Return to Madman Across the Water (thing)

There's a joke and I know it very well

It's one of those that I told you long ago

Take my word I'm a madman don't you know?

In the early 70s, Elton John (the madman across the water) along with his lyricist Bernie Taupin produced what is generally considered to be Elton’s best work. Madman Across the Water was recorded and released in the middle of his run, between Tumbleweed Connection and Honky Chateau, two of his other critically acclaimed albums. Madman Across the Water is a somber album, with a recurrent sound similar to Tumbleweed Connection’s (Unsurprisingly, as Madman Across the Water was originally a track that didn’t make it into the release of Tumbleweed).

Back when I was even younger than I am now, I listened to Elton John religiously. I was young enough as that adults couldn’t really bring up the subject of John’s homosexuality, which is really what people tend to talk about when they’re talking about Elton John (He probably deserves this. Nobody forced him to dress like that. And anyway, his image didn't damage his fame, it boosted it)

So I listened to Elton John faithfully back then, and didn't give a thought to the fact that he had sex with men. It was good music. I owned a large percentage of his stuff, probably didn’t even realize how bad a lot of it actually was. Madman Across the Water was my favorite album with Tumbleweed Connection as a close second. My dog was named Elton. As far as I know, he was not gay.

The instrumentation in Madman Across the Water rises it to a level above a lot of Elton’s music. The tunes still tend to rely on his crazy piano playing, but when you’ve got some orchestration to back you up, pop music just tends to sound better.

Even though not all of the songs on Madman are treasures, the ones that are more than make up for the rest, the first side alone containing 3 of Elton’s best songs ever: Tiny Dancer, Levon, and Madman Across the Water. Because of this, Madman might seem a bit lopsided, as the second half really can't compare to the first. Nevertheless, there are good songs throughout the album, and many are just hiding in the shadows of the hits.

  1. Tiny Dancer
  2. Madman begins with a classic love ballad that you all know by heart. Undeniably a great piece of music. On a separate note, if you haven’t seen Almost Famous yet, see it, as viewing that movie makes this song even better than it already is.

  3. Levon
  4. My favorite Elton John song of all time. I've listened to it enough times, it almost makes sense. You see, Alvin Tostig has a son Levon. And then Levon has a son Jesus. And Jesus flies to Venus in a balloon. It’s the classic pop song story, really. The lyrics are illusory (for Bernie’s standards, at least), but Elton signs them sincerely and combined with the flawless musical accompaniment, this one of those perfect songs that can compete with the Beatles and Stones classics.

  5. Razor Face
  6. I’ve never been particularly fond of this song, and tend to skip to the great title track. Razor Face isn’t a particularly bad song, but it just cannot compare to the songs before and after it. It starts off faint, but gets much better.

  7. Madman Across the Water
  8. Tiny Dancer and Levon are both better songs on their own, but this song really gives the album its sound. This is dark and cryptic, and sets the mark for the second side of the album.

  9. Indian Sunset
  10. Elton John...the Indian. If you can take it seriously, it's a wonderful epic of a song. If you can't, it's a laughable insult to history. In my personal opinion, this is the musical equivalent of a good Western movie. Enjoyable, just don’t go brining out the history books.

  11. Holiday Inn
  12. Another goofy song like Razor Face, but much more solid overall. I absolutely love the fact that it is placed right after Indian Sunset. Indian Sunset ends like the epic it is, with grandeur. Then seconds later, a cute dinky tune starts. I notice this just about every time I listen straight through Madman, and it never fails to entertain. This is because I listen to the CD version, of course. Makes much more sense when you realize that this is the first song of the second side of the record.

  13. Rotten Peaches
  14. My least favorite song on the album. I cannot say it’s a bad song, but compared to the rest of the material, it’s just a bit weak.

  15. All The Nasties
  16. The only thing I don’t like about All The Nasties is the name, which makes it sound like it should be on a Sesame Street’s greatest hits record. Other than that, I think it’s a great tune. There is a lot of vocal backup here, a chorus of voices helping Elton with the short chorus (Turn a full-blooded city boy into a full-blooded city man), and the final product turns out great.

  17. Goodbye
  18. On Madman Across the Water, there are the serious songs (Levon, Madman, Indian Sunset, All the Nasties) and less serious songs (Tiny Dancer, Razor Face, Holiday Inn, Rotten Peaches). They are placed one after another, without exception. But then we get Goodbye which is quite good, but really depressing. It’s without a doubt a song made to end an album, but the absence of sad songs on Madman makes Goodbye a slightly bizarre closing point for Madman.

Album Credits:
Elton John -- Primary Artist
Paul Buckmaster -- Conductor, Arranger
Tony Burrows -- Background Vocals, Vocals
Roger Cook -- Background Vocals, Vocals
Ray Cooper -- Percussion, Tambourine
Terry Cox -- Drums
Lesley Duncan -- Background Vocals, Vocals
Sue Glover -- Vocals
Barry St. John -- Background Vocals, Vocals
Davey Johnstone -- Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Guitar, Mandolin, Sitar, Synthesizer
Robert Kirby -- Director
Sunny Leslie -- Vocals
Barry Morgan -- Drums
Dee Murray -- Background Vocals, Bass
Nigel Olsson -- Background Vocals, Drums
Roger Pope -- Drums
Terry Steele -- Background Vocals, Vocals
Liza Strike -- Background Vocals, Vocals
Sue & Sunny -- Background Vocals
B.J. Cole -- Steel Guitar
Brian Dee -- Harmonium
Jack Emblow -- Accordion
Herbie Flowers -- Bass, Electric Bass
Dave Glover -- Bass
David Katz -- Violin, Orchestra Contractor
Chris Laurence -- Acoustic Bass, Bass
Diana Lewis -- Synthesizer
Diane Lewis-Steinberg -- Synthesizer
Brian Odgers -- Bass
Alan Parker -- Guitar
Caleb Quaye -- Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Guitar
Chris Spedding -- Electric Guitar, Guitar, Slide Guitar
Les Thatcher -- Acoustic Guitar, Guitar
Rick Wakeman -- Keyboards, Organ
Robin Geoffrey Cable -- Engineer
Gus Dudgeon -- Producer
John Tobler -- Liner Notes

And the lyrics to the title track:

I can see very well
There's a boat on the reef with a broken back
And I can see it very well
There's a joke and I know it very well
It's one of those that I told you long ago
Take my word I'm a madman don't you know?

Once a fool had a good part in the play
If it's so would I still be here today?
It's quite peculiar in a funny sort of way
They think it's very funny everything I say
Get a load of him, he's so insane
You better get your coat dear
It looks like rain

We'll come again next Thursday afternoon
The In-laws hope they'll see you very soon
But is it in your conscience that you're after?
Another glimpse of the madman across the water

I can see very well
There's a boat on the reef with a broken back
And I can see it very well
There's a joke and I know it very well
It's one of those that I told you long ago
Take my word I'm a madman don't you know?

The ground's a long way down but I need more
Is the nightmare black
or are the windows painted?
Will they come again next week
Can my mind really take it?