Why Blue Moves Was Elton John’s Most Underrated Album

Blue Moves Albums Review

Album cover is used for review purposes

Elton John had one of the most impressive runs that any single musical artist has ever had in classic rock history. Not many can compare to what he did between 1970 and 1976. I have always written that Elton John was the artist who helped fill the void left by the Beatles when they broke up in 1970. The Beatles last released album, Let It Be, hit the stores on May 20, 1970. Elton John’s US debut album came out the same year in January of 1970. (Empty Sky was released only in the UK in 1969). Elton John released ten brilliant albums loaded with top 10 hits on each between 1970 and 1976.

Additionally, Elton John released a handful of non-album singles in between albums that became massive hits. This was very similar to what the Beatles did, although, of course, the Beatles’ impact on music was far more influential in many ways. Yet, it was one against four, or we should say two against four, since we can’t forget the impact and importance of Bernie Taupin as Elton John’s songwriting partner.

Nonetheless, this article is not focused on comparing Elton John to the Beatles, but it is a critical point to make in acknowledging his unbelievable success from 1970 to 1976. That success was so earth-shattering it actually would overshadow his final album of that brilliant run called Blue Moves. Of course, Blue Moves was not his final album. Since Blue Moves was released in 1976, Elton John has released twenty more studio albums. However, most hard-core Elton John fans would probably agree that Blue Moves signified the end of the magical Elton John glory years, as the follow-up album A Single Man was not what we had come to expect from an Elton John album.

When Blue Moves was first released, it received many mixed reviews. Many rock critics who were possibly tired of Elton John’s non-stop success were looking to pounce on Elton the first chance they got, and Blue Moves became the album they centered their attention on. When a notable critic from Rolling Stone magazine wrote a negative review of the album, many more followed. It was also ridiculous because, in the end, Elton John had delivered a brilliant album filled with songs that, even at that point in his career, had continued to show artistic growth and originality.

Many of the new musicians he had hired for the Captain Fantastic Tour and the Rock Of The Westies album had found their place and groove in Elton John’s band and helped contribute to the songs’ arrangements and compositions. While that may not be common knowledge, our interview with Kenny Passarelli, a member of the Elton John band at the time, confirmed the contributions many of the band’s musicians made on the album.

Blue Moves opened with an instrumental entitled “Your Starter For…” It was not the first Elton John double album to open with an instrumental. The piece of music was not written by Elton John but rather by one of his band members, Caleb Quaye. The guitarist had played on the first four Elton John albums and had returned to the band for The Rock Of The Westies record. “Your Starter For…” was a very short piece of music but what was immediately notable for how good it sounded. It wasn’t the only song on the album that sounded fantastic; the entire two-record set stands as one of the best-sounding albums Elton John ever released.

The happy-sounding opening track leads into one of the saddest and yet most beautiful pieces of music Elton John has ever written. Supported by one of the most prestigious orchestras in music history, the London Symphony Orchestra added a dimension to Elton John’s music that was breathtaking. This was a sad yet monumental epic piece of music that just never got the recognition it deserved on radio. Its length and classical aura probably played a role in FM radio keeping its distance. Still, the industry’s ignorance of this track is one of the first instances of this brilliant album being overlooked.

The raging track “One Horse Town” followed the song “Tonight” on side one. Here we again have another dazzling piece of music that should have been released as a single because this song was so extraordinary. If you had not noticed the stunning sound quality on the album from the first two tracks, then “One Horse Town” should have slapped you in the face with its sonic brilliance.

Side one would close with another marvelous song called “Chameleon.” I remember when the album first came out, how all my friends who were Elton John fans often picked this one as their favorite song on the album. It was an incredibly captivating song that should have been released as a single. I believe this one would have been a huge hit. I don’t think I am alone in that opinion. The song featured backing vocals from The Beach Boys’, Bruce Johnston as well as Toni Tennille of the Captain & Tennille and many others. Blues Move’s first album side does not have a weak moment. I’m sure this side got millions of plays on the turntables of Elton John fans.

Side two of Blue Moves opens up with the soul-infused track “Boogie Pilgrim.” The song featured all-star jazz musicians in The Brecker Brothers and David Sanborn. This was a striking contrast to the album’s opening side. When I interviewed Kenny Passarelli, who played bass on the album, he told me about 90 percent of the album was recorded live. One can easily hear the loose feel of a live recording on this soulful track.

The funk and groove of “Boogie Pilgrim” is followed by one of the album’s highlights, in the song “Cage The Songbird.” This was my favorite song on the record. It is one of the most beautiful songs Elton John and Bernie Taupin ever composed. The song’s chorus is just breathtaking. It’s hard to believe that the song just stood as an album track and was never released as a single. It was a song that should have been heard by more than just Elton John fans. It’s one of the most striking examples of why Blue Moves was an underrated album because not enough people have heard songs like this.  Elton John had David Crosby and Graham Nash on backing vocals for the song. Kiki Dee would record a terrific orchestrated version of the song. “Cage The Songbird” was also covered by Crystal Gayle.

Next up on side two of Blue Moves was the exciting track “Crazy Water.” This was another fan favorite. The song was released as the third single from the album in the United Kingdom. The album’s first vinyl record closed with another funky track called “Shoulder Holster.”

Elton John had a long history of releasing ballads as the first singles from his records. It started with “Your Song” back in the 1970s and continued with tracks like “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” from Captain Fantastic and, of course, Blue Moves’ debut single “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” This was a big one. The song hit number one in Canada and number six on the US Billboard Hot 100. The impact of the song would only grow more expansive over the years as it became a standard tune among many of the world’s most influential vocalists, including artists such as Joe Cocker, Ray Charles, Diana Krall, Shirley Bassey, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Mary J. Blige and many more.

Side three continued with the tremendous instrumental “Out of The Blue.” This one was all about the band, with Roger Pope on drums and Kenny Passarelli setting up an absolutely killer groove. Davey Johnstone added some really tasty guitar solos, while, of course, Elton John added his rhythmic piano playing on top of it all, and Ray Cooper decorated the track with his legendary vibraphone playing. Everyone shines on this one.

After the excitement of the “Out Of The Blues instrumental fades, listeners are greeted with a traditional Elton John tune called “Between Seventeen and Twenty,” which sounded like it could have been released on Don’t Shoot Me. That song is followed by “The Wide Eyed and Laughing,” which is a gorgeous song fueled once again by the harmonies of Crosby And Nash in a very original-sounding tune unlike Elton had ever done before. Side three closes with a song called “Someone’s Final Song” that echoes some of his work from Captain Fantastic. It’s a very emotional song.

The record’s final side opens with the gospel song “Where’s the Shoorah?” accompanied by The Cornerstone International Baptist And Southern Californian Choir conducted by the Rev. James Cleveland. I would have closed the album with this one instead of “Bite Your Lip,” but I think they may have wanted to use the outer rim of the vinyl’s sound capacity to help present the beautiful choir on the song.

The next track, “If There’s A God In Heaven (What’s He Waiting For?),” once again features the soulful groove of Roger and Kenny on drums and bass, presenting an exquisite song that would have fit really well on a Hall & Oates album. That song is followed by the stirring “Idol,” which always blows my mind with how a song as terrific as “Idol” could be buried so far down on an album.

Another short instrumental, “Theme From a Non-Existent TV Series,” sets up the album closer “Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance!),” which was released as a single. It’s a fun party-like track that the band often played live at the time.

For many hardcore Elton John fans, the Blue Moves album were always considered one of Elton and Bernie’s best. It was a grand album filled with memorable songs, fuelled by Gus Dudgeon’s brilliant production. However, Elton John had so many hits leading up to the album that it seemed many people in the industry may have been tired of his success and were just waiting for him to release an album that they could criticize. Blue Moves would become the one. The criticism was undeserved and ultimately led it to be Elton Johns’s most underrated album of his career.

Why Blue Moves Was Elton John’s Most Underrated Album article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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