Review Summary: Elton John's eponymous album is a classic for any fan!
Elton John and Bernie Taupin began writing new songs in 1969 and Steve Brown (their producer for "Empty Sky") decided to bring in Gus Dudgeon (who produced "Space Oddity"). These sessions would become the "Elton John" album and was Elton's first album released in the states. Recorded at Trident Studios in a single month, pressure was on Elton as he recorded the whole album live with an orchestra. Paul Buckmaster arranged string sections to fit most of the songs on the album. The result is astonishing and at times is intense, but never overwhelms the songs. Instead, it gives the album a darker atmosphere which works, (look at the album cover) because Elton's voice is strong enough to lead the orchestra.
"Your Song" is probably the best song John and Taupin ever wrote and it deserves all the acclaim it's received over the years. With Elton's gentle piano, heartfelt singing, and the strings section, it's no surprise that it became his first hit song. The album was released in the summer of 1970, but didn't sell well initially. Elton made his grand appearance at the Troubadour in August of that year, and by playing these songs live became an overnight sensation. "Border Song" is a great hymn that features a choir singing during the instrumental section. It didn't chart well, but what it did do was attract Aretha Franklin into covering it. What's even more interesting is Elton penned the last verse's lyrics himself.
The album is filled with ballads, ("I Need You To Turn To," "First Episode At Hienton," "Sixty Years On," and "The Greatest Discovery") which all feature Buckmaster arrangements. "I Need You To Turn To" succeeds with the harpsichord, in contrast with "Skyline Pigeon" which was overblown off the first record. Skaila Kanga (well-known studio musician) plays harp on this track along with "Sixty Years On" and "The Greatest Discovery." "Sixty Years On" would become a live staple, but here just features an intense string arrangement outlining Elton's chords. "The Greatest Discovery" is about the birth of Taupin's new brother and Elton's piano doesn't come in until he starts singing.
There are a few rockers on this album as well, "Take Me To The Pilot" being the most memorable. It has a gospel feel to it, and while the lyrics are strange, John turns it into a rocker that rolls like a freight train. "The Cage" flirts with major and minor chords and has an excellent falsetto by Elton during the chorus.
This album is a giant leap forward from "Empty Sky". There isn't any filler that would become a trademark for Elton further down the line. Instead, what you have is an album that has classical and rock elements to it. The album is worth it for "Your Song" alone.