Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Elton John - Too Low For Zero

This month we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Too Low For Zero, the seventeenth studio album from rock legend Elton John. This multi-Platinum seller reached number 71 in Japan, number 30 in Sweden, number 28 in the Netherlands, number 25 on the US Billboard Hot 200, number 17 in Canada, number 11 in France, number 7 in the UK, number 6 in Norway and Switzerland, number 5 in Germany, and number 2 down-under in Australia and New Zealand.

For the first time since 1976, all the lyrics on the record were written by John’s long time collaborator Bernie Taupin. Further, John went back to basics on the band, reuniting with Dee Murray (bass), Nigel Olsson (drums), and Davey Johnstone (guitar) as well as Ray Cooper (percussion) and Kiki Dee (vocals).

Side one begins with “Cold as Christmas (In the Middle of the Year)”; as the fourth single it charted at number 33 in the UK and number 12 in Australia. This bittersweet ballad tells of a couple in a failing marriage that not even a tropical vacation can re-spark.

The second single “I’m Still Standing” reached number 28 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, number 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 10 in Germany, number 4 in the UK, number 3 in Australia, and number 1 in Canada and Switzerland. Continuing on a theme, Taupin wrote this one about moving past the fallout of his own failed marriage. I remember dancing quite a bit to this one during 1983 and 1984; its bouncy up-tempo rhythm really put everyone in a great mood.

The title track is next. “Too Low For Zero” was released as the fifth and final single in early 1984; it charted at number 52 in Australia. I like how the piano and the percussion play off one another so precisely on each of the verses, while the synth on the chorus firmly anchors the song to the current 80’s sound.

The rocking “Religion” tells of three individuals (a drunk, a prostitute, and a thief) who one day decide to change their course of action and take a more positive path.

“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” was the debut single from the album. It charted at number 48 in the Netherlands, number 22 in Germany, number 12 in New Zealand and Switzerland, number 9 in Canada, number 5 in the UK, number 4 in Australia and on the US Billboard Hot 100, and number 2 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Its familiar harmonica part was done by Stevie Wonder. This is one of those songs that, for me, does help to listen to at times when I am feeling a little sad; it does not try to cheer you up so much as it just seems to understand and helps you work through it.

Side two starts with “Crystal”, the B-side to the fourth single. John leans heavily to the synthesizer and drum machine on this one about a woman who comes between two friends.

“Kiss the Bride”, the third single, went to number 58 in Germany, number 37 in Canada, number 25 in Australia and on the US Billboard Hot 100, and number 20 in the UK. It has been a couple decades since I heard this bouncy tune about a guy who has to watch the love of his life marry another man.

“Whipping Boy”, an affirmative stand against being the one who will accept all the blame, has a quick-step tempo and a rocking guitar rhythm.

The synthesizers on “Saint” play both the heralding opening and the more reverent tones of the verses. Its lyrics sing the praises of someone who was very supportive.

The album closes with “One More Arrow”, a beautiful ballad of a deceased father who never showed the pain he felt during his living years.

Like many albums by Elton John during the 70’s and 80’s, I mostly knew the radio hits from Too Low For Zero. It is good to go back and listen to those in context with the rest of the albums from which they came, to get the overall context. I definitely noted a couple more tracks that I wanted to add to my collection in the near future.

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