Sunday, June 3, 2012

Elton John - Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player (1972)

(This review originally appeared in February 2004.)
When Elton John released the single "Crocodile Rock" from his album Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player, critics took notice of how it seemed to steal ideas from everyone from the Beach Boys to Bobby Vee to even Don McLean's landmark song "American Pie." Elton repsonded, "I wanted it to be a record about all the things I grew up with. Of course it's a rip-off. It's derivative in every sense of the word."
Elton might as well have been speaking about the whole album. Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player is almost entirely about Elton John's and lyricist Bernie Taupin's love for pastiche and tribute, offering few if any new ideas and recycling many old ones with abandon. "Teacher I Need You," a jaunty early-sixties-style pop tune, specifically recalls Bobby Vee, while "Blues For Baby And Me" mixes Spectorian orchestration, a sitar, and allusions to Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (the title and the line "It's all over now"). "Texan Love Song" cheekily plunders Merle Haggard's right-wing anthem "Okie From Muskogee." Unlike Haggard's song, though, it tries to sound serious about knocking hippies, notably for their "communistic politics and them Negro blues" - which, of course, is a joke in itself. "Crocodile Rock" is much more heartfelt, as Elton and Bernie clearly love the innocent pre-Beatles pop the song recalls.
Elton's sixth studio album is a messy hodgepodge of recycled pop, but an entertaining one nonetheless. Ironically, the best song on Don't Shoot Me, "Daniel," is the most original. Written by Bernie Taupin about a bilnded Vietnam War veteran fleeing to Spain, Elton turned it into a song about fraternal love. Elton's record company didn't want to release it as a single, thinking it was too serious to be a hit, but when "Daniel" was issued as a 45, it became Elton's most-loved song. Don't Shoot Me suggested that Elton, given the correct discipline, had the potential to make a consistent pop-rock masterpiece that could draw from the best of his and Bernie Taupin's own ideas and the tried and proven ideas of previous popsters. Such an album, 1973's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, would shortly follow.
(NOTE: Although released in January 1973, Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player was recorded in 1972 and has a 1972 copyright date, so I count it as a 1972 album. :-) )

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