Friday, October 15, 2021

Elton John 18: The Thom Bell Sessions and Victim Of Love

As further proof that Elton John was undergoing some kind of identity crisis, the follow-up to his tepidly received A Single Man was a maxi-single of three songs recorded two years earlier. The Thom Bell Sessions were named for the producer in charge, famous for his popular “Philly soul” hits of the time; by the time Elton got to work with him, he’d moved to Seattle.
Elton was happy to merely be the singer on the sessions, letting the producer provide the songs as well as the backing. Indeed, “Three Way Love Affair” benefits from Elton’s warm voice, and while “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” was a catchy hit, it could well have been the Spinners, who actually sing on “Are You Ready For Love”, which runs for eight minutes. Those of us who were thoroughly sick of disco by the summer of ‘79 were dismissive, but today we can agree that the production is indeed impeccable.
A good ten years later, once Elton was slowly regaining commercial acceptance again, The Complete Thom Bell Sessions presented all six songs originally recorded for the project. While false advertising, “Nice And Slow” found Elton and Bernie Taupin collaborating with Bell, and “Country Love Song” wouldn’t be confused for a Tumbleweed Connection outtake. A superior re-recording of “Shine On Through” would open A Simple Man.

But he wasn’t done with disco, nor was he ready to take control in the studio. For his next trick, he hooked up with Pete Bellotte, whom he’d first met in the mid-‘60s and had since gone on to make a mint creating Eurodisco with Giorio Moroder and writing for Donna Summer. That hitmaking approach was applied to Victim Of Love, to which Elton devoted exactly eight hours, which is what it took to apply his vocals to the generic backing tracks. Save the execrable opening cover of “Johnny B. Goode”, the songs were supplied by the producer and his team. Truly shocking are the credits, which include such musicians as Marcus Miller on bass, Keith Forsey on drums a few years before Billy Idol, the ubiquitous Paulinho da Costa on percussion, and even Michael McDonald and Pat Simmons hiding from the Doobie Brothers on the title track. Like most disco albums of the time, there is no break between songs, just the same four-to-the-bar kickdrum thump. The only respite comes with the silence at the end of each side. Even more so than The Thom Bell Sessions, Victim Of Love lacks any of Elton’s personality, and therefore any of his genius or talent.

Elton John The Thom Bell Sessions (1979)—
1989 The Complete Thom Bell Sessions: same as 1979, plus 3 extra tracks
Elton John Victim Of Love (1979)—

2 comments:

  1. well, you got to do elton in the 80's. hey, i like your reviews. the disco flop was so funny! it's funny how elton was a disco guy but in reality, he had a nasty coke addiction and the album bombed! john has hated the album for years and leather jackets sounds so mushy and banana cream for a digital album in the hellhole of music: 1986!! still, Long story short, john did great scoring a top 30 hit in little jeannie. sadly, on a more mournful note, herbie herbert passed away. i wish i'd be there for the journey reviews and whatever else one says about them, there is no one better than steve perry. still, about victim of love, if you see it used, don't.

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  2. I have been listening to Elton for decades and love his music. I have just finished to listening to his entire catalog... every studio album and have new perspective on his career. The 70's were obviously his best decade, he had great pop chops and could rock like any high adrenaline band of the time. Listen to Have Mercy on the Criminal from Don't Shoot Me, Stinker from Caribou, even It Ain't Gonna Be Easy from A Single Man, which wasn't well received in 1978, Elton was able to change from pop to rock to country on a whim. He lost his edge moving into the late part of the decade, culminating in the awful Victim of Love. I have a two word review of that album... audible sewage. Of course he regained his focus in the 80's with plenty of hits, but do any of them come close to Rocket Man, Honky Cat, Bennie and the Jets etc... etc...etc? Elton is without doubt a legend, and I would go to see him again in concert anytime, but just like all aging pop stars, they lose their touch. Billy Joel did it right, he got out when he was still pumping out great albums and hits.

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