Happy birthday to a fan-favourite album!
Made In England, Elton's 26th studio album, was released on March 20, 1995, in the UK – on the 21st in the US. In honour of the 25th anniversary of this occasion, we offer one fun fact for each candle on the birthday cake, with anecdotes and comments from the album's producer, Greg Penny, and long-time Elton orchestral arranger, Paul Buckmaster.
The Album Overall
★ Made In England was recorded over about 14 weeks in early 1994 at AIR Lyndhurst in London. Opened two years prior by Sir George Martin, the studio is located in a former church and is where the score for the 2019 film Rocketman was recorded.
★ The album was originally going to be called Believe. The decision to change it was made by Elton, who, after consulting with lyricist Bernie Taupin, thought it was more apropos to honour the now-title song and the fact that the album was written and recorded in his home country.
★ At the time of writing the lyrics, and into the recording sessions, all songs had one-word titles: Made In England was called "England", Building A Bird was "Bird", etc. Bernie and Elton both strongly wanted to evoke the raw feel of the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, which had many single-word titles.
★ Elton told Greg Penny, "I want that [Lennon] vocal sound. You know, like Mother. I want this to be an album where all the songs have an interesting vocal sound and they convey something about my voice that's a bit different."
★ Elton's long-time habit of doing his piano and vocal parts and then leaving everyone else to it was set aside for this album. Paul Buckmaster: "He had a lot more hands on this than any other recording I'd worked with him on. He was there for all the overdubs, all the bass parts, and guitar parts and so on." For this reason, Elton was given co-producer credit on the album.
★ The first song written for the album was Bird, which did not make it onto the final release but was later covered (as Building A Bird) by Elton's drummer Nigel Olsson on his album Move The Universe (2001). The next song written was Belfast, and then Believe, recorded with a tabla intro that was cut before release but included in the live tour version. Greg Penny: "I remember we were saying, "Hey Bernie. Can you write anything without a B in the title?" [Laughing]
★ Attempts were made to bolster the chorus to Made In England. Greg Penny: "We went to a sound effects library and got the best samples of the World Cup chants. Then we built one ourselves; we got everybody out into the room and just layered it. The World Cup one ended up sounding like white noise and the one we did sounded out of context."
★ Latitude was based on the Beatles' You've Got To Hide Your Love Away and For No One. Greg Penny: "That's why we had [Beatles producer/arranger] George Martin write the horn and string arrangement. Asking him if he would consider doing that was daunting. Elton and I decided to leave our session in The Hall at AIR and go find George in the studio café at lunch to pop the question. He could not have been nicer. He said something like, 'I'll finish my sandwich and I'll come in and listen to it.' That will never happen again in this or any other lifetime." Keeping with the Beatles theme, the opening chord on Made In England is an homage to A Hard Day's Night and the chorus of Please is intentionally reminiscent of Please Please Me.
★ A total of 20 songs were written during the session, plus an original alternate version of Belfast. One of the out-takes, Red, was released on the French AIDS charity album Sol En Si.
★ The song Horses was written and demoed for this album, complete with a mock-up arrangement by Paul Buckmaster, but not included. However, it was re-recorded, re-titled Live Like Horses, and released on Elton's next effort, The Big Picture. Greg Penny: "I thought the song, and the lyric, was as potent as [Simon and Garfunkel's] Bridge Over Troubled Water, but we were working on other songs and it got away from me, which I will regret forever."
The Recording Sessions
★ Elton wrote and recorded on three keyboards: a Yamaha grand, a Bösendorfer grand, and a Roland electric piano.
★ This was the first Elton album on which orchestral arranger Paul Buckmaster worked since 1978's A Single Man, and would be his penultimate LP with Elton before dying in 2017.
★ Made In England was bassist Bob Birch's first full album with Elton, during which he earned the nickname "First-take Bob". He played on 68 songs and nearly 1,500 concerts with Elton.
★ Elton's vocals on Latitude and Please were the scratch vocals. Greg Penny: "Latitude was the vocal he sang ten minutes after he wrote it!"
★ The harmonium used on Latitude, a gift from Davey Johnstone, is the same one Elton can be seen playing in the 1974 film Elton John & Bernie Taupin Say Goodbye To Norma Jean...
★ Made In England reached #3 on the UK Album Chart (Elton's 20th top 10 on that list) and #13 on the Billboard 200 chart, which ties it for Elton's 2nd-highest appearance in America since 1976. The album also placed in the top 5 in 12 territories and in the top 10 in six more, making it one of the most globally successful albums of Elton's post-classic-years career. Further, the album was awarded Gold, Platinum, or multi-Platinum certifications in a dozen countries.
★ The album's release was delayed for quite a while due to the massive popularity of Elton's previous effort, The Lion King, eventually dropping a full year after being recorded. Greg Penny: "The decision was made, close to the fall of 1994, to push it back." Because of things that happened in the interim, this meant that Made In England was the first Elton album to be released under his new worldwide label deal with PolyGram.
★ Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin did a rare in-store autograph session at Tower Records in Los Angeles from midnight to 3 AM on March 21st. A portion of this can be seen in the 1996 documentary Tantrums & Tiaras.
★ Rolling Stone's Peter Galvin said in his February 2, 1998 review, "Made In England holds together as an accomplished, cohesive suite of songs whose underlying theme — the acceptance that comes with aging — is often beautifully articulated. ... [it] is a startlingly fine album, one that shows a newly committed artist tapping into the essence of his creative flow."
★ Elton was nominated for a Best Pop Vocal Performance – Male GRAMMY for Believe. This was his 22nd nomination up to that time.
The Singles and Videos
★ The album's first single, Believe, reached #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, as well as the Canadian RPM Top Singles chart. It peaked at #13 in the US and #15 in the UK. A "Hardkiss" remix and "Urban Turban" remix were issued as well. Paul Buckmaster: "Believe is a very gripping song. If you're willing to be taken on a trip like that then it's quite a powerful experience."
★ Made In England peaked at #18 on the UK Singles Chart and #5 on the Canadian chart. In the US, the song peaked at #52 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #12 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Four different versions of this song were released, including three dance mixes.
★ Blessed, the third single in the US, reached #2 on the Billboard AC chart, which it was on for 48 weeks, #3 in Canada, and #34 on the Billboard Hot 100.
★ The third single in the UK was Please. It peaked at #33 on the singles chart and its video was taped on February 22, 1995, directed by Howard Greenhalgh.
★ The look of the Believe video was inspired in part by the photomontage work of American photographer Scott Mutter (1944-2008). The video was directed by Marcus Nispel and was shot on a Brooklyn, NY soundstage in January 1995.
Track List (with 1994 recording dates)
- Believe [February 24]
- Made in England [March 18]
- House [March 1]
- Cold [February 23]
- Pain [March 2]
- Belfast [March 4]
- Latitude [March 30]
- Please [March 9]
- Man [March 28]
- Lies [March 29]
- Blessed [March 14]
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