May 11


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#671, 7th December 1991

There are fantastic number one records which are over and done with in two minutes thirty, which is how long “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” takes to hit its chorus. A streamroller chorus, to be sure, given a chest-thumping delivery, but it’s near impossible to care. George Michael at this point was a defensive, self-conscious sort of pop star. He was all-too aware he’d been a teen idol, desperate to be part of the pop establishment at the exact point – poor George! – when that establishment was going ironic or weird or getting cold feet about the half-decade of wholemeal soul-pop it had just served up. He’d catch up in the end, but meanwhile this is a grim trudge of a single: you can hardly hear the song through the sound of mutually slapped backs.



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  1. 61
    hardtogethits on 1 Jun 2011 #

    #60 – interesting point. I agree heartily about the steep decline for Elton John, but the question you raise about generations, and appreciating things as they were released etc raises the ‘intrigue’. I still think Too Low For Zero (1983) is a fine piece of work, and always under-rated. Breaking Hearts (1984) however, was a strong indication the Glory Years were over, and they were, never to return. But if Too Low For Zero is either removed from the equation or accepted as inferior to his 70s work, then his decline might be seen as quite steady (perhaps caused by the demands of an album every year or so) – after all, who these days lauds the follow ups to Blue Moves: A Single Man, Victim Of Love, 21 at 33, The Fox, Jump Up?

    Steepest decline artistically? I nominate Stevie Wonder.

  2. 62
    MikeMCSG on 1 Jun 2011 #

    #61 Or Paul McCartney, Simple Minds , Bryan Ferry , Kraftwerk ….

    It might be harder to find someone who does maintain the standard beyond half a dozen albums.

    My beef with Elton was always the amount of support he got from R1 when he was in decline . Even garbage like the unintentionally meta “Just Like Belgium” got a lot of airplay.

  3. 63
    Wheedly on 1 Jun 2011 #

    #61, After Stage Fright Robbie Robertson only wrote a handful of worthwhile songs, and most of them were on Northern Lights Southern Cross.
    Honorable mention for the couple of newies on disc four of The Last Waltz, and that still leaves him washed up in 1976.

    #62, but Elton’s commercial decline and his artistic decline were distinctly separate things, weren’t they? (They would be for most artists, I guess.) Looking at his singles placings, Elton John’s never had a straightforward career decline; rather, a couple of lean years here and there and then a comeback album with another top-ten single or two. Radio 1 programmers would have learned not to write him off too quickly.

  4. 64
    swanstep on 1 Jun 2011 #

    Sick Boy: It’s certainly a phenomenon in all walks of life.
    Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: What do you mean?
    Sick Boy: Well, at one time, you’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever. All walks of life: George Best, for example. Had it, lost it. Or David Bowie, or Lou Reed…
    Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: Some of his solo stuff’s not bad.
    Sick Boy: No, it’s not bad, but it’s not great either. And in your heart you kind of know that although it sounds all right, it’s actually just shite.
    Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: So who else?
    Sick Boy: Charlie Nicholas, David Niven, Malcolm McLaren, Elvis Presley…
    Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: OK, OK, so what’s the point you’re trying to make?
    Sick Boy: All I’m trying to do is help you understand that The Name of The Rose is merely a blip on an otherwise uninterrupted downward trajectory.
    Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: What about The Untouchables?
    Sick Boy: I don’t rate that at all.
    Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: Despite the Academy Award?
    Sick Boy: That means fuck all. Its a sympathy vote.
    Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: Right. So we all get old and then we can’t hack it anymore. Is that it?
    Sick Boy: Yeah.
    Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: That’s your theory?
    Sick Boy: Yeah. Beautifully fucking illustrated.

  5. 65
    wichita lineman on 1 Jun 2011 #

    I’d nominate The Kinks – uniformly great from 1964-68, slim pickings after Arthur in 1969, and bugger all after 1972.

    I’m not familiar with Elton’s albums (I’ve tried, admittedly not too hard, and found them all patchy) but loved pretty much all of his singles up to ’76.

    His workrate was insane, sometimes releasing two albums a year, and that doesn’t include doubles!

    Being contrary, I just gave The Fox (1981) a listen – Elton’s Song is excellent, and I can’t hear a massive drop in standards on the whole. “Tough as an ox, yes I am the fox”… he must have occasionally wished he could write lyrics, though.

  6. 66
    MikeMCSG on 1 Jun 2011 #

    # 63 Right but that pattern hadn’t been established in the 79-81 period I was talking about. A lot of his 70s contemporaries – Gilbert O Sullivan, Clifford T Ward, The Carpenters, Moody Blues , The Sweet, Thin Lizzy to name a few – were dropped from the schedules to accommodate Blondie, Police etc but he survived despite very sub-standard material.

  7. 67
    Conrad on 1 Jun 2011 #

    Quickest creative decline? Stone Roses, from Fool’s Gold to One Love in the blink of an eye.

  8. 68
    Wheedly on 1 Jun 2011 #

    #66 Fair point, and I’ll happily concede it. I was just a baby at the time and wasn’t really aware of Elton John as a contemporary singles artist until Sacrifice, although I was aware of older stuff like Rocket Man and Candle in the Wind that my parents had.
    Perhaps he just had a lot of folks rooting for him at Radio 1 back then.

  9. 69
    Matthew K on 1 Jun 2011 #

    #18 – Punctum, did you know of the circulating 1968 demo tape of Elton covering Nick Drake songs among other contemporary folk? Day Is Done, Saturday Sun, Way To Blue, Time Has Told Me. Can’t say they do a lot for me but it’s at least interesting.

  10. 70
    MikeMCSG on 1 Jun 2011 #

    # 68 He did – that was exactly my point.

  11. 71
    Mark G on 1 Jun 2011 #

    #69, file it along with his CD of “Pickwick Cover Versions”

  12. 72
    wichita lineman on 1 Jun 2011 #

    Re 69: Elton did some pretty unlikely cover versions, presumably for the dosh, right up until Your Song was a hit but this has to be the least likely . I think it’s, err, pretty good!

  13. 73
    23 Daves on 1 Jun 2011 #

    #60 – Actually, disturbingly enough… according to my parents, Elton John was the first artist I ever “responded” to, in that I’d try to dance if they put his records on. And certainly, his albums were a constant in our household from a very young age, as both my mother and father were fans for a period (though curiously, they almost never mention him now).

    I was aware of his seventies output before I could really talk properly, never mind articulate my views on how finely crafted “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is, and even as I got beyond knee height I only knew instinctively that his was good stuff – and as I also liked “Birdie Song” by The Tweets for a time, that wouldn’t have held much weight with me by the time I actually paying close, studied attention to music and music criticism, by which point I saw Elton as naff.

    It’s only really in the last few years (thanks to some cheap second hand finds) I’ve actually started listening to his seventies period output again, and I’ve been struck by the gaping chasm between the quality of that and the quality of just about all of his post-1983 output. To be honest, I like his seventies work despite myself. I’m not a big fan of pop prima-donnas and don’t find their tantrums entertaining or charming. I really do have to hand it to Elton, though – for all his flaws, he was, for a period, one of the finer songwriters in Britain. Not particularly ground-breaking or adventurous, but certainly crafting some fine tracks.

  14. 74
    LondonLee on 1 Jun 2011 #

    It doesn’t bother me too much if an artist goes into decline creatively as long they put in a good body of work before it (like Elton, McCartney, Bowie), I can’t think of anyone who’s kept it up over a decade consistently (obviously there are occasional flashes of the old genius)

    My problem with George Michael is how quickly he went from boy band pin-up to “serious” singer-songwriter, it was almost unseemly the haste he swapped one set of clothes for the other. Much as like the guy he got “old” very quickly.

  15. 75
    MikeMCSG on 1 Jun 2011 #

    # 74 i know what you mean LL but it’s a bit too dismissive of his time in Wham to sum it up as “boy band pin up”. Yes they were very popular with young girls but there’s some good songwriting on both their LPs.

  16. 76
    Mark G on 1 Jun 2011 #

    Well, i had the feeling he had the whole thing planned out from day one:
    1) become teeny pin-up style pop star
    2) become solo
    3) become serious artist

    But then, he seemed to run out of steps, and, unsure what to do next, ended up doing nothing.

  17. 77
    LondonLee on 1 Jun 2011 #

    I didn’t mean it to be dismissive, it was more a reference to the image, not the substance.

  18. 78
    thefatgit on 1 Jun 2011 #

    Prince’s output (47 inc. studio albums, live albums, soundtracks, compilations and online releases) does put George Michael to shame. Also, both artists had seious beef over their contracts with Warners and Sony respectively. If I was to sympathise, I would probably sympathise with Prince, but first you would have to consider that both artists got paid a helluva lot of money for their work, and secondly both had been heavily indulged by their paymasters.

    Warner’s: “Prince, we want you to do the soundtrack for Batman.”
    Prince: *sighs* “But I’m touring this year, plus putting down tracks for my new album.”
    Warner’s: “Ok, we’ll bring in Danny Elfman, but we still need a couple of tracks… shall we say, in 2 weeks time?”
    Prince: “How about a month?”
    Warner’s: “How about we phone the tour promoter and add 10 extra dates?”
    Prince: “Ok, you’ll have something in 2 weeks” *sighs*

    Sony: “George, how’s that new album coming along?”
    Sony: “Ok, we’ll call back when you’re not so busy, shall we?”

  19. 79
    Mark G on 1 Jun 2011 #

    Yeah, but Prince’s beef came after his contract negotiation, and Georges was before, wasn’t it?

  20. 80
    wichita lineman on 1 Jun 2011 #

    Re 74: They don’t seem to be the most popular group among Popular posters, but the Bee Gees were ridiculously consistent. Their only bum album is 1973’s flat-out dull Life In A Tin Can. Right through the eighties they were turning out classy songs and productions for Babs Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross and Jimmy Ruffin as well as their own occasional (usually less impressive) solo albums.

  21. 81
    Alfred on 2 Jun 2011 #

    Let me put in a good word for 1981’s “Elton’s Song,” a rather explicit homosexual love song (lyrics by Tom Robinson) with a gorgeous major/minor key arrangement.

  22. 82
    Ed on 2 Jun 2011 #

    Re 81 Yes, that’s what I meant, really. Of course, everyone declines, often in a straight line, although sometimes in a wobbly one. So the Arctic Monkeys have been a classic “straight line” band, where ‘Whatever You say…’ >> ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ >> ‘Humbug’ >> (probably) the new one >> (probably again) whatever they do next. Tricky, too, where ‘Maxinquaye’ >> ‘PMT’ >> all those other ones. I mean artistically in all these cases, although in Tricky’s case it was probably commercially, too.

    The Rolling Stones, on the other hand, followed an arc, where The Early Albums << 'Aftermath' << 'Their Satanic Majesties' << 'Beggar's Banquet' <> ‘Exile on Main St’ >> ‘Goat’s Head Soup’ >> The Late Albums.

    But I digress… My point was not that Elton declined, but that he fell so far – from brilliant to terrible – and so fast – in the space of maybe a year or two, wherever you draw the cutoff. Because I agree, some of the stuff from the turn of the decade is great. I love ‘Never Gonna Fall in Love’, for example, although Tom Robinson may have done it better.

    MikeMCSG at 62, to take a couple of your examples, I think both McCartney and Ferry have had late flashes of genius, in a way that John never has. And I can see why you would say Simple Minds, but I think that took a bit longer. I am actually quite partial to ‘Sparkle in the Rain’, and of course ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’. So I see John as a more clear-cut case of just waking up one day and finding that the muse had deserted him.

    Conrad at 67, on the other hand… I think you may be on to something.

  23. 83
    wichita lineman on 2 Jun 2011 #

    The Stone Roses are an odd case, because they had been playing the songs on their album for several years – they just polished their set, stuck it out in ’89 to massive acclaim, and realised they had bugger all to follow it with. Same story (though obv with less initial impact) for the Vines and the House Of Love.

    Still don’t see it with Elton John as everyone seems to have different cut off points! I can see why Radio 1 continued to support him when singles like Song For Guy, Blue Eyes and Little Jeannie – not earth shattering but perfectly pleasant – were part of this fallow period. Is Too Low For Zero the last decent album, then?

    Oh, how about Diana Ross for a precipitous drop? Pretty much a chart regular from 1964 to the mid eighties, then… horrible Disney ballads which only sell in Japan.

  24. 84

    “Everyone declines” may be true in rock and pop, and obviously it’s true in the sense that no one is actually immortal, but it’s not at all the only pattern in jazz or blues or country or folk or composed music inc.songwriting, where the golden era is surprisingly often an autumnal period

  25. 85

    also, counterexample to this iron law of rock/pop: SPARKS, who have been goin for roughly 40 years, with hiati, and are better now than ever!

  26. 86
    vinylscot on 2 Jun 2011 #

    Unfortunately, as a fan since 1974, I need to disagree about Sparks. Their last two bona fide albums “Hello Young Lovers” and “Exotic Creatures of the Deep” (discounting the Ingmar Bergmann “musical”), have been deeply disappointing , as poor as any of their 1980s output.

    They are a counterexample in that they have had two short periods of creative success, rather than just one, i.e the 1974 albums, and the “Gratuitous Sex” and “Lil Beethoven” LPs more recently, but they have also had two pretty steep periods of decline.

  27. 88

    Plus Russell’s hair is better than it used to be

  28. 89
    Mark G on 2 Jun 2011 #

    A bit like Paul Nicholas’ reggae, then.

  29. 90
    wichita lineman on 2 Jun 2011 #

    Lil Reggae Beethoven

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