a special commemorative six-show charity engagement at the Troubador earlier this year, Elton raised 150,000 dollars (£75,000) for the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute. High-rollers like Cher, Ringo and Mae West paid 250 dollars a ticket for the show, and there were 100,000 postcard applications for 25 dollar (£12.50) tickets.
And now, just two mont later, two shows at the Dodger Stadium. Dodger Stadium! Nobody has played Dodger since the Beatles in 1966, a fact which is inevitably inviting comparison between the two acts, dividing loyalties between the old and the new music.
But they are unnecessary. Suffice it to say Elton is un questionably the biggest-selling, biggest drawing and biggest money-making performer in America at present. He has earned seven gold singles, nine gold albums and nine platinum albums. His last album ‘Captain Fantastic’ set a precedent by entering the US albums charts at No 1 in its first week of release.
The sceptical look for a chink in the armour, a sign — no matter how slight — that his star is on the wane. October 12, one notes, marked the first week Elton didn’t have a single in the American Hot 100 for two years. A disappointment, apparently, as he was hoping to break Pat Boone’s record of four unbroken years in the singles charts. One remembers that the last time one saw Pat Boone he was taking time off from Jesus to do commercials for underwear on the sleazo-input. But then just this week Elton’s new album ‘Rock Of The Westies’ has emulated the record of ‘Captain Fantastic’ by entering the charts at No 1. May the circle be unbroken …
THIS is Elton John Week, and the biggest Superstar in the business is playing Dodger Stadium. To celebrate the occasion he has chartered a jet at a cost of £50,000 and flown in a party of 120 people from England. There is Elton’s mum, and the lady who used to live next door in Pinner, aunts, uncles (one cynic suggests you can tell Elton’s relatives by the Cartier jewellery), friends, staff of Elton’s record company, Rocket (the one he owns, but not yet records for), accountants, lawyers, business associates and a handful of journalists. Russell Harty has come along with a film crew to make a documentary for `Aquarius’; Rodney Marsh has come along too, for the ride.
The party are doing LA, Disneyland and Universal Studios, and the swish boutiques of Beverley Hills or the Roxy Theatre and the Rainbow Bar; a hang – out – cum – meat market where piranha groupies cruise, eyes like grappling hooks, their 16-year-old brains charred by coke; where one sees Robert Plant and Mick Ralphs and half of Three Dog Night and the waitress says in this place if you’ve got a name you can get anything you want, but personally if she were a guy she wouldn`t lay 99 per cent of the girls here, not knowing what you`d catch into the bargain and as far as she`s concerned they can stick their 200 bucks a week with tips because she`s had enough of all this ego-bullshit.
And outside in the parking-lot, where the hipsters pose beside their Mercedes or Ferraris and bodies are bought like so much super-market merchandise, one notices two girls, their heads shaved, wrapped in dung-grey blankets, sullen and vacant-eyed. One carries a small kitten; and somebody says they are followers of Charles Manson. But that`s Hollywood…
Everybody is trying to get to Elton John, but the shutters are up. Rolling Stone want to do a story, but Elton’s office aren’t co-operating. But then Stone did do a story last year that was — a little too close to the knuckle for Elton’s liking …
Requests for interviews from the English contingent are similarly deflected. Elton is rehearsing; a bit tied-up right now; he did interviews for the English weeklies before the Wembley Show earlier this year and has nothing to add to what he said; perhaps at some unspecified time … Even the taxi driver finds it strange: Elton always seems so amenable to publicity when he’s in town, he says; you’re always reading interviews in the newspapers; or likely to hear him doing live broadcasts with even the smallest radio stations. Perhaps he’s afraid of over-exposure? Perhaps …
One has come to respect the taxi-drivers here. Lawrence Ecrlinghetti, the beat poet, was in town last week, saying he came to visit a city and found one big freeway instead. He’s right. Los Angeles is a city of roads and cars — not of people. Nobody walks and there are few buses. If you don’t have a car you take a cab. Driving around all day, radio cranked up, one ear on the conversation going on in the seat behind them, cab drivers have their finger on the pulse of the city and the pick of the grapevine. They are oracles, prophets, informers.
This cabby had picked up Elton five years ago, immediately before the Troubador breakthrough, when Elton was still making do with cheap hotel rooms. Funny that, because he’d never have thought Elton would make it, not as big as he has anyway. He’d found him kind of uninteresting as a person, not much conversation. But, hell, he writes good songs and look at his following. There’s no knocking the guy: no knocking him at all …
Elton is unavailable (or unwilling) to do interviews, but a meeting with John Reid, his manager, is arranged. Reid has managed Elton since 1970. A former label-manager for Tamla Motown in England, he was in America for a sales convention at the same time as Elton’s Troubador breakthrough, and became his manager three months later. Reid is quiet and polite, friendliness tempered with the sort of defensive wariness that manager sometimes have around journalists. One senses that he doesn’t trust too many people, which in his line of business is probably just as well.
His Beverley Hills office is functional rather than luxurious; on the wall there are colour blow-ups of Elton, fine-art originals and a large map of North America with flag-pins indicating the venues for the present tour. There are 13 pins — all west of the Rockies, 16 shows, with an average attendance of 19,000 for each gig.
Reid declines to estimate how much Elton eventually will earn from the tour — he hasn’t been paid for any live performances in America since 1973 when the US Internal Revenue Service froze payments pending the settlement of a double-taxation agreement between America and Britain.
1975 has been an important year for Elton. says Reid, with unprecedented sales and live performance successes. On a more practical level, he is now free to record for his own label, Rocket. ‘Rock Of The Westies’ is his last new album for DJM (a compilation album will fulfill his contractual obligations to that company). Furthermore, his American contract with MCA originally reported to be worth some eight million dollars to Elton -(less than the actual figure, says Reid) has been extended, and the distribution deal for other acts on Rocket with MCA is also about to be extended. His new contract will stipulate only one album per year, as opposed to two at present.
Although Reid describes Elton as being “very productive naturally” he feels the two-album-a-year contract was too tight. “There is danger of the music being prejudiced by an artist having to produce two albums. I don`t think to date it has been damaged by that. There is a lot of prejudice in the eyes of the press though, some reviews suggested he’d made ‘Rock Of The Westies’ simply to complete a contract commitment, which is absolutely not true. It upsets him for people to write things like that without checking their facts.
“The fact is that ‘Captain Fantastic’ was actually recorded in August 1974 and released nine or 10 months later, and by the time it was released he just wanted to get back into the studio and make a new album.”
Elton himself subsequently introduced the new album to the 60,000 audience at Dodger with a peculiarly defensive preamble in which he explained that he had been criticised for releasing `Westies’ so soon after ‘Captain Fantastic’, but when a musician gets a new band together the first thing he wants to do is make music with them, right? Right.
“With the new contract”, Reid continues, “we have a more flexible situation where he can work at his own pace. If he wants to make two albums a year he can do it, but then he doesn’t have to make another one for a year after that if he doesn’t want to.”
With less pressure from recording commitments Elton will be able to spend more time touring, and also devote more energy to his activities within Rocket. There are plans to tour Europe and the Far East next year, and promoter Mel Bush is putting together an itinerary for a comprehensive tour of Britain. Reid describes Elton`s last English appearance, at Wembley, as “3-2 to the Beach Boys – a mistake, but not a disaster…”
For Rocket, Elton has already produced one Kiki Dee album and was responsible for signing Neil Sedaka to the label. And there are plans to increase the label roster further. Rocket were, in fact, offered the contract of an ex Beatle – “he didn’t play guitar or write many songs,” says Reid – but passed on the ‘financial aspects’ of the deal. Reid thinks the offer was made “more out of courtesy than anything else.”
Reid baulks at evaluating his personal contribution to Elton’s success. “I don’t know how responsible I am. He’s responsible obviously, but the team-work that goes on around him is the important thing. People like Gus Dudgeon and myself just give him the machinery to carry out what he does. I can persuade him from making silly decisions. He’s terrible at choosing album titles and picking singles, for example. `Island Girl’ was originally scheduled as a single; then it was pulled back and ‘Dan Dare’ scheduled in its place; then that was pulled back and ‘Island Girl’ released. That’s one occasion where we came to loggerheads.
“He wanted to call ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road` `Vodka And Tonic’ and ‘Rock Of The Westies` `Bottled And Brained`. He’s not irresponsible; he just doesn’t know where to draw the line…”
Why, one wonders, does Elton sell more records than anybody else in the world? “Because he works harder. He tours a lot, makes frequent public appearance, and, of course, his music is good.” That good? “People can identify with him too, which is important. I think they sees him as an amiable, very talented eccentric — which is what he is.”
One remarks that there is something unnaturally wholesome and untainted about Elton`s image. He appears too pure — almost pristine — to be true, curiously lacking either the raunchiness, sexuality or innate agression — that renegade impulse – which fires most rock stars. “Harmless faggotry”, one Hollywood rock manager called it. “He doesn’t threaten like Bowie or promise like Jagger.” In fact, it is more of an asexuality, not in the sense of having transcended sexuality, but of never really having awoken to it at all. “He sometimes calls himself the Cliff Richard of rock and roll”, says Reid. “I don’t think it’s pristine really. He has a very ‘fun’ image. But the days are gone where you can build an image like that for someone. It just happens to be what he is.”
THE stadium nestles in the hills above downtown Los Angeles, a sweep of three tier stands around the baseball triangle. Fans have been camping out overnight to get stage-side seats and by mid-day the stadium is almost full. The audience is predominantly young but very mellow — archetypal sun-kissed California teenagers. There is little evidence of dope or even drink and none of the underlying tension, ugliness or discomfort which often characterises stadia gigs. Obviously this audience is here to have a good time.
Emmylou Harris opens the afternoon with a selection of songs from her last and her forthcoming albums. Emmylou has a sweet, high voice and a fine country band behind her, but the sound is too light — great for clubs, but not for religious festivals, which is what one senses today will turn into …
Joe Walsh is next on, standing amongst some tacky plastic palms and cacti, two drummers and a bass-player (Joe Vitale, Andy Newmark and Willie Weeks), behind him; keyboards to the left; guitarist and the Clydie King trio to his right. From the outset something is obviously wrong. The sound-balance is terrible; as if everything on stage is being miked through the bass and snare drums; the singers are mixed too high, and Walsh too low, effectively muting his lead-guitar lines. The sound perks up as the set progresses, but Walsh and band never really get on top.
Walsh is obviously a good guitarist and an occasionally accomplished song-writer, but he really needs to start composing or at least performing more varied material if he is ever to build on his reputation; while his songs may work in the studio, on stage they sound forced and over-stylised. Only on ‘Welcome To The Club’ and ‘Rocky Mountain Way’, both aggressive enough to steam-roller aside any reservations, do Walsh and the band really start to cook and by then their set is over.
It is 2 pm now, Elton is not scheduled to appear for another hour. The crowd amuse themselves building pyramids, pitching frisbees, hustling for souvenirs. The smog has risen from the city below the stadium now, and the hills behind the stage are softened by a yellow haze. The stadium itself is packed, and you can almost reach out and touch the excitement in the air.
At 2.45 the first bars of ‘Your Song’ can be heard from a piano. The curtain across the front of the stage parts to reveal Elton and the piano on a platform, gliding forward on rollers. Dodger Stadium erupts in a vast, breathtaking surge as everybody rises, jerked upright by sheer release of nervous excitement as Elton is at last visable.
The platform halts; Elton continues the song: the crowd quieten slightly, contenting themselves with a deafening round of applause after each verse, and a tumultuous barrage of appreciation at the end of the song.
“Don’t worry’. says Elton. “We’ll play as long as you want to … ” More applause. ‘I Need You To Turn To’, from the ‘Elton John Album’ follows, with Elton again accompanying himself on piano, before introducing the rest of the band and three back-up singers. ‘Take Me To The Pilot’ follows, with Elton’s piano, James Newton-Howard’s iconoclastic synthesiser squirls and some blisteringly assertive guitar-work from Davey Johnstone all combining with obvious relish to give the song height and weight.
This is one hell of a band to have here; Roger Pope and Kenny Passerelli have the rhythm section tightly buttoned down; the addition of Caleb Quaye on guitar gives Johnstone the freedom to fire-off some freewheeling leads, against Elton’s piano runs; while Ray Cooper bobs from one piece of percussion to another, hitting bells, blocks, and chimes with artful abandon.
The beat goes on. ‘Country Comfort’, `Levon’, ‘Rocket Man’. During ‘Dan Dare’ Elton throws his white sequined bowler-hat into the audience; there is a mad scrummage, a sea of flailing hands before the hat is sucked under and the crowd readjust themselves. There is a curious discipline about this audience: sitting down as the songs begin, rising in unison as they build, to sing and dance along with the choruses, and sit down again at their conclusion.
Up, down, up, down in perfect harmony; it is controlled abandon; a mellow, happy, almost loving, collective loosening-up. People hug each other in excitement as favourite tunes begin, arms sway in time, the atmosphere is extraordinarily good. Elton finishes the first set with `Hercules’ and ‘Empty Skies’. He has played for just over an hour. “We`ll be back with the rock`n`roll set…”, he promises.
He reappears after 20 minutes, in a sequined baseball outfit in local team colours. Such taste! Such respect! The crowd bay delightedly. He plays ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and ‘Bennie And The Jets’, ‘Gotta Get A Meal Ticket’, and ‘The Bitch Is Back’, for which Billie Jean King joins in the chorus while Elton leaves the piano to strut and mince around stage, beside himself with the thrill of it, and fall to his knees to play Davey Johnstone’s guitar with his teeth and hurl his piano-stool to the back of the stage, with childlike abandon rather than adolescent petulance.
Behind me on the field, two Blacks, one with the legend ‘YOU’RE BETTER OFF DEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T HEARD ELTON’ printed on his shirt, attack imaginary pianos, mouth every word of every song and fall to their knees in supplication at the end of each number. When the first strains of ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ strike up both will burst into uncontrollable tears …
For ‘Lucy In The Sky With Dimonds’ Elton reminds his audience not to forget the Beatles (how many other artists could get away with doing that?) and pays further tribute with `I Saw Her Standing There’, complete with the guitar-riff from ‘Day Tripper’. Ringo is apparently backstage, but he does not appear.
‘Philadelphia Freedom’ follows and then ‘We All Fall In Love Sometimes, with another curtain parting behind the band to reveal the James Cleveland Choir, like a band of black angels in white satin splendour. “Elton saves …” scream the black guys as they break into sobs. Then it’s ‘Saturday Night’ and the entire stadium is on its feet, boogieing, clapping, singing along, the tiers literally trembling under the strain. The energy is incredible, unbelievable: there are 60,000 people here and every one of them must be singing.
Elton has left the lead vocal to the Holy Choir and is now up on the piano brandishing a baseball bat at the audience, taking hapless swings at tennis-balls being thrown on from the wings. This goes on for five, perhaps 10 minutes — this mass song, hysterical mantra — `Saturday, Saturday, Saturday night’s all right’ before collapsing into wild applause and an equally frenzied and extended version of ‘Pinball Wizard’.
Then finally it is over. It is 6.25. Elton has played some three dozen songs for almost 3 1/2 hours. The audience don’t ever bother to call for more. To deliver it would be impossible.
“Elton Saves, Elton Saves”. As the crowds drift slowly out of the stadium the two black guys remain on their knees, chanting, crying, mind-confused by the sheer magical overwhelming power of it all. “Elton Saves.” One can almost believe it.
I take a cab to Hollywood Boulevard to look at Elton’s star, maybe take a photograph for posterity. The taxi driver lights himself a joint (only in LA …), takes a couple of deep hits. It’s a funny thing, he says, about music … you got heavy metal freaks and country freaks and acid rock freaks and whatever the hell else kind of freaks. But everybody likes Elton John. Isn’t that right? We stop to look at the star. It’s nothing special; just a star in a slab of concrete; tourists snapping off pictures. Y’see, says the taxi-driver, even intelligent people like Elton John. That’s what makes him different.
The next day feminists in Los Angeles call a one-day strike on womanly duties to celebrate ‘Alice Doesn’t’ Day. Elton John leaves for Paris, and a four-month holiday. The Hollywood idyll is over for now, but the Dream, one thinks, has begun.
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