Elton John – Crocodile Rock

Some songs make you think about social issues, some make you feel good, some make you sad, some make you think of certain people…and some take you back to a place in time when you first remember it. This one does the later for me. It’s not Elton’s best single whatsoever but I heard it a lot later on when I was 13 and I’m 13 again when I hear it and it’s 1980. I must have heard it before many times but it took hold for some reason then.

This came along in the fifties revival that happened in the 1970s. This is not a type of song I would normally like but it transports me back and I like it.

Crocodile Rock was a fifties sounding single that was a massive hit. It peaked in 1972 at #1 in the Billboard 100, #5 in the UK, #1 in Canada, #1 in New Zealand.

Elton and Bernie Taupin wrote the song.

Bernie Taupin “a strange dichotomy because I don’t mind having created it, but it’s not something I would listen to.”

From Songfacts

This tells the story of a guy in the ’50s and ’60s who frequented a restaurant where the patrons loved an obscure dance called the Crocodile Rock. Because of all the events that happened in the ’60s, however, this unknown little dance forever vanished into history and no one cared anymore. Even his girlfriend, who also enjoyed “burning up to the Crocodile Rock,” left him. It’s a catchy little song with really sad lyrics.

There is a distinct ’50s musical theme in this song. Elton said that it contains flavors of a lot of his favorite early rock songs, including “Little Darlin’,” “At The Hop” and “Oh Carol,” as well as songs by The Beach Boys and Eddie Cochran. The title is a play on the Bill Haley song “See You Later Alligator” – Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” even gets a mention, as that’s what the other kids were listening to while our hero was doing the Crocodile Rock.

This was the first of many #1 singles by Elton John in the US. His first in the UK came in 1976 with Kiki Dee (“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”). His first solo #1 in the UK was “Sacrifice” in 1990.

The falsetto hook from Pat Boone’s 1962 hit, “Speedy Gonzales” has some similar “La La”s, and that song’s writers spoke out, accusing Elton of plagiarism. There was no legal action taken, and Elton has copped to the influence, saying “Crocodile Rock” was “a really blatant homage to ‘Speedy Gonzales’ and all the great ’50s and ’60s records that we used to love.”

A precursor to this song is Elton’s 1970 single “Rock And Roll Madonna,” which pays tribute to the musical form. “This time I wanted to do something that was a send-up of the early ’60s rather than an out-and-out rocker,” he told Beat Instrumental. I wanted it to be a tribute to all those people I used to go and see as a kid. That’s why I used the Del Shannon-type vocals and that bit from Pat Boone’s ‘Speedy Gonzales.'”

Elton added: “We also tried to get the worst organ sound possible… something like Johnny and The Hurricanes used to manage to produce. This type of song is actually a very hard thing to write because the temptation is to try too hard and go berserk.”

Don McLean has mentioned that this is similar to his hit “American Pie,” which came out the previous year. Both songs are about young people in the ’50s obsessed with rock n’ roll, but disappointed when the music “dies.” Both songs also feature a Chevy. Elton admits the song is highly derivative because it’s about the things he grew up with. In Elton John: The Definitive Biography, Elton is quoted as saying: “I wanted it to be a record about all the things I grew up with. Of course, it’s a rip-off.”

Elton performed this on The Muppet Show when he appeared on a Season Two episode in 1977. A very popular song with kids, it made for a great opening number, with Elton performing in a swamp with a crocodile chorus.

This song helped send the Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player album to #1 on both sides of the Atlantic. It was Elton’s first #1 in the UK, but Honky Chateau went to #1 in the US earlier that year.

A few “firsts” are attributed to both the song and album. It was the first song released as a single on the MCA label (catalog #40000) after MCA dissolved its Uni (Elton John’s previous label), Decca, Kapp and Coral labels. It was also MCA’s first #1 song as well as Elton John’s first #1. >>

There is a Crocodile Rock in The Philippines, which from the right angle, looks like an enormous croc.

Partial inspiration for this song is the Australian band Daddy Cool and their hit single “Eagle Rock,” which Elton discovered on his 1972 tour to Australia. In the artwork for the Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player packaging, there is a shot of Bernie Taupin wearing a badge that says “Daddy Who?” 

The sheer popularity of this song caused a backlash against it in some circles – notably disc jockeys who had to play it over and over. Stations used to determine what songs they would play by using “auditorium testing,” where listeners were gathered into a big room and played hooks from different songs, which they would then rate. This song always got very high marks, which embedded it onto playlists and drove some DJs to hate it.

The odd thing is that Elton has a very deep catalog filled not just with meaningful hits, but with more obscure songs that many listeners enjoy. “It was just a one-off thing,” Elton said of “Crocodile Rock,” adding, “It became a huge hit record, and in the long run, it became a negative for me.”

Elton has described this song as “disposable pop.” Bernie Taupin gave his thoughts in a 1989 interview with Music Connection. Said Taupin: “I don’t want people to remember me for ‘Crocodile Rock.’ I’d much rather they remember me for songs like ‘Candle In The Wind’ and ‘Empty Garden,’ songs that convey a message. Well, they don’t really need to convey a message, as long as they can convey a feeling. But there are things like ‘Crocodile Rock,’ which was fun at the time, but it was pop fluff. It was like, ‘Okay, that was fun for now, throw it away, and here’s the next one. So there’s a certain element of our music that is disposable, but I think you’ll find that in anybody’s catalog.”

One of Elton’s more memorable performances of this song took place on September 7, 1973 at the Hollywood Bowl. As Elton played from his piano, a few feet behind him, sound engineer Clive Franks played the electric piano while wearing an enormous crocodile head.

The Baha Men recorded a new version of this for the film The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course with new lyrics that described the life of Steve Irwin. Ironically, “Suzie” (the girl described in this song) is the name of Steve Irwin’s dog, who appears frequently on the series.

Elton John – Crocodile Rock

I remember when rock was young
Me and Suzie had so much fun
Holding hands and skimming stones
Had an old gold Chevy and a place of my own
But the biggest kick I ever got
Was doing a thing called the Crocodile Rock
While the other kids were Rocking Round the Clock
We were hopping and bopping to the Crocodile Rock

Laaaaaaaa lalalala laaaa lalalala laaaa lalalala laaaaa

Well Crocodile Rocking is something shocking
When your feet just can’t keep still
I never knew me a better time and I guess I never will
Oh Lawdy mama those Friday nights
When Suzie wore her dresses tight
And the Crocodile Rocking was out of sight

Laaaaaaaa lalalala laaaa lalalala laaaa lalalala laaaaa

But the years went by and the rock just died
Suzie went and left us for some foreign guy
Long nights crying by the record machine
Dreaming of my Chevy and my old blue jeans
But they’ll never kill the thrills we’ve got
Burning up to the Crocodile Rock
Learning fast as the weeks went past
We really thought the Crocodile Rock would last

Laaaaaaaa lalalala laaaa lalalala laaaa lalalala laaaaa

Well Crocodile Rocking is something shocking
When your feet just can’t keep still
I never knew me a better time and I guess I never will
Oh Lawdy mama those Friday nights
When Suzie wore her dresses tight
And the Crocodile Rocking was out of sight

Laaaaaaaa lalalala laaaa lalalala laaaa lalalala laaaaa

Elton John – Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)

This song was one of my favorite Lennon tribute songs.

This song is a tribute to John Lennon, who was murdered in 1980. Elton John’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics, but Elton certainly felt a connection to the song, as he was good friends with Lennon and is the Godfather of Lennon’s second son, Sean. Elton appeared onstage with John at his final concert in 1974.

Empty Garden peaked at #13 in the Billboard 100, #8 in Canada, #14 in New Zealand, and #51 in the UK in1982

Some of the other songs that are tributes to John are Queen – Life Is Real, George Harrison – All Those Years Ago, Paul McCartney – Here Today, Bob Dylan – Roll On John, and Paul Simon – The Late Great Johnny Ace.

From Songfacts

In the John/Taupin songwriting partnership, Bernie writes the lyrics first and Elton then puts them to music. When writing for the Jump Up album, Elton had some melodies handy and asked Taupin to write words to those, which he did. Taupin has described those songs as “awful” and said, “it’s a very messy album.” “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny),” however, was written their traditional way with the lyrics first, and Taupin has said that it’s the only good song on the album.

When he performed this at a sold-out Madison Square Garden show in August 1982, Elton was joined onstage by Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon.

 

Empty Garden

What happened here
As the New York sunset disappeared
I found an empty garden among the flagstones there
Who lived here
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
And now it all looks strange
It’s funny how one insect can damage so much grain

And what’s it for
This little empty garden by the brownstone door
And in the cracks along the sidewalk nothing grows no more
Who lived here
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
And we are so amazed, we’re crippled and we’re dazed
A gardener like that one no one can replace

And I’ve been knocking but no one answers
And I’ve been knocking most of the day
Oh and I’ve been calling, oh hey hey Johnny
Can’t you come out to play

And through their tears
Some say he farmed his best in younger years
But he’d have said that roots grow stronger, if only he could hear
Who lived there
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
Now we pray for rain, and with every drop that falls
We hear, we hear your name

And I’ve been knocking but no one answers
And I’ve been knocking most of the day
Oh and I’ve been calling, oh hey hey Johnny
Can’t you come out to play

And I’ve been knocking but no one answers
And I’ve been knocking most all the day
Oh and I’ve been calling, oh hey hey Johnny
Can’t you come out, can you come out to play, Johnny
Can’t you come out to play in your empty garden, Johnny
Can’t you come out to play in your empty garden, Johnny
Can’t you come out to play in your empty garden, Johnny
Can’t you come out to play in your empty garden, Johnny
Can’t you come out to play in your empty garden, Johnny
Can’t you come out to play in your empty garden, Johnny

 

Thoughts on Elton John in the 70s

Some people tend to forget how big Elton was back in the early to mid-seventies. The songs just kept coming one after another. I’ve been watching some seventies sitcoms and shows recently and there was Valerie Bertinelli on “One Day at a Time” dressed like Elton John. He was everywhere back then. Some today remember him only by Candle in the Wind…the 1997 version for Lady Diana.

It seemed that everything he touched turned to gold. He covered Pinball Wizard and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and turned them into hits…some people like those versions better than the originals.

Elton John was pop/rock but he had some Liberace elements in showmanship. The sparkling pianos and even a Donald Duck suit. Elton is a very good piano player, songwriter and performer…but I think it’s his voice that sets him apart. It was a combination of all but he had a style all his own.

Bernie Taupin and Elton wrote those great singles that kept coming year after year. He has had 9 number 1 hits, 27 top ten hits, and 67 songs in the top 100. 1971 – 1975 was my favorite period… some of the singles were Your Song, Levon, Tiny Dancer, Honey Cat, Rocket Man, Crocodile Rock, Daniel, Saturday Nights Alright for Fighting, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Candle in the Wind, Bennie and the Jets, Philadelphia Freedom, The Bitch is Back and Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me… this much success could fill up 5 different careers… hard to believe it happened in a four year period.

Bernie Taupin was just as important as Elton. They stopped writing together around 1977 and Elton’s output was not as successful. They started to work together again a little later and still had hits but that stretch in the early seventies would be impossible to match.

I did like some Elton John songs after the mid-seventies but in the eighties, many of his songs just didn’t have the quality of his earlier ones to me. One standout was a song about John Lennon called Empty Garden. It is one of my favorite songs about John Lennon.

I knew Elton by his singles but he released some huge albums. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Honky Château, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, Caribou and the list goes on and on. This is a good piece on some of Elton’s top albums. 

 

 

 

Little Richard

A voice that won’t quit. Richard Wayne Penniman… better known as Little Richard would be great in any era. Of all of his peers, he could belt a song out better than any other.

In the 50’s he was public enemy number one to many parents. Pat Boone would cover his songs and those are the recordings the parents would buy their kids…while the kids would sneak and buy the real Richard records and keep them hidden while their parents were around…

Others tried to imitate it but no one came close. Paul McCartney would try but didn’t have the rawness that Richard had/has… He was flamboyant, to say the least, and commanded a stage.

In 1957 at the peak of his career he retired to the ministry and gospel music only… that lasted a while but in 1962 he came back to Rock and Roll and toured Europe. The Beatles were really big fans of Richard and they opened some shows for him in 1962. His keyboard player was a young Billy Preston.

Little Richard songs just jump off of the recording right at you.

You can hear his influence on The Stones, The Beatles, James Brown, Elvis and his androgynous influence with Freddy Mercury, Elton John, and David Bowie.

I’ve always seen Little Richard as the hard rock of the fifties. The songs are raw as you can get and in your face.

Black people lived right by the railroad tracks, and the train would shake their houses at night. I would hear it as a boy, and I thought: I’m gonna make a song that sounds like that.  Little Richard

Little Richard and the James Gang in 1970