There was a time when I dismissed Elton John as nothing more than a modern-day Lawrence Welk. I had no real basis for the comparison, other than seeing him on TV from time to time at awards shows, all shiny and grinning cheekily in bedazzled 3-foot-tall sunglasses, bubbles flying all around his pastel-colored suit and grand piano. I might be getting him confused with Liberace right now.
While there is an ample amount of drivel in John’s catalog, I’ve since come to realize that he put out some great work, particularly among four albums released in the span of two years between 1972 and 1974. But if I have to pin down one favorite track, I always pick “Island Girl,” off Elton’s 1975 “Rock of the Westies.” It’s actually the first song I can recall grabbing my attention, at the age of 5. My sister had just gotten a cheapo plastic record player and the “Island Girl” 45 to play on it. She had to hide the record player when she couldn’t get me to stop playing it.
And you know, I was right. The song, about a black transvestite prostitute in New York that a “john” wants to take back to Jamaica, is a breezy blend of rock and Caribbean-flecked white-boy funk that like, say, The Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive,” still stands the test of time.