Due to my own stupidity and lack of foresight, many years ago I sold a fine hi-fi system in favour of not having anything at all to play music on so convinced was I that in the brave new world of MP3 we would not require a stack of amplifiers and media playing technology we would only need a computer and maybe a small device that held your complete record collection and would slip into a shirt pocket, and in doing so I instantly made my impressive collection of LP’s completely redundant.
So they remain to this day safely packed away in plastic storage boxes and stuffed into the corner of the loft in this here house surviving three house moves at which point the wife always asks, “Do you really need those…” and I always remind her that the terms of the exclusion order specifically state that she is not to be let within ten yards of my album collection after what she did to my singles collection in 1983.
This is Elton John before he went shit, I used to like Elton John but I’d never bought an album of his until this one but now looking back to his recordings prior to Yellow Brick Road I can see that I’d actually listened to most of his output in the various record shops that we’d hang out in, he was very commercially favourable in the early 1970s, everyone liked Elton, where did it all go wrong ?
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was an unusual addition to my growing record collection, unusual because it was a triple gatefold, unusual-ish because it was a double LP, unusual because all the lyrics to all 17 songs were printed inside the fold out album sleeve and a great source of cartooning for the 17 year old me for the triple album sleeve was covered in easily copied drawings, in fact the artwork of that album is one of the best I’d seen – we lost something from life when 12″ album sleeves disappeared from shops.
Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics to all of the songs in 20 days, and as was the style for the Elton John band they all decamped to Jamaica to work in the same studio that the Rolling Stones had just vacated after “Goats Head Soup”, jesus these were good days for classic music, Elton wrote the tunes in three days but production was disturbed by rioting in the country and they headed off for France and the “Honky Chateau” recording studios to complete it, this was their seventh album, they were selling millions, they could do what the fook they liked and the record company would just smile and sign some more cheques.
Released at the end of 1973 I finally caught up with the excellence of the album during a flight to America in February 1974…
…I like to write it like that, it sounds really flash doesn’t it, “oh yes, I was on this private chartered TWA Boeing 707 on my way to JFK when I first heard the album…” but actually thats EXACTLY what happened, by some fluke of life, one of those “you had to be there” moments in life when you are in the right place in exactly the right time and you know that this will never happen this way again, our family found itself on a private charter TWA Boeing 707 flight to JFK and onwards to Las Vegas, the story is well told elsewhere in this here blog but it really did happen that way.
On long haul flights in the early 70’s the on board entertainment was rudimentary, they had three TV screens down the full length of the aisle and showed one film in the seven hours to JFK, “A Touch of Class” starring Glenda Jackson and George Segal, it was a shit film then and its a shit film now, take it from me, its not worth spending 90 minutes of your life to decide that, take my word for it instead.
So I ignored the TV set which was too far down the aisle for me to watch anyway and twiddled the knob on the armrest to see which one of the five other audio channels had anything even vaguely interesting – Paul Gambaccini thats who, Paul Gambaccini with his own one hour presentation of popular and new music tunes to fill in one hour of a 12 hour flight, then loop the tape 12 times so you don’t have to pay Paul Gambaccini any more than one hours worth of his time.
He picked some good music during his hour with me and two tracks from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road were included, “Grey Seal” and the eponymous track from the album, I listened to them twelve times on the way out and fourteen times on the way back because they didn’t change the tape and we were diverted to Albuquerque coming home, by the time we landed back in the UK I was sold on the album and it turned out to be a pretty good investment, that is, I listened to all of it and liked most tracks, unlike most albums that you only bought because you liked the radio play single.
February 1974 was halfway through what I like to call my “Gap Year” at Leeds Modern School, technically I should have left when everyone else did in July 73 leaving only a handful of brainy kids to go on to take A Levels and then university, technically I didn’t qualify by some large margin as being brainy enough to take A Levels in any subject but when everyone had left to seek gainful employment in July 73 I was bereft of ideas as to what to do with my life now and as a couple of lads I knew WERE brainy enough to take A Levels, one of which was Geography which involved a week long field trip to Cornwall in April, I decided to stay on and take Geography too, a week in Cornwall, sounded ace, in fact it was, it was just the Geography bit that was shit.
Technically I should have been rejected from the A level year, shown the door and told in no uncertain terms to clear off and get a job you lazy bastard, and technically thats what Gus Scales the Head of Sixth Form actually did when I turned up for an interview to enter his beloved sixth form in August, but I am nothing if not tenacious and a boot up the backside and an unequivocal “Clear off and get a job you lazy bastard” did not deter me, so on the first day of the new term I turned up anyway and fortunately for me Trampus Shaw was one of the sixth form masters in charge of registration, “Hello old chap” he greeted me enthusiastically while licking his forefinger and flicking over the pages of his registration book looking for my name, “I say old chap, I can’t seem to find your name, did you register for the sixth form at all, hmm ?”.
I feigned extreme disappointment, “Well yes” I answered, “Geography and, erm, art, yes thats it, geography and art, I registered last month and they didn’t kick me out of the door and tell me to get a job at all, no sir”.
“Don’t worry old chap” Trampus replied, “I’ll just write your name at the bottom of the list like so…there, Geography and Art you said ?”
He was a card was Trampus Shaw, looked like Fungus the Bogeyman and spoke like Terry Thomas, signed me into the sixth form unaware of the fact that his boss had barred me and so began my “Gap Year”, the year when I supposedly was studying for two A levels but actually did nothing, attended very few classes, went on the Geography field trip to Cornwall and then handed in my resignation, “Its not for me isn’t this A level lark Trampus old chap” I sadly informed him in the June of 74, “I think I’ll go get a job instead”.