Ballad of a Well-Known Gun
Come Down in Time
Son of Your Father
My Father's Gun
Where to Now St. Peter?
Talking Old Soldiers
Burn Down the Mission
Recorded in the wake of Elton John’s career taking off so spectacularly in America, tracks like the guitar-pickin’ opener Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun and Country Comfort (replete with steel guitar) reflected his and lyricist Bernie Taupin’s newfound fascination with their adopted homeland, particularly the work of ‘downhome’ acts like The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Other highlights like Burn Down The Mission and Amoreena further explore Taupin’s obsession with the mythic American past, and the latter was a big influence on David Bowie/The Cure guitarist Reeves Gabrels.
"This one [Amoreena] brings me right back to my first high school girlfriend, in the summertime – not in the corn fields but in the hay fields," he told us. "Now the thing about tall hay is, you could walk into it and no one could see you – unless a plane flew over you, which it never did.
"The lyrics make me think of that line ‘There’s nothing like a pair of bib overalls on a girl – ‘cause there’s only two snaps.’ It’s a pretty tangibly sexual song – ‘The fruit juice flowing slowly, slowly, slowly/ down the bronze of your body.’ That’s pretty bold stuff."
There was also room, however, for simple balladry, not least Love Song, written by Lesley Duncan yet rendered to perfection by Elton’s heartbreaking vocal.
Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute.
Other albums released in October 1970
- Atom Heart Mother - Pink Floyd
- New Morning - Bob Dylan
- Chunga's Revenge - Frank Zappa
- Trespass - Genesis
- Led Zeppelin III - Led Zeppelin
- Be A Brother - Big Brother and the Holding Company
- Bloodrock 2 - Bloodrock
- Looking In - Savoy Brown
- Share the Land - The Guess Who
- Shooting at the Moon - Kevin Ayers
- Skid - Skid Row
- U - Incredible String Band
- UFO 1 - UFO
- Warhorse - Warhorse
What they said...
"A loose concept album about the American West, Tumbleweed Connection emphasised the pretensions that always lay beneath their songcraft. Half of the songs don't follow conventional pop song structures; instead, they flow between verses and vague choruses. These experiments are remarkably successful, primarily because Taupin's lyrics are evocative and John's melodic sense is at its best." (AllMusic)
"Between the cardboard leatherette jacket and the cold-type rotogravure souvenir booklet is a piece of plastic with good melodies and bad Westerns on it. Why do people believe that these latter qualify as songpoems? Must be that magic word "connection," so redolent of trains, illegal substances, and I-and-thou. Did somebody say Grand Funk Railroad was a hype? What about this puling phony?" (Robert Christgau)
"John’s Country Comfort has nothing close to the power of Rod Stewart’s simpler, more straight-forward interpretation. Especially irritating are the recurring use of such instruments as harmonicas, steel guitars, and other producer touches. It sounds too complicated to my ears and a simpler approach would have left more room for Elton to shine through without distraction." (Rolling Stone)
What you said...
Steve Pereira: There's a pleasant, relaxed, and cohesive feel about Tumbleweed Connection - it feels like a proper unified album. While the individual songs don't initially stand out (some do after a time, and for me are among Elton's best), together they create a mood and ambience of easy-listening country and western music that is both relaxing and evocative. The gospel swing in some of the choruses works very well.
The notion of a wild west album would be picked up two years later by The Eagles who would use a similar album cover styling of sepia photographs. Though Elton and Bernie had picked ideas themselves from CSN&Y's Déjà Vu album, and The Band, who had themselves been influenced by Dylan's John Wesley Harding. Not all (or indeed most) of the songs are easily related to the Wild West, so thoughts of this as a concept album are probably misplaced, but it would be true to say that elements of America, American music, and the Wild West are present in the album, and influence it significantly.
I find this the most attractive and complete of Elton's albums. It's my favourite. And it has Dusty Springfield involved as one of the backing singers. Interestingly, because the album doesn't yield any individually strong songs, the record company released Take Me To The Pilot / Your Song from Elton's previous album, as the promotional single. That worked, as people liked Your Song, and when they came to this album, found they liked it as well. Together, Your Song and Tumbleweed Connection make up Elton's best work in my view.
Best track - Country Comfort, which was written for Rod Stewart for his Gasoline Alley album (Rod Stewart's version is arguably the better version). My Father's Gun is possibly influenced by the Band's The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and has a similar theme to Neil Young's Powderfinger. It's not on the same level as those two extraordinary pieces of art, but in a small way it deals with the same themes. Love Song is a Lesley Duncan song, and she accompanies him on the song. When she later recorded it herself, for her Sing Children Sing (1971) album, John played piano. Amoreena was used during the opening credit sequence for Dog Day Afternoon.
John hardly ever plays songs from this album live, though for the past few years, especially on his never ending Goodbye tour, he has been playing Burn Down The Mission (during which people unused to John's deep cuts take a pee break!). A very satisfying album, and an eye opener for those who think he and Taupin are just a trivial middle of the road pop act.
Douglas Hill: Incredibly wonderful, fabulous and underrated release from Sir Stage Outfits. My Father's Gun is a beyond-belief gorgeous track from this album.
Uli Hassinger: In the first half of the 70th Elton John couldn't do anything wrong. Everything he wrote in this time is pure gold. His captivating voice and his enchanting melodies are out of this world. This was his most productive time. Tumbleweed Connection is no exception.
It's not the most typical album of him because of its big country and Americana influences. The best track by far is Burn Down The Mission with its beautiful melody developing to a real rocker. My Father's Gun is my next favourite. All other songs are great too but in contrast to other albums of him of this era they are not outstanding. 8/10.
Bruce Kelley: My favouirite of Elton's and in my top five of all-time.
Zak Browne: This is my favourite Elton album.
Mark McCullagh: Not a fan of Elton at all, but this is a diamond.
John A Navarro: My favourite. Talking Old Soldiers will be played at my funeral as my final request.
Ben L. Connor: Probably his best album, if we’re talking a cohesive tone and quality.
Miles Laprell: Class album.
Alan Kirkby: Superb album. Love it.
Gino Sigismondi: One of the dilemmas for being an obsessive vinyl collector is you can't possibly buy everything in the store (well, I guess for some people, you can...), so when delving into an artists' catalog, you sometimes have to pick and choose. I've owned Goodbye Yellow Brick Road for decades, but is was only about five years ago I started getting serious about filling in the Elton John void in my collection.
Invariably, when perusing the racks at the used record store, I'd pull out a copy of Tumbleweed Connection, look at the songs and think, "I don't know any of these" and put it back in favour of Madman Across The Water, or Honky Chateau. What struck me about those records is the quality of the songs that I was unfamiliar with, which prompted me to give Tumbleweed a chance, and I'm glad I did.
There's amazing depth and soulfulness found here, as well as the spunkiness and groove (Son of Your Father, Amoreena) that Elton would later exploit via Honky Cat, Bennie And The Jets," etc. At the same time, there's a laid back, almost Americana-ish vibe that permeates the album (Country Comforts and Love Song playing like the forebear of Fleetwood Mac's Landslide) helped by Bernie Taupin's wistful lyrics.
Elton even gets into the epic ballad with seven-minute closer Burn Down The Mission that brings the album to a rollicking finish, complete with Paul Buckmaster's sweeping orchestration, soon to play an ever larger roll on the dramatic Madman Across the Water LP. There aren't any "hits" here, but not a moment of wax is wasted, making Tumbleweed an essential cog in what is one of the greatest six album runs in rock.
Karl Gibson: My first tape recorder came with a home taped C90 of two of my dad's albums (Abbey Road and Tumbleweed Connection). 50 or so years later they're still among my all-time favourite albums. Seems to fall under the radar due to lack of hit singles but that's what makes it an all round great album. My Father's Gun is my favourite track.
John Davidson: The problem with massive megastars who are known for their singles is that their ’difficult’ earlier albums where they honed their craft are often left behind and ignored. None of the songs from it are on the regular compilations or live albums so it can’t be any good. That was where Tumbleweed Connection fitted in to my understanding.
But I’m old enough now to know better, so I dipped into the album for the first time this week with an open mind and was happy with what I heard.
I bought Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy as a teenager and it remains my favourite Elton John album – for me it straddles the demands of album tracks and memorable ‘hits’ almost perfectly. The only other album I owned was Here And There – with its mighty version of Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding lending it the gravitas it needed to fill a prog fans niche.
Tumbleweed Connection is steeped in the sounds of 1960s' Americana and it's as well that I didn’t listen to it way back in the day because I just wouldn’t have understood it or the context into which it fitted. Hearing it today it is genuinely a revelation, with a number of excellent songs and no duffers at all.
The standout tracks for me are Come Down In Time, Country Comfort and Where Now St Peter. There’s something in the vocal delivery of each of these that really appeals to me, but that said I do like them all.
It’s strange to me that the only song he plays semi-regularly now is Burn Down the Mission which gets a lot of credit, both lyrically and musically. To my ears the words and delivery sit in an odd juxtaposition. Lyrically this is a call to arms, a rebel song, but musically it’s delivered as an upbeat love song albeit with a couple of up-tempo instrumental sections. I don’t get the sense that Elton and Bernie are smuggling subversion in under the disguise of pretty tune – more that they weren’t on the same page at all. But hey, what do I know?
If you listened to the ‘deluxe’ version of the album the other standout track – which was left off the original release because it didn’t fit the mood is the magnificent Madman Across the Water. A fantastic song that I had never heard before, delivered with vocal gusto and enhanced beautifully by Mick Ronson on guitar. It's better than the version on the album where it was subsequently released.
A great pick and one that has set me exploring Elton’s lesser played back-catalogue for more hidden gems. 8/10.
Fred Varcoe: The only Elton John album I own and a superior demonstration of a superior musician. Elton is know widely as a great pop song writer but I'm not overly keen on some of his poppy songs. This album (and many songs not on this album) has enormous emotional depth and shows off Elton's brilliant piano playing and fantastic voice, often unsung parts of his talent. Some of these songs still give me goosebumps today. It's definitely a 10/10.
Alex Hayes: For me, Tumbleweed Connection follows in the footsteps of previous Club picks like Pretenders II, Hunky Dory, Roxy Music's debut, and even Alive II from Kiss last week. It's an album that I've never heard before, made by a very well established artist that I am not personally invested in either way. So, although I only have a surface level familiarity with Elton John's music, I don't necessarily have a problem with him either.
The only other Elton John album that I've ever listened to in my entire life is Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It's pretty damn good, and an album that I actually much prefer over Tumbleweed Connection, which I found to be a little disappointing this week, especially in light of the glowing praise that I have seen lavished on it from others.
It would be wrong to call this a bad record. It's a long way from being that. The problem is that these songs collectively made very little impression on me. Everything here is well executed, but this was music that failed to grab my attention and stand out at any point. The second listen through didn't improve things either. I've given it a couple of goes, but these wishy-washy songs really did nothing for me, and I ultimately find this album to be a little bland.
Ah, such heresy. It is what it is though. I can obviously appreciate the levels of talent on display here, but Tumbleweed Connection isn't an album that appeals to me much. Ironically, for an album with the word 'connection' in it's title, there is an absence of that between myself and this music, very much in contrast to the way that it plainly does connect with other listeners. Sorry, but this is just a 5/10.
Keith Jenkin: My favourite Elton album. Songwriter Bernie Taupin taps into his love of what we now call Americana and Elton's delivery is undoubtedly very influenced by one of his heroes Leon Russell. None of his major hits here but every track works well and if you are lucky enough to have the mid nineties remastered CD your also get tagged on a earlier and longer version of Madman Across The Water that features some of the best guitar playing of Mick Ronson's entire career.
Chris Elliott: It's a good but hardly essential album today. It's a record that's more impressive in context given its 4-5 years before outlaw country changed things - whilst it's nowhere near as groundbreaking or influential as Gram Parsons (Flying Burrito Bros in 1970) or Kristofferson's debut, for its time it's a very brave and ambitious album. It's much more mainstream rock, however much it occasionally rips The Band off. Equally, British influenced country albums are universally awful so this always comes as a surprise.
It's not a country/country rock album. It's a Elton John album that wears its influences at it's best - the more "country/roots" it tries to be the worse it gets - Elton's vocal style really doesn't suit at times, and the steel guitar (played by a Brit, produced by an Brit) on Country Comfort tries really hard to destroy the track, but the universal drawback throughout is too many notes and instruments. Even Elton's piano needs reining in. However flawed it may be, you can see what might follow and it's still a decent album.
Lyrically at times it's "bang as many cliches in a song as possible". At others it works and you can hear the promise. The naivety around guns and the Civil War is grating (he's ripping The Band off shamelessly, but completely misses the subtleties).
The record's biggest downfall is there's been fifty-plus years since. Country is no longer a separate universe, and, as much as it offends me intellectually. Americana – the most made-up genre ever defined by hipster gatekeepers – has produced some stunning albums, leaving this a bit of a throwback.
I like it more than what I've written suggests, but place it alongside his later records and it's a step on the road: place it alongside its influences and it's a pale shadow.
Dale Cole: This album is a gem. Under-rated for sure. One of his best.
Greg Schwepe: If I somehow don’t start following an artist right with their debut album, I usually “go back” at some point and pick up the output that I missed before I became exposed to them. With Elton John, as far as I’m concerned (and a lot of others), I started at the pinnacle with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Scoring that one for my seventh grade birthday ages ago, I continued over the years to buy his albums as my interest (and the quality of his music) waxed and waned.
Then one day I wanted to go way back and found a five CD set of 5 albums preceding Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. This was a budget collection (simply titled Elton John: 5 Classic Albums) that came in a cardboard slipcase and each CD was housed in a little cardboard replica of the original album cover (with tiny printing!). Even the CD looked like a black vinyl album complete with printed grooves.
And one of those five CDs was this week’s selection, Tumbleweed Connection. As I digested each of those five albums I listened to where Elton came from and found “ground zero” of his burgeoning style. I had read a blurb once about this album and it said it was “a loose concept album about Americana and the Old West.” So, as the opener Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun kicks off, it sets the tone for the album and you seem to know how this will play out. Like the CD slipcase said, it’s “Classic Albums", classic Elton John singer/songwriter style music with the lyrics of Bernie Taupin. Kick off your boots and lean back on your saloon chair, because that’s where these 10 tracks will take you.
This is no slick pop Elton John album, and that’s what makes it good. The instrumentation fits the songs and lyrical content. Sometimes just piano, but sometimes some strings are added, and the rest of the band. Country Comfort almost trips my "Too Much Fiddle and Pedal Steel” meter, but pulls back before it goes too far.
The funky Son Of Your Father comes next with what sounds like wah-wah infused harmonica along with female background singers. Try to not tap your foot. My Father’s Gun keeps the Western theme going.
“Amoreena comes heavy on the Elton piano style, with some added organ to keep the funk in the mix. If you like this one, check out the live version on 17-11-70 (“11-17-70” for those of us in the US!). Sparser, but kicks harder.
The album closes with Burn Down The Mission. Six minutes and twenty one seconds of “Dang, I Wish It Were Ten Minutes.” When I saw him back in 2018 this one was in the setlist and among all the mega-hits he played that evening, that one was in the top five for me.
Tumbleweed Connection may not have all the Elton hits, but it is a superb example of the “run-up” albums that built on each other as he became the superstar that earned the title Sir Elton John. I get in moods where I only want to hear these early Elton masterpieces. 9 out of 10.
Brian Carr: None of the massive Elton John hits are present on Tumbleweed Connection, but that doesn’t matter to me - 70s era Elton John is the gift that keeps giving. The deeper I dive into these albums, the more stunning songs I find - spectacularly crafted, cinematic tunes loaded with fantastic performances.
Final score: 8.35 (100 votes cast, total score 835)
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