Elton John was very much not my bag, for a number of years; he was one of a number of bands and singers that I’d decided that about, for reasons that didn’t amount to much more than, I’ve seen them or heard them when I was a kid and wasn’t into it, so I guess they’re just out forever. In my defense, I grew up in an era where Elton John was releasing things like “I’m Still Standing,” and then “Sacrifice,” or worse, the Princess Diana version of “Candle in the Wind.” He didn’t really feel like someone worth re-evaluating, not when there were a million other records to be listened to and enjoyed.
It changed for me as the result of reading a biography of John, not that long ago; I read it because I was oddly interested in his 1970s persona without having listened to that much of his music from that period, and even that, not too closely. There was an explanation about the level of his output at the start of his career, and the level of his success — 5% of all worldwide record sales belonged to him! That remains absolutely ridiculous to me — that I thought that I probably should take another listen and see what I thought.
I’m not sure what it was about “Take Me To The Pilot” that caught in my head; the stumbling piano at the start or the propulsive sound of the whole thing that feels as if the whole song is just charging forward, determined to get to the end come hell or high water.
There’s a dynamism here — a hunger — that was entirely at odds with my idea of who Elton John was, and a sense of fun, as well. It’s clearly the work of a younger musician than the one I knew, but all for the good. Things are more rough and less fully-formed, but more playful and less precious, as well, and I found myself responding really strongly to that difference. This was someone I wanted to hear more from, and someone I wanted to follow to other songs.
That the lyrics are, to be polite, absolute nonsense, helped considerably: at first, I strained to understand what John was singing as if there was perhaps some arcane code or wisdom to be ascertained, but the reality, the realization that, no, this really is just a bunch of meaningless words strung together, felt less like a frustration and more like a strange gift waiting for me at the end. Somehow, everything was more playful than I’d imagined.
This is a song that I can imagine people falling in love with, and expecting great things from the performer going forward. Even more than the album version, the live version released a handful of months later. Who wouldn’t want more of this? And suddenly, Elton John came alive, finally, for the first time.