Madman Across The Water (Super Deluxe Edition) – Elton John
It was back in April and May of last year that I reviewed both Davey Johnstone’s new album Deeper Than My Roots and the unofficial release of a double live album by Elton John entitled Tokyo 1971. I did mention in both of these reviews how it was strange that Elton’s 1971 album Madman Across The Water was the only one not to get a Deluxe Edition release like many of his earlier albums did a good while back. It was in June of last year that one finally arrived in the form of a Super Deluxe Edition to celebrate its 50th Anniversary which is perhaps a bit late but nevertheless, I suppose it was better late than never so to speak.
I am pretty sure it was only the four studio albums as seen above that were given Deluxe Editions and basically you got a new remaster of the album along with a bonus disc with some early demos of the album’s tracks. These were all released back in 2008 and they even put out a 4 CD box set for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
The term “Super Deluxe” really does apply to this new box set of Madman Across The Water in the way that it has been packaged and I have to say it really is an excellent presentation. So much so that I have noted many people suggesting that the other albums above and a few more besides should be given the same treatment. I myself tend to go along with that though I will say it’s an expensive game and this particular box set is well overpriced by about 33.3% in my opinion and should retail for no more than 40 English Pounds, Sterling.
But even at the retail price, I purchased it for on its release I will say that this box set is way better packaged than Pink Floyd’s Immersion Boxes and those things cost a hell of a lot more than this. Like the Immersion Box of The Dark Side Of The Moon, I recently reviewed I also had to replace the Blu Ray that came with it. Though no nightmare was involved and I was not dealing with SNAILS & TORTOISES! or people that come from the planet IGNORAMUS! 😊😊😊.
What I will say is that you don’t have to be a MADMAN! to purchase a box set like this, especially with the high quality and thought that has been put into the packaging. Although from a surround FREAKS! point of view such as myself, you may feel a bit ripped off, especially if like myself you brought the SACD back in 2004 for £10. But before I go any further let’s take a look at how it is packaged.
Packaging & Artwork…
The contents are packaged in a 10-inch quality cardboard slipcase box and just like the original vinyl album the cover on the front has a rough texture and feel to it. It’s perhaps a bit of an oddball size in relation to the majority that are 12-inch and they have pretty much gone along with the way the John Lenon boxsets were made in particular with the portfolio that comes inside it.
It’s also like the Chris Squire Fish Out Of Water boxset in the way that the contents slide out of the side of the box rather than having to remove any lid. To be honest, things are a bit more compact in relation to the Squire boxset and there is less sliding about, it’s also made of thicker cardboard.
The other good thing is that the contents are printed on the back of the box, unlike Floyd’s Immersion boxsets that are printed onto a separate sheet of photo paper which can be a pain in the ass lining it up to put the lid back on at times. More thought and no flaws went into the design of this box set which is good to see and it really is a quality neatly done well made package.
The four-panel cardboard portfolio is also quality made and the four discs are stored in numbered single cardboard sleeves inside die-cut pockets. Unlike other box sets where they are stored inside just a die-cut pocket (as with the Squire package as an example), they do tend to slide about, whereas here the sleeves keep them firmly in place.
Also included in the box is a very large 1971 reproduction poster that was originally used to promote the album. Although these things are not that much use to me these days though at least it is the size of what a poster should be unlike some of the weedy ones that come in other boxsets.
The final item included in the box set is a 104-page hardback book. This is a quality item and not only includes the original booklet that was fixed inside the original vinyl album but also includes unseen photos, master tape boxes, other memorabilia photos and most of all some very good written informative content about the album in the form of an essay written by Daryl Easlea.
All in all, it’s a very well-put-together package though I do think it is overpriced and I purchased my copy from Amazon UK for £62.45. I may have got it much cheaper had I noticed it up for pre-order a lot earlier and I was very late pre-ordering this box set and pre-ordered it 4 days before its release date.
The original album cover design was done by Janis Larkham who is credited on the album as Yanis which she chose as a pseudonym name herself. She used the back on an old Levi denim jacket which she embroidered over a couple of weeks and gifted the original to Elton. She was most likely inspired by the opening line “Blue jean baby” from the first track on the album entitled “Tiny Dancer” rather than the album’s self-titled track. You can also purchase a replica of the jacket from Elton’s store for £200, although you might have to be completely MAD! about the album to purchase that.
The original design was done by her husband David Larkham who was the art director. He also used a pseudonym name and his name appears as Gill in the album credits. The original liner notes were done by John Tobler. Darren Evans took care of the art direction and design for this particular box set with the use of memorabilia supplied by Brendan Glover, Peter Thomas and various other sources.
The 50th Anniversary of the album was put out in various formats and the cheapest of the physical formats is the 2 CD Edition (as seen below). This can be had for as little as £9.99 on Amazon UK and I daresay there is also a Digital Download of the album though I doubt it will be cheaper so you are much better off with this CD package.
The 3 CD Blu Ray Super Deluxe boxset (as seen below) that I purchased I have seen more recently for a lot cheaper on Amazon UK for around £41 though prices can fluctuate from time to time and you may end up paying around the £50 mark. It is however a lot cheaper than buying it from Elton’s store where it’s priced at £73.94 with the postage and packaging.
For vinyl lovers, there are two options the cheapest being the Limited Coloured Vinyl 1 LP Edition (as seen below). Prices for this from other outlets can vary from £28 – £33 and there are some still around. Personally, I think it’s a bit disappointing because as you can see that it not only just comes in a polyurethane sleeve but the colour they have died it is not the same shade of blue that is on the album cover.
The final option is the 4 LP Boxset store in a 12-inch cardboard box which is currently priced on Amazon at around £100. All the LP’s are pressed onto 180gram vinyl as with the coloured vinyl above. The thing that disappoints me about this release is that the booklet is not hardback plus the fact that the original vinyl album had the booklet fixed inside the gatefold, unlike this release.
The Super Deluxe Boxset In Review…
The Super Deluxe Boxset Edition or 50th Anniversary Edition of Madman Across The Water by Elton John was released on the 10th of June 2022. The new re-release did better than the original album that was released on the 5th of November 1972 and managed to peak at number 5 on both the UK and American Billboard charts, although the album had already gone platinum in the US by March 1993 and two times platinum by August 1998 and sold over 2 million copies. I always considered the album to be Elton’s least commercial album basically because here in the UK there were no single releases from the album, though over here many would not have heard of Elton until the release of “Rocket Man” in the following year.
It was also that single that introduced me to Elton in 1972 as my older brother brought it and it was not long after that I myself got the Elton bug and started buying all his albums back then. Madman Across The Water is very much an album that I consider to be up there with the best of them.
It was Elton’s 4th studio album and like his previous albums his producer Gus Dudgeon brought in many session players and quite a few were brought in to make this album many of whom were regulars such as bassist Herbie Flowers, drummers Barry Morgan, Terry Cox and Roger Pope. The guitarist Caleb Quaye handled most of the guitar work during this period though a few other session guitarists would also get to play on the odd track or two such as Chris Spedding. Rick Wakeman was also brought in to contribute keyboards on this particular album.
Although both former members of the Spencer Davis Group bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson were Elton’s live touring band since 1970. They very rarely got to play their instruments on his studio albums and contributed more backing vocals and harmonies than anything else. Though all that was about to change by the time Elton’s next studio album Honky Château was to get made in the following year and it was all down to a young Scotsman who was playing for the progressive folk-rock band Magna Carta at the time who went by the name of Davey Johnstone.
One of the main reasons why Johnstone was brought in was because they were having trouble with the album’s self-titled track which was one of the first tracks to be worked on for the album left over from the Tumbleweed Connection sessions in 1970. The guitarist Mick Ronson originally was brought in to work on the song in March of that same year. Although Ronson did an amicable job it was not what they were looking for and one of the key points that were missing was the introduction they felt the song needed. Elton performed the song many times live without an introduction back then and it was Johnstone’s vision that would eventually provide the answer and fit in with exactly what they were looking for.
Even at the age of 20 Davey Johnstone brought a lot more than his playing ability to Elton’s music just as much as Paul Buckmaster played a vital role in the orchestral arrangments Johnstone also had the right vision to be able to not only arrange songs but also write them. It was Johnstone’s work on this album that led to Elton forming his own permanent band that we got to see and hear on the subsequent albums that were to follow. This was also the first album that percussionist Ray Cooper also played on who also became one of the permanent members of the band along with Johnstone, Murray and Olsson.
Madman Across The Water like his previous other two albums was recorded at Trident Studios in London, England. It would be his final album to be recorded there although subsequent albums would be remixed or overdubbed at Trident. The album was recorded in 4 days on the 27th of February and the 9th, 11th and 14th of August 1971.
The studio was put together by Norman Sheffield and his brother Barry in 1967, Norman was also the drummer in the band The Hunters. The studio was situated in the Soho district of London at 17 St Anne’s Court. It was the hit single “My Name is Jack” by Manfred Mann that was recorded at Trident in March 1968 that helped launch the studio’s reputation. In the following year, The Beatles recorded “Hey Jude” and part of their White album there.
Many other artists followed suit such as David Bowie, Genesis, Frank Zappa, The Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, Thin Lizzy and just about everyone used the studio. Queen recorded their first 3 albums there and it functioned as a studio up until it was sold in December 1981. Though the new owners renamed it Trident 2 and it reopened in 1983. Though not long after it was sold on to further developers and ceased to exist as a recording studio in the same decade.
The Package Contents In Review.
As you may be well aware this Super Deluxe Edition of Elton’s 4th studio album Madman Across The Water comes with 3 CD’s and a Blu Ray and being the surround FREAK! that I am it is the blu ray that is the most important thing to me. The hardback book however is very good and not only does it come with loads of pictures and memorabilia but it also has a 17-page well in-depth essay written by Daryl Easlea.
This Deluxe Edition features quite an array of bonus material that comes with this box set especially when you consider that no other release of the album came with any at all including the SACD release back in 2004.
Though I should point out that the SACD does contain the extended version of “Razor Face” instead of the shorter version that was originally released on the album. Though you could hardly call that a bonus track especially in relation to how all the other SACD’s of his early albums came with them.
Granted the three earlier only came with a couple of bonus tracks on each album, but It’s also worth noting that the 2004 SACD release of Tumbleweed Connection contained Mick Ronson’s original version of “Madman Across The Water“. It was most likely that the song was recorded during the Tumbleweed sessions why they decided to include it on that release instead of the album Madman Across The Water.
Both the SACD’s of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy come with slightly more bonus tracks four on the first of those albums and three on the latter to be precise. Still to this day the 5.1 mixes of Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player, Caribou, Rock Of The Westies and Blue Moves that the engineer Greg Penny mixed around the same time have not been released.
All of these SACD’s were no more than £10 – £12 each when I brought them a good while ago including GYBR to which I got the later release that came with 2 Hybrid SACD’s and a DVD with the making of the album documentary. Most are still widely available today though prices have doubled with most of them.
One of the first things I noted with the blu ray that comes in this box set is that instead of it including the bonus track of Mick Ronson’s original version of the album self-titled track, it had the cut that was put on the original album twice. My initial thought was that it was going to take another 3 months as it did with the Immersion Boxset of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon getting it replaced.
I was well-surprised that when I emailed them my proof of purchase that it arrived (as in the picture above in a blu ray case) only two days later. Universal are well on the ball and that really was an express delivery which is more than I can say for the snails who handled the blu ray replacement for Floyd. To get your disc replaced simply email your proof of purchase to firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t forget to include your name and postal address.
Both the Blu Ray and CD’s that come in this Boxset contain extra bonus content but before I go into the details of the blu ray content, let’s take a look at the 3 CD’s, it’s also on those where the biggest majority of the bonus content is placed.
The first CD contains the original 9 tracks of the album all of which were remastered by Bob Ludwig back in 2016. It also comes with five bonus tracks two of which are “Madman Across the Water (Original Version, featuring Mick Ronson)” and “Razor Face (Extended Version)” which were included on the 2004 SACD releases of Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across The Water respectively. The 14 tracks are spread over an overall playing time of 74 minutes and 4 seconds.
The first of these was also released on the 1992 compilation album Rare Masters whilst the latter of the two is perhaps a bit confusing because according to the liner notes in the book, it’s the first time it’s seen a stereo release as only the multichannel mix was ever reissued before. They obviously forgot to take into account that the 2004 Super Audio release of Madman Across The Water is a Hybrid SACD which can also be played in stereo on any CD Player. However, it is the first time it has been released on an actual CD in relation to an SACD.
Also included are “Indian Sunset (Live Radio Broadcast)” which was recorded at the A&R Studios in New York on the 17th of November 1970. It’s also the first time this has been released on CD and Streaming. The only other release this ever came on before was the special record store day release back in 2017 on a double vinyl album reissue of the live album 17-11-70.
The other couple of bonus tracks “Rock Me When He’s Gone” is a song that Elton wrote for his longtime friend Long John Baldry who did record it and released it as a single in the same year. This recording Elton did on the 27th of February 1971, and is Take 6 of the song and is one of his earlier recordings and is the same version that was released on the Rare Master’s compilation album in 1992. Also recorded on the same day was the mono mix of “Levon” this is actually a shorter version of the song that has never been released in any format before.
The second CD contains 12 tracks and comes with a total playing time of 59 minutes, 39 seconds and all bar one of the tracks are early piano demos (mono only) played and sung entirely by Elton himself. Basically what you get here is the bare bones of all the 9 tracks that made up the album most of which were recorded at Dick James Studios between the spring and summer of 1971. Also included is an earlier piano demo of the album’s self-titled track that was recorded at the same studio in April 1970.
You also get two versions of the song that never made the album “Rock Me When He’s Gone” the first of which is the piano demo that was also recorded at the same studios in 1971. The second version is the full version recorded at Trident Studios on the 22nd of August 1971. It’s the only stereo track on the disc and has never been issued in any format before as with most of the demos on this disc. Only tracks 1, 4, 7 & 9 were previously released on Elton’s Jewel Boxset which was released in 2020.
The third CD captures Elton playing 8 of the album tracks live back in 1971 five days after the release of the album. The 8 tracks are spread over an overall playing time of 44 minutes and 10 seconds and this particular performance was filmed at the BBC Television Centre in White City, London on the 11th of November. It was later broadcast on the 29th of April 1972 between 8:20 – 9:15pm and was the 6th episode in the series of Sounds For Saturday that was shown on BBC2.
Like many of Elton’s live concerts back then he had his regular touring band of Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson to accompany him on some of the songs, the only song that was not performed from the Madman album was “All The Nasties“. Though not to worry as there is a live version of it included on the blu ray so let’s now delve into that.
The Blu Ray.
The blu ray that comes in the boxset gives you much more than the SACD although from a surround FREAK! aspect it only really gives you the one extra track that had been previously released. The good thing is that track is now where it should have really been put in the first place, however, I do think they placed it in a silly place. The other extras that you get here are more or less the same as the CD content except here they are visual content.
The main menu is very bright and pristine and you get to see a slide show of pictures from the inside of the album cover with “Tiny Dancer” playing in the background. The navigation is fast, smooth and simple and comes with 3 options to choose from “Play All”, “Choose Video” and “Play Album”. The one thing I noticed about “Play All” is that it only plays the visual content and not the audio content.
By clicking on “Choose Video” a box pops up and displays the visual content which is the biggest majority of the bonus content that is included on the blu ray. As you can see it also includes the BBC Sounds For Saturday which is on the 3rd CD that comes in the package. The visual performance is slightly longer than the audio content on the CD and runs for 46 minutes and 32 seconds though the extra amount of time is really down to the ending credits and nothing more.
Also included in the visual extras is an earlier live performance of the songs “Tiny Dancer” and “All Our Nasties” which was screened on the Old Grey Whistle Test on the 7th of December 1971. It also includes an interview conducted by Richard Williams with Elton and Bernie. The total playing time of this extra feature is 17 minutes, 28 seconds and as with all the extra visual content you get here the audio is more or less in CD quality LPCM 48/16.
Clicking on the “Play Album” section a box pops up to display the audio content and this is also where you have the choice to listen to it in stereo or surround it’s also the highest quality content on the blu ray giving you the choice of either LPCM 96/24 Stereo or DTS 96/24 5.1 Surround.
The good thing about the menu is that you don’t have to load to another screen although I must admit it’s perhaps a bit unusual how they have done things here especially seeing how the album is the main feature yet they have placed it in the last section instead of the first. The other thing you will notice (via the playlist) is that they placed the bonus track at the beginning of the album instead of at the end, bonus material really should be placed at the end of the album.
The 5.1 Surround Mix.
The surround mix was done by Greg Penny and regardless of if you have the SACD or Blu Ray it is to die for. I love the way that Penny placed Paul Buckmaster’s strings in the rear channels and the sheer force that they hit you with. They are far more effective in the surround mix with the attack and how they strike out. There are quite a few good positives this mix brings to the table in relation to the stereo mix and he really has done a superior job with the mix that much so that I personally don’t think even Steve Wilson could have done things better here.
Sonically I do favour the Blu Ray over the SACD for some reason everything sounds a lot tighter and the attention to detail with the instrumentation tends to strike out more so. Though of course, all those things those details could be in my mind and after all, it’s not as if a new 5.1 mix has been done for this release. At the end end of the day, I would say the differences between both formats are only marginal and like I mentioned regardless of if you have the SACD or Blu Ray the 5.1 mix is to die for as with all of the albums Penny mixed back then.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Gus Dudgeon. All songs were written and composed by Elton John & Bernie Taupin. Recorded at Trident Studios in London, England between February – August 1971. Recording Engineer Robin Geoffrey Cable. Mastered by Sean Magee at Abbey Road Studios London, England. Art Direction & Design by Darren Evans. Original Art Direction & Design by David Larkham. Surround Mix by Greg Penny.
Elton John: Vocals – Acoustic Piano.
Davey Johnstone: Acoustic Guitar (Tracks 1, 4, 7) – Mandolin & Sitar (Track 6).
Caleb Quaye: Electric Guitar (Tracks 1, 2, 3) – Acoustic Guitar Track 6).
Chris Spedding: Electric Guitar (Track 4) – Slide Guitar (Track 7).
B. J. Cole: Steel Guitar (Track 1).
Les Thatcher: Acoustic Guitar (Track 2).
Herbie Flowers: Bass (Tracks 4, 5, 7).
David Glover: Bass (Tracks 1, 3, 6).
Dee Murray: Bass (Track 8) – Backing Vocals (Tracks 1, 6, 7).
Brian Odgers: Bass (Track 2).
Chris Laurence: Double Bass (Track 5).
Roger Pope: Drums (Tracks (1, 3, 6).
Terry Cox: Drums (Tracks 4, 5, 7).
Nigel Olsson: Drums (Track 8) – Backing Vocals (Tracks 1, 6, 7).
Barry Morgan: Drums (Track 2).
Ray Cooper: Percussion (Track 4) – Tambourine (Tracks 7, 8).
Rick Wakeman: Hammond Organ (Tracks 3, 4, 7).
Diana Lewis: ARP Synthesizer (Tracks 4, 7).
Brian Dee: Harmonium (Track 2).
Jack Emblow: Accordion (Track 3).
Paul Buckmaster: Orchestral Arrangments & Conductor (Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9).
Cantores In Ecclesia Choir: (Track 8).
Lesley Duncan, Barry St. John, Liza Strike, Tony Burrows, Roger Cook, Terry Steele, Sue & Sunny: Backing Vocals (Tracks 1, 6, 7).
The Album Tracks In Review…
If anything Madman Across The Water is an album that still sits in with the darker side of folk music that was reflected on his first three albums, it very much comes from a period before Elton started to break out with the pop side of his career that perhaps gave him more international success. Much of the material on the album is on the lengthy side of things that would not have sat in well with popular radio stations at the time for it to be played enough to get more recognition. It’s also the reason why no subsequent singles were released from the album.
It’s perhaps easy to say that a STAR! was born when he played at the A&R Studios back in 1970 though in reality he certainly would not have been in the limelight like many popular artists were in the pop world at this point in his career. It was the albums that were to follow that brought him the most success and hits from them that were to make him a STAR! and stand out as one of the biggest in some respects. The album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road spawned four major hits and still to this day I regard that album as one of the best put-together double albums of all time.
Though personally for me it is the album tracks on his albums that appeal to me the most, basically because his hits have been perhaps played to death on the radio and live over the years. The very fact that Madman Across The Water did not spawn any hits appeals more to my personal taste and it does not contain any real commercial material. So let’s now dive in and take a closer look at the album.
Track 1. Tiny Dancer.
I suppose for many this would be their favourite track on the album and effectively could easily be the single of the album though due to its length of being over 6 minutes, it is easy to see why it was not released as a single here in the UK. Although in the following year of the album’s release in 1972, it did get released as a single in the US though it was never edited down which is why it most likely fell short of breaking into the Top 40 on their Billboard singles chart.
Tiny Dancer (1972 US Release)
There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the standout tracks on this particular album but I will stress that it’s not the only track that stands out and there are a couple of other tracks on this album that could equally measure up to this fine song. Though if I had to pick a personal favourite from this album this song would be it and it’s why it merits my TOP SPOT AWARD!
Musically this is a very well-constructed song and like many of Elton’s songs, it consists of a lot more than the basics and many chords are used to create it. Although it appears to use the basic chords of C and F to construct its opening melody there is a lot more to it than meets the eye so to speak as you can see in this video showing you the construction of the song that Rick Beato put out last year.
It’s very much a song I love to play and sing myself on the piano and just recently I have also rearranged it for the guitar in F# though I could never really give it the justice that Elton does especially with the excellent musicians he has onboard with him on this song and the rest of the album.
B. J. Cole’s lap steel guitar playing on this song was the breakthrough moment that opened the door for him as a session player and was in demand thereafter including by the likes of Roger Daltrey, Humble Pie, T. Rex, Procul Harum, Andy Fairweather Low, Uriah Heep, Roy Harper just to name a few.
This is one of three tracks that bassist David Glover (not to be confused with Roger of Deep Purple) plays on, he also contributed to the same number of tracks on Elton’s previous album along with drummer Roger Pope. Both of these musicians played together in the mid-sixties band The Soul Agents. Davey Johnstone’s role on the acoustic guitar is quite minuscule on this track though it adds a nice touch and so does Caleb Quaye on the electric guitar.
Lyrically the song was inspired by Bernie Taupin’s first wife Maxine Feibelman who he met in California and married in the same year as the release of the song and album. It also contains references to her such as “Ballerina” which she used to do ballet when she was a child, she also used to sew the patches on Elton’s jacket hence the line “seamstress for the band”.
The lyrical content is perhaps too personal for it to have had the success of a hit in the singles charts which is why I’ve always seen it more of an album track, though as album tracks go I do personally think it is the hit on this particular album and it really is a song that I love to death and can never get tired of hearing it, unlike the biggest majority of Elton’s hits.
Track 2. Levon.
The next track on the album I personally could never consider a hit and it certainly does not have the potential to be one either in my book. That’s not to say that I dislike the song by any means but what surprises me more than anything is that it was released as a single in the US and it managed to break into the Billboard Top 30 and peaked at number 25 in the US charts. To even think that this managed to do better than “Tiny Dancer” puts me in somewhat disbelief. It was also the first single to be released from the album in November 1971.
Levon (1971 US Release)
Although the reason it may have managed to peak at 16 places higher is that it was the first single to be released from the album and many may have brought the album by the time “Tiny Dancer” got released. This was also a time when many artists were putting more consideration into the way an album flowed and were not that concerned with making singles because the album made more money for them.
To be perfectly honest I myself would have had to have heard a lot more than “Levon” from this album for it to entice me to buy the album whereas “Tiny Dancer” most likely would have made me rush out to buy the album. I am pretty sure the same would go for the biggest majority as well.
The lyrical content is purely fictional and even the name Alvin Tostig who was Levon’s father in the song was made up. The name of the song’s title was inspired by Levon Helm the drummer and singer of The Band who was both Elton and Bernie’s favourite band at the time. According to the Band’s guitarist Robbie Robertson, Helm didn’t like the song, and quoted him as saying “Englishmen shouldn’t fuck with Americanisms”.
Personally, I don’t think there is anything to dislike about the song and musically it does have a strong melodic structure which is very much down to Elton’s piano which is perhaps the centre focus point of this particular song. As with all the arrangments on this album, Buckmaster’s strings are striking and feature very well on the outro in particular. Barry Morgan of Blue Mink gets to play on this one track as to does session player bassist Brian Odgers. Quaye’s electric guitar is evident as ever and it also features session players Les Thatcher (acoustic guitar) and Brian Dee (harmonium).
Another fascinating fact about “Levon” is that it was also included in the American release of Elton John’s Greatest Hits Volume 2. I quite like the song myself though I could never see it as hit potential and one of the oddball things that surprised me is that when Elton remade the band version of “Skyline Pigeon” in 1972 that originally appeared on his debut album Empty Sky, they stuck it out as the B-Side of “Crocodile Rock“. That 1972 band version of the song certainly had more hit potential than the song we have here in my book though somehow they failed to notice it.
Track 3. Razor Face.
This is quite a raunchy hardened rock song and for many years I actually thought this song was loosely based around the American gangster Al Capone, and where the confusion lay with my way of thinking is that scarface and razor face could potentially derive from the same meaning. Though of course, I was totally wrong and way off the beaten track so to speak. Many of the interpretations of the song’s lyrics point to homosexuality, homeless, alcohol and even drugs as in a razor being used to cut cocaine, for example, it’s also easy to see how many may have derived towards that way of thinking when you look at the source where I think Taupin may have got the inspiration for the lyrics.
To be honest over the years Taupin has said very little regarding the lyrical content of this particular song almost to the point of practically nothing at all, although it is not unusual for much of his inspiration to come from books, films and travel as in the case of many of Elton’s songs. In the book that comes with this Deluxe Edition, you do get a bit of an idea of where he may have drawn some of his inspiration from and they do tend to point towards a film that was released in the same year.
There are a few key points in Taupin’s own words that point towards the 1971 film Two-Lane Blacktop (as seen in the picture above) though my own observation could still be very well off the beaten track as it was with me thinking it was about Capone. First and most is that he points out that it is a road song which suggests he wrote the words whilst he was on the road but one of the key points is that he states “it must have fallen out of my imagination somewhere along the southwest of Route 66,” which happens to be the route that is taken in this movie.
Although the major key point that led me to this movie in the first place is that he also goes on to say “that it makes him think of a character Warren Oates might have played in a Monte Hellman movie” and this has to be that very film. Many of the interpretations that people arrived at are in this film including homosexuality, though some thought it was about Elton’s own homosexuality. However, I should point out that Taupin also goes on to say “No real-life inspiration, just a dusty caricature from a dime novel”.
“Razor Face” is one of the two songs on the album that does not feature Buckmaster’s strings and it’s perhaps down to the lesser elements with it being more of a band process with its arrangement is what makes it rock out that bit more. Although in reality to say it has lesser elements making up the musical side of things might be a bit of a misconception especially when you consider you have 3 keys players on the track and one of those elements is perhaps more commonly associated with folk music.
I am of course speaking of Jack Emblow’s only contribution to the album with the accordion, an instrument that Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull will quite often refer to as the German squeeze box from hell, although Emblow himself was more commonly associated with jazz music in relation to folk music. He was perhaps better known for his work accompanying the Cliff Adams Singers on BBC Radio although as a session player, he’s certainly been around the block and has played for the likes of Tom Jones, Grace Jones, Donovan, Elaine Paige, Sandie Shaw, Curved Air, Rolf Harris and many more. He even played “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles at Abbey Road on the 25th of June 1967.
As ever Elton’s piano is at the very core of the song and by far the dominant force of the keys here however another of the session players who’s also been around the block a few times is Rick Wakeman who I am sure many would already know about and this is one of three tracks on the album that he contributes to with the Hammond organ. Both the Accordion and Hammond are more or less playing along the same lines which gives it quite a quirky sound that perhaps would not generally be associated with these instruments. The way they are combined also takes away any of the folk presence that the accordion in particular may very well have lent to it.
What rocks this song up more than anything is Elton’s voice and Quaye’s lead lines on the guitar those are the things that have the harder edge and Quaye’s guitar work on this track is formidable and is supported very well with the back line of once again Glover and Pope. “Razor Face” is a GREAT! song and one that I feel is almost up there with the three standout tracks on this album.
Track 4. Madman Across The Water.
The album’s self-titled track is quite a disturbing dramatic song I suppose in a way a bit like “Burn Down Down The Mission” from the Tumbleweed album only a bit more low-key sort of thing. It’s a song that very much has a dark disturbing presence about it to which the music as in all cases would have been inspired by Taupin’s lyrics that reflected on institutionalisation, isolation and mental instability. It’s also a song that was originally written and recorded for the Tumbleweed album but got shelved due to it sounding more like Led Zeppelin than Elton John.
I have to admit that the original version that features Mick Ronson on guitar is quite heavy and most certainly ROCKS! His guitar work is so effective that it makes it sound more like it was stepping on the boundaries of progrock to some extent. Just like “Razor Face” this is more of a rock song without Buckmaster’s strings and one that has a very hard edge. Listening to it in 5.1 surround makes it even more effective and it’s a killer of a bonus track to have and one I am glad to see get the 5.1 treatment.
Ronson was quite a regular at Trident Studio around the time which is how he got to play on the song. He was working on David Bowie’s third studio album The Man Who Sold The World which was titled Metrobolist at the time of this recording when producer Gus Dudgeon asked him to play on the track. Gudgeon first became aware of Ronson’s guitar skills when he produced Michael Chapman’s Fully Qualified Survivor album Chapman also got to play acoustic on this original version.
David Johnstone was eventually brought in because they felt the song needed an intro and it was his acoustic guitar that provided the answer although it was only down to Chapman being reluctant to play on the song again that he got the job. Chris Spedding was also brought in for the electric guitar duties and both Terry Cox (drums) and Ray Cooper (percussion) were brought in to provide a different beat. Besides Elton himself the bassist, Herbie Flowers was the only player to play on both versions and it was Barry Morgan who played the drums on the original version.
When comparing the two versions it’s easy to see that the original was more of a heavy rock band process with the basic elements of instrumentation that were utilised in the song and to a degree, it perhaps never sat in with drama that was presented in the lyrical content which is why they decided to go down an orchestral route.
Buckmaster’s strings not only provide the dramatics but also the dynamics that were required and Diana Lewis’s ARP Synthesizer was also added to lend extra support along with Wakeman’s organ contribution I like both versions myself and both are to die for with the surround treatment that Gregg Penny gave to them though as much as I love the song I don’t see it as one of the standout tracks on the album.
Track 5. Indian Sunset.
The drama continues with this next song which happens to be the longest track on the album, you could say that it’s like a just under 6-minute Movie with the lyrics Taupin wrote for it which were inspired by a visit to a Native American reservation. America the Wild West and cowboy films in particular had always fascinated him since he was a child and it’s no surprise to see many of Elton’s songs relating to America in one way or another, this whole album was very much inspired by the country.
Throughout history, the Native Red Indians have always been driven away from their land or their home so to speak and this is a song that chronicles that story. However, there are a few inaccuracies and one notable mistake that always played on the back of Taupin’s mind is how he wrote that Geronimo was shot by US soldiers when in reality he died from pneumonia. Though his version of how the Apache leader died ties in better methinks and it depicts how racism is still a major concern in that country even today, I often wonder what they mean by making America GREAT! again is to make it WHITE! It may very well be the most racist country in the world.
It’s a song that Elton very rarely plays live and when he does it’s either unaccompanied or he will have Ray Cooper with him on percussion. Although he did perform it live on the 5th of February 1972 at the Royal Festival Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paul Buckmaster. It’s also one of the earlier tracks that were written for the album and one that very much carries over the folk influence from his previous albums more so than most of the material on the album.
Buckmaster’s orchestral arrangement plays a pivotal role in the studio version of the song along with Elton’s piano and this song also has the same backline as the previous track with Flowers & Cox though Chris Laurence was also brought in to throw a bit of double bass into the equation.
“Indian Sunset” is a song that was perhaps relatively unknown to the biggest majority of people and people would have become more aware of it when the American rapper Tupac Shakur used a sample of the song on his number-one hit “Ghetto Gospel” back in 2004 that was produced by another rapper Eminem. Though personally for me this song has always been one of my personal favourites and another standout track that is very much a very strong contender for the album’s TOP SPOT AWARD!
Track 6. Holiday Inn.
This is my other standout track on the album though in reality it’s perhaps more of a standout track for Davey Johnstone’s work on it with the mandolin and sitar and the song itself is more along the lines of other rock songs on the album such as “Razor Face” and “Rotton Peaches”. This is where Johnstone showed his real skill as an arranger and most likely why he became a permanent fixture in Elton’s music and is still part of it today. Producer Gus Dudgeon originally felt the song needed a banjo and although Johnstone is very much an accomplished player of most stringed instruments he had a lot more vision of what the song really needed to bring it out of its shell so to speak.
Johnstone contributes both sitar and mandolin to the track and both instruments fit in like a glove though I will say that the mandolin in particular is what makes this song stand out the most, just as much as Ray Jackson’s contribution of the mandolin to Rod Stewart’s big hit “Maggie May” to a certain degree. Come to think of it is at the end of both of these songs where the instrument really comes to fruition and plays its leading role. Although, in the case of this song, the mandolin is pretty much utilised throughout and it’s the interplay between the acoustic guitar, mandolin and piano and how they are placed in the mix that grabs my attention here the most.
Elton quite often performed the song live on his own and threw in an extra verse running down the hotel as with the performance of the song that is on the Songs For Saturday that comes with this box set for example. Taupin originally intended his lyrics to go down that route and originally wrote “Until you’ve been in a motel hell like the holiday inn” but the chain threatened to sue hence why “hell” got changed to “baby”.
Personally, for me, I much prefer the studio version and this song simply does not cut it without the mandolin for my ears, especially with how well the instrument is placed in the mix and with how it interacts with Elton’s piano and the acoustic guitar played by Quaye. That is where the real magic lies and that is why it makes this yet another contender for the album’s TOP SPOT AWARD!
Track 7. Rotten Peaches.
I suppose in a way you could say that this next song is the mother of all rock songs on the album and drives along that bit harder in relation to “Razor Face” and “Holiday Inn”. Chris Spedding’s slide guitar also makes it slide along smoothly even if the lyrical content is perhaps travelling down a rocky or bumpy road so to speak. Rotton peaches can often be referred to as a disconnection within a relationship as when a relationship turns sour between two people for example, although the disconnection, in this case, may very well be from society itself which is often brought on by drug addiction. Like many when they are down and out they are set in their ways and that is basically how I would interpret this set of lyrics that Taupin wrote.
As rock songs go it very much holds its ground with Elton’s vocals and piano at the core whilst both Flowers and Cox keep it ticking over very well. Wakeman’s Hammond organ also lends well to the backline and Lewis’s synth work also plays its part. I would expect for many this would also be another of the album’s standout tracks though I do think the ending is slightly overcooked.
Track 8. All The Nasties.
Speaking of overcooked endings I have to confess that this song never sat with me very well at all because the ending does drag on and on way too much. Elton did tend to overdo a lot of his songs back in them days and I could say the same thing about “My Father’s Gun” on the Tublewwed album, though I do like that song a lot more than this. To be perfectly honest I only really got to appreciate this song more when I heard the 5.1 mix in 2004 and for many moons, I never really liked this song at all. I would also say that one of the reasons for disliking it was that I never really understood it.
The lyrical content that Taupin wrote for the song deals with criticism from the press in a way that the public might think differently of you if they found out certain things about you so to speak. Although Elton had not quite openly come out of the closet about him being gay at the time they do tend to point towards that more so than the way Elton originally described it as being a dig at the music critics in the press. Though as Taupin pointed out in the book non of the songs on this album are really personal and he could not recall what he was thinking of at the time when he wrote them.
It’s quite an oddball track on the album and even musically it does not really tie in with the rest of the songs on the album sort of thing. It has more of a gospel soul feel to it and even Elton’s voice is that sweet you would not think it was him singing it to a certain degree. It’s also the first studio track that both Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson got to play on which seems very odd considering they were his touring band for the past couple of years. It also features the Cantores In Ecclesia Choir directed by Robert Kirby and this is the only track on the album the choir is on and they are not on “Indian Sunset” as the original credits suggest.
As oddball as “All The Nasties” does tend to come across the song is actually very well built up as it transcends along and the attention to detail in how some of the instrumentation stands out in the multichannel mix really makes this song more exciting for me to like it. Olsson’s bass drum kicks total ass in the middle section of this song and the way it’s been placed in the rear left channel hits you like a ton of bricks and literally shakes the room.
Track 9. Goodbye.
The album gets put to bed wonderfully with the shortest track on the album which only Buckmaster’s strings accompany Elton. The lyrics Taupin wrote are very poetic and are written in the way of a haunting mournful coda to the album. Effectively it works as an outro to the album and perhaps not far off being reminiscent of how Gilbert O’Sullivan would put an end to his early albums only Gilbert gave more of a humorous side to his intros and outros sort of thing.
Summary & Conclusion…
To sum up my review of the Super Deluxe Boxset Edition of Madman Across The Water by Elton John. I am going to first start by looking at the boxset and its contents in terms of value and to way up if it’s worth shelling out the extra cash for it. If I was going to go on presentation alone I would say its price point is about right and the quality and construction are quite lavish and flawless with its design. It’s easy to see why many others have opted to see more of the same being done with Elton’s albums.
The 104-page hardback book that comes with it is also very lavish in its presentation and nothing has been done on the cheap here. It also provides plenty of written informative content (not just photos) for you to get your teeth into. It’s got everything I personally like to see in a book or booklet and a great deal of thought and effort has been put into it.
It’s really the musical content that comes in the boxset where the value does not hold up as well and why I felt it was overpriced by about 33.3% and should retail for no more than 40 English Pounds, Sterling. As with many boxsets like this that focus on one particular album it’s very rare that there was a lot of extra material that was written at the time that was left off the original album. In the case of this album, the only extra song that was written at the same time period was “Rock Me When He’s Gone” and it’s not as if that song is special or rare because it’s surfaced on various other compiled albums over the years.
The fact that you are getting four discs in the box may very well look like you are getting an extra load of goodies but the only real rare content is the piano demos on the second CD and they are hardly the thing you are going to play all the time and will most likely only ever play them once or once in a blue moon so to speak. Most of the live content has been around for years even the Sounds For Saturday concert made for TV has been floating around Youtube for many years now and the only real advantage this boxset gives you is having it all in one place.
If you want my honest opinion the best extra content that has been included here is the original version of “Madman Across The Water” that features Mick Ronson on guitar and it’s not as if that has not surfaced on other compilation albums either. I know it was originally written and recorded during the Tumbleweed sessions but I do feel it’s in its rightful place and at home placed on this album. I also felt it should have been included on the 2004 SACD of the album and not the Tumbleweed Connection SACD.
From a surround FREAKS! perspective the Blu Ray offers very little over the SACD and the only real difference regarding the musical content is that the original version of “Madman Across The Water” has been included as a bonus track. Though to stick it at the beginning instead of the end of the album was an oddball thing to do. The other difference is that you get the original album-length version of “Razor Face” instead of the extended version which still remains exclusive to the SACD regarding the multichannel side of things that is.
The fact that there is very little difference over the SACD is why I pointed out in my introduction that it could be seen as a bit of a rip off especially if you are one of those like myself who mainly buys older recordings for the multichannel content. However, I did not buy this particular boxset for the surround content because I already knew what to expect and my main reason for getting this was really down to having all the Deluxe Editions.
Though to my surprise SONICALLY! the Blu Ray is superior to the SACD and there is no way I would consider it a rip-off at all, in many respects I got more than I bargained for though that’s not to say that this boxset is worth any more than 40 English pounds sterling. I should also point out that those sonic differences are only marginal and I would not advise anybody to shell out 60 bucks if they already have the SACD to which no doubt they would already know they have a superior quality 5.1 mix in their hands.
Greg Penny is very much another of my favourite multichannel mixing engineers and is also up there with the likes of Steve Wilson, Elliot Scheiner, Chuck Ainlay and Bob Clearmountain. He very rarely gets a mention in my reviews which is perhaps down to me mostly reviewing progrock albums but his work on these Elton albums is quite exemplary and outstanding.
In conclusion, I am going to focus on the album itself and also point out a few goodies that we might get to see in the near future which is all really down to the release of this Deluxe boxset. Although there is still a tinge of the folk influences that exist somewhere along the lines of the album Madman Across The Water it’s also easy to see that most of the material is striving towards the pop and rock music scene where Elton would eventually break out and become way more popular.
Despite it being one of his least commercial albums Madman Across The Water like many of Elton’s earlier albums is still highly liked and regarded as one of his better albums. The very fact that this boxset (even at its much higher price point) sold more copies than the actual album on its original release back in 1971 is proof in the pudding. I can wholeheartedly understand why many would want this Deluxe treatment done to the other deluxe editions and in all honesty, you can count me in and sod the extra expense because I am well pleased with this boxset.
“take my word I’m a madman don’t you know”
The good news is even more exciting because at some point hopefully this year we will see a deluxe version of Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player which is another album that never got the deluxe treatment like the others did. I am pretty sure it will also come lavishly packaged like this boxset in the form of a Super Deluxe Edition. To further the excitement it will also include Penny’s long-awaited 5.1 mix that many have been crying out for since he did it back in 2004.
At the end of the day, you really don’t have to be a MADMAN! to shell out the money for a boxset like this. It’s very much a lavish package that takes pride in sitting on my shelf more so than most. It’s also an album that has never been far away from my turntable so to speak and gets played regularly every year.
A Lot More Than A Blue Jean Baby…
The CD tracklisting is as follows:
01. Tiny Dancer. 6:16.
02. Levon. 5:21.
03. Razor Face. 4:44.
04. Madman Across The Water. 5:57.
05. Indian Sunset. 6:46.
06. Holiday Inn. 4:16.
07. Rotten Peaches. 4:57.
08. All The Nasties. 5:09.
09. Goodbye. 1:55.
10. Indian Sunset (Live Radio Broadcast). 5:19.
11. Madman Across The Water (Original Version, featuring Mick Ronson). 8:52.
12. Rock Me When He’s Gone. 5:03.
13. Levon (Mono Single Version). 4:46.
14. Razor Face (Extended Version). 6:43.
01. Madman Across The Water (Piano Demo 1970). 5:10.
02. Tiny Dancer (Piano Demo). 6:03.
03. Levon (Piano Demo). 5:05.
04. Razor Face (Piano Demo). 3:49.
05. Madman Across The Water (Piano Demo 1971). 5:11.
06. Indian Sunset (Piano Demo). 7:35.
07. Holiday Inn (Piano Demo). 4:35.
08. Rotten Peaches (Piano Demo). 4:08.
09. All The Nasties (Piano Demo). 4:49.
10. Goodbye (Piano Demo). 2:00.
11. Rock Me When He’s Gone (Piano Demo). 4:03.
12. Rock Me When He’s Gone (Full Version). 7:11.
01. Tiny Dancer (BBC Sounds For Saturday). 6:14.
02. Rotten Peaches (BBC Sounds For Saturday). 5:10.
03. Razor Face (BBC Sounds For Saturday). 4:21.
04. Holiday Inn (BBC Sounds For Saturday). 3:55.
05. Indian Sunset (BBC Sounds For Saturday). 6:59.
06. Levon (BBC Sounds For Saturday). 4:57.
07. Madman Across The Water [BBC Sounds For Saturday). 10:55.
08. Goodbye [BBC Sounds For Saturday). 1:39.