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Crocodile Rock - Elton John
Reginald Kenneth Dwight began teaching himself to play the piano at the age of four. He got good grades at London's Royal Academy of Music, but wasn't entirely satisfied with the sound of the "classic masters." Then one day, his mom bought him copies of "Heartbreak Hotel" and Bill Haley's "ABC Boogie." "I couldn't believe how great they were," he grinned. "And from then on, rock'n'roll took over." He soon left the academy, much preferring to stay home imitating Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis.
At thirteen, he put together his first band, the Corvettes, and two years later, helped form a backup band, Bluesology. It was then that he decided to change his name, because Reg Dwight "sounded too much like a laboratory assistant, or cement mixer, or something." He lifted "Elton" from Elton Dean, the sax man in Bluesology, and "John" from R&B singer Long John Baldry.
In 1967, Elton John answered an ad placed by Liberty Records. He was given an audition, but failed, due to "weak words in my songs." Liberty suggested that he get in touch with a lyricist, and teamed him with Bernie Taupin. For six months, the two collaborated entirely by mail -- Elton writing music to fit Bernie's poetry. To supplement his income, Elton took a number of odd jobs: playing piano for the Hollies (on "He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother") and singing backup for Tom Jones (on "Delilah" and "Daughter of Darkness").
Eventually, Elton and Bernie met face-to-face, and got a job together as staff songwriters for Dick James Music. Finally, one of the staff salesmen had the guts to tell them their work really stunk, and the only way they'd ever get anywhere was to write in their own natural style. The boys wholeheartedly agreed, and from then on, it was uphill.
In America, Elton's career was ignited on August 25, 1970, the night of a remarkable showcase performance at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Many members of the pop press were there, and they quickly spread the word about "England's brilliant new superstar" (Bernie elected to remain in the background). That first U.S. album, Elton John, featured the hit "Your Song," which went Top 10 in January 1971.
The floodgates were open, and five more albums were rapidly released: Tumbleweed Connection, 11-17-70 (a radio soundtrack), Friends (a movie soundtrack), Madman Across the Water, and Honky Chateau. As his popularity snowballed, Elton took a few weeks out to record another album -- Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player. He cut it in Paris at the "Honky Chateau" -- his name for the Chateau d'Herouville.
In the fall of 1972, EJ embarked on his most elaborate American tour. On it, he introduced a tune that some referred to as "the British answer to 'American Pie.'" It was Elton's distillation of his record collecting interest, and clearly, the mot potent cut on his brand-new album.
"Crocodile Rock" was a celebration, of sorts, of rock's earlier days, and in many respects echoed the sounds and styles of Elton's lifelong idols. From a construction standpoint, it was akin to early sixties records, such as those of Neil Sedaka. Elton gave it a carnival feel by playing the farfisa organ, strongly reminiscent of Del Shannon's "Runaway."
The story line concerns happy, carefree teenage years, as fictitious (at least in Elton's case) as the dance the song "recalls." "I had such a miserable time as a child and a teenager," said Elton, who spent much of his youth as a fat, lonely kid. "That's why I'm making up for it now. I regard myself as a teenager today, even though I'm in my mid-twenties," he said at the time.
"Crocodile Rock" was issued about two months ahead of the album it came off, and broke in the U.S. in early December 1972. By March of '73, it was a million-seller, and the number-one single in America. Elton's record company had an extra reason to celebrate, as it was also their first release under a new name -- MCA Records. With one swoop, both the label and the song were established in the marketplace.