Wednesday, September 06, 2006

song of the week: tiny dancer

I never cease to be amazed by how truly lovely my friends are. For reasons too dull to go into, last Friday, I ended up getting a lift with a friend and her very patient boyfriend, back out into the country to see my family, when all trains out of the big smoke were cancelled. Half way along the A12, it became clear that I was taking them on a massive detour - and we were going to need to buy a map. We got lost several times down ill-lit country paths, and an obscene number of U-turns were involved. This was partially due to the fact that my friends are too kind for their own good, and also partially due to the fact that we were continually distracted by the stereo. Some five hours after I left the pub to catch my train, my friends dropped me off on a dirt track where my Dad amiably collected me, explaining that the rail disruption had been all over the local news and replacement bus services had turned into a monstrous free-for-all. No trains were expected to be running until Saturday afternoon. As we neared the end of our formidable odyssey, my friend turned up this classic to send me away into the night, and, as always happens when I hear this song, I got a little lump in my throat.

Elton John may be a weird little fellow, but he's a damn good song writer, and Tiny Dancer has to be one of his greatest songs, with Rocket Man perhaps taking first place. I have cried, very publicly, on the tube because a pesky busker was warbling Rocket Man badly, and I wasn't even feeling glum - the song just makes me cry. I mean, come's about an astronaut missing his famil. It's sad.

Tiny Dancer should be happier, but its sonostalgic and bittersweet, that I think you must have a heart of steel not to be touched by it. And the girl he describes...she's nearly as cool as Cynthia Rose. (The real tiny dancer was, in fact, a dancer on tour by the name of Maxine Feibelmann who married Bernie Taupin, Elton John's lyricist)

Tiny Dancer begins like a lullaby, with the self-assured simplicity of just a piano and solo vocal, a light guitar giving the opening a gentle country twang by the close of the first verse.

Then, with the second verse comes one of my favourite lyrics; 'Jesus freaks out in the streets, handing tickets out for God', mellow drums, classic '70s pedal steel guitar sounds and then that great big cosy hug of an 'Aaah' from the backing singers. And then, just when you think the chorus is coming, Elton pulls back to the solo piano riff (dirty tease) before assertively, and very self-consciously building up to the big moment, with the knowing lyric, 'when I say softly, slowly.....'

and yes - it only takes him 2 minutes and 32 seconds - nearly the length of your average pop song - before the grand finale, arms in the air, lighters aloft ' Hold me closer tiny dancer'. From here on in, it's all about those shivery strings that gradually grow more confident when the chorus is repeated, and a good bit of piano bashing, before Elton returns calmly to the verse, only this time keeping those lush strings and cute countrified guitar. How can you not sing along to that?

Perhaps it's for this very reason that this great big hug of a song was used for the big mushy sing-along in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, a film which contains no fewer than 52 songs on its soundtrack. I think Crowe's Singles is the ultimate twenty-something pre-'Friends' film, (Bridget Fonda's 'I'm 23' speech is solid movie gold) and uses Jimi Hendrix's May This Be Love to fine effect. And although I hate the film Jerry Maguire, its soundtrack features three of my favourite songs (Aimee Mann's Wise Up, Pete Townsend's Let My Love Open the Door and Bob Dylan's Shelter from the Storm). But it's Almost Famous and its use of Tiny Dancer on a 70's tour bus, the male teenage lead crushing on America's most beloved groupie, that Crowe truly excels himself. It's just beautiful.

Tiny Dancer also reminds of one of the few jokes in Friends to make me laugh out loud, where Phoebe, unable to recall the title of TD, calls it 'that song about the guy in 'Who's the Boss?', before launching into a rendition that goes along the lines of 'Hold me close young Tony Danza'. (For English kids with poor knowledge of American sitcoms, 'Who's the Boss?' a brilliantly dreadful show about an affluent working single mother who hires a male nanny/housekeeper, and, surprise surprise, falls in love with him, was transferred to UK screens as 'The Upper Hand' - also fantastically terrible)

Whenever I hear the full, glorious 4 minutes and 41 seconds of this song, these little things always go through my head and make me smile, as the song gradually soars to its final jubilant sing-along, before gently setting you back down to earth.

Tiny Dancer is not only a perfect pop song, but, is so under my skin and so part of my life, that I cannot help but love it. Since last Friday, its now also the song my friends sang to me when they left me safe and sound with my father after a murderous drive through the country. This story joins the many others fondly associated with this song, including a karaoke bar in Kuala Lumpur, a drunken stumble through Soho at Christmas and a bashful, tearful goodbye to a friend in a bar, where this song brought on the tears an hour earlier than was necessary.

Coming home from an eventful, emotional weekend with my family and delays on both the overground and underground trains, I eventual made it home and upstairs, to find Minifig, blogging away, listening to Tiny Dancer. Sometimes I wonder if we're not actually the same person.


At 07 September, 2006 17:18 , Blogger Alexandra said...

I know next to nothing about Elton John, but I'm sure I've heard Tiny Dancer at some point.

-looks into downloading it-

Ah, here it is.

I'll tell you what I think.

At 07 September, 2006 17:18 , Blogger Alexandra said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 07 September, 2006 17:19 , Blogger Alexandra said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 07 September, 2006 19:47 , Blogger Philippa said...

I'm so pleased you have a blog, and that I found it. (Or rather, that you pointed it out to me in your brilliant subtle way). I love being able to read what you say a few times, thinking about this paragraph or that phrase before going on again. Also, I have a plan. If I read all of your Song of the Week posts and then go off and listen to the song, I may become a little less musically ignorant. Maybe.

Hope your weekend wasn't too difficult, and that you're overall OK.

At 10 September, 2006 23:29 , Blogger paddington said...

You narrowly avoided getting "Madman across the water" on your compilation - it is on the same album as "Tiny Dancer", and also as "Levon," which is perhaps his second best song. I agree with you that "Rocket Man" is his best.

On the other hand, I could bore you rigid all night opining on under-rated Elton albums.

What's that? You have a spare night?

OK - well, contrary to what trying-to-be-trendy-Elton-fans (is there such a thing?) will tell you, he really didn't get going until Honky Chateau, a genuinely excellent pop album which contains Rocket Man and Honky Cat and an extraordinarily jaunty ditty called "I think i want to kill myself." Goodbye Yellow Brick is over-rated (it is usually said to be his best), Captain Fantastic is his most consistent, Caribou is better than people say it is, and Rock of the Westies may well be THE undiscovered rock album of the mid 70s - it has a cocaine-induced crunch that even Bowie rarely matched.

Rock of the Westies was released in late ish 1975. It is now 2006. If you are ever tempted to buy an Elton John which falls in between those two dates, save your money. (Though to be honest, I quite like Too Low for Zero, and find The One quite listenable when I'm pissed.)


At 12 September, 2006 08:47 , Blogger Newfred said...

There is great dignity in Elton John's music. Popular and good.


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