Record of the day: Elton John, "Complete Thom Bell Sessions"

Record of the day: Elton John, “Complete Thom Bell Sessions”

Elton John
The Complete Thom Bell Sessions (Cd MCA 39115)

Always passionate about African-American music, Elton John has paid homage to this musical culture in many of his records; in particular in 1976 the single “Philadelphia Freedom” had played with its cards on the table by referring to the so-called Philly Sound that artists such as MFSB and Billy Paul were imposing on the world charts often under the direct supervision of the Philadelphia soul guru, the producer and arranger Thom Bell , whose style was characterized by luxurious and complex, almost Hollywood-like orchestrations (not too dissimilar to those of Barry White) which framed dry and essential funky rhythmic bases capable of making almost anyone dance.

In 1977 Elton definitively threw himself into the soul arena by contacting Bell directly to make a whole new album together. For reasons never completely clarified, the project was interrupted after a few months; the singer fled from Philadelphia and the material created during the sessions remained lying in the MCA archives. After a couple of years, a single was released, “Are You Ready for Love”, which was a great success even if in the meantime musical fashions had changed and the Philly Sound had now become a thing of the past; despite this hit the other songs only saw the light in 1989.

The reasons for the interruption of the work were probably due to the capricious character of the English artist (in those years prey to a very strong depression further aggravated by the abuse of alcohol and various drugs), because the quality of the music is decidedly high and it is a pleasure listen to it even years later. We are in a very pleasant pop/soul area, Bell's scores and production are as always impeccable, songs like “Country Love Song”, “Nice and Slow” and “Three Way Love Affair” can be hummed after a few minutes giving optimism and joy in quantity.

There is also a moment more linked to Elton's classic style, the majestic “Shine on Through” (which here appears full of Gospel moods and will be featured again later on the album “A Single Man” in a different version) but for the rest we goes wild on the track with “Mama Can't Buy You Love” and the long version of “Are You Ready for Love”, full of delicious mixes between brass, strings and voices (none other than the Spinners!) and equipped with choruses quick setting.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and publisher.