Our top 10 Elf songs list looks at the body of work of an American rock outfit distinguished for its hard rock sound tinged with blues rock influences. The band was established by singer/bassist Ronnie James Dio in 1967, marking his “proper” foundational steps in the rock and roll scene. Joining him on the band’s lineup were drummer Gary Driscoll, keyboardist Doug Thaler, and guitarists David Feinstein and Nick Pantas. Initially, the band went under the moniker ‘the Electric Elves,’ with its members changing the name to ‘the Elves’ in 1968. Eventually, the band settled for the title ‘Elf’ in 1972, a year that also marked the band’s first major release.
Elf’s Career Beginnings and Breakthrough
In 1967, as The Electric Elves, the band went on to release the single “Hey, Look Me Over” / “It Pays to Advertise.” The band would later return with the single “Walking in Different Circles” / “She’s Not the Same” in 1969 at a time its moniker had changed to The Elves. Still, as The Elves, the band issued its single “Amber Velvet” / “West Virginia” in 1970. The band went on to issue its eponymous debut studio album in 1972 which is by far the band’s most sought-after record. Elf issued two extra albums before disbanding in 1975, with most of its members joining the rock supergroup Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.
Elf’s Album Releases over the Years
Elf, the band’s eponymous debut studio album, was issued on August 1, 1972, through Epic Records. Other artists that issued records through Epic Records in the same year include Donovan, Billy Paul, David Buskin, Crazy Horse, Looking Glass, Tammy Wynette, and Jeff Beck to name a few. Elf saw the band take on a blend of blues rock, hard rock, and boogie rock influences. At the time of this album’s issue, Elf was a foursome following the earlier departure of guitarist Nick Pantas.
Elf was also without the services of its original keyboardist Doug Thaler who succumbed to an accident. The band filled his void with keyboardist Micky Lee Soule. “Never More,” “I’m Coming Back for You,” “First Avenue,” “Gambler Gambler,” and “Sit Down Honey (Everything Will Be Alright)” are some of the best Elf songs from the album. Elf’s production work was handled by Roger Glover and Ian Paice of the heavy metal/hard rock outfit Deep Purple.
In 1974, Elf issued its sophomore studio album Carolina County Ball through MGM Records. Other acts/artists who issued records on MGM Records in the same year include The Osmonds, Eric Burdon, Hank Williams, Johnny Bristol, The Velvet Underground, and Sammy Davis Jr. to name a few. Carolina County Ball was the first album by Elf to feature Steve Edwards on the guitars as a replacement for David.
Another notable addition to this album was bassist Craig Gruber. His arrival relieved Ronnie from the bass roles, leaving him to concentrate on the lead vocals. Tasked with the production of this album is Roger Glover of Deep Purple. Once again, Elf gave its fans its blend of blues rock, hard rock, and boogie rock sounds. “Happy,” “Rainbow,” “Rocking Chair Rock ‘n’ Roll Blues,” and the album title track are the most popular musical gems by the band from Carolina County Ball.
In June 1975, Elf issued its third and final studio album Trying to Burn the Sun through MGM Records. Under the production of Roger Glover of Deep Purple, the band gave us its signature blend of hard rock, blues rock, and boogie rock inflections. Making a late entry in the band’s lineup was percussionist Mark Nauseef who partnered with other acts including Thin Lizzy, Jack Bruce, The Velvet Underground, and Phil Lynott. “When She Smiles,” “Black Swampy Water,” “Streetwalker,” and “Wonderworld” are the best Elf songs from Trying to Burn the Sun.
Despite the band’s short tenure in the music scene, Elf played a significant role in the rock scene, earning the approval of hard rock aficionados. The band was also revered for its blues rock and boogie rock inflections. Elf served as the “proper” musical vessel for Ronnie James Dio’s career in the rock scene. Ronnie went ahead to lead a successful career as a member of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell, and Dio. Here we present the ten best Elf songs of all time.
#10- Dixie Lee Junction
Ushering us to the top ten Elf songs list is the excellent hit “Dixie Lee Junction.” The song is featured on the band’s eponymous studio album. “Dixie Lee Junction” is a classic blues rock ballad that finds the band embracing simplicity in its instrumentation, especially at the beginning of the song. Despite its slow and minimalist approach at the start, “Dixie Lee Junction” switches its tempo to a slightly faster one, with a tad bit heavier groove.
Mickey Lee Soule’s keyboard riffs dominate the better part of the song before David Feinstein delivers an alluring guitar solo. The guitar solo suggests the band’s ability to go even harder in its rock explorations. Ronnie also shifts from the smooth bluesy vocals to a tad bit aggressive (yet alluring) hard rock-inspired vocals.
#9- Black Swampy Water
“Black Swampy Water” is the first of the three songs from the album Trying to Burn the Sun that made it to our ten best Elf songs list. We are guilty of leaving out quality tracks like “When She Smiles,” albeit done with a purpose. “Black Swampy Water” is not of less quality either! Its is the grooving hard rock vibe of “Black Swampy Water” that makes it a solid pick for us.
Hard rock inflections in songs like “Black Swampy Water” formed Ronnie James Dio’s pillars of success in the hard rock/heavy metal scene. Similar hard rocking influences can be felt with the band’s second hit off the 1975 album Trying to Burn the Sun, “Prentice Wood.” “Black Swampy Water” serves as a perfect album opener to the band’s excellence in the hard rock scene.
#8- Gambler Gambler
Number eight on our ten best Elf songs is the phenomenal hit “Gambler Gambler.” The song is yet another track off the band’s 1972 eponymous debut studio album. “Gambler Gambler” is a rudimentary hard rock ballad with prominent boogie rock elements. The song also features some honky-tonk piano tunes that make it quite an appealing pick for boogie blues and blues rock purists. Gary Driscoll enjoys his moment with the sporadic brief solo runs that bring out his excellence on the drums.
“Streetwalker” is another outstanding hit by Elf off the band’s third studio album Trying to Burn the Sun. Despite being the last hit by Elf off Trying to Burn the Sun, “Streetwalker” proves to be one of the fan-favorite hits of all time. If we are being honest, “Streetwalker” feels like a jazz blues hit, especially at the beginning.
In fact, the song barely gets truly hard, finding comfort in the band’s blues rock/boogie rock influences. However, the catch in this song is the charming vocals of Ronnie James Dio. The song once again brings the best of Gary Driscoll’s drumming skills and Mickey’s excellence on the keyboard.
#6- First Avenue
Number six on our ten best Elf songs list is the imposing hit “First Avenue.” The song is featured on the band’s eponymous debut studio album. Ronnie’s musicianship is at its peak in this record. We cannot get tired of mentioning how great Ronnie’s vocals sounds on this record. “First Avenue” also brings out the best of Ronnie’s bass skills.
The song balances the hard rock, boogie rock, and blues rock influences. “First Avenue” is a beautifully composed lyrical gem, with the singer crooning about returning from the First Avenue, probably the Minneapolis entertainment hub, only to find his lover gone. The song is an attempt by the singer to bring his lover back home from ‘heartbreak city.’
#5- Carolina County Ball
Carolina County Ball, the band’s sophomore studio album, was quite a remarkable album. Its title track, which serves as the lead track to the album, is enough proof of the band’s solid musicianship and then-growing influence rock scene. This mid-tempo song is a flawless catchy tune owing to impressive instrumentation. Adding to the band’s rhythm section is Ray Swinfield with some impressive clarinet sounds.
“Carolina County Ball” brings out the band’s blend of blues rock/southern rock/boogie rock ballad. We cannot forget to mention the honky-tonk piano inflections in this song. Ronnie crowns this hit as a masterpiece with his outstanding vocal delivery. Joining Ronnie on the backing vocals are the female singers, Barry St. John, Helen Chappell, and Liza Strike, who adds glamour to the song’s vocal section.
“Wonderland” is yet another magical ballad from the band’s third studio album, Trying to Burn the Sun. Elf excelled in the hard rock scene but still managed to bring us some of its blues rock inflections. “Wonderland” is one of the songs that manage to balance Elf’s hard-rocking signature sound with blues rock influences. The song provides a safe space where we can discuss the band’s musicianship.
“Wonderland” is a complete thriller starting from Ronnie’s alluring vocal delivery to the impressive instrumentation that yields haunting strong melodies. The keyboard riffs from Mickey Lee Soule make this song quite melodious! “Wonderland” feels a tad bit soft but melodiously rich like the hit “When She Smiles.” The string section in “Wonderland” adds to its allure.
The third pick on our ten best Elf songs list is the intoxicating hit “Rainbow.” “Rainbow” is yet another hit from the band’s sophomore studio album, Carolina County Ball. The song is yet another exhibition of Elf’s solid musicianship and excellence in the blues rock scene. We cannot seem to get enough of Ronnie’s melodic and powerful bluesy vocals. Once more, Ronnie is joined by female singers Barry St. John, Hellen Chappell, and Liza Strike on the backing vocals in this song.
Ronnie’s success with his blues rock-tinged vocals is proof of his versatility in the music scene. Roger Glover and Ian Paice of Deep Purple must have felt a bit sad to see their former member Ritchie Blackmore outpace them in signing Ronnie. The predominant piano tunes on this song evoke influences of Elton John in Elf’s career.
#2- I’m Coming Back for You
Energetic and electrifying is the second pick of our ten best Elf songs list “I’m Coming Back for You.” The song is one of the most sought-after tracks by the band off its eponymous debut studio album. “I’m Coming Back for You” is probably the closest Elf ever got to releasing a picture-perfect hard rock record. The song is an unadulterated hard rock ballad that barely tells of any blues rock inflections by the band.
Ronnie unleashes some powerful vocals that tell more of a man who would become the powerhouse of several hard rock/heavy metal acts in the late’70s and the better part of the ‘80s. The song forms a perfect foundation for Ronnie’s later musical pursuits with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and his eponymous ensemble Dio.
#1- Never More
Number one on our ten best Elf songs list is the alluring hit “Never More.” The song is the high point of the band’s eponymous debut studio album. “Never More” is emblematic of Elf’s signature blend of hard rock material with blues rock influences. At some point, the song feels like a mid-tempo driving hard rock ballad before the groove makes a huge U-turn to blues rock inflections.
This haunting ballad brings the best of Ronnie’s vocal delivery. Additionally, Micky Lee Soule standing his ground in this hit as one of the most impactful rock keyboardists of the early ‘70s. “Never More” was among the songs that guided Ronnie to achieving his big break, opening him to the admiration by rock fans and artists like Ritchie Blackmore and Deep Purple Members, Roger Glover and Ian Paice.
Top 10 Elf Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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