Elton John

Have Mercy on the Criminal

Composed by Bernie Taupin / Elton John

Song Review by

Elton John’s early 1970's is unique in the pop-rock world because it effectively utilizes a big-production style without diluting the music’s rock and roll edge. A memorable example of this balancing act is "Have Mercy On The Criminal." Bernie Taupin’s lyrics tackle the subject of a convict on the run from an interesting angle by conveying his terror through tense imagery like "Oh there must be shackles on his feet/And mother in his eyes/Stumbling through the devil-dark/With the wolf pack in full cry." These images give way to an impassioned plea for tolerance delivered in broad strokes: "Have mercy on the criminal/Who has fallen from the law/Are you blind to the winds of change?/Don’t you hear him anymore?" Elton John’s music for "Have Mercy On The Criminal" does a fine job capturing the lyric’s combination of atmosphere and heart with a melody that marries downbeat, tragic-sounding verses built on passages of descending notes with a stirring chorus that effects a rousing, punchy gospel feel to sell the lyric’s message. Elton John’s recording of "Have Mercy On The Criminal" gives the song a three-dimensional feel with a gutsy arrangement that combines the sweep of an orchestra with visceral power of rock rhythm section: after a thrilling opening where rolling piano lines duel with darting string riffs, it settles into a moody style where John’s soulful vocals and elegant piano lines take the lead over a slow but taut pulse from the rhythm section that fleshed out by some stinging guitar riffs. Paul Buckmaster’s orchestral arrangement wraps the band’s power in a string-dominated cushion of elegant sound whose grandiosity lives up to the song’s impassioned feel with impressive skill. The result was probably a bit too intense to become a single but "Have Mercy On The Criminal" has proved itself to be a potent showpiece in Elton John’s live shows over the years (a powerful, fully-orchestrated rendition can be heard on Live In Australia).

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player 1973 Def Jam / Island / Island/Def Jam / Mercury / Universal / Virgin EMI 5:58
Live in Australia 1987 MCA 5:28
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