It’s Easter in America. That means everything’s gone green – or is on it’s way to being pastel. It also rekindles an odd association I have with Easter/Spring to Elton John. It makes no sense beyond the easy going nature of his classic hits and how I associate them with family occasions (his music was often playing in the background at places like Duffs (a restaurant) or on the car radio (if church music was not being played).
That easy going ’70s-ish nature of Sir. John’s music began to change in the early ’80s, just in time to catch up with the emerging new wave movement.
When Elton John’s Jump Up! came out, it was being touted as his first “new wave” album. In many ways it clearly was not, at least by the standards of established edgy bands like The B-52s or the Human League. Jump Up! was Elton shaking off his some of his flamboyant image from the ’70s, an image that was ancient history to teens like me who’s imaginations were being captured by the energy of new wave and the emerging alternative rock scene.
In the process of embracing a bold new future, John employed more synthesizers in the production. For an artist known as ‘The Piano Man’ to embrace electronics was a big deal because his career was marked by outrageous glam that always came back to beautiful piano ballads.
John’s reboot started with noted producer Chris Thomas, who was likely responsible for the eclectic mix of themes on this album. He also may have been seen as a link into the minds of progressive music fans thanks to his work with David Bowie, and The Sex Pistols.
Despite failed attempts to connect with New Romantics with weird songs like “I’m Your Robot”, John brought his usual A-game when it came to melody. With his musical partner Bernie Taupin, they created what Taupin calls a ‘disposable album’, but got John back on the charts after a prolonged slump. During this time most new wave songs focused on rhythm, beat and atmospherics. Jump Up! would bring melody into that mix, aiming it squarely at the pop charts. In doing so it would set up the template for future new wave as it became softer and melted into mainstream pop.
Much of that pop melody came from hits like the solemn “Empty Garden”, a tribute to recently shot John Lennon and the now classic “Blue Eyes” (two of my favorite Elton John songs!). Here John stuck to what millions had loved about his music from the beginning while trying to win over (or convince) new audiences that he was with the times. While only partly successful, with his crooning mode set to on, songs like “Blue Eyes” were enough to make many fans old and new buy this album.
There were five singles from Jump Up!, all except his two big U.S. hits and “Princess” (a song for the newly married Princes Diana) were noteworthy. Still, Jump Up! was a return to pop form.
Jump Up! was the first Elton John album to really make an impression on the charts and was in earnest his comeback from a slump that lasted through the late ’70s. Don’t let the cover’s bright colors and graphic patterns fool you, this was still classic Elton at his vocal best – just this time with some occasional new wave attitude.
With his career reinvigorated, he went on to score a string of hits through the ’80s maintaining the same basic formula of Jump Up!. Eventually what was the once new wave would loose it’s edge to become mainstream pop. In that respect, Elton’s Jump Up! was years ahead of the curve.