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May 08

ELTON JOHN AND KIKI DEE – “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”

FT + Popular86 comments • 4,886 views

#393, 24th July 1976

The intro to this is a masterclass: the strings and piano curling around the bass and drums in what amounts to a trailer for the song, teasing its hooks for you. It’s a suitably flirty intro for a duet, so it’s a shame the performers don’t really catch fire. Or the performer – Kiki Dee doesn’t do much wrong (though it’s annoying how her lines sometimes just trail off), it’s just unfortunate that she’s partnered with the fearful pop heffalump that is Elton John.

When the Demis Roussos thread turned into a discussion of “whose voices don’t you like?” I had to bite my tongue, as Elton is close to the top of any list I’d make. It’s not that his badness is in-your-face, it’s more that his steady effortful hollering wears me down. I also blame him for popularising that huffing mid-Atlantic style British pop stars keep falling back on – if you want a moment in “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” which sums up my dislike it’s the way he sings “honey” as “uh huh-neh”. He’s an ordinary singer who strains for power and connection but never quite makes it, at least on his famous stuff (though I’ve checked out a few recommended album cuts and still found the voice a problem).

As a writer, of course, he had plenty of moments, and disco seemed to particularly suit him, so musically “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” is dandy – all those feinting, jabbing string and guitar parts mirroring what ought to be a playful display of chemistry and affection. Enough of that gets through to make it a good Elton John single, and a record I want to like, but my problem with Elton is just too big a barrier.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    intothefireuk on 17 May 2008 #

    I found most of Elton’s output up until this time fairly pallatable with Your Song, Rocket Man, Goodbye Yellow, Saturday Nights Alright (replete with killer riff), Funeral & grey seal being particular highlights. However, DGBMH was very disappointing and seemed to lack any real substance. A knock-a-bout tune which made a direct grab at a mainstream audience I can’t imagine, if he was enitrely honest with himself, that he was pleased that it outsold any of his former glories. Kiki too, had much better singles previous to this, but not being a huge selling artist I can excuse her more than I can Elton. It may, of course, have just been Elton being incredibly generous giving his (then) protege a helping hand (much like Bowie had with Iggy) and accidently falling on a huge hit.

    Although I am not a fan of Mid-Atlantic accents (as epitomised by Radio 1 & especially Radio Luxembourg DJ’s) I didn’t actually mind Elton’s. His sounds less forced and (almost) natural whereas the hideous monster that is R Williams has the most unnatural, forced & fake singing accent I think I have ever heard & deserves thoroughly to be blasted into space (with his alien buddies).

  2. 77
    Alan on 17 May 2008 #

    elton john and the muppets (Sam the Eagle and Kermit):

    Sam: Kermit,about this Elton John. I have seen some weird guests on this show but this Elton John is beyond the revolutionary.
    Kermit: Sam, Elton John is one of the greatest entertainers of all time.
    Sam: Then why does he dress up like a stolen car?

  3. 78
    Caledonianne on 18 May 2008 #

    Misanthropes! Misanthropes! This is fabulous. In July 1976 I spent the summer holidays being an £18 a week filing clerk in the law firm where I later (if briefly) became a partner.

    When I was locked in the wills vault or – worse – retrieving dispositions and retrocessions from the dusty graveyard that was the title deeds safe this seemed always to be on the radio and immensely cheering it was too, as I thought about great matters like whether to have a cheese and tomato or a ham roll for elevenses,and whether lunch was to be a sausage roll or a bridie from the next door Greggs.

    There’s a sort of angularity – a jabbing quality to the strings in this – that just wakes me up. It’s like an aural spongebath with Original Source Tea Tree and Mint shower gel, Makes me sort of shudder, but in a good way.

    I was clearly on another planet, and oblivious to all this ‘why punk had to happen’ angst. Apart from the countrified parodies I think this has been a sound year. In fact, I wonder if I will ever enjoy (chart) music so much again (though if I remember aright the impact of punk on the Popular concept is less than its cheerleaders would have us believe)?

  4. 79
    Caledonianne on 18 May 2008 #

    Forgot to say – would be intrigued to hear more about Marcello’s assertion that the two Macca songs owe more to GO’S than they’re letting on.

    I was Gilbert’s girl in my early teens, and bought Wings at the Speed of Sound on release, so would love to hear the thinking.

  5. 80
    swanstep on 14 Oct 2010 #

    Well, they just did DGBMH on Glee (played it pretty straight – it was lots of fun)…. so here I am getting round to checking out what Tom thought of it, and blimin’ heck it’s all ’5/10′ and EJ in general is an ‘ordinary singer’. Both judgments strike me as certifiable.

    Anyhow, DGBMH is an easy 7+ record in my view. It’s not one of the top ten best things EJ ever did, maybe not in his top 20 (it’s a definite disco genre piece, almost a novelty records for him after all – it’s not an automatic 10 the way things like Benny and the Jets are) but that’s just to state the obvious: EJ had a ton of amazing songs and records in the ’70s. You don’t *become* an EJ-level figure (esp. not while looking the way EJ does) without having the goods somewhere.

  6. 81
    Alan not logged in on 1 Sep 2011 #

    I know most of the TOTP76 chat is in the end of year polls, but I thought this post was worth a bump. Esp now that we’ve probably seen the last of that behind the scenes mime now (Dancing Queen will be number one the next time it airs I spect)

    I’d forgotten Tom’s dislike of EJ’s voice – which I sympathise with (if I don’t like a voice I find it hard to get beyond too). Still this has been enjoyable to sit through the four times of TOTP76. And not just cos he’s my homeboy now.

  7. 82
    MarkG on 1 Sep 2011 #

    I mentioned EJohn’s demodisc of Nick Drake’s songs upthread.

    I have heard them now, and yes: It’s Nick Drake done pub-singer style.

  8. 83
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 1 Sep 2011 #

    i caught a bit of DGBMH on ToTP76 a week or so back, and
    (a) it really struck me what a capable singer he had the pipes to be, yet
    (b) somehow what had seemed almost a virtuoso glam-muppet distancing mannerism back in the day (as in “not his real singing voice”, as someone says way upthread)…
    (c) … had by the late 80s become a seriously normalised blokey-soul style

    one of the lines glam walked — enormously excitingly at the time, even if only semi-understood then — was the one between rocklad come-as-you-are everyman dressing-down and ultra-diva the-show’s-the-thing (and-the-exclusive-party-afterwards) dressing UP… the latter being seriously out of fashion popwise from c.68-73 except in the slightly dislocated regions of supperclub soul and full-on wizards-cape prog (and haha lizaminelli-land)

    what was exciting at the time was the sense of permeability glam created, i think: “anyone can dare to be fabulous”) (“even fubsy old elton”)

  9. 84
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 1 Sep 2011 #

    “seriously normalised blokey-soul style”: i mean for nearly everyone, stripping the actual daring odd-seemingness out of elton’s act

  10. 85
    Erithian on 1 Sep 2011 #

    Labi Siffre in an NME annual circa 1972: “Audiences seem to expect satin jackets. Rod Stewart looks cool in a satin jacket. I’d look an idiot.”

  11. 86
    hectorthebat on 17 Jul 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 12
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Sounds (UK) – Singles of the Year

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