Friday, September 1, 2017

Elton John 5: 11-17-70

Once upon a time, the promotion rounds for young struggling performers would include live broadcasts on FM radio, whether appearing in the studio next to the DJ, or simulcast from an actual concert. These performances would often lead to widely spread bootlegs, and sometimes became the basis for an official album, thus sending the cash toward the label, or at least in theory.
Elton John was then touring as part of an economical trio, with Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on drums, and their simple power can be beheld on 11-17-70 (which was the title in America, anyway; other countries swapped the first two numbers depending on how they displayed dates there). The album presents Elton as not yet a superstar; none of the “hits” are here, save a few album tracks that some of the cooler stations had already discovered.
After “Take Me To The Pilot” seemingly opens the show, the crowd chuckles at the a cappella chorus of “Honky Tonk Women” that kicks off that cover. “Sixty Years On” is plenty somber without the strings from the album version, Nigel’s drums covering the tension well. “Can I Put You On” is rescued from the Friends soundtrack, just as “Bad Side Of The Moon” becomes more than a B-side. However, here it’s a setup for an 18-minute medley that begins with “Burn Down The Mission” and manages to find its way through “My Baby Left Me” and “Get Back”.
11-17-70 may not have been planned in a release schedule that was already filling up, but it remains an excellent sample of a time when Elton really did a lot with a little. We maintain that if not for this album, there would be no Ben Folds Five. (The eventual remaster rejigged the order slightly and added a stellar version of “Amoreena”, while more complete recording of the show appeared as a Record Store Day exclusive on vinyl only. 17-11-70+ put the original running order on one LP, with the other songs from the show on another, including a version of “Indian Sunset” from his yet-to-be-recorded next album.)

Elton John 11-17-70 (1971)—4
1995 CD reissue: same as 1971, plus 1 extra track
2017 17-11-70+ (vinyl only): same as 1995, plus 6 extra tracks

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