Friday, April 21, 2017

Elton John 4: Friends

Being the good professional songwriters they’d longed to be, Elton John and Bernie Taupin took seriously the task of composing the soundtrack to a film. If the film in question was a hit, they’d get noticed, and if it failed, at least they got paid. Friends was not a box-office smash, nor did it get kind reviews. The accompanying soundtrack album did manage to chart, however, most likely because Elton already had two hit albums in the U.S., and his star was rising.
We haven’t seen the film, and don’t plan to, but having read a few synopses online we can imagine that the music supports the apparent Romeo & Juliet Meets The Blue Lagoon In Rural France plot just fine. In the context of innocent young love the grownups don’t understand, Elton’s pretty melodies and Bernie’s sweet sentiments do have a universal appeal outside a movie theater, nudged along by Paul Buckmaster arrangements. The title track was even a minor hit single, being a simple celebration of emotion under two and half minutes. “Michelle’s Song” is of a similar sentiment and approach, and a better choice for a wedding song. The very pretty “Seasons” appears twice, first at the tail of a piece dominated by oboe, and again at the close as a reprise.
Roughly half of the album is devoted to orchestral music, mostly “variations” on themes used in the songs, with one piece used under a “poetic recitation” and an 11-minute plod seemingly culled from four separate cues. Luckily, Elton had some snappier numbers on hand, likely composed independent of the project at hand. “Honey Roll” is very much along the lines of the cowboy boogie of Tumbleweed Connection, and might even be an early draft of some of those songs. “Can I Put You On” is another midtempo rocker that even made it into his live set.
Originally released on a budget label, Friends got lost in the crowd of the other albums he’d put out in such a short period of time, and usually got noticed only after the fact in bargain bins. To date its only digital appearance has been via the 1992 Rare Masters collection, and a good place for it. Even the non-vocal (and non-Elton) tracks are included, although the original sequence has been slightly shuffled, disturbing the balance somewhat. But at least the music hasn’t been lost for good.

Elton John Original Soundtrack Recording From The Paramount Picture “Friends” (1971)—3
Current CD equivalent: Rare Masters

1 comment:

  1. Yes, this is an Elton EP surrounded by movie soundtrack music. I actually enjoy most of it, even "Four Moods." Listening to Buckmaster's work on its own, one can better appreciate how important he was to the sound of early Elton. The only track I can't stomach is the one where the two leads recite that dumb poem, which reduces any interest in the movie to zero. As for the songs, the 3 songs actually intended for the film are charmingly naive. "Michelle's Song", despite being a bit unwieldy, works well. "Honey Roll" is a trifle that sounds like the B-side it turned out being. The real find here is the studio version of "Can I Put You On?", with that cool
    phased guitar on the intro. The lyrics were a bit beyond American teenagers such as little of me at the time. Eltonheads definitely should hunt this one up. It's just as well that this album got bundled with "Rare Masters", since this a good contender for ugliest Elton album cover. Surely helped it ending up in the cutout bins fairly quickly.