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10 Apr 2014

"If I was an Artist, Who Paints with His Eyes" Claude Bernardin's Top 30 Elton John List. Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of AllSongsList

8. Claude Bernardin

April 10, 1970. Release of "Elton John" album. The self-titled album, the second on Elton's career, is the essence of Elton's music. His songwriting had become immediate and succesful, it was the first step on a long way of successes. Our next guess is the essence of eltonites: passionate, loyal, enthusiast: "I became a fan from that fateful night my Older Sister Anne, tossed that Elton John album across the dining room table. Growing up during that period was dream-like. I had no idea what a foundation in the History of Rock N Roll I was to get by becoming such a fan of this man and his music. " Claude Bernardin's speaking. Music and art in a mixture of first degree. An artist who paints with his eyes: "I suppose that line kind of summarizes my entire life….through, image, poetic words, and melody. I even used it as my graduating class, High School yearbook song Quote in 1975." Let's talk about his experiences and thoughts about Elton. It's your turn, just listening.

It’s so hard for me to re-live past moments, but one of the most outstanding albums for me, was “Honky Chateau”. I remember where I was when I heard “Honky Cat”(  in a restaurant), “Rocket Man”( tarring and shingling a garage roof ), and I couldn’t stop singing, “Mellow”, ( and frankly still can’t! ) and I desperately wanted my “Amy”! BY 1976, I started to realize the “Yellow Brick Road” was winding down. I went to my first show t the Phila. Spectrum in July, but the noise levels were pretty high, so was the audience! And Explosions of M-80’s made the entire experience numbing. That wasn’t the Elton I wanted to hear! So I tuned in to a solo concert on TV from Scotland just before my 18th birthday in September, and was smart enough to have a cassette recorder set up. I would later play that show until I wore that tape out! I loved the sound of his voice, and loved the songs. It was so hard to read that article in Rolling Stone Magazine in October.

But I hung on, even through “Ego”, “Thom Bell”, “Victim Of Love” and finally to the TV appearance of “Elton’s Song” ( the ACTUAL return to form as a singer-songwriter! ) and later the next year, on TV his gorgeous duet of “Candle” with Olivia Newton-John and  "Little Jeannie’s” Premiere, and we were back in business! Those late 70’s years were the dark ages for early ‘70’s fans. But No matter the ups and the downs, The fun for me has always been both the studio work and the live material. The 80’s and 90’s I would travel the East Coast to see Elton over 50 times live, and collect as much of the songs as I could find time and money.

I am so proud of where Elton and Bernie are now today, musically. I think the last 13 years have been some of their most powerful years musically. I can get the “essence” of Elton and Bernie down to two songs: “Roy Rogers” and “This Song Has No Title”. Just words and a tune, and some brilliant, unique, emotive vocal skills.

I have seen Elton on every Famous Tour. I have studied every interview, every song, every live version of every song, and I am happy to say, instead of being burned out by now, I’m still invigorated by his live sets, in fact the latest set list might just be one of his best ever. I mean “You’re Sister Can’t Twist”, “Roy Rogers” and “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” with “Home Again” and “Ocean’s Away”? Give me a break! I have fallen in love with the Man’s music and Bernie’s words all over again thanks to the outstanding album, “The Diving Board. A New Career Masterpiece. I really do see this album in the league of those early 1970’s gems like Madman, Elton John, and Yellow Brick Road. It’s a bizarre thing to hear a new album that somehow captures the “essence” of the brilliant past, and yet still sounds new and vibrant.

I can’t stop playing it! It has played every day in my truck since September 2013.

Elton and Bernie’s songs have been a part of every stitch in the fragment of my life.

And I have painted and imagined landscapes and places to every song, repeatedly as I paint. They are the canvas and colors of my Art.

Thank you Miquel for the honor top write this top 30 list.

It was a HUGE task, and it took much re-writing and re-listening inorder for me to finalize my favorites. I included the next 30, so some could see where other favorites might have finished up. It hurt me that “Empty Garden” didn’t make my top 30. But what can you do?!

I chose songs based on my, Most often played in my truck listings, and also probably for their brilliant musicianship and recording!

The Other 30 songs : All songs Vying for Position ( but they eventually got cut ) :

Street Kids, Cage The Songbird, The King Must Die, Harmony, Emperor’s New Clothes, The Voyeur, Indian Sunset, My Father’s Gun, This Song Has No Title, Grey Seal, Blue Avenue, Tower Of Babel, Tell Me When The Whistle Blows, No Valentines, Madman, Empty Garden, Cold As Christmas, The One, The North, Goodbye, Healing Hands, Come Down In Time, Tiny Dancer, Michelle’s Song, First Episode at Hienton, Wake Up Wendy, Mandalay Again, The Best Part Of The Day, I Need You To Turn Too and Bad Side Of The Moon ( Here and There ).

Honorable Performance Mentions: I’m Ready, and Sugar On The Floor ( He didn’t write them ).

Top30 EltonJohn Songs:

30. This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore – 2001 – There were another ten songs vying for this position…and some I might change my tune on given another day. But what “songs from the west coast” gave us, was a masterful return to a man I grew up with. I could not believe Old Elton returned after all those decades, stronger than ever. Still can’t …frankly! And admire him more and more, daily as I ponder that he cared enough to do it once again. That is no easy task, for those who just think Elton farts classic recordings. His effort, Taupin’s effort, everyone’s effort payed off in the final track. It is a match to 1973’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ in style, sound And delivery. The song is classic Elton, another cinematic masterpiece. And I never ever tire of playing it. He needs to go back to this Studio, this Producer and try it again. And I’ll have the last word on this one Bernie: “Apparently , you’re wrong…This Train DOES stop there ……” J and thank God it did once again!

29. I’m Gonna Be A Teenage Idol – 1972 - In 1996, after my father died, I received a phone call from Mr. Tom Stanton, and East End Lights. We chatted about our books success. He asked me then, if I could choose two songs I’d want to hear live, what would they be: I didn’t pause to think…My favorite song on The Big Picture was “Love’s Got a Lot To Answer For”, and I was playing “Teenage Idol” so much in my truck my friends were complaining! J  I was stunned, when I went to The Bryce Jordan Center in Penn State, and these songs were in the set! In fact I cried through Loves Got a Lot, because I’d just lost my Mother at the time, ( weeks before ). And add in Sand and Water and you know what I think of that tour. One of his best without a doubt! The song is Pre-Bennie and The Jets. It’s better in my opinion. The track, yes a tribute to Marc Bolan, but couldhave easily also been about Elton and his career sky-rocketing. It contains some of the best “Root Toot Shoot” piano Elton has ever recorded. For me, a lover of a piano player, it doesn’t get much better than this. A career Milestone in my opinion, far too often over looked.

28. Have Mercy On The Criminal – 1972 – The precursor for “Yellow Brick Road” no doubt…and another fascinating band performance. Guitarist Johnstone blazes the recording with a glorious guitar solo. One of his career bests! But Buckmaster’s string arrangement was ground breaking, a mini horror flick! AND Taupin and Elton were at the center of the plot. Producer Dudgeon was as close as Hitchcock in his Directing skills. And I fell head over heels in love with the track from the first moment I heard it. It still sends shivers through me. This is what great rock n roll is all about. A totally under rated track in my opinion. Live: there are many versions and all are very good. I suppose 1988.

 27. Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding – 1973 – so much has been said about this song, and it has never NOT been in a show ( has it? ), so I almost didn’t include it. But I couldn’t let all that nonsense deny it, its just review. It is a career Master piece. And I’m not quite sure why the singer/songwriter has NOT returned to its attempts ever again in a studio. I think it’s over do personally. What might the world say of a new 8 minute Opus of Rock from Elton John today? Hmmmmm? We can dream can’t we? It is a Career Opus! An FM Rock Radio standard. Equal to anything Pink Floyd ever put down. And for me it’s all about two things….that middle piano bit in the intro, and : “ the roses in your window box have tilted to one side…everything about this house was born to grow and die….you’re a blue bird on a telegraph line…I hope you’re happy now….” It is one of the best band performances on record. A career high point for all involved. Live: I’d say the 2001 tour was the best.

26. Tonight – 1976 – I’m still waiting for one song writer/musician to hand me a track as lovely as this song. It is a career Master Piece. From words, to melody, to arrangement, to piano, to skill level, to emotions, to passion, to Art….it has never, and perhaps will EVER be matched by he or anyone else again. Best live version: 1986 with Johnstone on guitar. Wonderful.A brilliant and total re-working that soared above the clouds. “Just let the curtains close in silence...”. Perhaps the perfect bookend to 1971’s “Tiny Dancer”, sadly.

25. Amy – 1972 - Ok let’s get the trivia out of the way…According to Producer and former personal assistant Stuart Epps, this song lyrically is a joke to Elton and Gus Dudgeon’s wife Sheila. It was her nickname. And apparently, she was not always keen on “Elton” thus the teasing lines ” so if you don’t want me around….and to you I’m an infection…” J….after the album’s release Gus bought her a sports car with that name on the license plate. Stuart now owns that car.They had a love/annoyed relationship I suppose….The Intro: musically , one The best piano bits Elton ever put down. One of the best Band recordings Elton, Nigel, Davey and Dee ever laid down! The song rocks like almost no other in their entire Library! I think it’s better than any rock track on “Tumbleweed”. The Violin solo is great! I can’t be sad when I’m listening to this track! And don’t you ever try to tell me Elton John was just a balladeer! LOL! He needs to re-visit this place so badly. KNOCK KNOCK : T. Bone Burnett…Hello? You listening? You too Taupin and Elton! Rock it or lose it! The song contains some of Elton’s best piano ever recorded.

24. The Ballad of Danny Bailey – 1973 – Oh My! How much do I love this song?!!!! LOL!  I’d jump through tracks upon tracks on my cassette of Yellow Brick Road to hear it again in 1974! To this day it is a phenomenal Hollywoodesque anthem for me. The story line is intriguing, The Bonnie and Clyde aspect riveting…”Now it’s all over Danny Bailey…and the harvest is in…Dillnger’s dead….” The chorus is just brilliant melodically. The opening piano bit and gun drum rim shot perfect! But the strings and the piano….OH MY! OH MY! It is some of the best piano Elton ever put down until the Diving Boards “Ballad of Blind Tom”.For me it’s all about the “Oh, Oh,Oh,Oh,Ohhhh’s OOOOWH’s” and that Machine gun Kelly style piano at the end, which frankly, he NEVER plays enough in the studio!! Ok I had my temper tantrum, LOL! That song is Amazing dude! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for finding it in your soul!Live: 1988 Chicago.

23. Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatters – 1972 – “Honky Chateau”. Sheer Poetry in Song here! The Cream of the crop when it comes to classics. Again, I could spend an hour talking about each element of the song. But it all comes down to a great match of melody and words. I have sadly tired of the live repeated versions….he doesn’t need to do that, as this list now presents…so I’ll stick to the studio version. Best Live version ever :The Purple shiny outfit, 1972, London England , I think on TV. On any other given day, this song might be much, much higher on my list. It’s perfect Elton! I will add this: the song is added a HUGE sound bed quality due to the brilliance of Davey Johnstone’s mandolin. Not sure Bernie has written a lyric with quite the poetic vision this one has, since?

22. Roy Rogers – 1973 – The very day I held the album, “Yellow Brick Road” in my hands, it was the title, I couldn’t wait to cue up at home on the stereo! And it didn’t let me down!A song that I think sadly gets over looked in the Library of John/Taupin. I find it hard to focus on just what one should write about when it comes to this track…Davey’s brilliant guitar part? The fantastic string arrangement?The bouncy piano?The drums?The backing vocals? They all get A’s! But I think it’s just that the song is the pure essence of what makes John/Taupin so infectious. Melody meets words, and Art is created! It is one of the best tributes to a Legend ever written in song. And for me, it is one of their masterpieces! I will be listening to this song when I’m 70 if I’m still alive and saying: “Turn on the TV shut out the lights, Roy Rogers is riding tonight…IGH ….IGHT!” Live: I think 1977, WembleyPool , for me, or the 1979 tour.

21. Candle In The Wind – 1973 – I’m only referring to the “Yellow Brick Road” track here. I’m not sure if there was ever a more brilliantly arranged and balanced and recorded track in Elton’s career than the time and effort they spent getting this one down. Having listened carefully many times, to even the demo, Elton and Band haven’t worked this hard on a song in forty years! It is just amazing to me how simple each instrument is, how simple each harmony part is, yet it all so perfectly blends into something that sounds like music from Angels. One of his most perfect tracks ever recorded. Hands down! His piano accentuated the air space of the song brilliantly! and they found “The Perfect” sound of Elton’s voice at this stage. A favorite live performance for me was the Duet with Olivia Newton John back in 1980, but also there is a brilliant version from French TV circa 1986/87. I’ve grown weary of it, due to being over played live, which is why it ranks so low.

20. Mansfield – 2001 - Some fans who know me well will already be groaning and saying: of course! But some of those fans are now finally admitting to me, that they over looked it in 2001, when “Songs From The West Coast” came out. I happily did not! In fact, the song actually broke me down in to tears! It was old “Madman”, “Indian Sunset”, “All TheNasties” Elton vocally and arrangement wise. But still very original and new. It was Past meets Present in a very logical and magical way, and it was brilliant. Live:? Any version you can get your hands on from the 2001 tour will do! Lyrically it’s classic story teller Taupin at it again. A little movie in time.Musically , it is a brilliant MATCH to the sounds of 1971, and shoved in the face of any fan ( including yours truly.. J   ) to finally shut them up once and for all! And No matter the pain of all that silly internet crap I posted, back then in 1997 – 2001, every word was worth it to get my hands on this product. I will treasure it and that album forever. Simply gorgeous! And I think this song and album went a long way to returning the magic and passion back to both songwriters. Such an under rated track, for its ending alone!

19. Ticking – 1974 - If this isn’t in every fans top 30 I’ll be surprised! From “Caribou”, and you’ll notice “Don’t Let The Sun…” did not make my list, why? Because every fans  knows “Ticking” is the better song! Say what you will about Elton and “The Band”, when a producer is on their A game, they know, just give him a lyric, put him in a studio, shut up, get out of his way, and presto- MAGIC! The guy is simply awesome, and I could make an argument as singer songwriter’s go…he wins any comparisons you want to draw with any other composers with this one track. You do get that it was recorded virtually in one take…right? Vocals and piano at the same time? Yes I said…same time! The research supports this. I’ll listen sometimes, that fact will pop into my head….and I’ll just start to laugh….The World had no clue, ( back then ) the genius this boy was. The fact that I have not heard this song on FM rock radio in over three decades burns me so much!!!! It is better than almost anything Joel ever recorded, or Springsteen for that matter. Performance wise, no “singer songwriter” before or SINCE has ever matched it’s brilliance on record. NONE! If you can disprove that, by all means try….please! The topic is as relevant today as ever, maybe even more so, sadly. My favorite live performance happened on the UK TV Old Grey Whistle Test….a near match to the studio version, but I’ll also mention a 1993 version in London with Ray Cooper. Melodically perhaps, not as much ear candy as “Someone Saved”, but most certainly musicianship wise, a career milestone. And for Rock N Roll an Untouched Masterpiece. ( and I’m well aware of the Boomtown Rats – “I Don’t Like Mondays”, done ten years after this track! )

18. One More Arrow – 1983 – I think this is autobiographical, perhaps about Taupin’s father? But whatever the meaning, the song is classic Elton John. It is nearly the last time we will ever hear from the falsetto side of John. ( 1986’s Since God Invented Girls was the final song…).Thank God it was….!!! I am sure that on any given day Elton can write four of these things, that’s how good he is ( proof: The Diving Board : Recording session Two! ). But what a melody! It flows like melted gold. “Too Low..” is not my fave album, but it does contain a classic, Captain Fantastic Ballad. Live, it never quite had the magic….I wonder if it was stepped down a key or two, how Modern Elton would handle it now, still think, its melody is so strong it would shine. Simply lovely!

17. It’s Getting Dark In Here – 2004 - From the first notes, I knew it was a classic! One of Elton’s best vocals in decades. The opening backing vocals just automatically set the tone. I don’t get how this never saw release as a single! It is as classic as “Harmony” ever was. And you’ll take note it made my list and “Harmony” did not! Piano solo is fantastic . The build-up end is classic Elton! String synth arrangement is understated but works. Classic Taupin, “I’m scared of strangers on the street, world so ugly I can’t breathe, Moon so spooky I’m close to tears…Ive been handed a curse and a blessing, My life’s been stripped down to the wire…” – one of my all-time Taupin lyrics! I want this song live…someday….Please? With a cherry on top?

16. Blues For Baby and Me – 1972 -  Structurally it’s classic Elton John, Bernie Taupin. We got a lot of these back in the day, “Michelle’s Song”, “Tiny Dancer”, “High Flying Bird”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Cold As Christmas”, there’s even a fairly unknown one written for Kiki Dee in 1973 entitled, “Lonnie and Josie”. I honestly love them all! But Blues holds me like few others, the words….”I saw your hands tremblin’ you’re eyes opened in surprise…”, I’ve thought long and hard on this track, and I will go out on a limb and suggest that maybe, “Maybe” it’s auto-biographical…another “Tiny Dancer” as it were. Lyricist meets fan, and they take off on a tour bus….upsetting her father. ? Am I right? I don’t know but it’s the perfect song of the teenager in all us 70’s children. The string arrangement by Buckmaster is lovely, and again….why hasn’t this song been selected for those orchestral concerts…do we really need “Madman” every time? But I think what makes this song work so well musically is the balance of piano, acoustic guitar, and sitar. And that vocal, kick ass ending….God I miss those endings Elton! How you’d ramp it up at the end of a song and let your soul soar! Just a great 1972 era slice of Pop music. Lyrically and Musically very reminiscent of Lobo’s “Me and You and a Dog Named Booh”, and Simon and Garfunkle’s “America”. ( “Kathy I said, as we boarded a greyhound to Pittsburgh…”).

15. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – 1973 - Perhaps his most important Pop song. I never tire of it. Maybe live I might, but when I hear it on the radio, I always reach for the dial to crank it up. It’s an instant time machine for me. 1973, October….I’m in the Vets office, bathing a St. Bernard, the song comes on I stop what I’m doing, the Veterinarian and I listen…we both agree  “ A classic!”. Bernie and Elton were at the top of their songwriting game back then…Titles blitzed and blazed from the pen or keys of Taupin, and this was one of their best. Today It reads as a nasty letter to Elton, ( I think, or Maxine  )….So when are “YOU” gonna come down? When are going to land…? ( Jerk! LOL! ) I should have stayed on the farm……( I’m fed up with this nonsense…)…But for me, it’s all about the ( Blue – uwooohs ), the horny back toads, the woods, It’s like the perfect teenage boy song. Where are we? Where are we headed? Is this what I want? Remember how simple childhood was? I love the innocence lost, quality of the track. Del Newman’s arrangement is one of the best in Pop music, only ( perhaps ) bested by “Rocket Man”. Newman was well known having arranged remarkable albums for Cat Stevens and Harry Nilsson in 1972. Do you know how many studio engineers were influenced by this track?!!!!!!!!!!!!! Too many think of this song as “JUST” another pop ballad. But I see it in the league of “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road”, wistful, hymn-like and lovely. Are there any greater rock n roll ballads? If you say “Free Bird” I’m outta here!!!!!!!!!!

14. I’ve Seen That Movie Too – 1973 - 13 and 14 are kind of interchangeable. Hard for me to distinguish one or the other.Taupin’s images and word play are brilliant. Elton’s vocals superb. Melody is wonderfully playful, jazzy…blues. This is a style that befits Elton ( The Diving Board, My Elusive Drug, This Train…). Every now and again, I wonder if this track deserves to be placed much higher. It is most certainly top 20 John/Taupin. The songs arrangement is superb! One of the best of his entire career.Johnstone’s brilliant, superb, backwards electric guitar plows through the strings.  I’ve never understood, why not do this track with the orchestra? I may be under rating this track, it is Most certainly one of their best.

13.Mellow –1972 - Vocally brilliant! Electric violin solo, ( done in one take ), one of the best solo’s ever laid down in a studio for Elton….My gosh, I used to walk for miles with this track playing in my head and singing to it. The perfect country ballad, for a guy growing up in the country. It’s a guy’s “Guy” song. A fantastic track. And I believe inspired by Taupin’s Southern vacation/Honey-moon in America ( circa 1971 ), with Maxine from the year before. Piano is superb, “ don’t forget the beer….Ohhhh, my little Dear,rrrrunhhhh…it helps to sew the mellow seed….”

12. High Flying Bird –1972 - I was beside myself with joy the day I heard it would be showcased at his Birthday Concert in New York. The song was admittedly forgotten by Elton, and rediscovered.It should have been a single in 1972. It was a travesty that “Daniel” surpassed it. But thanks to FM rock radio in the 70’s, they refused to let it disappear. The song has a worldwide fan base, that few of John’s hits have such allegiance too, as they do with this song. The problem back in those days, every other song was a classic by these guys, so some had to get kicked under the bus, sadly. So under rated!

11. Amoreena – 1971 - Both lyricist and songwriter love “Tumbleweed”, so why have we not heard this track in concert in over four decades? I have one thought on this: Is it possible Elton John cannot funk it, rock it, soul it, with such vigor, energy, pulse, magnetism, and verve today? Hmmm, I’ve pondered this. It is for me the “ONE” singular track, I’d use against him and T. Bone Burnett if I were a party to their recent recordings. Not one producer since Gus Dudgeon has gotten Elton to rock like this. If anyone ever says to me , well Billy Joel rocks better, I haul this out, and when it’s done..I say…”You were saying?” J! If ever a song had muscle, this one is it! The piano is pulsing and riveting. It is one of the best studio recordings of Elton, Dee and Nigel from those early days. A tribute to Leon Russell’s Delta Lady, yet it even out rocks Leon! Everyone loves the track, I just don’t get the deal that it’s been so terribly forgotten by the songwriters themselves?It deserves so much better. And mops the floor up when put against Burn Down The Mission. As far as I’m aware, live it was a hardship for the singer to stay on pitch, maybe due to speaker balances and noise levels. There is a fantastic live version out there from the BBC in 1969.

The Top Ten!

10. Levon – 1971 - One of the most Cinematic Hollywood style vignettes, Taupin ever wrote. Loosely based on the moment of April 8, 1966, when Time Magazine’s cover read “ God Is Dead”. That cover was recently listed in the top ten of the Most Important and shocking Cultural magazine covers of the World. Hints at the Nietzsche inspired trend of the 1960’s Theologians to write God out of the field of Theology. The Characters name also seems to be a bow to Levon Helm of the band. That magazine cover event became relevant again in 1970 when The New York Newspaper The New York Times published a full page ad of similar question.  Musically, the song soars! It is one of the most powerful ballads in rock music. I will never forget the second I heard it for the first time on radio. I had to buy it immediately!.

9. Talking Old Soldiers –1971 - First I stunned myself, by placing this track behind its brother, “Oceans Away”. That being said, in 1995 in Columbus Ohio, I was able to thank Elton for performing Soldiers live in 1993 with Ray Cooper. I said then: “It has always been one of my all time favorite songs by you. Your vocals on that track were and are stunning! It sends shivers through me. “He smiled and admitted it was also one of his personal favorite songs. Let me say this, choosing a top ten, of a man of this skill is nearly an impossible task. Given this track alone, on any given other day, this might be my favorite number one. Tastes change. But for now, we’ll go with it as number 9. It still is one of the best vocals the man ever tracked in any studio ever! An amazing vocal, unmatched by any rocker since! You feel every ounce of the loneliness and pain. Dramatic it is, heart-felt….amazingly real! What else do you need but Elton’s voice and a bit of piano?

8. Oceans Away –2013 - From the moment I heard this song, and those opening majestic piano notes…I knew it was “Old-Classic” Elton again! I haven’t stopped playing it since September 2013. It plays every day in my truck. In my opinion it’s one of the best ballads of all time from Elton and Bernie. And the song contains one of the best lyrically lines of Taupin’s career: “They bend like trees in winter, those shuffling old gray lions…” An Elegant and lovely tribute to World War Vets.I have heard fans don’t like this track, Elton, I will have died and gone to heaven if, for the rest of your career you just write songs like this! Absolutely 100 percent beautiful!

7. Rocket Man –1972 - Studio version is superb. Dudgeon’s mastery at recording, balances of instruments vs vocals, arrangement skills, make this track a killer pop cut. It is sooooo under rated in my opinion. One of the GREATEST Pop/Rock Tracks of all time.A signature piece and concert staple.Live I have ONLY one request: I wish “The Band” would go back, sit in a room and re-listen to it, to try to capture its real beauty both instrumentally and vocally. They’re “Oceans Away” from the original studio version today. 1999 Chicago is one of my favorite live performances, but also1986 LA.

6. Skyline Pigeon –1974 - I’m no fan of the Empty Sky version, however, the Here and There Live version  from 1974, is breathtakingly beautiful.  The best, if not…One of his best solo versions ever, live.It has the same naive quality that so riveted me to it, the day I first heard it in 1972 at a Diner. I wasn’t interested in “Daniel” the A side, but I don’t know how many quarters I stuck in that corner jukebox, that day, to play the B side…Pigeon, over and over! Just a lovely, haunting song.Very much a hymn. Has a timeless quality to it. And I was sobbing during the Ryan White funeral performance, but so proud of him, as was Ryan’s Mom ( you can see it in her face ), when Elton kicks in such a heartfelt ending.

The Top Five !

5. Chameleon –1976 - It’s inclusion in my top ten probably shocked a few fans. I can’t go very long without hauling it out. It’s such an under rated track! One of the team’s best ballads ever. The piano part is brilliant! And only one word comes to mind to review it : Gorgeous! It’s always a track I listen ton on a bright blue sky day, a breath of fresh air!

4. Where To Now St. Peter? –1971 - My all-time favorite Taupin lyric, mixed with a gorgeous sweeping melody. And that piano part is one of his all time classics.  “I took myself a blue canoe and  I floated like a leaf, Dazzling, dancing half-enchanted, in my Merlin sleep”. In my opinion it is Taupin’s best lyric phrase – ever! Even the demo is killer! Finally I'd like to add something here about the songs brilliant arrangement and balance. Much is, can, and will always be said about Elton's phenominal piano work on the track, probably borrowed by Coldplay for "Clocks" and even by himself for Peach Tree Road's "Too Many Tears"; But what I think needs to be spotlighted is the incredible guitar work through out. Caleb Quaye's remarkable talents shine like a diamond. The piano breaks, his guitar slides right in! Filling the empty spaces, decorating the mood. When needed, Quaye's guitar work, is an accent of artistic measure, self-control, skill, technique and immaculate balance. It is used effectively. and dramatically. Always as a support and a tool to move the intricacies of piano melody, Elton vocals, and emotion forward. I consider that track, "Can I Put You On" and "Ballad Of A Well Known Gun" to glow because of Caleby Quayes guitar mastery. He has been long over do a few compliments. And I can never listen to this track or those others without always marveling at his gifts. He was instrumentally the perfect match to Elton John in those eaerly days. And "Peter" demonstrates this marvelously! Oddly the story line of the song seems closely linked to one by Author Ambrose Bierce, and his short story about a soldier in the Civil War. The story is called, "Occurence at Owl Creek". The story and the song share images of a soldier who is shot, he is drifting, in a canoe/row boat, he is invisible, he does not realize he is dead, he continues to drift. In the late 1990's, the country group Blue Mountain recorded a tribute song to this song, called "Blue Canoe". In  July, 2007 Ann Wilson, of Heart released a duet with Elton for her solo album, "Hope and Glory". Elton's vocals on this track have a harder edge. He's older, the higher more subtle voice has been replaced with a more husky reverence. One of the lyrical puzzlers is the time and place of the song. Is this the Vietnam or the Civil War era? The Blue Canoe seems to make one think of earlier times, The Blue and Gray. The song's title possibly refers to an old Church in Owmby-By-Spital, Lincolnshire, England. Just up the road from Taupin's Maltkin Farm. It has been said that as a teenage boy, Taupin used to climb up the church bell tower and look out over the village at sunset. The Church is called "St. Peter's and Saint Paul's". Maybe the lyric is a memory reference. The Church was to have also been the inspiration for the lyrics to "Skyline Pigeon".

3. Sixty Years On –1970 - Only two versions stand out for me, both are live, 11/17/70 and Edinboro, 1976. I am speaking of the live version 11/17/70 here. “The drums was talkin’, the piano was walkin’”,  as Little Richard once said. Powerfully dramatic! Riveting performance. I recall a wonderful review of a 1970 concert in NY at Carnegie Hall, where a critic said: “And as the piano and drums reached a great crescendo on the last dramatic lines of the song…..not a word was spoken….in the silenced audience…”

2. Someone Saved My Life Tonight – 1975 - Powerful vocals, powerful words, powerful melody, powerful piano. Do we need anything more? Best live version: 1995 Rio.

1. Your Song – 1970 - near perfect. The quintessential EJ song. The perfect love ballad, and the equal of the Beatles “Yesterday”. A sign of a good song is its staying power, and there are so many good live versions of this track….My favorites: 1986, Prince’s Trust Gala, Wembley with pony tail, 1986/87, solo on Good Morning America ( just after vocal operation, does a more lovely version exist? ). The song that started it all for me personally. I never tire of it. God it’s so simple, and Paul Smith on Facebook recently asked all the fans if you could have written one song in your life what would it be from Elton, Elton, I get it…you chose Leon Russell’s “Song For You”, but I’d choose your tribute to that song, “It may be quite simple but….How wonderful life while you’re in the world…”

9 Apr 2014

Celebrating 30 years of AllSongsList. My Tribute to the Most Rellevant Eltonites: now, Claude Bernardin (part One)

8. Claude Bernardin


Landscape Realist, paints in the Brandywine ( Wyeth ) tradition. First watercolor painted in 1971. Graduated Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pa. in 1980 with a B.F. A.

A Lifelong Teacher/Instructor since 1980. Currently teaching in the Philadelphia Archdiocese School system. Has taught both adult and High school level courses. Married with one child, Andrew Johns, ( age 26 ), a singer songwriter and performer. His band is, released a new studio album in 2013 entitled, “Coast”. Mr. Claude W. Bernardin, started his professional career As a Watercolorist, in 1976. He has exhibited throughout The Eastern Coast of America, most prominently in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. However his Works have been on exhibit in Italy, Hawaii, England, Ireland And Canada. 

He has designed theatre set pieces, stained glass windows, Album Art, T shirts, Hats, Tattoos, posters and much more. He is known for his landscapes of sunsets and rural farm scenes. Bernardin credits Elton John’s music and Taupin’s words as a major influence in his Art work, and has listened to it as he paints, since 1971. His works are in numerous prominent and private collections, Most notably Elton John. He has won numerous awards, including The Washington Camp Cup, from Valley Forge Historical Society, A Lifetime achievement award, A Senatorial Citation for his service To the Arts in his community, and the President’s award at Salmagundi Arts Club, Manhattan, N.Y. He is a prolific painter, and has been known To paint as many as 50 watercolors in one month. He is planning a large exhibit of over 100 works in the near future. He also adds to his Creative Credits: Poetry, Lyric writer, and Photographer. He has been married to Kathleen Yentz since 1984. His artistic influences are: Andrew Wyeth, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, and numerous other artists.

Most recent project: 

A new endeavor, and is Very thrilling! Since July of 2013, Claude has been co-writing an album Of songs, as Lyricist with singer/songwriter, piano player, and Elton John impersonator, Jerred D. Price. Price is 25 and an amazing talented songwriter and performer. They are both VERY excited about the product, And the album is now more than half finished ( so far 12 tracks demoed, 8 selected). Working title: “The Inside Out Of Something”. Tracks include: “Jetblack Wall”, “Mary Shelley’s Gone To Heaven”, the title cut, and “You Ain’t Got Nothin’ If You Ain’t Got The Truth”

The Inside Out Of Something
Lyric: Claude Bernardin, 1/24/14

Somedays it’s like a blanket
Covering me
I’m up, I’m down, but so afraid
To breath
Living day to day
With obstacles to climb
Can’t seem to get around these
Knife edge corners of my mind

( Chorus: )
Oh, turn it over
Look inside
Maybe you can find a place to hide
Anything you want is everything you need
Oh, I’m searching for the inside of something…
Wrong with me

Sometimes there’s not a cloud
Up in the sky
I dream I’m free, I watch the world
Eyes wide
Standing on the edge
Of all this pain I find
Can’t seem to shake these shadows
Having second thoughts in time

( Chorus: )
Oh, turn it over
Look inside
Maybe you can find a place to hide
Anything you want is everything you need
Oh, I’m searching for the inside of something…
Wrong with me

( The Bridge: )
Don’t give a dam
That you can plan
Your life so remarkably
I’m still searching for the inside out of something wrong with me
I cast a reflection in the water
Can’t you see…Oh, can’t you see?
I know you’re frustrated
But you changed so easily

( Chorus: )
Oh, turn it over
Look inside
Maybe you can find a place to hide
Anything you want is everything you need
Oh, I’m searching for the inside of something…
Wrong with me

( Chorus: )
Oh, turn it over
Look inside
Maybe you can find a place to hide
Anything you want is everything you need
Oh, I’m searching for the inside of something…
Wrong with me
I’m searching for the inside of something

A Top Eltonite, in 1995, he co-Authored a book on rock star Elton John, entitled, “Rocket Man: The Music of Elton John A to Z”: "My First personal Elton John experience surrounds the moment I received the Elton John album in 1970. The first Elton song I ever heard, was “Border Song”" explains. And the story continues: "I was eating dinner with my older brother and older sister, and he said to me, “Hey have you heard a song by this guy called Elton John”? I said” “No why?” And he said: “Oh, it’s really a cool song, he plays piano….very soulful….listen to the radio…you’ll hear it, it’s getting a lot of airplay…” So I did, and a day or so later, I heard it and told him, “Yeah, it’s a great track! I’d like to get that album!” My sister said, “Well wait, I asked my boyfriend to get it for me, you can listen to it and decide if you like it…”

So a few weeks went by, it was maybe early October. About 8 or 9 one evening, I was in the dining room, and my sister walked in the door, and was crying. She had this rather black looking album under her arm….and she said: “I just broke up with my boyfriend, and …..HERE! He gave this to me…I don’t want it…you take it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  and she threw it across the table, and it slid into my lap. I picked it up, glanced at his face, saw the name, thought: “Hmmm rather dark, dreary cover…” But said, “Ok, sure! Thanks! Sorry it had to happen”.

Next day I got up to an empty house. Ate breakfast, and it was chores time. I began cleaning and straightening up the downstairs. I would later vacuum. I always listened to some album while I did chores. Playing it on the living room stereo, speakers in the ceiling. I had it cranked up pretty high.

And this wall of sound began!!!!!!!"

First song up,

“Your Song” :

….and the piano danced out of the speakers, then this lush string arrangement poured forth, and this voice, this infectious, lovely, deep, soulful voice with a strange accent. He sounded sort of American, but also British. It was different, and then there was that rolling …line…”I hope you don’t Mind! I hope you don’t mind…!”  It was lovely from the clicky drum track, to the poetic ….moss on the roof and the sun being quite kind, to the folk guitar frills, and plucking cello strings. I was hooked! Best song I’d heard from anyone since “Let It Be”. This song had classic written all over it from the moment I heard it and was instantly in my top five! That line would later annoy my Father, because he would grow weary of hearing the song played so much in his house, that he’d shout from the dining room….”I hope you don’t mind…I hope you don’t mind…Hey Elton! I mind …ok? “  J

I Need You To Turn Too:

This odd sounding instrument begins playing, sounding like something from John Lennon, and then in comes this guy’s voice, but it’s different, sadder, softer, less emotional, and yet the lyrics and melody are HUGE! “You’re not a ship to carry my life, you are nailed to my love in many lonely nights….” WOW! The images in the song just hit me like a ton of a bricks. And that chorus…..I heard so many other singer songwriters in it, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, John Lennon, and I loved the song. I recall later in 1976, this song was still in my top four songs from the album, my tastes have changed since. It was lovely. And I was becoming hooked.

I have always loved the line: “I strayed from the cottages and found myself here, Oh, but I need your love, your love protects my feelings…” 

And there it was again, this lovely counter cello melody, and I was hooked….

“Your pure and your gentle with the grace of a dove” , exactly what the lyric said it was…. I was done, another classic.

Take Me To The Pilot:

Ok now we’re talkin, this guy’s rockin it! I loved the song’s beat! And man was it funky! I hadn’t a clue what the hell he was singing about, but I really didn’t care…the chorus hook…Na , Na, …..I mean who couldn’t sing that? !!! As the next few years would roll along, I left the song behind on my favorites list, it was replaced by Madman or Criminal, but I always have a soft spot in my heart for the studio version, especially when I hear his voice crack slightly on “Take me”  J Not his best studio vocal ever, but the song does rock! The tone of his voice is wild, very different than anything before or after. I loved how the orchestra flies in suddenly….just before the chorus! The drums on the track always got me, great drumming! Great strings on the second verse and chorus! I heard this one on the radio on FM rock far too much. They wore it out for me.

No Shoestrings on Louise:

I was in love from the second he changed his voice into Mick Jagger, shit kicker! That country twang was great! The steel guitar work, the backing vocals, the chorus, and when he sings…There ain’t NO!!!!!!!!!shoestrings…..on Louise….and that piano…it was everywhere. My favorite moment was when he belted out….”On a swiiiine HERD!” It remains one of my personal favorite tracks on the album, and makes me tap my fingers and smile everytime I hear it. Also loved his inflections…like the half laugh  and “MEEE I”….and all the Yeahs…..Reminded me of Ray Charles and Stones. Loved it, still do. Played it to death that first week!

First Episode AtHienton:

The song that sealed my fate forever. By the time it was done I too was in love with Valerie. What guy of 1970, didn’t want to chase his girlfriend through the castle ruins, even John Wayne had done it in the “Quiet Man”. It is one of the most romantic songs I had ever heard in my life. And then as he sings “For the quadrangle sang, and that synth comes in …”Underneath the ceiling…” and it fades out up high like ethereal Angels…..O My gosh! One word for that song: “GORGEOUS!”

The sadness of his voice in: “The songs still are sung….it was fun to be young….but please don’t decide where you are…” WOW!!! This lyricist was a Poet, maybe he didn’t know it! But he was!!!!! And they both could write one hell of a song. It remains in my top five off the album forever. And it’s the song that made me a True Elton John fan.

Sixty Years On:

I was done! From the moment the bees started in the strings, I was an Elton John fan for life.

The harp and the song itself were instantly in my mind forever. The song is still my number two favorite song on the album. And still remains in my top ten Elton John songs of all time. I would later discover the brilliant dramatic re-read of it on 11/17/70. And fall in love with it again. Then in 1976 while watching Edinboro Solo on TV in September, fall in love with it once again.

The song is brilliant! And even though I now realize both Hienton and Sixty are mere youthful attempts at mimicking the sound and styles of Leonard Cohen, no Cohen song has ever EVER affected me like those two songs back to back did in 1970, changing my life forever!

I wore them out! Played them constantly! Until family members screamed stop!!!!!! But I couldn’t , just moved it upstairs and into my bedroom.

Border Song:

Ah the radio song! I was on to it already, and for years it was a favorite. Today, it has moved out of my top lists. Sadly. But I will all cherish it like a long lost friend. One thing it showed was this guy could write a song of the style and likes of Simon and Garfunkle and McCartney and Lennon, and that’s what I heard loud and clear in this track.

The Greatest Discovery:

It was like the most lovely classical music I’d ever heard before. It was lovely. I was hearing the Beatles and Sgt. Pepper’s, “She’s Leaving Home” and saying to myself…..”Nope….it’s better than that track!!!!!!!”. Wonderful words, wonderful music. My brother ( the musician in the house  J  …) and I would argue for decades on the worth of this track.

He always felt it was far too overly dramatic….and corny….I loved it, and my Older sister Claire, who I respected and Loved, agreed with me. It was always her favorite song.
Again today, it has sadly moved down the list for me, but I do return to it, like a wonderfully faded family photo album, just to smile. “This is your brand new brother…..”

The Cage:

Ah Ha Woo WOO! Loved it! His second Stones track on the album, and yet somehow he rocked tighter than the Stones. I often would later wonder why this didn’t get released as a single? Loved the synth solo break in the middle as well. Fun track!

The King Must Die:

My Fourth favorite song on the album, and it has remained high up on my lists of favorite Elton tracks. Back then it was in my top three! I couldn’t get enough of its drama! I could write two pages on this soaring anthem! I’ll just say this…Joel has his “Angry Young Man”, Elton has his “King Must Die”. I prefer King Must Die.

And Taupin’s opening lines remain some of his best: “No man’s a Jester playing Shakespeare.” I know to them ( The songwriters ) they see it as pretentious today. Perhaps it is, but back then it was a life changing musical experience for a kid who’d just said goodbye to the 1960’s and the Beatles and was hoping for some great music of his own to love and cherish…and so I did take his word and go…to the store…every six months to buy the next new latest Elton John record for the next six years and eventually for a lifetime! I could get it down to the strings, the piano, the drums….some of the best musicianship ever laid down in a studio. And what makes me sad?, I never once mentioned how Brilliant Gus Dudgeon was in producing it all! I played this song to death for years, wore out albums and had to buy it over and over again.

Life changing albums like this hardly ever come along. It remains a Huge part of my life. And to hear those songs live with a full orchestra and choir, at Radio City Music Hall, remains as one of the greatest concert experience of my life.

Yes I admit ratings wise, today, it is hard to place it in my top ten up against such albums as Yellow Brick Road, but without this one……I won’t even go there!!!!!!!!!!!!

"Rocket Man"
Watercolor by Claude W. Bernardin
All Image rights reserved by the artist, Copyright 2010