Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 22. 1973
Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player: — Elton John. DJM DJL 34722. — The Lady's Not For Sale: A&M AML 34704 — Drift Away: Dobie Gray. MCA MAPS 6470
Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player:
Elton John. DJM DJL 34722.
The Lady's Not For Sale: A&M AML 34704
Drift Away: Dobie Gray. MCA MAPS 6470.
Elton John's "Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player", is a reprise, with variations, on his last release, "Honky Chateau". That album marked an abrupt change of direction for the John—Taupin team after the vapid excesses of "Madman Across the Water" and this one continues it. It is not, as the weekend muckrakers would have us believe, the best album released so far this year. It is, however, a carefully planned, logical extension of the "back to basics" approach formulated on "Honky Chateau", and that's enough to ensure that it is a pudgy Englishman's personal best.
The album is based on a sequence of American-orienta led fantasies, extending from the recreation of a 1950's style in "Crocodile Rock" to heavy-handed social commentary in "Texas Love Song", which conjures up a menacing "Easy Rider" — type scenario: "You long hairs are sure gonna die/ Our American home was clean till you came/ and kids still respected the president's name.... then you came along with your drug crazy songs/ Goddamit, you're sure gonna die".
"Teacher, I need you" and "I'm going to be a teenage idol" are also rooted in nostalgia, and are successful for all that, but the best cut is the catchy single release, "Daniel". Elton, doubling on "flute" mellotron and electric piano, and Ken Scott on A.R.P. synthesizer make full and fitting use of the electronic instrumentation to frame Taupin's best ever lyric. Full marks to Festival for the lavish presentation, which includes a 12-page book of coloured photographs and lyrics.
The same company is also responsible for the Rita Coolidge release. Ms Coolidge's only real claim to fame was as a backing vocalist, but somehow she's managed to talk enough bread out of Herb Albert for three solo albums. It must be something to do with having the right connections — many of whom have pitched in to supply the music for "The Lady's Not for Sale" They include Carl Radle. Jim Keltner, Kris Kristotterson and the seemingly inseperable Kunkel—Sklar duo, but they sound as if they know they're backing a loser, and play like a soulless version of Booker T and the MGs. Everything works, but it lacks any distinctive quality which would set it apart from the 30 or so albums released every week.
Above them, Rita has assembled a goodly collection of lyrics from pens as diverse as Marc Beno, Dylan and Kristofferson. The unfortunate part is that she sings them with a voice as bland and as uninteresting as vanilla instant pudding, as mechanically as a primer reciting the alphabet. Her gentle approach makes even a tune like "Bird on the Wire" too saccharine to take. It has absolutely none of the anguished desperation of the Cocker or Hardin versions, nor the bitter pathos inherent in the Cohen original. Given the familiarity of the song it should be easy enough to listen to. Not so. After about 45 seconds your concentration wanders. I wonder where she'd be if she wasn't screwing Kristofferson.
Dobie Gray, mercifully, is something else again. He represents MCA's attempt to crash the soul market dominated by Stax, Tamla and Atlantic. With "Drift Away", produced in Nashville by Mentor Williams, they've made a promising start. Like Elton John's album the stand out track is the single release, which gives the album its name. Basically, it's a bittersweet paen that can only be described as cathartic: "Day after day I'm more confused /yet I look for the light through the pouring rain /you know that's a game I hate to lose /and I'm feeling the strain /ain't it a shame ....give me the beat boys and free my soul /I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away". The lyric is expressively put across by an appropriately intense vocal, nestling neatly into a sympathetic dual guitar backdrop, which pushes the song through several verses and then dissolves into an incredible acapella section. The rhythm section doesn't mess around either, they're tight and round out a pop masterpiece that could give a lot of pointers to other singers who burble about their fanciful notions of "reality" and such like from behind a lack of sensitivity.
There's nothing else on the album that matches that. In fact when he slows down the tempo he comes out sounding a lot like a syrupy O.C. Smith, notably on "We had it all". His forte is medium and up-tempo numbers — particularly impressive is his rendition of Duck Dunn's "Rocking Chair", and his own. "City Stars" which is brilliantly lit by Weldon Myrick's stabbing steel guitar licks.
The remainder of the album is slightly above par Tamla-type material, competently performed but not music that leaves much of an impression. Most albums these days can be boiled down to a single. This one is no exception, but if Gray can sustain the quality of the single for an entire album the results will certainly be worth hearing.