“Discovering The Classics” – Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player



The Vitals
Release date: 26 January 1973
UK chart peak: #1
Running time: 43:05
Singles: Crocodile Rock (#5), Daniel (#4)

This album features two of Elton John’s more iconic singles and, though its wordy title may not be as familiar to audiences now, it unsurprisingly managed to reach the number one spot in Australia, Canada, Italy, Norway, Spain & the USA, as well as gracing the top ten in Finland (#2), the Netherlands (#2), Denmark (#4) & Japan (#4). 

The early 70s was a big time for glam rock, though that wasn’t the only thing that people were listening to. Around the time of Don’t Shoot Me…‘s release, Slade had a number one album with Slayed?, and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Back To Front also hit the top spot; accordingly, the singles charts also featured a bit of a mix, with David Bowie’s The Jean Genie hovering around the top ten, and both The Sweet’s Blockbuster and Little Jimmy Osmond’s Long Haired Lover From Liverpool getting to number one.

This record was recorded at the same place as John’s previous effort, Honky Château: the Château d’Hérouville (also known as Strawberry Studios). It was all done & dusted in around ten days during June of 1972, and then mixed at London’s Trident Studios; various tracks feature horns arranged by producer Gus Dudgeon (the same performers also featured on Honky Château), and others include strings by regular collaborator Paul Buckmaster. The album’s amusing epithet was inspired by an interaction between Elton John and his friend Groucho Marx, as well as the classic Oscar Wilde quote “Don’t shoot the piano player, he’s doing his best”.

Photo credit: Michael Putland

Given that I only recognised three or four songs when I looked at the tracklisting (and I’d only knowingly heard two of them before), I went in with no real expectations of the album as a whole – my only high hopes came from the fact that I really love the two records Elton John released either side of this, so it felt like I should be in for a good listen. And my instincts were correct!

Though I do enjoy the whole range of styles that he has embraced across his entire discography, it’s the stompers on this album that really stand out; the piano is technically part of the percussion family (as the strings inside are hit by hammers), and John makes good use of the instrument’s rhythmical qualities here – making it more melodious on other occasions. It’s also interesting to hear him experiment with different vocal styles, particularly on the tracks that were more overtly inspired by other artists’ work.

As far as highlights go, though Crocodile Rock is a lot of fun (its use in the film Rocketman was characteristically playful), my favourite tracks probably have to be Elderberry WineMidnight Creeper Have Mercy On The Criminal. The brass sections on the first two and the strings on the latter really flesh them out into masterful pieces – even if they are quite varied in terms of their lyrical content, travelling from nostalgia to stalking to a criminal on the run. The album as a whole is recognisably a work of the early 70s, however it doesn’t feel stale or tired in any way; it’s still a rousing listen from start to finish, even 50 years on.

The Greatest Show
At this point in his career, Elton John’s album output kept him pretty busy – which is presumably what necessitated a relatively short tour in support of Don’t Shoot Me…, taking in venues across Italy and the UK such as Stadio Communale, Velodromo Vigorelli, Southampton Guildhall & Imperial College London. This tour began on 24 February 1973 and consisted of 29 dates, finishing on 19 April 1973. John would go on to tour extensively later that year, in conjunction with the release of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

2 thoughts on ““Discovering The Classics” – Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.