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Reissue Theory: Elton John, “To Be Continued…1992-2010”

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Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we reflect on notable albums and the reissues they may some day see. It’s been over two decades since Elton John released his career-spanning To Be Continued… box set, and so much has happened with his career since then. How do you cover such ground? Simple – make another one!

It’s only appropriate that Elton John titled his 1992 album The One. It was a major first for the superstar: his first album recorded in all too many years without any drugs or alcohol. It took the 1990 death of 18-year old Ryan White, a victim of AIDS acquired through a blood transfusion to treat hemophilia, to inspire John to embark on the road to sobriety. (Two years after White’s death, John created The Elton John AIDS Foundation and today remains a tireless champion in the fight against the disease.) In the very same year of 1990, John released one of the most lavish compact disc box sets released up to that time. Despite the LP-sized, four-disc collection’s title To Be Continued…, it’s likely that John didn’t realize just how drastically his life would change in the ensuing years. After all, the future brought more hits, Academy Awards, Tony Awards and a drug and alcohol-free life that, indeed, continues to the present day.

Today’s Reissue Theory posits what an expanded, up-to-date edition of To Be Continued… might look like. Very few career-spanning box sets have been updated in this manner; a notable exception is 1991’s Forty Years: The Artistry of Tony Bennett, which gained a fifth disc to become Fifty Years in 2004. If anyone is deserving of this accolade, however, it’s the original Rocket Man. Once disc couldn’t possibly cover the amount of ground John has travelled since 1990, so we’ve created To Be Continued…1992-2010, an sequel to that seminal box. Our first two discs take us on a journey from 1992 to 2010, encompassing John’s Adult Contemporary smashes of the 1990s and the more rootsy, back-to-basics sounds he’s embraced in the past decade. The third disc is dedicated to John’s theatre and film work, a surprisingly large part of his current career in music. Finally, we have an entire disc devoted to the singer’s collaborative guest appearances, as he may be the most frequent duet partner in modern recorded music! (This disc would be the most difficult to assemble due to licensing restrictions, but such an effort is far from unprecedented.) Our goal is to encompass both studio and live recordings, released and unreleased, familiar and unfamiliar.  We hope to have crafted a definitive latter-day retrospective to follow the already-exemplary original box set.

Let’s begin after the jump, okay?

By 1992, Elton John had embraced sobriety and was ready to return to the recording studio.  The result was The One, an 11-track set co-written with longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin with Chris Thomas at the production helm. The One showed that Elton was still at the top of his game more than twenty years after his chart debut, especially with Adult Contemporary listeners. The title track hit No. 1 on the AC chart and went Top 10 pop. “Simple Life” also hit No. 1 AC and “The Last Song” wasn’t far behind. “Runaway Train,” with guest Eric Clapton, charted in the U.K. Clearly the 1990s were off to a great start for Elton John. He followed The One with a starry duets album, but its success was topped when he teamed with lyricist Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita) to compose the score to Walt Disney Pictures’ The Lion King in 1994. The magnitude of this assignment would define John for most of the rest of the decade and gain him an Oscar in the process. Still, he returned to the studio with Bernie Taupin’s lyrics for 1995’s Made in England, co-produced with Greg Penny, and as the title indicates, the album was a post-Lion King attempt to reconnect with his musical roots.

Davey Johnstone and Ray Cooper of the original Elton John Band returned, as did arranger Paul Buckmaster. Taupin’s lyrical concept for the album was an unusual one; only the title track had more than one word in the title. Both “Believe” (No. 1 AC) and “Blessed” (No. 2 AC) performed well, with the former edging the latter on the pop chart for a No. 13 peak. John could still count on lite-music radio play for his current material while his 1970s triumphs were heard daily on classic rock and increasingly, oldies formats, as the oldies concept shifted from the 1950s/1960s to 1960s/1970s. He wouldn’t actually come full circle to the sound of his early recordings for some years yet.

1997’s The Big Picture found the artist in familiar territory with a solidly crafted collection of predictable pop and AC ballads. The album has been dismissed recently by John as one made more out of commercial consideration than creative inspiration. That said, both “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” and “Recover Your Soul” were melodically appealing; “Something” topped the AC chart and made quite a splash, sales-wise. Why? It happened to be featured on the CD single of “Candle in the Wind (1997),” John’s George Martin-produced tribute to Diana, the late Princess of Wales. This single went on to become the biggest-selling single in Billboard history, and though John has emphatically stated that he will never perform “Candle in the Wind (1997)” again unless expressly requested by Princess Diana’s sons, it would seem inappropriate to eliminate the biggest-selling single of all time from our career anthology.

Disc One ends with a trio of live cover versions as John eased into his role as an elder statesman of rock and pop. As part of this role, inveterate music fan and collector John frequently mentored and championed young songwriters. He credited Ryan Adams, the writer of “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” with inspiring him to return to his musical roots rather than continue his Adult Contemporary supremacy. After more film work and his first stage musical ventures, 2001’s Songs from the West Coast was the result of John’s rekindled passion. Opening our Disc Two, the Patrick Leonard-produced album was almost universally hailed as his best effort since 1976’s Blue MovesWest Coast was incredibly diverse, like that sprawling classic. Witness the country-rock of “Birds,” the deep soul of “This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore,” and pure pop of “I Want Love.” (The latter was aided by a video starring Robert Downey Jr.!) “Original Sin” may have been one of John’s most beautiful melodies ever, but much attention was given to “The Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes” and “American Triangle,” two stunning compositions by John and Taupin touching on AIDS and the tragic death of Matthew Shepard, respectively. Songs from the West Coast announced a superstar who was still relevant and still capable of surprising.

2004’s Peachtree Road was the direct sonic follow-up to West Coast, but John had an unexpected thrill in 2003 when his 1979 “Are You Ready for Love,” produced by Philly soul master Thom Bell, shot to the top of the U.K. charts after placement in an television ad for Sky Sports. We’ve included the song here as it was overlooked on the first box set; when performing in Britain, John still performs it today. Peachtree Road took the country leanings of West Coast even further, with John self-producing for the first time. He delivered a set of alternately stirring and subtle ballads and anthems, but never crosses the line from organic pop/rock to Adult Contemporary gloss. “All That I’m Allowed (I’m Thankful)” and “Answer in the Sky,” two of the most powerful melodies John had penned in years, both recalled his 1970s heyday. “Turn the Lights Out When You Leave” was an aching C&W tune while “They Call Her the Cat” showed that the piano man could still rock. Critical acclaim was stronger than sales, but John hardly seemed concerned. One B-side to a U.K. single of “Turn the Lights Out” was “Peter’s Song,” written by John and Taupin for the film Finding Neverland but ultimately unused by the filmmakers. We’ve included this lost gem here, and we follow that with a brace of tracks from 2006’s wistful The Captain and the Kid. John’s autobiographical concept album sequel to 1975’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is the work of two mature artists looking back on their lives with great nostalgia and affection. Finally, Disc Two closes with four tracks from 2010’s The Union, John’s critically-hailed collaboration with his early idol Leon Russell. The Union made a strong showing at No. 3 on the album charts its first week of release, shockingly John’s highest opening placement since 1976’s Blue Moves.

Disc Three turns to stage and screen. It’s impossible to contain all of John’s song contributions to films on one disc, but we’ve opened with the three tracks recorded by John from his biggest movie project of all: the score to The Lion King. Of course, the smash “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” makes an appearance. After Disney Theatrical Productions’ enormously successful movie-to-stage transformation of Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King was a natural for the company’s next Broadway berth. With visionary direction by Julie Taymor (recently-ousted helmer of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), it was the toast of Broadway, defeating the ambitious literary adaptation Ragtime at the 52nd Annual Tony Awards in 1998. (Ragtime’s Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, however, took home the Best Score prize.) Having gotten his feet wet with The Lion King, John and lyricist Tim Rice embarked on another theatrical project, and they wouldn’t have to wait long for that Tony! They were signed to write their first wholly original Broadway score for a musical update of Verdi’s Aida. Originally titled Elaborate Lives: The Legend of Aida in its 1998 premiere at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia (John’s American home), it lost a few words in the title and gained a new director, co-writers and designers by the time of its Broadway debut at The Palace in 2000. Disney’s gamble paid off. Aida ran for over four years and 1,852 performances on the Main Stem, and picked up Tony Awards for its leading actress, Heather Headley, as well as in Lighting, Scenic Design and yes, Best Score categories. (It was excluded from the Best Musical running.) We’ve included tracks from both John’s commercially released concept album and his original, unreleased demo recordings.

John also found time to compose an orchestral score to Albert Brooks’ comedy The Muse as well as songs for DreamWorks’ animated buddy musical The Road to El Dorado and the Julia Roberts vehicle Mona Lisa Smile. More notable are his last two Broadway efforts to date. 2006’s Lestat ranks as his only theatrical failure, and the only one to feature lyrics by Taupin. While the show only played 39 performances, John’s music was generally the least of its problems, and some attractive melodies were to be found. Best of them all was “Right Before My Eyes,” a song written and inserted during the troubled Broadway preview period, and then roundly ignored. It’s criminal that this melody is so unknown, as it’s one of John’s most longing. It deserves a pop reincarnation devoid of the vampiric lyrics. “Right Before My Eyes” has been included from a live television performance on Ellen, while two other songs have been drawn from John’s demos. Opening in 2005 in London and 2008 in New York, Billy Elliot is John’s most successful original score to date, both artistically and commercially. The singer/songwriter clearly felt a kinship with the title character, a boy who yearns to dance. John and lyricist/librettist Lee Hall crafted a moving score including Billy’s anthem of empowerment, “Electricity” and the ironically jovial “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher.” While a new musical hasn’t yet emerged, John wrote an end title song for Baz Luhrmann’s 2008 film Australia and also contributed two new songs to Gnomeo and Juliet produced by his own Rocket Pictures. “Hello, Hello,” performed in the film as a duet with Lady Gaga, was unavailable to appear on Walt Disney Records’ original soundtrack recording, but our hypothetical collection has included it to round out Disc Three. (Such material usually has a way of trickling out at some point in the future!)

Disc Four, The Collaborations, was the hardest to assemble by a country mile! In his long career, it’s easier to think of artists who have collaborated with Elton John than those who haven’t. Among the duet partners not represented on our collection: Neil Sedaka, Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Randy Newman, Luciano Pavarotti, Dolly Parton, Rosie O’Donnell, Tina Turner, Cher, Collective Soul, Shawn Mullins, Earl Scruggs, Brian Wilson, Bruce Hornsby, B.B. King, Patti LaBelle, Joss Stone, Ann Wilson, Charles Aznavour…and Bob the Builder. Just to name a few!

So who has made the cut? As Elton John’s musical collaborations run the stylistic gamut, we’ve decided to represent as many genres as possible, and these tracks encompass both covers of favorite songs and originals. Hence, our eclectic Disc Four includes appearances by Tony Bennett, Alice in Chains, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Timbaland, The Scissor Sisters, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel and RuPaul, among others! Of course, we’ve included the chart-topping revival of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” with George Michael, and “True Love” with Kiki Dee, reuniting John with his “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” partner. John’s duet streak shows no sign of letting up; he joined with Kanye West for West’s “All of the Lights” late in 2010, and his mutual admiration society with Leon Russell is thriving onstage today.

Consideration was given to changing the title of this box set sequel. But in 2011, at the age of 64, Elton John seems as busy as ever, with music, philanthropy and now fatherhood. The story of Captain Fantastic is still, simply, To Be Continued…

Elton John, To Be Continued…1992-2010 (Universal, 2011)

Disc 1: In the Studio and Onstage 1992-2000

  1. The One (5:53)
  2. Simple Life (6:26)
  3. The Last Song (3:20)
  4. Runaway Train (5:23)
  5. Duet for One (4:51)
  6. Made in England (5:09)
  7. Believe (4:55)
  8. Blessed (5:01)
  9. You Can Make History (Young Again) (4:56)
  10. Recover Your Soul (5:18)
  11. Something About the Way You Look Tonight (5:08)
  12. Candle in the Wind (1997) (4:11)
  13. Free Man in Paris (Live) (previously unreleased) (approx. 3:00)
  14. God Only Knows (Live) (previously unreleased) (approx. 3:00)
  15. Oh My Sweet Carolina (Live) (previously unreleased) (approx. 4:00)

Disc 2: In the Studio 2000-2010

  1. I Want Love (4:35)
  2. Original Sin (4:49)
  3. This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore (4:39)
  4. Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes (4:52)
  5. Are You Ready for Love (’79 Radio Edit) (3:33)
  6. Answer in the Sky (4:03)
  7. All That I’m Allowed (I’m Thankful) (4:52)
  8. Turn the Lights Out When You Leave (5:02)
  9. Peter’s Song (B-side) (3:34)
  10. Tinderbox (4:26)
  11. The Bridge (3:38)
  12. The Captain and the Kid (5:01)
  13. If It Wasn’t for Bad (3:42)
  14. Gone to Shiloh (4:50)
  15. The Best Part of the Day (4:45)
  16. Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody) (4:57)

Disc 3: Stage and Screen

  1. Circle of Life (4:50)
  2. Can You Feel the Love Tonight (3:59)
  3. I Just Can’t Wait to Be King (3:35)
  4. Written in the Stars (with LeAnn Rimes) (4:17)
  5. My Strongest Suit (Demo) (previously unreleased) (5:11)
  6. A Step Too Far (with Heather Headley and Sherie Rene Scott) (4:01)
  7. Elaborate Lives (Demo) (previously unreleased) (5:53)
  8. The Muse (4:22)
  9. Someday Out of the Blue (4:47)
  10. The Heart of Every Girl (from Mona Lisa Smile) (3:40)
  11. Make Me as You Are (Demo) (previously unreleased) (4:33)
  12. I Want More (Demo) (previously unreleased) (4:00)
  13. Right Before My Eyes (Live) (previously unreleased) (approx. 3:00)
  14. Electricity (Orchestral Version) (3:52)
  15. Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher (3:38)
  16. Expressing Yourself (Demo) (previously unreleased) (4:02)
  17. The Drover’s Ballad (from Australia) (previously unreleased) (4:29)
  18. Hello, Hello (with Lady Gaga) (from Gnomeo and Juliet) (previously unreleased) (approx. 4:00)

Disc 4: The Collaborations

  1. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me (with George Michael) (5:49)
  2. True Love (with Kiki Dee) (3:33)
  3. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (with RuPaul) (Single Edit) (4:01)
  4. The Show Must Go On (Live 1997) – Queen + Elton John (4:35)
  5. I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues (with Mary J. Blige, 2001) (3:37)
  6. Stan (Live, 2001 – with Eminem) (6:30)
  7. Your Song (Live, with Billy Joel, The Concert for New York City, 2001) (previously unreleased) (5:25)
  8. Teardrops (with Lulu, 2002) (4:42)
  9. Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word (with Ray Charles, 2004) (3:59)
  10. Anyone Who Had a Heart (with Luther Vandross, 2005) (4:52)
  11. Makin’ Whoopee (with Rod Stewart, 2005) (3:11)
  12. Alone Again Naturally (with Pet Shop Boys, 2005) (previously unreleased) (3:49)
  13. I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ – The Scissor Sisters, 2006 (4:48)
  14. Rags to Riches (with Tony Bennett, 2006) (2:40)
  15. Down River (with Elvis Costello, 2008) (previously unreleased) (approx. 4:14)
  16. 2 Man Show – Timbaland feat. Elton John, 2008 (6:30)
  17. Black Gives Way to Blue – Alice in Chains, 2009 (Piano Mix) (3:03)

Disc 1, Tracks 1-4 from The One, MCA 10614, 1992
Disc 1, Track 5 & Disc 4, Track 2 from Duets, MCA 10926, 1993
Disc 1, Tracks 6-8 from Made in England, Rocket/Island 314 526 185-2, 1995
Disc 1, Track 9 from Love Songs, MCA 114181, 1996
Disc 1, Tracks 10-11 from The Big Picture, Rocket/Mercury 314 536 266-2, 1997
Disc 1, Track 12 from Something About the Way You Look Tonight, Rocket/A&M single 314 568 108 2, 1997
Disc 1, Track 13 previously unreleased on CD, from An All-Star Tribute to Joni Mitchell (2000)
Disc 1, Track 14 previously unreleased on CD, from An All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson (2001)
Disc 1, Track 15 previously unreleased on CD, from CMT Crossroads (2002)
Disc 2, Tracks 1-4 from Songs from the West Coast (Mercury 586459, 2001)
Disc 2, Track 5 from Are You Ready for Love, Southern Fried/Mercury/Ultra single UL 1177-2, 2003
Disc 2, Tracks 6-8 from Peachtree Road, Mercury 986876, 2004
Disc 2, Track 9 from Turn the Lights Out When You Leave, Rocket single 9870663, 2004
Disc 2, Tracks 10-12 from The Captain and the Kid, Interscope B0007837-02, 2006
Disc 2, Tracks 13-16 from The Union, Decca 14840, 2010
Disc 3, Tracks 1-3 from The Lion King: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Walt Disney Records 60858-7. 1994
Disc 3, Tracks 4 & 6 from Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida, Rocket/Island 314 524 628-2, 1999
Disc 3, Tracks 5 & 7 previously unreleased demos from the musical Aida
Disc 3, Track 8 from The Muse: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Rocket/Island 314 546 517-2, 1999
Disc 3, Track 9 from Elton John’s The Road to El Dorado, DreamWorks 0044-50259-2, 2000
Disc 3, Track 10 from Mona Lisa Smile, Epic EK 90737, 2003
Disc 3, Tracks 11-12 previously unreleased demos from the musical Lestat
Disc 2, Track 13 previously unreleased live performance on Ellen from the musical Lestat
Disc 3, Track 14 from Electricity, Rocket/Mercury single 9872183, 2005
Disc 3, Track 15 from Peachtree Road: Limited Edition, Rocket/Mercury 9872303, 2004
Disc 3, Track 16 previously unreleased, from the musical Billy Elliot
Disc 3, Track 17 previously available as promotional CD-R, no cat. no., from the film Australia
Disc 3, Track 18 previously unreleased on CD, from the film Gnomeo and Juliet
Disc 4, Track 1 from Columbia single 44K 74130, 1991
Disc 4, Track 3 from MCA single MCA5P2967, 1993
Disc 4, Track 4 from Queen, Greatest Hits III, Hollywood 162250, 1999
Disc 4, Track 5 from Universal single UNIR 20349-2, 2000
Disc 4, Tracks 6 from Curtain Call: The Hits (Aftermath/Interscope B0005881-02, 2005)
Disc 4, Tracks 7 and 15 previously unreleased television performances
Disc 4, Track 8 from Lulu, Together, Mercury 0630212, 2002
Disc 4, Track 9 from Ray Charles, Genius Loves Company, Concord/Hear Music 2248, 2004
Disc 4, Track 10 from So Amazing: An All-Star Tribute to Luther Vandross, J Records 82876 62472-2, 2005
Disc 4, Track 11 from Rod Stewart, The Great American Songbook IV, J Records 82876 75190-2, 2005
Disc 4, Track 12 from Gilbert O’Sullivan, UK publishing promotional CD, Sony BMG PUB063, 2005
Disc 4, Track 13 from Scissor Sisters, Ta-Dah!, Universal Motown 0007499, 2006
Disc 4, Track 14 from Tony Bennett, Duets: An American Classic, Columbia 80979, 2006
Disc 4, Track 16 from Timbaland, Presents Shock Value, Interscope 8594, 2007
Disc 4, Track 17 from Alice in Chains, Black Gives Way to Blue digital-only single (EMI/Virgin), 2009

Written by Joe Marchese

March 21, 2011 at 14:21

11 Responses

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  1. I’m not an Elton John fan, but I’m incredibly impressed by the work you put into this. KUDOS!!!

    The Thorn

    March 22, 2011 at 13:30

    • A big THANK YOU, Thorn!

      Joe Marchese

      March 22, 2011 at 15:21

  2. Well, I’m pretty much with you on this with the exception of the Rupaul duet, which to my ears is dated and embarrassing. Nearly anything else off the “Duets” album would be a better choice: how about the one with Tammy Wynette (“A Woman’s Needs”), for its value as an odd/unexpected collaboration?

    jb

    March 23, 2011 at 10:40

    • Thanks, jb – that’s another great track.

      Joe Marchese

      March 24, 2011 at 09:56

      • I think the Tammy Wynette duet is the standout from that record too…I also have a soft spot for the “single” from that record, the Kiki Dee duet on “True Love.”

        Matt

        March 24, 2011 at 11:36

  3. Joe, this is AMAZING. What an idea, and what a great read. I have to ask: some of the “unreleased” material you mention, has it been technically “released” on the bootleg market, to your knowledge? I do have a collection I think of the Lestat demos someplace…I would love to construct this as an iTunes playlist.

    Matt

    March 23, 2011 at 12:07

    • Hey Matt, thanks so much! Yes, all of the unreleased material has been verified and has circulated. I would love to see Elton release the demos for his stage musicals commercially; some of the performances are really terrific.

      Joe Marchese

      March 24, 2011 at 09:55

  4. As wondrous as this concept is, I still think a few gems are needed for the original 1990 box set as well, including:
    *Empty Sky (1969)
    *Gulliver/Hay-Chewed/Reprise (1969)
    *All the Nasties (1971)
    *We All Fall in Love Sometimes/Curtains (1975)
    *Tonight (1976)
    *Part-Time Love (1978)
    *Are You Ready for Love? (1979)
    *Sartorial Eloquence (Don’t You Wanna Play This Game No More?) (1980)
    *Nobody Wins (1981)
    *Too Low for Zero (1983)
    *The Man Who Never Died (1985)
    *Heartache All Over the World (extended remix) (1986)
    *Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, Part 2 (1988)

    Benjamin Edge

    October 14, 2011 at 13:19

  5. YOU KNOW ….I WAS READING THIS TRACK LISTING AND THOUGHT THIS WAS REAL !!!!!!!!!!
    I WAS THINKING ” DAMN , I CANT WAIT TO GET THIS BOX SET “

    ELVIS PEACOCK

    July 14, 2012 at 00:54

  6. this is a great idea !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I WANT TO BUY IT ………NOW !

    themightywhitey

    July 14, 2012 at 00:55

    • I WOULD HAVE ADDED EJs COVER OF FLEETWOOD MACs “DONT STOP” AND TAMMY WYNETTEs “STAND BY YOUR MAN “

      themightywhitey

      July 14, 2012 at 00:58


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