Friday, February 26, 2021

Elton John 16: Greatest Hits Volume II

Maybe Elton (or his record company) knew his streak was over, as another “hits” package was pushed out to maximize any sales. Unlike the first installment, Elton John’s Greatest Hits Volume II ran all over the place, even including songs that predated that previous mop-up—never a good sign. It did have a nice booklet with lyrics and photos, which was nice.

After establishing the thesis yet again with “The Bitch Is Back”, his cover of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” graduates from single to album track, and yes, that would be John Lennon himself playing “reggae guitars” on the break. “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” is still heartbreaking, but “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” his single duet with protégée Kiki Dee is all but irresistible. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” brings the seesaw back to close the side.

Another non-album single, “Philadelphia Freedom” was all over the radio as America geared up for its bicentennial, and we still can’t figure out what it has to do with Billie Jean King’s tennis team outside the title. “Island Girl” and “Grow Some Funk Of Your Own” are good and bad choices, respectively, from Rock Of The Westies, and then we go all the way back to 1971 for “Levon”. Finally, “Pinball Wizard” reminded folks of one of the cooler sequences in the Tommy film, and showcases the Elton John Band at their best.

There’s no question that Greatest Hits Volume II delivers the goods. Back then, it did offer value for money by collecting songs from various sources, and there’s no denying how much he had dominated the charts, the jukeboxes, and the airwaves in those days.

Nothing is simple with Elton, of course; outside the U.S., “Bennie And The Jets” replaced “Levon” in the lineup. Then, when his catalog was standardized worldwide in the ‘90s, the remaster swapped out “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” for “Tiny Dancer” and “I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford)”—not exactly an even swap—though it kept “Levon”. Future hits collections would be more comprehensive in including the necessary hits, just as upgraded and expanded albums have collected various of the standalone singles.

Elton John Elton John’s Greatest Hits Volume II (1977)—
1992 CD reissue: same as 1977, plus 2 extra tracks (and minus 2 tracks)


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    1. Pretty sure you wanted this on the "Rock Of The Westies" post, but still, I'm always glad to get your input. Keep it coming!

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  2. After the debacle of the Thom Bell sessions, MCA must have concluded that their #1 golden goose wasn’t about to lay any more eggs in time for Christmas 1977. At the same time, Elton still owed some product to DJM. The timing wasn’t bad since he still had accumulated enough real hits to fill a second album.
    Like you said, this time, several non-album A-sides were included, which was nice for people who still thought buying singles was uncool. By this time, my transformation into a completist was well underway, so I bought it anyway, even though I already owned them.

    A friend of mine noted at the time that “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” was a retread of the “Philadelphia Freedom” sound. Not that that’s bad. The contrast between the bizarre lyrics of the former (why isn’t the bald eagle the symbol of freedom, rather than the whip-poor-will?) with the utter frivolity of the latter is funny. The guys even won an award for the song, which must have gobsmacked Bernie, who thought the it was a throwaway.

    “Levon” is, by far, my favorite song here, but it’s way out of place, both musically and lyrically. The single edit of “Bite Your Lip” (never on an album to this day, as far as I know) would have been a better choice. Musically and chronologically, it would have fit in more. It charted almost as high as “Levon”. Maybe DJM didn’t want to pay for a third Rocket track.

    The best reason to get this album, especially for us in the USA, was that it has “Pinball Wizard”. That means that we could avoid buying the soundtrack. Unless you really want to hear Oliver Reed bellowing, moaning, groaning and otherwise demolishing songs by The Who.

    I lost my copy of the lyric book over the years. That’s too bad, because it was very bright and colorful. I like the cover, too. However, I still find it hard to believe that Sir Elton ever set foot onto a cricket field.

    1. The first time I heard the original Tommy album in full, I was blown away. I saw the movie as soon as I could, and that ruined the album for me.

    2. I saw it the night before I went away to college. I was too naïve for it! I found the Clapton sequence offensive, Tina Turner very scary and was totally grossed out by the baked beans scene. Townshend made a big mistake turning over his vision to Ken Russell, who totally co-opted it. The worst decision he made was to cast his pal Oliver Reed, who COULD NOT SING WORTH A DAMN. The only thing worse, maybe, is Pierce Brosnan in "Mamma Mia".