Magazine article The Spectator

Elton and Me

Magazine article The Spectator

Elton and Me

Article excerpt

A record collection, once it grows beyond a certain size, can acquire a life of its own and swiftly leave its so-called owner behind. For instance, I like Elvis Costello as much as the next man, which is to say a bit but not that much. So how come I have nine Elvis Costello albums? A couple of years ago I also bought the double-CD compilation that came in the wake of 'She', Costello's stirring version for the film Notting Hill. You may know the compilation, because it has anything that anyone would want that Elvis Costello ever recorded. I remember thinking at the time that this would give me the chance to get rid of all those dreary old albums that were clogging up the place. I'm sure I can even remember taking them to the charity shop. And yet here they all are in my house, all nine of them, correctly filed between the Bs and Ds and laden with dust. Did they come back of their own accord, like abandoned pets?

Costello is beaten in the Berkmann collection, however, by Elton John, of whom I'm astonished to discover I have 12 albums. This may constitute an even greater mystery. Costello, after all, was once intensely fashionable. Gloomy undergraduates 20 years ago were required by statute to buy his records. But Sir Elton hasn't been fashionable in living memory. Even then it was only in America, before they found out he was bisexual (i.e. homosexual) and really called Reg. Oddly enough, those early albums haven't lost their impact. Madman Across The Water is positively rough-edged compared to some of his later work, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road may be the best album he ever made. The new one, Songs From The West Coast (Mercury), has been widely greeted as a return to the form and techniques of those days. It's his 40th album, for God's sake. Perhaps I should be glad I've got only 12 of them.

We buy the albums - and millions of us do every year - because, by and large, they are pretty good. I have only one stinker among the dozen, 1988's Reg Strikes Back, when the knight-to-be was, by his own account, snorting cocaine with the energy and single-mindedness of an industrial vacuum cleaner. Each of the rest has at least one outstanding song; often there are several. And this from a man who for the first eight years of his career was contracted to record two albums a year; who then, after the contract expired, continued to record an album a year until the early 1990s. …

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