In the universe of record collecting, there has long been a need for a well thought through and curated collection which presents a good overview of an artist while also offering rarities to appease the hardcore fans.
In Elton John’s universe, there have been interim attempts at collecting these types of tracks together over the years, such as the single LP Lady Samantha and the later more expansive two-CD set Rare Masters. I never bought the four-CD 1990 set To Be Continued… boxed set as it seemed (as I remember) to have a lot of album tracks and was kind of a mish-mosh in its presentation. I realize now that I probably need to revisit that set, but at the time I was waiting for something more akin to the Rare Masters set with more focus on the rarities.
And that makes a collection like Elton John’s fabulous new Jewel Box set all the more important: a multi-disc collection curated by the artist himself. This provides insightful perspective on overlooked deep album tracks, unreleased demos and lost songs as well as a wealth of B-sides pretty much from all phases of his career.
I have already reviewed an LP version of part of this collection which covers the early rarities before Elton took off here in America (discs three, four and five in the CD set). Please click here to jump to that review, in case you missed it.
In this portion of the review we’re going to look at the sixth and seventh discs in the set: the B-sides.
Overall, this set is beautifully produced. Most everything in this set sounds excellent as compact discs go. And, perhaps most importantly, this collection makes me want to revisit later periods of Elton’s music which I haven’t spent as much time immersing myself in (I do have pretty much all of his albums and CDs in my collection). So in that sense alone, I consider Jewel Box to be a genuine success. More on that in Part II coming soon…
Remarkably, there’s not an awful amount of overlap between this collection and the earlier compilations I mentioned earlier (so hold onto your Rare Masters CD set folks!)
What is quite astounding is recognizing the sheer amount of recordings that came out in the ‘80s and ‘90s when I wasn’t paying super close attention to Elton’s career. There are many CD singles and recordings made for the European market that really never saw the light of day here in America. Several songs were released in French! These tracks also represent a lot of stretching out for Elton as he explores different sonic flavors and finds new footing.
Of these tracks some of the ones that I find fascinating thus far are the manic and fun B-side to 1983’s “Kiss The Bride” called “Choc Ice Goes Mental” — a neat instrumental rock ’n roll piano romp that playfully toys with a massive delay sound in the studio. It may seem like a throwaway to some but what is readily apparent is that Elton was having fun (something that I think got lost for me on some of his 80s work).
The B-side to Elton’s smash hit “Sad Songs” is a sweet and lovely country western sobber called “A Simple Man.” There is another song co-written with Gary Osborne called “Can’t Get Over Losing You” which, with a slightly different production aesthetic, could have passed for a modern country western track.
I love the edgier alternate mix of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone?” which feels more like an outtake rocker from the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road period than the sweet Philly-soul-flavored version on the Jump Up album. Likewise the mid-1980s 12-inch-only B-side “Lord of the Flies” could easily have fit in on Honky Chateau 10-plus years earlier.
“Highlander” is a lush ambient synthesizer piece never worked into the movie of the same name but ultimately used to open Elton’s live shows in 1985 and ’86.
“I Know Why I’m In Love” comes from the late ‘90s period where I started to pay attention to Elton again and this Beach Boys flavored B-side underscores that aesthetic — it felt like Elton was getting back to making records he wanted to make vs. trying to keep pace with trends. By doing this he found himself ahead of a trend, I think. I need to go back and listen to The Big Picture again.
I’m really happy to learn that there were more great tracks from the terrific Songs From The West Coast sessions. “God Never Came Here,” “The North Star” and “Did Anybody Sleep With Joan Of Arc” were used to fill out CD-singles as this album found Elton climbing up the charts again as the new millenium rolled onward. These could have been on a deluxe edition of the album easily.
“So Sad The Renegade” and “How’s Tomorrow” are both terrific Tumbleweed Connection-esque outtakes from 2004’s underrated Peachtree Road album, released on UK only CD singles. “Things Only Get Better With Love” is an epic complete with a 16-piece string section and a Gospel choir —this song could fit on Madman Across The Water. I can’t believe this was a B-side!
To be continued…