To Russia… With Elton

I had the day off from work on Monday, but I found that when I went to Jack London Square for a movie, hardly anyone was there.  I saw “The LEGO Batman Movie” again.  I think the kid sitting behind me with his grandmother didn’t get the jokes.  When I returned home, I took a nap during the Laugh-In episode with Bob Newhart.  I watched a Supergirl episode called “Luthors,” and then a DVD on my shelf, “To Russia… With Elton.”  It was better than watching it on an old VHS tape, but I think we were hoping for some more tracks than on the original edition, which ran only 73 minutes.  It would have been great to hear “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” rather than “Part-Time Love.”  There was shuffling with the order of the songs, so it seems puzzling when Elton talks about Ray Cooper coming out on stage after one hour.  The first song is “Your Song,” one of his best, and then “Daniel” is next, also very good.  Elton says that Ray works his nuts off in trying to get the Russian audience involved in “Bennie and the Jets.”  It looks like many in the audience were too old for this pop music.  “Funeral for a Friend” and “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” felt incomplete without the guitar.  “Sixty Years On” was a good song, although I think I would have preferred either “Take Me to the Pilot,” which was on the set list, or “Tiny Dancer,” which was not.  Away from the concert halls, we hear “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and part of “Candle in the Wind.”  I thought “Better Off Dead” was a curious choice for the shows.  Maybe “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” would not have sounded so good with Elton singing alone.  “Rocket Man” then and now is one of his most popular numbers.  “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself” was another unusual selection when Elton could have sung “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters,” or maybe something from the “Tumbleweed Connection” album.  “Saturday Night’s Alright” with a bit of “Pinball Wizard” ends the video as the credits roll.  Generally, I liked Ray Cooper, although at some moments he was distracting.  He made me think of Thomas Dolby.  There was some interesting footage of Elton walking around outside and some fans asked for autographs.  They were polite and often didn’t realize that Elton signed both his first and last names when giving autographs.  He also walks around an empty stadium that’s being constructed for the 1980 Olympics, which would turn out to be the games that the United States boycotted.  Elton said the Russians were proud of their country.  Workers were painting the wood benches in the stadium.  The place reminded me of Memorial Stadium in Berkeley before it was refurbished.  Robert Hilburn made a few comments about Elton John’s arrival in Russia.  Hilburn was not quite forty years old at the time.  This trip to Leningrad and Moscow came at a time that was slightly past Elton’s peak of popularity.  We would hear “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” from him, and after a few more months, the Seventies ended.  I thought it was exhausting to think back on all of this.  Elton John was a great rock star from 1970 to 1976.  In the movie, someone said that Russian music fans made tapes of Elton John albums, frequently from other tapes.  By the time an ordinary fan got to the music, what did it sound like?  They’ve all got the Internet now.  1979 was thirty-eight years ago, incredibly.  Elton’s hair looks messy, and he’s not wearing the eyeglasses at this point.  If the Russian officials were nervous about songs like “Saturday Night’s Alright,” then they would have been frantic if he appeared in those outrageous costumes.  It’s a shame we didn’t get more of the songs that finished the concert, “Crocodile Rock,” “Get Back,” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.”  I read that it was Kim Novak’s 84th birthday.  Some of the people who died on February 15 include Vernon Castle (1918), Nat King Cole (1965), Wally Cox (1973), Ethel Merman (1984), Richard Feynman (1988), Howard K. Smith (2002), and Vanity (2016).  Today is a birthday for Janice Dicklinson (62), Matt Groening (63), and Jane Seymour (66).  According to the Brandon Brooks Rewind radio segment for February 15, Ray Charles recorded “I Can’t Stop Loving You” at United Studios in Hollywood in 1962.  In 1965, the George Stevens Biblical epic, “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” starring Max von Sydow, Dorothy McGuire, Charlton Heston, and Jose Ferrer, had its premiere at the Warner Cinerama Theatre in New York City.  In 1979, the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack album won the Grammy for Album of the Year, while the Record of the Year and the Song of the Year awards went to Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.”

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