Elton John’s eponymous second effort is pretty much where things started taking off for him. Originally intended as effectively a shop window to display the diverse writing talents of the Elton John and Bernie Taupin song writing team, and convince other acts to cover their material, Elton’s second album wasn’t recorded with the intention of making the former Reg Dwight a star, yet the United States embraced Elton and his career started its ascent in 1970.
A leap forward from the well intentioned, but wishy-washy Empty Sky, Elton John was the first album where it started to become obvious that he had a twinkling of star power. Kicking off with “Your Song”, a number which remains one of Elton’s signature tunes, it’s an album where the strength is in the consistency of the tunes, rather than delivering big hits. Indeed, the fact that “Your Song” was a hit very much seems by accident rather than design. Instead, the shop window approach very much put the emphasis on the song writing rather than trying to make those songs as accessible as possible.
It’s obvious even at this early stage in their careers that Elton and Bernie writing partnership had legs, even if they hadn’t quite hit their stride at this point. The other big player in regards to the album was arranger Paul Buckmaster, whose string sections are used to great, if occasionally over-powering effect. Buckmaster’s strings would remain a semi-regular feature on Elton’s albums as the decade progressed. There are times when Buckmaster’s string arrangements threaten to overwhelm the songs, but given that album was still early days career wise, they were evidently still working on how it was all going to balance up to greatest effect.
Given the fact that the songs on Elton John were only loosely intended to work as an album, and the fact that the Elton John Band wouldn’t properly form until later in the year, this album still has a surprising amount of cohesion about it. Sure there are songs where it sounds like Elton is desperately trying to show that he can write a song in the style of other big acts of the era (his attempt at aping The Rolling Stones is most obvious, but if you listen closely the spirit of Leon Russell is the one that is most consistent), but even with a series of stylistic shifts, the album still hangs together surprisingly well.
1970 was arguably the key year in terms of Elton John’s career. With the American music scene seemingly taking notice of him en-masse, he and Taupin would shift their focus from trying to write songs for others, to advancing Elton’s solo career. The first fruits of this would be the brilliant Tumbleweed Connection, and before the end of the year the nucleus of the Elton John Band were formed and there was a live album in the pipeline as well. From here Elton John and Bernie Taupin would prove to be one of the key creative teams in popular song, releasing a string of genuinely brilliant albums albums right up until the mid-70s. If you want to know where Elton John’s career really took off, you can skip his debut album and pretty much start here.