Culture

This one’s for you, unreleased Elton John demo makes Record Store Day Black Album anniversary debut

An unreleased demo of Elton John’s ‘Border Song’, long thought lost, will be included on the upcoming Record Store Day anniversary release of the singer’s self-titled album Elton John (aka the Black Album).

The fiftieth anniversary gatefold double, resplendent in coloured vinyl, will be released August 29, as one of the big draws on the first day of the UK’s upcoming three-part Record Store Day promotion.

The rarity was provided to Universal Music by the owner and managing director of studio and home Hi-Fi loudspeaker brand PMC, Peter Thomas, from his own extensive music archive. 

Thomas, an avid collector of Elton John’s early work, has a vault brimming with the superstar’s music, including many rare and novel versions of songs and albums. 

One of the studio engineers handed Thomas a reel to reel tape that contained various Elton John demos…

PMC’s Peter Thomas with the original tape to tape

It transpires that the demo tape of ‘Border Song’ has been part of his collection since the Seventies. While working at BBC Radio on a programme about Trident Studios, where Elton John recorded the Black Album, one of the studio engineers handed Thomas a reel to reel tape that contained various Elton John demos.

They were simple recordings consisting of just piano and vocal, with no band or string arrangements, very different from the final released versions.

The PMC chief says that in many ways he prefers this demo to the original studio release, saying its rawness and simplicity suit the lyrics and sentiment of the song.

The track is also notable in that the lyrics, normally contributed by lyricist Bernie Taupin, were finished off by Elton in the final verse.

The tape was copied from this tape machine to a high res audio file

Talking exclusively to The Luxe Review, PMC’s Peter Thomas says he has many such unreleased tracks from the superstar in his collection.

“They range from the earliest recordings that Elton recorded before meeting Bernie Taupin in 1967, to their first compositions together leading to an unreleased psychedelic album. The collection also covers recordings of the session work he recorded for Denmark Street for other composers, plus recordings he made for Top Ten hits albums sold in Woolworths – covers of Bridge over Troubled Water to name one!” recalls Thomas.

“We also have Elton singing Nick Drake songs from Five Leaves Left, recorded the same year as the Black Album, as a sampler to promote other composer’s songs.”

‘Border Song’ was originally released in April 1970. It was the first single released from the Black Album, but it failed to chart in the UK, unlike the second single, ‘Your Song’, which became a signature Elton John classic.

The significance of the Black Album’s role in Elton John’s career could not be greater. “This was his make or break album,” explains Thomas.

“It came after years touring the UK in rusty old vans as keyboard player with the band Bluesology, followed by three years at Dick James Music Publishers composing unsuccessful songs for other performers. Even his first album, Empty Sky in 1969, and several single releases were flops.”

Amazingly, Dick James invested £5,000 to record the Black Album which was quite a risk at the time. 

Expect this #RSD2020 release to rocket in value

“It was also extremely unusual and cutting edge to use a 40 piece orchestra on a rock album for a relatively unknown artist. The key to its success was the use of Paul Buckmaster as the orchestral arranger plus Gus Dudgeon as producer, fresh from David Bowie’s Space Oddity success.”

Recorded in January 1970, the Elton John Black Album was his second long player. Ironically it didn’t capture great sales in the UK and even the release of the single Border Song in the March wasn’t met with much enthusiasm, says Thomas.

“The huge change was Elton’s breakthrough performance at the Troubadour Club in LA, in August. The USA, and then the UK, took off and the release of ‘Your Song’ in the October of 1970 cemented that.” 

Record Store Day 2020 (#RSD2020), a celebration of vinyl involving over 200 independent record shops across the UK, takes place August 29, September 26, October 24, with each ‘drop’ featuring a varied collection of special edition releases.

About Steve May

Creator of Home Cinema Choice magazine, Steve muses and reviews for Trusted Reviews, T3, TechRadar, Home Cinema Choice, Ideal Home, The Luxe Review, Channel News and the i newspaper. He’s also the editor of professional home cinema website Inside CI, and contributor to industry trade magazine ERT. He's on Twitter and Instagram as @SteveMay_UK

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