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Listening Report: Elton John’s Madman Across The Water 50th Anniversary Boxed Set Preview (Part 2: Demos & More)

Mark Smotroff continues exploring an expanded edition of one of his favorite albums…

In the first portion of my listening (and viewing!) report on Elton John’s new Madman Across The Water 50th Anniversary super deluxe edition boxed set (which comes out this Friday), I explored the outstanding and enlightening video included on the Blu-ray Disc in the collection. If you missed that part, pleased click here to catch up.

In today’s exploration of the set, I will be journeying through the wealth of demos and rarities included in this collection.

Four of these mostly-piano demos were released on Elton’s wonderful Jewel Box eight-CD set a  couple of years back (click here for my review), yet most of the music on this disc is previously unreleased. It is a great snapshot, giving us effectively an early alternate vision for the entire Madman Across The Water album… and then some (more on that in a moment)!

One of the fascinating tidbits of information worth addressing is the source for some of these bonus tracks on the Madman Across The Water 50th Anniversary set. If you look closely at the liner notes you will find some interesting detail reading: “Tracks… supplied from the collections of Brendan Glover and Peter Thomas, PMC Speakers.”   A quick search on the interwebs revealed some info on this super-fan — who is the head of a speaker manufacturer — who has been in possession of original demo reels given to him by a BBC engineer in the 1970s.

He had things that were not even in Elton’s archive! You can read more about Mr. Thomas and how this connection seems to have come about at their website (click here) which discusses some of the bonus tracks included in the Record Store Day reissue of Elton’s second eponymously titled record (known to many fans as simply “the black album”). I am assuming these Madman Across The Water demos come from similar tape sources. In general they sound wonderful and at times even fantastic.

The first of the demos you should listen to is “Indian Sunset” with Elton singing the opening verses a-cappella after a mood-setting piano introduction — the way it breaks down to the stark vocal is quite haunting.  After that you should jump to “All The Nasties” which is a quasi-solo demo — Elton has overdubbed all the harmony parts he envisioned for the final recording and it is terrific to hear the richness of his vocal build.

The demo of  “Holiday Inn” has the additional “cold french fries” verse (similar to Elton’s BBC broadcast performance which I mentioned in Part 1 of this series). The piano demo of “Goodbye” is almost heavier than the original, somehow.  There are also two demos of the title track including a raw early version from 1970 which is interesting to contrast against the tighter 1971 demo.

One of the bonus tracks tacked on the CD is “Rock Me When He’s Gone.” This song was previously released on the early ‘90s Rare Masters collection. On Disc 2 of the new Madman Across The Water 50th Anniversary collection we are treated to not only a solo piano demo of the song but a so-called “Full Version” of the song.

The original is fairly lengthy, clocking in at just over five minutes but this new bonus take keeps the gospel-fueled fun going for another two minutes of tambourine-shaking, penny-whistling, conga-swinging, shaker-shakin’, hand-clapping, heavens-reaching fun. Be sure to listen to the end as Elton pokes a bit of fun at producer Gus Dudgeon (who plays the whistles, in case you were wondering). 

The Madman Across The Water 50th Anniversary set also includes the 6:43 min. extended version of “Razor Face” for the first time in Stereo — previously it had only been available in 5.1 surround sound on the 2004 SACD. 

There are many other treats on this set to explore but I think this gives you a good taste of what to expect. Tune in tomorrow when I explore the new high resolution Stereo and Surround Sound mixes.

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