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Category:    Home > Reviews > Rock > Multi-Channel Music > Elton John - Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy (SACD)

Elton John – Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy

(Super Audio Compact Disc)


PCM 2.0: B     DSD 2.0: B+     DSD 5.1: B+     Music: A-



Long before SoundScan and UPC bar codes existed, Elton John’s Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975) became the first-ever album to debut at number one on the American Album charts.  It went on to become the biggest album of the year, the third year in a row he achieved that feat and marked a change in direction of sorts.  The album came after his first Greatest Hits set sold like crazy, then his 1969 solo debut album Empty Sky from England was reissued earlier in 1975 and made the top ten.


Inspired in part by The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), it was more of a concept album than Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (his 1973 smash hit double set, reviewed elsewhere on this site in SACD form) was.  The songs blend into each other and the production is looser as a result.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  The tracks are:


1)     Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy – Instead of just conjuring the West or Westerns, John gets subversive about the genre and possible hints about his sexuality start to surface.

2)     Tower Of Babel – This track begins what is a very writerly stretch on the album of John and Taupin reflecting on their past career, referring here to their star experiences.

3)     Bitter Fingers – This writerly song is about writing songs and it works, starting slowly, then delivering a great refrain, which shows that John and Taupin were becoming tighter in their collaborations.

4)     Tell Me When The Whistle Blows – The Country Blues singer in Elton is addressed here as a loner drifting and it works very well.

5)     Someone Saved My Life Tonight – This is the big hit and most famous track from the album.  A huge epic about near-self-destruction in part about a near-suicide by John, the song far transcends that as John did the experience.  The lyrics about being trapped, commoditized and miserable actually finishes something The Beatles did not on Sgt. Pepper’s.  This is an ever-amazing work near the top of the John/Taupin cannon of excellence.

6)     (Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket – The living on the edge and surviving song recalls their pre-success days, adding to songs that recall freedom before success. 

7)     Better Off Dead – Sounding like something Queen would have done at the time, this is a surprise cut and works as well as that band’s best.

8)     Writing - This personal song is about how John and Taupin collaborate, creating the elements away from each other, then synthesizing them.  It works too.

9)     We All Fall In Love Sometimes – The other hit, though not as big and with a sound similar to Someone Saved My Life Tonight, it stands on its own as a beautiful, self-reflective gem.

10)  Curtains – This follows the previous track without a break and often does not accompany it on radio broadcasts, but completes it very cleverly.  It also ends the original album.



11)  Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (with Dr. Winston O’Boogie & His Reggae Guitars (aka John Lennon)) – Most Beatles remakes are just bad covers, but John’s version is great because it does not try to exactly follow the original.  The original is a brilliant classic for many reasons, but John brings it to life as if it were more plausible since it drops the explicitly psychedelic sounds and substitutes reggae!  Lennon is a great plus here.

12)  One Day (At A Time) – A Lennon composition that John does a decent cover on.

13)  Philadelphia Freedom – One of John’s most triumphant moments, he claims he does not know what the song is about and extends that to many of his hits.  He and Taupin wrote it for Billie Jean King’s tennis team, but the actual record is a piece of pure Philadelphia Soul of its era that hits the bull’s-eye on Civil Rights and freedom in ways John may be avoiding.  For starters, it is about living your life your way, no matter what and is a tribute to those who get denied that human right.  After all, items about peace of mind and shining a light through the eyes of the ones left behind are genius.  That light is either for those to be able to wake up and free themselves, or to those who died trying as if they could somehow see they are not gone in vein.  That’s real patriotism about struggling for the better country America promises and does not always deliver, which is why it is one of the greatest records John and Taupin will ever cut.



The sound quality for the main album has always been odd, softer than usual since I was hearing it on vinyl in the 1970s.  This SACD brings it to life in a way it has not been presented before, but it sounds like it is a generation down or that the master might be slightly brittle or even that it was recorded with slightly older analog equipment than previous studio efforts.   Though he is not credited directly for working on the album, James William Guercio for help with the album.  Guercio, the director of the controversial Electra Glide In Blue (reviewed elsewhere on this site) was the producer for Blood, Sweat & Tears, then with the signature sound of Chicago in their early hit years.  Some of that fell is here somewhat and that might be a conscious choice.  With that said, the DSD 5.1 is still the best, especially on Someone Saved My Life Tonight.


If you are not convinced and do not have any of the other amazing classic Elton John SACD albums, then just hear the bonus tracks, which all have better fidelity.  In that respect, Philadelphia Freedom is the best cut sonically on the disc, but I still believe this will give Captain Fantastic a new accessibility it otherwise would lose to time.  I hope to learn more about the situation of its restoration and mixing for this SACD, but it is as vital as any of the other John SACDs and is strongly recommended.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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