Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Captain Fantastic

Twenty-nine years ago tonight, Elton John played the second of two nights at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles--the first rock concerts held there since the Beatles in 1966, and the wrapup of an enormously successful American tour. (Several photos from the shows are featured in the packaging of his Greatest Hits Volume 2 album.) The Dodger Stadium dates represent Elton’s cultural peak. His opaque masterpiece, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, had come out that spring; he’d appeared in the movie version of Tommy as the Pinball Wizard that summer; the tour and the hits kept coming that fall.

When Chicago’s legendary Top 40 blowtorch, WLS, counted down its top 89 hits of 1975 on December 31, it was an Elton-free night until very late, which didn’t surprise me. I was listening to the countdown with two of my best friends that New Year’s Eve. (It was our last one without driver’s licenses.) I was keeping track of the list, and had been confidently predicting all night that Elton’s "Philadelphia Freedom" would be Number One. So "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" was at Number 10. I could see it. "Bad Blood" at 9, "Island Girl" at 7, so far, so good. I was shocked when "Philadelphia Freedom" landed at Number 5. When "Pinball Wizard" (which had never been officially released as a single) was Number Two, the pump was primed for outrage. "'Love Will Keep Us Together’ is Number One? Are you kidding me?" Five of the year's top 10 songs, but no Number One?

We didn't know it then, but Elton's era was beginning to pass. The album Rock of the Westies had slipped from the Number One slot in late November, never to return, and the single that followed "Island Girl," the double-sided "I Feel Like a Bullet" and "Grow Some Funk of Your Own," would fail to reach the heights Elton had scaled for the last four years. The biggest hit of his career, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," was still to come in the summer of '76 (without a hit album), but a year later, people were already wondering whatever happened to Elton John.

Parenthetical Note: If you want one more indication of Elton John's staggering popularity in 1975, consider this. Since Billboard revised its album chart methodology in the early 90s, it's nothing for an artist to debut at Number One. It happens all the time now, but was almost unheard of in earlier years. It had never happened before 1975, when both Captain Fantastic and Rock of the Westies entered the charts at Number One. A year later, Stevie Wonder did it with Songs in the Key of Life, but until the chart methodology was changed, nobody else ever managed it.


At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sheesh! I know I'll be glad when October is over... How's your wife holding up?
Just kidding.
I propose that Reggie Jackson give up the title and you be named, "Mr. October."

At 7:54 PM, Blogger jabartlett said...

"Mr. October." Hmm, I believe I rather like that.


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