Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SONG #140: Friends

Elton John, Friends Soundtrack, 1970

Forgive a sentimental fool his indulgences.

This track is a forgotten Elton John song from an even more forgotten film.  He agreed to do the music right before he exploded as a solo artist, and this album isn't usually included in his discography.  There are actually two great tracks on here-- this one, and a song called "Can I Put You On," which is on Elton's 11-17-70 album (by far his best, I think, but that's another blog.  But seriously, 11-17-70-- check it out.)

I've always had a soft spot for this tune-- I think the album cover is hilarious, it knows when to end (only 2:23, probably the exact length of the film's credits.  It used to be that a film's theme song had to be under three minutes for that reason) and it features Elton's pre-fame singing voice.  I love Elton's performances on his early albums, before he's a parody of himself and singing through a Donald Duck costume.

On his early records, John strikes me as a somewhat shy talent.  It's part of what makes those albums great.  The guy's obviously phenomenal, but he still has a memory of being unknown and a regular person.  Compare the singing on "Burn Down The Mission" to "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting."  They're both uptempo tracks, but the singing on the first one is earnest and in love with the music he's playing.  Just four years later, he had become an entertainer first and a musician second, and I think that's why he lost that quality and balance that made him special in the first place.  In a list of "Artists who lost their way," John would definitely make the top 10 (other finalists-- Rod Stewart, R.E.M., The Outfield).

On this song, John is at his most charming, unassuming and effortless, and while it's a breezy little tune without much heft to it, I think that chorus is a winner every time.  Try listening to it this morning and not singing "Making Friends!" spontaneously later in the day-- can't be done.  I like all the dramatic touches-- the string section on the first chorus, the late entry of the drums in the second verse, the introduction of backing vocals in the second chorus.  It's classic Elton John before there was such a thing-- it's like having a glimpse into the rough draft of a great book.  Just a year later, he had this formula perfected.

I actually chose "Friends" today, instead of obeying the rules of the shuffle, not just because I wanted to look up weird photos of Elton on Google (here's a few more):

uninhibited (adj) 1.not inhibited or restricted.  2. not restrained by social convention or usage

but because I've been overwhelmed by the response to the blog this past week. I've gotten hundreds of comments from old friends and new, and it's been great to hear from all of you.  I'm humbled seeing the faces of so many folks who are checking in and sticking with my ramblings.  Moreover, this song's sense of the passage of time and the resulting fragility of friendships resonated with me as I looked at the number of people who I haven't talked to in so long who are revisiting these songs and stories with me.

I'm on the road for the next several days, but I'll be hoping that "the day will be a lighter highway" for you, and I'm hoping to be back at it this weekend.  Thanks again for reading, and sometime this week put your favorite album on and enjoy some summer.

Too maudlin?  Perhaps, but I needed to offset the snarkiness of last week.  Maybe I'll do "Lonesome Loser" by the Little River Band next as an antidote.  See you soon--

(Yay-- it only took 140 songs for me to figure out how to embed a link.)


  1. "...earnest and in love with the music he's playing"
    forgive the quotations, but this line struck me, jeff. nice to see the essence of something so economically conveyed... obviously, i am a sentimental fool as well (sigh--no, just kidding). language, like music, can be thrilling in its earnestness and honesty...too bad for elton john if this quote no longer applies. what a price to pay if he once had it.

  2. Feeling the blog love my friend and thrilled you've been getting the good feedback. The thing I think is really interesting about the excellent early Elton songs is they both announce his great potential, but also show the seeds of his destruction. To me the first 30 seconds where it is just him playing and singing are just gorgeous. I just love the spare simplicity of it and he is a fine, fine piano player. Not technically over the top, but tasteful and pretty. To me everything he adds on top of it actually detracts and the strings in particular irk me. Elton never trusted the base material and you can hear it in this song. Of course it gets much, much worse going forward. Still, loving the sentimental approach. Enjoy your travels.