May 08

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

FT + Popular91 comments • 7,973 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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  1. 61
    and everybody elses Mark G on 13 May 2008 #

    Oh, and Elton John did a music publisher’s sampler consisting of a bunch of Nick Drake songs also.

  2. 62
    Dan R on 13 May 2008 #

    Re: #52.

    You don’t want the Muppets making records?? Goodness me, I had some of my most pleasurable listening in the 70s thanks to the Muppets. Indeed, I think I spent much of 1977/78 listening to the first two cast albums from the TV shows and also their rare and unusual EP of Music Hall songs. A splendid way to end my first decade on earth.

    Agreed, that may have been unusually good preparation for listening to Elton John.

  3. 63
    jeff w on 13 May 2008 #

    Further to my own #23, I just remembered I’ve wibbled at length about me and Elton already on my LJ, so I’ll just link the entry concerned rather than rehash it:


  4. 64
    Waldo on 13 May 2008 #

    Marcello # 41 – A duel it will have to be. Roobarb (and particularly Custard – an incureable recidivist) were small screen gods, of course, but Hector was the first in the gang with a gun in his hand, the first to do time, the first in the gang to die. Oh, my! AND DON’T YOU FUCKING FORGET IT, KENNETH McKELLAR! COPY??!!

    Basically, you’re a great big, silly old Marcello!

    I had a thing for Zsa-Zsa, btw…

  5. 65
    Dan M. on 13 May 2008 #

    A lot of great comments here as usual, so everything I have to say has been said. But anyways… the general Elton John critiques are on the mark; he was never to be taken seriously. Catchy, irritating, ubiquitous, “well-crafted” pop — the content and attitude too plainly ersatz to ever become dangerously pretentious. DGNMH was certainly ubiquitous — brings back non-specific memories of AM radio accompaniment to aimless summer looking-for-something-to-do driving. But that could be said of many many songs. Now, I find it completely fun, and probably the shallowest recording I’ve heard. It’s clever and energetic and nicely arranged, but lacks a single moment of individuality or feeling, other than the feeling of “it’s fun to be singing this song” (I know, I know, I’m just paraphrasing everyone else). Empty calories, but it goes down easy.

  6. 66
    Brian on 13 May 2008 #

    I have always liked EJ. WIde ranging versatile catalogue. But one of the things I like best about EJ is his guitar player , Davey Johnstone. Probably the best accompanying guitar player in the world.

  7. 67
    Brian on 13 May 2008 #

    Oh, and if you don’t remember hearing him on EJ’s records – then he has done his job.

  8. 68
    Lena on 14 May 2008 #

    I remember hearing this on a hot afternoon (it was in Ottawa, so it was hot and humid) in 1976. My father had gone to Ottawa for a world animation festival, my mom and I got the bus to Ottawa to meet up with him, and we were all on a sunny terrace when this came on. I loved it immediately, but my father grumbled about how repetitive it was (which now makes me wonder if The Fall’s “Repetition” is inspired by it)…

    …This song is happy, but I think it’s an exaggeration to call it ‘jolly’ – the happiness jumps and bounds along as the music does, but it’s a nervous, even anxious happiness. One person’s heart clearly has been broken – that’s why he’s been ‘down’…broken so badly that he needs to be reassured (again and again) that no, she won’t break his heart. The joy of the song is tempered by that worry – and the music does its best to zigzag perpetually between him and her (it never rests or pauses)…because it’s in a major key and their singing is so clearly warm, that anxiousness is kind of masked…I don’t hear any smugness in the song because of that vulnerability, that worry…that this affair will be real, genuine and lasting…

    Oh, and this was a transatlantic #1…the first one in some time…

  9. 69
    Martin Skidmore on 14 May 2008 #

    Is it a myth that Elton, in the early ’70s, was also doing impersonations of top stars for either the Top Of The Pops or Hot Hits series of recent-hit-cover-copy albums?

  10. 70
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    No, it’s true, and an CD of his performances (or the “best” of them at any rate) was issued some years ago, though I’ve no idea whether it’s still available. Apparently the Top Of The Pops version of “Back Home” was performed by Elton, Rod Stewart and Dana Gillespie.

  11. 71
    jeff w on 14 May 2008 #

    No, not a myth. You can even buy cheapo CD compilations of Elton’s contributions to the series now. I acquired one free with a Sunday newspaper a year or two back.

    xpost obv

  12. 72
    wwolfe on 14 May 2008 #

    Tom, I have a question, belatedly about one comment you made:

    “I also blame him for popularising that huffing mid-Atlantic style British pop stars keep falling back on…”

    I’ve seen the term “mid-Atlantic” now and then over the years, including here. I know what it means in American terms – roughly, the area on the Atlantic coast around Delaware and Rhode Island – but I don’t know what it means, either geographically or stylistically, in British terms.

    I was interested to see what you had to say about the annoying aspects of his singing. For me, I think he has a pleasant vocal timbre – or he did, before drugs, age, and over-use hardened the tone – but the way he enunciates the syllables has always bothered me. Reading your post, a possible reason finally occurred to me. Elton is a (sincere, I think) fan of American rhythm and blues – he, for example, has spoken ardently about the superiority of Erma Franklin’s original version of “Piece of My Heart.” In his early, scuffling days, he recorded demo versions of American hits, for consideration by British acts. One of these was in fact “Piece of My Heart.” I was thinking of this after reading your comments, and it suddenly occurred to me that if I pictured the young, very English Reg Dwight doing his fervent best to replicate Erma Franklin’s pronunciation of the lyrics on “Piece of My Heart,” it would sound almost exactly like Elton John’s pronunciation of lyrics on just about everything he’s ever recorded. Mick Jagger wound up creating his style in a similar way, with the huge difference being that he made it his own, while Reg-into-Elton-via-Erma never quite made that leap. Jagger’s affectation became a means of personal expression, while Elton’s remained mere affection.

    That’s my theory, anyway.

  13. 73
    wwolfe on 14 May 2008 #

    “…while Elton’s remained mere affectATion.”


  14. 74
    Tom on 14 May 2008 #

    “mid-Atlantic” I had no idea was a US region! It’s a slightly cliched way British pop critics describe a Brit singer affecting or imitating an American way of phrasing and singing but not quite getting there. In a sense, someone like the Killers might be mid-Atlantic in the other direction.

  15. 75
    wwolfe on 15 May 2008 #

    Thank you! This makes sense now.

  16. 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).

  17. 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?

  18. 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)?

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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”)

  24. 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

  25. 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.”

  26. 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

  27. 87
    Larry on 14 Nov 2014 #

    In Summer of 1976, I took a car trip from New York to Madison, Wisconsin to see a girl I was (sort of) seeing at the time. Many hours in a car, and this song played frequently on the radio. I liked it then and still do. I’d give it a 7 or 8.

    There’s a funny moment at the beginning of the video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQmRgFzg0jI where Elton drags Kiki by the hand into the recording studio.

  28. 88
    Red Seeker on 1 Dec 2014 #

    Get’s extra marks from me for having one of the greatest intro’s to any pop record ever

  29. 89
    Harryo19 on 18 Jul 2015 #

    Checking the various versions on You Tube. The version from Live Aid: they nailed it.

  30. 90
    lonepilgrim on 13 Nov 2019 #

    I tend to enjoy EJ’s faster paced songs better than his more ‘meaningful’ works so I’m more favourably disposed towards this even though it sounds a bit overly cheery. At least it’s short – I got a best of CD recently and was surprised how long most of his hits were.

  31. 91
    Gareth Parker on 1 May 2021 #

    I feel this is perky and has a real charm to it. I could go up to a 7/10 here.

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