Tuesday, October 01, 2013

So . . . that's how they've done it . . .

Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Receiving the Johnny Mercer Award
 Songwriters Hall of Fame

I remember being a young teenager and liking Elton John's early hits, beginning with "Your Song" way back in 1970 or 1971, but being surprised to learn from a friend's album cover that the lyrics were by a fellow name Bernie Taupin, whose surname reminded me of the local name for the Ozark land turtle, "terrapin," oddly enough, and I wondered how the two musicians worked together since Elton seemed so urban and Taupin so rural, but I now know how from a NYT article by James C. McKinley, who writes that they're "Still Making Music Together, Far Apart" (September 27, 2013):
When one thinks of great songwriting teams, one imagines them lounging in a studio with guitars and empty beer bottles or sitting at a piano together, joking, fighting, becoming excited over a tune's possibilities. But Mr. Taupin and Mr. John have always worked separately. Their songs start out as Mr. Taupin's poetic meditations, inspired by some event in his life or something he has read.

He labors for weeks on his horse ranch in Southern California and delivers the lyrics fully formed to Mr. John, who goes into a studio, props the papers on the piano and churns out melodies and harmonies to fit the words at breakneck speed.
They've just come out with a new album, too: The Diving Board.
After a call from Mr. John, Mr. Taupin went to work on lyrics about six months before Mr. John went into the studio to write and record, in January 2012 . . . . Mr. Taupin sent the words for "Diving Board" via e-mail to Mr. John well in advance of the recording sessions, but Mr. John said he never reads the lyrics carefully before going into the studio to write.
This approach is an old pattern:
When Liberty Records introduced them in the 1960s, the two men roomed together, first at Mr. John's parent's house, then in an apartment in London. It was in those years that their friendship was forged . . . . Even then, however, they wrote in separate rooms. Mr. Taupin scrawled lyrics in a bedroom, and walked them into the living room, where Mr. John sat writing tunes at a piano. Then Mr. Taupin retreated to write some more.
But the old pattern may be changing lately:
In recent years, Mr. Taupin said the two have interacted more in the studio. He usually sits in the control room and listens over a speaker while Mr. John composes in another room. Sometimes if a line sounds wrong, he'll suggest a change in wording to Mr. John. And when Mr. John has finished something, he usually plays it for Mr. Taupin and asks what he thinks.

"That is when we are the most creatively dynamic -- that's when we lock it in," Mr. Taupin said. "We have been doing this for over 40 years, so you have a certain mental telepathy working there."
Apparently, the album is getting favorable reviews. Here's "Home Again," from The Diving Board. It reminds me of their early songs, back when Taupin's lyrics often spoke of home, a rustic place far away . . .

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