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6 Nov 2007

About Recording "Madman Across The Water"

“I can't listen to my vocals on that entire album. I hated it” explained Elton over the years. “Honestly, no bullshit, no Marc Bolan hype, it's my biggest catalogue seller... yet I can't listen to it. I can't listen to either “Levon” or “Tiny dancer” because my vocals are so appalling but yet again that album was made under nightmare conditions”. But not only for the vocals, the time they were doing this album was not the best they could expect, there were so many problems.

The atmosphere was tense. The usual stockpile of songs had been exhausted, an intensive touring schedule had not allowed enough time to mantein their previous output of three songs a week: “That album was wrenched out of us because we had to produce an album for our record company, and we'd only had the title track done as far as songs were concerned. Usually when we do an album we've got a stockpile of songs we can choose from. But because we were touring so much we didn't have a stockpile”, commented Elton.

Elton himself stormed out after a furious row with publisher Dick James over some re-recording. Bernie could write about an America he had visited extensively while accompanying Elton on tour. “There were some unbelievable things going wrong through the making of the album... (Arranger) Paul Buckmaster turning up for a session with no arrangements and 60 string players sitting there wondering what the hell was happening. And with all that going on... having just ten days to record the entire album”.

Lyrically, most of the songs were written in the first person, obliging Elton to assume a bewildering array of voices and characters.

“”Madman” is the first album that's a gold before release”. But the album lacked natural singles and none were released in Britain. And It was slated by the critics. It reached number 8 in the US charts but the place where Elton most wanted to prove and justify himself was Britain, and the album showed it no higher than 41. The old problem of penetrating the singles marked seemed as insoluble as ever. “Levon” neither “Tiny dancer” made it into the Top 20.

Dissapointed, Elton experienced another of those momentary compulsions to do utterly the wrong thing: “I thought of quitting. I really thought I'd gone as far as I was going to”.

Most significant about the recording of his next studio album “Honky Chateau” though, was Elton's use of his band on all the songs. One wonder how he managed his victory after fighting, with limited success, to get drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray on previous albums. The signing of guitarrist Davey Johnstone could have been a factor. But it is telling that Elton was finally able to use his band, and achieve a more basic sound, more pop and less orchestral arrangements.

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