I don’t really need to introduce Elton John, you either know him or you don’t. And as you know, for this project, we’re going album by album – starting with the first and not stopping until the end. Prior to starting this project, I’d never heard this album. I’d always assumed that his first album was the one that had “Your Song” on it, that he was a music genius from the very beginning, and that his career exploded from there. Not true – that album is the self-titled effort, released a year later.
Turns out Empty Sky is the actual first album by Elton John. And to my ears, that’s exactly what it sounds like – a first effort. I’ve never heard any of these songs, so I’m guessing it didn’t exactly set the sales charts on fire. It did chart in the US, but that was when it was re-released in 1975. This album never got a stateside release when it originally came out. The album starts off with the title track, which is a pretty good start, but could have used some editing, because unless it’s “Funeral for a Friend”, no Elton John song needs to be 8 minutes long – especially this one since the last 2 minutes of the song is some kind of extended outro, complete with premature fade-out. You can tell that Elton was still searching for his “sound”. There are some songs that contain the seeds of the Elton we all know and love, for instance “Western Ford Gateway” or “Sails”. But something the music suffers from is the time period. Being that it was released in 1969, some it sounds pretty dated – such as “Val-Hala” – which reminds me of “Stonehenge” by Spinal Tap. Or the final song/suite “Gulliver/It’s Hay Chewed/Reprise” which would probably fit right in with any other “psychadelic” rock album of the time, but on an Elton John album, it seems forced, especially when we know what’s to come.
Overall, it’s pretty solid, as far as first albums go anyway. Had this come out in today’s climate, I doubt any record exec would give him the chance to improve on it. That’s something to be said for the way the music industry worked back in the day – artist development was something that was actually taken seriously, versus now, where it’s all about getting that single and a quick return on an investment. As for someone who isn’t that familiar with is body of work, I guess the most surprising thing about this album is that there’s not really one track that stands out above the rest. I can’t say that I was expecting an album full of hidden gems, but I was surprised at the lack of memorable tunes, especially when you consider his run of albums that are to follow.
And so the running chart begins. I’m going to be ranking them next to each other, but since this is just the first week, we only have one to chart:
1. Empty Sky