Classic Rock Review

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Elton John Rock Of The Westies (1975)

Elton-John-Rock-Of-The-Westies-1975-Front-Cover-34106From donignacio.com

As you probably could have gathered from the title, Rock of the Westies is full of rock songs, and if you read further into the title, you can gather that they apparently came from a place called “Westies.”

That’s right; you won’t find many ballads here. There is only one of them, as a matter of fact, and it’s called “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford).” It’s a strapping fine song with a nice melody and solid instrumentation, but you’ll probably notice immediately that it isn’t nearly as engaging as his other ballads. But we can forgive that (Right?) because the primary purpose of this album is to rock.

And ROCK, it does just fine. The nice thing about rock ‘n’ roll Elton John is that he’s pretty much always fun at it. Even in the 1980s when his career became stale, his rock ‘n’ roll songs were still enjoyable. They might not have been memorable, but he had a naturally good vocal chops and he generally attracted good musicians to keep them sounding punchy. The exact same thing can be said for Rock of the Westies.

That’s not a good thing, though. Comparing anything to Elton John’s 1980s career is not a compliment! In the 1980s, Elton John existed merely as a zombified shell of his old self where he lost his uncanny sense of melody and harmony, and making it worse, he didn’t seem nearly as keyed-up as he used to. By a large account Rock of the Westies was where that cancerous process had started. You can really begin to suspect something was up by the end of the album when the dull rocker “Hard Luck Story” and the 1970s elevator muzak “Feed Me” comes in. Man, those are flat and lifeless songs.

In fact, you could probably sense that in the other songs, but those were kept alive by a raucous vocal performance, great back-up musicians, and/or unusual “gimmicks.” “Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future)” has a nice tune, but what ends up holding my attention the most are those cartoony guitar and synthesizer tones. So, it makes a good listen, but even then, it isn’t as captivating in that Elton-John-y kind of way. You know what I’m talking about! “Grow Some Funk on Your Own” and “Street Kids” both have cool, gruffy guitar tones, a solid driving beat, and an energetic vocal performance. Songs as spirited as those are impossible to hate — you might even start to love them after awhile — but it’s difficult to deny that they lacks the inspired, infectious quality of his classic stuff.

Even the album’s big hit, “Island Girl,” is a surefire sign that he was declining. Commercially he was doing just fine, though; it hit the No. 1 spot in the charts. I feel great and happy when I’m listening to it, but there really isn’t anything that special about it. Of all his hits, that’s among his least. (I’m saying this even though I gave it an A- … well, it’s still a good song!) Also a good song is the medley that opens the album. It has a fun beat and a nice melody.

But what pushed that over the edge is how he layered the “Yell Help” and “Wednesday Night” sections together toward the end. You wouldn’t think they would go well together, but they did! Nice touch! And the end where the band plays a funky beat as fast as they could is nutty, and that’s another point in its favor. I also enjoyed the ending track “Billy Bones and the White Bird” with that thundering drum beat and that unexpected and beautiful chorus section he worked in. That was the best ending I could have hoped for.

Even though I said constantly that this album was the beginning of the end for Elton John, it was a gradual process for him. There’s still enough about Rock of the Westies that is good and holy, and it would be a good album to possess if you really like his earlier stuff. Just make sure and don’t listen to the bonus tracks. They are the worst bonus tracks of all time! One of them is something similar to the title track from Captain Fantastic except it’s stale and entirely forgettable. The second one is a piano ballad ………….. and it’s by far the worst, most tedious piano ballad I ever heard him do.

This all points to Blue Moves, the tedious double-album monster.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Elton John Rock Of The Westies | | Leave a comment