Elton John goes crate digging in his own vaults on Jewel Box and strikes gold

In-depth catalogue sweep Jewell Box reveals young Elton John’s insatiable appetite

Elton John: Jewel Box
(Image: © UMC - Mercury)

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So the 148-track, eight-CD set is two minutes short of 10 hours (cherry-picking vinyl versions are available). What, you couldn’t stick one more song on, round it up? 

Mock greed aside, Elton: Jewel Box is every bit the treasure trove for fans that it aims to be, gathering a cornucopia of rarities, unreleased tracks and deep cuts that indicate Elton John’s own favourite career moments. It’s an act of legacy curating, giving insight into his self-image and a reminder that his youth was one of scatter-gun energy. 

It’s as if he’s saying: “Okay, we’ve done the movie and the autobiography, and the latest greatest hits package has been in the charts for three years, but don’t forget I was once a raw, unburnished talent, hungry, sometimes flailing, sometimes inspired.” He’s said himself that he finds it “hard to comprehend” how prolific he and lyricist Bernie Taupin were in the early days.

First, though, come two discs of deep cuts, his personal less-familiar choices. He’s clearly keen on his Leon Russell collaborations, and on the Captain Fantastic album – his finest – which yields the beautiful We All Fall In Love Sometimes. On the other hand, his later material doesn’t get better just because he’s fond of it. 

Now the rarities. These 1965-71 sessions overflow with demos – both as singer at piano and as full band – emerging from cupboards after more than a half-century. There’s his first appearance on a record (Bluesology’s Come Back Baby) and the first John/ Taupin composition, Scarecrow.

Tracks range from the cheesy try-hard to the effortlessly poignant. If You Could See Me Now and And The Clock Goes Round stand out. The piano demo of Amoreena has brittle charm. It’s interesting, too, to hear the Pinner boy gradually adopting that American accent. With or without it, he was a grainy, fully committed singer.

Two discs of B-sides open with Snow Queen, a duet with Kiki Dee in which Taupin takes an ungallant dig at Cher. There are duets with France Gall, and the downright weird Did Anybody Sleep With Joan Of Arc

The theme of the final disc, titled And This Is Me…, seems vague, given that the whole caboodle is ‘me’, but it’s never a chore to hear Border Song or Philadelphia Freedom. Offering gems, misfires and revelations, Elton: Jewel Box is an absorbing opening of the vaults.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.