It could be suggested that A Single Man is a literal interpretation as this 1978 release, John's twelfth studio album, is the first without Bernie Taupin at the collaborative songwriting helm. While the 1998 Mercury reissue, which this review is based upon, features John/Taupin compositions, John's collaboration with Gary Osborne, on the original track listing of A Single Man, shouldn't be dismissed as there are some remarkable songs to be heard.
John's longtime producer, Gus Dudgeon, was also absent with Clive Franks co-producing alongside John. While some may lament these key changes, one has to remember that an artist’s artistry isn't always limited to their renowned style or collaborative partners.
A Single Man is exceptional, despite the key changes in collaborative partners. Yes, again, I am bucking the trend and I implore you to listen to the album more than once as it truly grows on you the more you hear it. In my opinion, that is a sign of a great album.
From the first piano note, Shine On Through is easily identified as a magical Elton John song. The simple composition works incredibly well as all John really needs is a piano and/or classical element in the background. Shine On Through is so good, I'm really surprised it has never made it to one of John’s career perspective albums. Although, if being included on The Complete Thom Bell Sessions counts, although I suggest it doesn't, then I stand corrected. Of course, the latter edition is a different mix with a runtime near doubling that which appears on A Single Man. So, which version do I like best? Well, both of them. The gospel-style backing version on The Complete Thom Bell Sessions suits the song perfectly, but wouldn't have worked with the other songs on A Single Man. Regardless of which version you listen to, Shine On Through is a stellar Elton John tune.
Return To Paradise is an interesting composition. While it works, and I tend to thoroughly enjoy the introduction, the Caribbean-styled elements, while pertinent to the song, seems to distract my attention upon each listen. Yes, Return To Paradise is a B-side, but A Single Man wouldn't be the same without it.
I Don't Care picks up the pace with an addictive beat that will get you toe-tapping and head-bopping in no time. It has a little bit of everything. A little rock, a little pop, a touch of disco, and along with that signature piano, gospel-style backing vocals that work beautifully with the song, although they do sound a little distant in the mix.
Big Dipper starts off slowly, but I absolutely love the jazzy-blues New Orleans-style sound and that addictive chorus.
It Ain't Gonna Be Easy is one of John's greatest recordings. Tim Renwick's guitar work is off-the-charts, as is the entire composition. While the length of this song ensured it wouldn’t be heard on radio, fans of John and music lovers alike missed out on one of the best songs of the 70s. It would, without doubt, make my top 100 if I had such a list. John doesn't get much better than this!
Part Time Love did, however, receive radio airplay as the first single released from A Single Man. It's a great song that is reminiscent of the era, but unlike It Ain't Gonna Be Easy, I don't feel as though it has aged well and subsequently, as much as I enjoy it, it does sound dated. Part Time Love also appeared on The Very Best Of Elton John.
Georgia is a solid B-side. Nothing to write home about, but reminiscent in parts of the style applied throughout Tumbleweed Connection. I also consider this song a precursor to You Gotta Love Someone.
Shooting Star is another B-side and sounds as though it’s still in the demo phase of the recording.
Madness is pure madness and I love it!
Reverie is a short musical interlude. It is just that and nothing more. Although, it does offer a good amount of breathing space between the upbeat Madness and the more reserved Song For Guy.
Song For Guy is intriguing when you consider it’s primarily an instrumental track, yet was released as the second single from A Single Man. I don't know about you, but that continuous drum beat is the perfect backbone on which to hang all other musical elements. It’s superb and is one of John's greatest recordings.
Ego was initially released as a single, but failing chart success was omitted from both Blue Moves and A Single Man. While John has professed his love for the song, perhaps based upon the ego of the rock star that was the focus of the song, I find it mildly entertaining but feel that whistle is incredibly irritating. Nevertheless, it is a solid B-side with an appealing rhythm.
Flintstone Boy is an excellent song. Yes, it is different to John's usual style, but it works extremely well.
I Cry At Night is a beautiful song. The composition is perfect and shows why the John/Taupin collaborations are so celebrated. It’s a shame that it was absent from the core album for two decades. At least, for the last couple of decades, we've been able to enjoy this hidden gem.
Lovesick, similarly, is a fantastic song. Yes, it sounds a little dated, but it’s still worthy of inclusion on A Single Man.
Strangers is a lovely song to close the reissue on and always encourages me to listen to A Single Man again and stay within John's catalogue.
A Single Man is sadly underrated and while it may not have reached the status of his earlier recordings, such as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road or Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, it is fantastic nonetheless and should be in every respectable music collection, especially if you’re an Elton John fan.
The remastering is superb and sounds perfect from start to finish on TIDAL Hi-Fi. Disappointingly, however, A Single Man hasn't been reissued on vinyl. The cover art just begs to be displayed on the larger canvas. Let's hope a pending re-issue is on the horizon, sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, A Single Man is available on CD and iTunes.
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