And what a work it turned out to be. The reviews were uniformly enthusiastic. Reviewing the album for Rolling Stone, Jon Landau (soon to be Bruce Springsteen’s manager) wrote: “Elton John’s Honky Château is a rich, warm, satisfying album that stands head and shoulders above the morass of current releases. ... Château rivals Elton John as his best work to date and evidences growth at every possible level.”
Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” enthused that the singer had been “transmuted from dangerous poseur to likable pro. Paul Buckmaster and his sobbing strings are gone. Bernie Taupin has settled into some comprehensible (even sharp and surprising) lyrics, and John’s piano, tinged with the music hall, is a rocker’s delight.”
The album opens with the plinking, rinky-tink music hall piano of “Honky Cat,” combining a catchy, Neil Sedaka-ish Brill Building bounce with the rich gospel timbre of his pop-crooner’s airy falsetto. Meanwhile the lyric, suggesting Bourbon Street on a Saturday night, is pushed along with woozy-boozy horns and piano licks borrowed from Little Richard. A rousing, rollicking celebration of the spirit of rock ’n’ roll, it was released as the first single from the album. But it wasn’t a big hit. It was the second single, “Rocket Man,” that took off, taking Elton John and the album with it.
Mixing a classic Elton John ballad with the kind of airy falsetto-driven pop that first appeared on this album, “Rocket Man” is another example of John transcending Taupin’s nonsensical lyrics and creating the kind of soaring sing-along ballad beloved by arena audiences then and now.
Elton John and His Band • 8 p.m. • Saturday, March 23 • UTC McKenzie Arena • 720 E. 4th St. • (423) 266-6627 • utc.edu