NOVEMBER 6, 2020

Elton: Jewel Box - The B-Sides

Of the more than 100 Elton John singles released from the 1970s into the 2000s, almost half of them had titles on the flip side that could not be found on one of his full-length records. Leftovers from album recording sessions, these tracks, in record-collector parlance, are "non-LP B-­sides" and, as fans will discover with the release of ‘Elton: Jewel Box’, are songs worth getting to know…or revisit.

By John F. Higgins

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‘Snow Queen’ was the B-side to ‘Don't Go Breaking My Heart’

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Subsequent to their original appearance on 45 or CD-single, a number of these non-LP B’s were included on 1990’s box set To Be Continued... and even more found a home on Rare Masters (1992) and various studio album CD reissues. But for decades, many of the B-sides to Elton’s 1980s singles had never appeared on CD or in an official collection, and most of his 2000s non-CD B-sides were not issued worldwide. Until now.

Disc 6 on Elton: Jewel Box includes 15 non-LP B’s from 1976 to 1984, most of which have only been available on vinyl up until now, as well as three songs sung in French – the only time Elton has recorded in a language other than English and a magnificent discovery for his casual fans.

Disc 7 continues with 17 more 1980s B-sides, four of which are making their first appearance digitally. The rest of the disc showcases Elton’s B-sides from 1988 until 2005, most of which have so far only been available on UK CD-singles, leaving fans in the US and other parts of the world at the mercy of import establishments, or in the dark completely.

In honor of these gems, lovingly curated for the box set during the early months of 2020, we offer ten fun facts that will be sure to give you a win at the next Jewel Box Trivia Night.

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★  A total of 36 songs are included on the two B-sides discs of Jewel Box. 13 are being issued in the US for the first time, including the last seven songs of the series, which were on UK CD-singles from Songs From The West Coast and Peachtree Road. One additional song, the alternate mix of Where Have All The Good Times Gone?, is making its UK debut.

★   The B-sides begin with 1976’s Snow Queen, the flip side of Don't Go Breaking My Heart (both songs feature Kiki Dee on vocals). It wasn't until he was recording the vocals for the song, Elton would say later, that he realized who the terse text was about: Cher. Never one to miss a chance at an inside joke, he includes the titles of three Sonny & Cher hits on the vocal track: I Got You Babe, Bang Bang, and The Beat Goes On. Listen for them as the song squeezes out the last notes.

★   Jewel Box contains all three songs that Elton has sung in French. Les Aveux (in fact, the A-side of a 1981 single released only in France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Brazil) and Donner Pour Donner are duets with France Gall, while J’veux D’la Tendresse is the original version (as sung by French chanteuse Janic Prevost in 1980) of what Elton and lyricist Gary Osborne turned into Nobody Wins the following year.

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★  It is Elton who opens Love So Cold (1983) with a perfect Ricky Ricardo “home from de club” impression.


★  Conquer The Sun, a fan favorite B-side to the first single from 21 at 33, Little Jeannie, is actually a leftover track from Elton’s previous slbum, A Single Man. It marks the first appearance of a Gary Osborne lyric on the box set. There are a total of eight John/Osborne songs in the collection, including the one-minute-long Cartier, the heart-wrenching ballad Steal Away Child, and the pun-filled country and western ditty Can’t Get Over Getting Over Losing You. The latter two titles are enjoying their first release in the US on Elton: Jewel Box.

★   Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)’s B-side, Take Me Down To The Ocean, which can also be found on the soundtrack to the 1982 film Summer Lovers, includes stars from the 1960s and 70 as backing vocalists: Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys, Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits, and both the Captain (Daryl Dragon) and (Toni) Tennille.

★   One of Bernie Taupin’s favorite B-sides, The Retreat (released on 1982’s Princess in the UK and 1983’s I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues in the US) was recorded during 1979-1980 and features guitarist Steve Lukather and organist David Paich from the band Toto, as well as James Newton Howard on synthesizers (see next fact).

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★   Medicine Man (1990) was co-produced by Elton and James Newton Howard, whose history with Elton began as a second keyboardist in 1975 (it is his mellotron solo you hear on Island Girl). He then added Orchestral Arranger (Don't Go Breaking My Heart and Tonight, to name but two songs) to his credits soon after. James is now one of the world’s premier film score composers, with such epic works as The Fugitive, The Sixth Sense, The Dark Knight, and The Hunger Games and Fantastic Beasts franchises on his résumé.  

★   There are three instrumental tracks on the B-sides discs: Tactics (1980), Choc Ice Goes Mental (1983), and Highlander (1986). Elton plays everything on these songs, except for some synth work by James Newton Howard on Tactics.
 
★   Elton’s multi-instrumentalist from 1996 to 2004, John Jorgenson, developed the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds-style arrangement for I Know Why I’m In Love (1998), inspiring keyboardist Guy Babylon to come up with a tasty theremin part on the track. The other non-LP B from The Big Picture, Big Man In A Little Suit, with its aggro guitar backbone and stomping beat, was a song offered to Billy Joel...but the pianist declined.

The accompanying book to the CD edition of Elton: Jewel Box provides further details pertaining to each title’s creation and release, as well as artwork from some of the original singles.

Now, after a generation (in some cases, more) of hiding in semi-obscurity, these titles have been given a fresh opportunity to be listened to, enjoyed and discussed right alongside Elton’s vast catalog of album material.

As well they should be, because, when all is said and done, there is often no honey sweeter than a “killer-B”.