I wanted many records when I was a kid, but even as an only child, I seldom got everything that I wanted.
In 1975, I had no purchasing power whatsoever. Also that year, Elton John was probably at the peak of his career, dishing out hit after hit, even when he and lyricist Bernie Taupin weren’t reaching for commercial success.
Nonetheless, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy volleyed up to the top of the charts and I took notice, point out the album as a desirable purchase for my Dad, so that he in turn could hand it down to me.
I remember my father acknowledging that the album was considered to be the best record in Elton’s career, a detail that honestly didn’t concern me, and a factoid that I don’t know how he came to, unless he was a secret subscriber to Rolling Stone magazine, reading their record review section.
All I knew is that the cover looked awesome.
It still does, and there’s something true about Captain Fantastic being the crowning document in Elton’s illustrious career. A recent listen to this record also confirmed it for me, and two things certainly secure that distinction for me.
One is the fact that this would be Elton’s last effort with his long-standing band for the rest of the decade. The arrangements are sublime, and for anyone (particularly Elton) to suddenly change the dynamics of this line-up after such a wonderful effort is clearly not working within their full capacities.
Perhaps the decision had something to do with the subject matter itself, as Captain Fantastic is essentially a concept album about John/Taupin’s rise to the enormous success they both found only a half-decade after starting out with little more than the clothes on their back and the continual fear that a career in music was little more than the folly of two like-minded dreamers.
It paid off, as they discovered just a few years after their initial struggles, and Taupin began the task of documenting the time of the days of their early struggles in song form, letting Elton add the musical arrangements to their biographies with a keen sense of the dramatic.
The centerpiece of which, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” documents Elton’s failed marriage and his suicidal thoughts over this broken relationship. The “someone” was Long John Baldry, and Taupin’s narrative of the events may be the best thing he turned back in to Elton, graciously acknowledging “Saved in time…thank God my music’s still alive.”
It was the album the two needed to make, an acknowledgement of their combined genius and the pinnacle of their hard work. They would never be able to reach these heights again, and Captain Fantastic’s brilliance is reflected the generous amount of tolerance we’ve shown for Elton John in the decades since this record’s release.
It’s the record that bests the better known
Yellow Brick Road and one that does the
impossible: it focuses two creative minds on one final attempt on making the
album of their career during a time when their commercial peak was so great,
even a fair attempt would’ve been met with a wide audience.