“Madman Across the Water” by Elton John
(Words/Music: Album: Tumbleweed Connection, DJM 1970)
themesong: piano jam (honorable mention)
Before you skip this because you already know it, let me tell you that you don’t. The song you’re used to hearing is the second version of the song released on Elton John’s Madman Across the Water album. This is the original recorded on his Tumbleweed Connection album and features the incomparable Mick Ronson on lead guitar. It’s more raw and more of a jam that the tamer, later release. Do yourself a favor and listen to it - you’ll be surprised.
Once a fool had a good part in the play
If it’s true I would still be here today
“Madman Across the Water” by Elton John
(Words: Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Album: Tumbleweed Connection [re-issue], Uni Records 1970)
Many people know Elton John as a legend of, well, pretty much everything. He’s had numerous songs on the pop charts, success on Broadway, and established a decent enough rock cred to still be in standard rotation on most classic rock stations. However, at the beginning of the 70s when he was still a mere curiosity on the music scene and people weren’t quite sure where he was going to fit, he recorded the original version of his 1971 hit “Madman Across the Water” for his forthcoming Tumbleweed Connection album. What was odd was that it was shelved until it was re-recorded for an album of the same name a year later and wouldn’t reappear until Tumbleweed Connection was re-released with bonus tracks. Luckily, this track did resurface and we get a glimpse into the more spontaneous prog rock (I know, that’s a bit of an oxymoron) side of Elton John.
The original, about two minutes longer than the “standard” version, features the same basic song structure but with a guitar solo before the mid-fade section and an extended jam at the end. It also forgoes the orchestration which is big part of the latter, the drums are far more prominent, and includes some rather oddly placed synthesizer effects. The real highlights of the original, however, are Elton John’s piano, which seems more frantic and off-the-cuff, and the spectacular guitar work of Mick Ronson, who makes a guest appearance on this song only. It is the interplay between John and Ronson that really make this song a must have for any fan of 70s prog rock and remind the newer fans of what Elton John used sound like “back in the day” when his performances and piano playing were less scripted and more exciting than the current “let’s trot out a legend” performances he’s been giving for the last 20+ years.
“Eyes of a Stranger” by The Payolas
(Words/Music: Paul Hyde and Bob Rock, Album: No Stranger To Danger, A&M Records 1982)
This infectious hit written and recorded by The Payolas, one of the premier 80s bands from Vancouver and produced by Mick Ronson of David Bowie fame, tells of a man who has recently become reacquainted with a lover or infatuation from his past and is struggling with the reality of his perceptions. For me, I have that feeling every time I hear this song. I know I was acquainted with it from early 80s MTV and Much Music, but recently whenever I hear it on the radio (usually on the Sunday night retro party on 102.1 The Edge in Toronto as hosted by LoriAnn), it takes me awhile to recognize it. Sometimes I think it’s an obscure song by The Police or another ska-ish 80s band, but mostly it’s because the song seems to creep up gradually on the listener.
It begins with simple percussion, a few bass notes, a couple guitar chords, and keyboards in the background. As the song progresses, the keyboards give it an air of mystery while the slow periodic notes of the bass create a haunting feeling of something that is imminently present but absent and bound to return again soon. For many people, this is the description of any type of memory. As the song picks up in the first chorus, the memories become more solid and detailed until total recognition takes place. Unfortunately for the singer, he cannot shake the feeling that his memories and current visions are deceiving him. Perhaps he is imagining the return of the woman after many years or perhaps he is seeing her face in someone else’s. Either way, he is left looking into the eyes of a stranger.