Elton John’s eight-disc Jewel Box landed in stores last month and it’s packed with lesser-known tunes from his long career, including 60 that have never been heard anywhere. There’s a special focus on the pre-fame songs he wrote with Bernie Taupin in the late Sixties, but the set also spotlights B sides and forgotten album cuts from the past 50 years.
“This is a real historical album,” John told Rolling Stone last month. “I wanted it to be accurate. I had to go back and listen to stuff. It was sweet. It was a very pleasant reminder that Bernie and I saw together after 54 years, or whatever it is, how far we’ve come and how sweet the journey has been.”
Very few songs in this collection are part of John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, which he hopes to resume in 2021. “If you play concerts, and Mick Jagger will back me up on this, if you don’t play [hits], people will get pissed off,” John said. “You put a couple of new songs in and people will take a toilet break, usually.”
The tour will keep him on the road until at least 2023, and it’s possible it even creeps into 2024. But when it finally ends, John says he’s going to reward his longtime fans by playing a series of intimate shows where he’ll skip the hits and play the obscure stuff.
“It will be similar to what Kate Bush did at the Hammersmith Apollo [in 2014],” he said. “She came on and played for three weeks to 4,000 people a night. If I do that, I don’t want to sing ‘Crocodile Rock’ again and I don’t really want to sing ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’ again. They are wonderful songs. They have done me very well. But there are other songs like ‘Original Sin’ and ‘American Triangle’ that I want to sing.”
Bernie Taupin loves the idea. “It’s something Elton had up his sleeve for the last couple of years,” he told Rolling Stone. “I would love to sit down, and hopefully the two of us can come up with a fairly special set list. I’d love to be involved with that … I’m not sure I can throw [song ideas] at you off the top of my head right now, but I can certainly make a list. There would be things like ‘I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford).’”
He’s referencing a 1976 Rock of the Westies song (inspired by the man who killed Jesse James) that was released as a single that year. It came out on the same 45 as “Grow Some Funk of Your Own” as a rare “double A side,” meaning that both songs were promoted equally and neither was relegated to B-side status. It reached Number 14 in America, but became John’s first U.K. single that didn’t enter the Top 50 since “Tiny Dancer” in 1971.
“Tiny Dancer” has since become one of his most beloved songs, but “I Feel Like a Bullet (In The Gun of Robert Ford)” is remembered today only by hardcore Elton fans and he hasn’t played it live since 1979. Here’s a live recording from a London show in 1977 where he’s joined only by percussionist Ray Cooper.
It may be 2025 before Elton’s dream of a rarities tour becomes a reality, but it’ll be worth the long wait. If he’s taking requests, we’d love to hear “Rotten Peaches,” “Razor Face,” “My Father’s Gun,” “Friends,” “Harmony,” “Tonight,” “Elton’s Song,” “Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes,” and “My Quicksand.” But we’ll happily settle for just “I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford).”