Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Tumbleweed Connection Primer"
Released shortly after his American debut, as "Your Song" was peaking, "Tumbleweed Connection" had no hits, but it's Elton John's best album.
MY FATHER'S GUN
It closed the first side, it's not talked about much, but I haven't been able to get it out of my head since my college buddy told me he was in the process of selling his father's gun, a World War II artifact.
It's unfortunate that Elton's voice is not what it once was, but as soon as you hear the mellifluous notes on this track you melt. That's how great he was, why he still sustains today, because he could write (with Bernie Taupin's help), play and sing. Qualities that were seen as necessary forty years ago but somehow are not seen to be required today.
Yes, Elton's a classic.
And even though you'll rarely hear this song today, those who know "Tumbleweed Connection" cherish it, as they do the other ten cuts.
Yes, all killer and no filler!
WHERE TO NOW ST. PETER?
My favorite cut on "Tumbleweed Connection."
The way it used to work with vinyl is you'd settle into one side first, then the other. Oh, you'd start off playing side one, but if you were enraptured with side two first, you'd stick with that until you knew it all and then switch back to side one.
"Where To Now St. Peter?" opens side two.
I bought Elton's first two American albums at the same time. And over time I've come to enjoy and appreciate the first almost as much as the second, the haunting sound of "Sixty Years On" and "The King Must Die," but despite having a huge crush on "Take Me To The Pilot," the track I had to hear again and again in my dorm room at Middlebury College was this, "Where To Now St. Peter?"
You know how some cuts immediately grab you from your pedestrian life and propel you into a much better world?
That's the essence of "Where To Now St. Peter?"
I'd come home from the Middlebury College Snow Bowl or Mad River Glen, take a hot shower and lie on my bed listening to "Where To Now St. Peter?" on headphones.
It was an ethereal number far from the mainstream back then and it still is today, which is why I love it so much.
COME DOWN IN TIME
Arguably the best cut on "Tumbleweed Connection."
It's subtle, you don't discover it immediately, it's quiet after the raucous first side opener, "Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun."
It's romantic. It presages interactions to come. It's got rich instrumentation absent from today's compressed scene. This is what money could buy, this sound. And never underestimate the album's producer, Gus Dudgeon, he crafted this sound, Elton's worked with others, but never at this quite high a level.
More famous in its Rod Stewart incarnation, from "Gasoline Alley," released nearly simultaneously.
Elton slows it down and adds gravitas, it's one of the few situations where the cover is better than the original, but the original is quite fine.
You can see the story.
SON OF YOUR FATHER
And speaking of covers, Spooky Tooth did one of "Son Of Your Father," but unlike Rod Stewart's version of "Country Comfort," it does not trump the rendition of the writer.
This is how great Elton was, his minor work is as hooky as that of most first line artists today. It's all about the chorus, with the backup vocals, you can't listen without shaking your head in time.
And speaking of backup vocals, you can hear Lesley Duncan with Elton on her composition here.
How stunning, how generous, that a burgeoning artist would cede one of the ten cuts on his album to someone else, think of the songwriting royalties!
Yes, today it's all about credit so you can get paid. Music back then was more of a community, and from that community came music much more memorable.
I'll be honest, I was worried at first my album was defective, I thought the ticking in the right channel was a surface imperfection, the bane of vinyl records in their heyday. I was as famous for returning records as I was for buying them.
Alas, it's part of the track.
I never hear anybody talk about this, but it was my second favorite cut on "Tumbleweed Connection" after "Where To Now St. Peter?" and I love it no less today. It's the way Elton waltzes his fingers over the keys with such groove, such attitude, something that Pro Tools and comping has eviscerated, trying to get it right people so often excise the magic.
And then there's the vocal, employing the same groove. And the chicken-pickin' guitar.
"Amoreena" is one of the few tracks you get initially, on the first play through, and love even more the more you play it.
The dynamics. The sounds. Whew!
"I can see you sittin' eatin'
Apples in the evenin'"!
TALKING OLD SOLDIERS
Quiet, intimate, one of my two least favorite cuts on "Tumbleweed Connection," but it set up the piece de resistance, "Burn Down The Mission."
BURN DOWN THE MISSION
The intro is almost as subtle and powerful as that to "Stairway To Heaven." You have no idea what's coming, that "Burn Down The Mission" will be a tour de force.
And that it was and still is. The triumphant point of Elton's live show. Only we did not know this yet, "11/17/70" had not yet been released.
It's six plus minutes long but could lose not a note, it's neither bloated nor boring, it's just...right. The way it goes from slow to fast and back again (a trick Zeppelin also employed so well!)
There's exquisite piano playing, and whenever Elton returns you swoon. Ooh!
BALLAD OF A WELL-KNOWN GUN
The opening cut and my least favorite on the album.
Elton broke the Stones' rule, which was to lead with the killer single.
But when the album immediately quieted down with "Come Down In Time" it made no difference, but it's one of the reasons I started with the second side first.
So there you have it, one of the most classic of classic rock albums. So perfect, it's hiding in plain sight. Without the big hit single, it rarely gets noted, but those who know it can never forget it.
And then there was the packaging, with the tinted cover and inner booklet. You could truly listen and read the lyrics and credits at the same time, that was all the multi-tasking necessary.
And yes, we could talk about the western imagery and Bernie Taupin's infatuation with America, but that would be too twenty first century, wherein we focus on the penumbra as opposed to the music.
So fire up the big rig, drop the needle and get ready for a mind-blowing experience.
Or just listen to the MP3s, the essence is still there.
I've got other favorites, but no one is higher in my personal pantheon than Elton John. Because of his talent, because of the astounding frequency and quality of his production. Because listening to his music makes me happy, makes me feel good, makes me believe that music can enwrap me with all its goodness and solve all my problems.