Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Someone Saved My Life Tonight" by Elton John (1975)

“There was once a time when Elton John was wonderful – putting out amazing songs that weren’t in the least contrived and hackneyed at a rate of two albums a year or more.” Tell it to the kids of today and they won’t believe you…

Hell, tell it to the parents of the kids of today and they’ll have no reason to believe you. The Elton John I grew up with was a terrible embarrassment, chirping out meaningless drivel like “I’m Still Standing” or – gag – “Nikita”. He just seemed to get worse and worse. So logically, I presumed he had always sucked.

Not so, as present evidence can confirm. I may have heard this song a million times, yet every time it manages to take me by surprise. The emotional depth it presents still continues to stun. The dynamics it possesses, the tension and release. Elton sings it like he means it, and as far as I knew in the 80s, Elton didn’t mean anything. To anyone.

Elton was not completely innocent of suckage in his glory years. (“Bennie and the Jets”, anyone?) This song comes from an album that apparently is a ‘semi-autobiographical account of he and his songwriting partner’s lives’. The cover is all done up to look like a superhero comic and it has a similarly crap title that I can’t be bothered to Google at the moment. It didn’t have any ‘hits’ on it, so I never gave it a second thought. I don’t even know under what circumstances I first heard this song, but it left such an impression that I immediately hunted it down. Apparently, I have since learnt, it’s based on a true story in which Elton’s life was saved, from a suicide attempt or an overdose or something, by his brave and gallant lyricist Bernie Taupin (the songwriting partner I mentioned above).

To write a song, and a magnificently beautiful one, as thanks is a lovely gesture, except… well, Bernie Taupin is the lyricist. So if this is true, then Mr. Taupin saved his famous friend’s life and then composed a song of gratitude about it for that friend to sing back to him… masturbatory, anyone?

Doesn’t matter. If it is a true story, perhaps it cuts deep, and perhaps that explains why Elton here managed such a bravura performance, making you feel both the desperation and the gratitude. Or perhaps it’s just that Elton had yet to blow his emotional depth away with mountains of cocaine. Who can be sure?

In the end, what matters is this seven-minute slab of beauty and the emotional weight and ense of drama it carries. If it took Bernie Taupin saving Mr. Reg “Elton John” Dwight from an early death to bring that to life, then I guess the 30+ years of maudlin ick that followed it are worth it.
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