The Greatest Discovery

E and B groter
clueless glory-teens stumble onto ark of the covenant. Bernie’s haircut notwithstanding.

G*d have mercy on me. Among the unlikeliest of songs in the rock n’ roll canon is a hair-raising little tune called The Greatest Discovery. One gets a throat cramp knowing that this scraggly early triumph preceded world domination, then reportedly a darkling period that featured a lot of John and Taupin crawling around on shag carpets sniffing pitifully for the leftover dregs of various coke bacchanals; stardom wiped its feet on the fledglings and they foundered willingly into the pit, for a while.  But the first meetings? Their mutual awakening to the power of songwriting? Jesus. This very early Elton song clenches my fists and inclines my head, sums up perfectly why Bernie Taupin is a teenage idyll, a marble statue of a Kid Before the Fall sitting in a desk chair by a tensor lamp.  Like all Taupin’s very early stuff this small, adolescent bit of dumb puffery reads like it was scribbled in a spiral notebook between math homework and parental orders to brush teeth and get jammies on.  The devastating, high schoolish little verse isn’t much to look at, really shouldn’t have been married to a chord progression, doesn’t properly earn the right to a melodic treatment, staggers forward ineptly with accidental rhymes, slant rhymes, sophomoric bits of Yeatsian pretension and all the clunkiness one gets from a hunched teen with a Ticonderoga # 2 behind a closed bedroom door. It is a detonation, though. A marvel of reaching, halting boyhood, this cloying Mother’s Day paean to a new life in the house, as explosive as Brian Wilson’s wrenchingly autobiographical primal scream ‘In My Room’, in it’s way. Elton J has spoken in interviews of why the early and mid-period John/Taupin songs sound the way they do. Taupin didn’t know meter from Peter. His unrestrained, heartfelt teen verse most often took the form of a-metrical narrative lines or hurried couplets meant to capture a feeling. Read the lyics to Grey Seal and know that Elton is the hardworking Lord of supple melodic reverse engineering. The Greatest Discovery seizes me every time I listen to it, heralding the early union of these two misfits and their powerful willingness to be uncool. There’s a great vid in studio of the song being performed on BBC in 1970, linked to the photo above, though E’s apparently nervous producer Paul Buckmaster hits some painful bum notes on the cello opening. if you can find the original track from the eponymous ‘Elton John’ album, that’s the one. This and many many other imperfectly articulated tunes from earlier epochs are an antidote to these end times of tinfoil pop tarts stamped out of metal like license plates.

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