Elton John: Regimental Sgt Zippo review – the long lost ‘trippy’ album

This album of psychedelic, Beatles-inspired Taupin/John songs was shelved at the very start of Elton’s career, but it has a naive charm and shows hints of what was to come

Elton John: Regimental Sgt Zippo artwork
Elton John: Regimental Sgt Zippo artwork Photograph: Publicity image

Now becoming available vinyl-only for Record Store Day, this “long lost” 1968 would-be Elton John debut was shelved in favour of 1969’s Empty Sky and finds the young singer-pianist more of a psychedelic explorer than chart balladeer. Beatles harmonies, harpsichords and flute-like sounds abound, while some of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics (“the watercolours of my mind”, or near pastiche A Dandelion Dies in the Wind) are almost trippy. Titles such as When I Was Tealby Abbey (“not so long ago, maybe a hundred years or so”) show why the pair weren’t yet troubling the pop charts. However, the 12 songs – five in finished form for the first time, with You’ll Be Sorry To See Me Go previously unreleased – have a naive, endearing charm.

Many sound on the verge of something, needing a melodic extra gear or surer lyrical touch. There are certainly hints of what was to come in the melancholy strains of songs about hurt and loneliness, or in the sheer ambition of the epic, darkly baroque Nina. Turn to Me is the lost gem, a truly lovely tune which finds the singer offering his heart to a lonely soul, as Taupin edges into the now familiar storytelling imagery. Within two years, the songs would slow down, Elton’s voice would deepen and Your Song would begin the stream of classics that ensure that, half a century later, his career is still standing.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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