Elton John

Take Me to the Pilot

Song Review by

One of the most prevalent misconceptions of Elton John’s self-titled North American debut release was the sombre album jacket and the initial hit “Your Song” which was a lushly orchestrated ballad. Listeners who first cast John in with other introspective singer/songwriters such as Randy Newman or James Taylorwere in for quite a surprise when they arrived at “Take Me To The Pilot”. The track was much more akin to the ivory thumpin’ antics of John’s idols Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis or his contemporary hero Leon Russell. Right out of the gate, the pianist propels himself headlong into this high energy full-throttle rocker. The tasteful incorporation of a string section -- which is most prominent during the ‘middle-eight’ instrumental break -- never impedes the dynamic velocity of the song’s rock ‘n’ roll ethos. Bernie Taupin incorporates a somewhat dadaist approach to the lyrical content. In John Tobler’s liner notes essay, accompanying the 1995 remastered edition of the Elton John album, John cops to Taupin’s off-the-wall wordplay “I don’t understand some of (Bernie’s) lyrics, especially the early ones; “Take Me To The Pilot”, I’ve no idea what that’s about, nor has he.” Taupin himself recalls revolutionary poets such as “Baudelaire and Rimbaud … as they just threw things together and went ‘Wow! That sounds good. The perfect example of that is “Take Me To The Pilot”.” The track was initially issued in the States as the A-side to the first 7” 45 extracted from the LP, however, the flip -- which happened to be “Your Song” -- also began to get significant spins on both sides of the Atlantic from the burgeoning FM rock stations as well as the UK pirate radio equivalent. The result was a rare double single which scored two consecutive Top Ten hits for John. The song also became a staple of his live shows and can be heard on a number of concert recordings -- ranging from his power trio incarnation with Dee Murray (bass) and Nigel Olsson (drums) on 11-17-70 (1970) to Live In Australia (1987) with a full scale orchestral reworking imaging the original Paul Buckmaster score. There are also a few notable cover versions from the likes of Jose Feliciano, folk/blues guitarist Buzzy Linhart, R&B vocalist Ben E. King as well as blues maven Odetta.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Elton John 1970 Mercury / Universal 3:47
Greatest Hits 1974 Rocket Group Pty LTD / Island / Def Jam / Motown / Polydor / Universal / Universal Music 0:00
To Be Continued... 1990 MCA 3:46
Rock of the 70's, Vol. 2 1992
Various Artists
DCC Compact Classics 3:50
Sounds of the Seventies: FM Rock, Vol. 3 1992
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:46
First Visit 1971 2001 Midnight Beat 5:54
Dream Ticket 2004 WAB
Chronicles 2005 Island 3:47
5 Classic Albums (1970-1973) 2012 Island / Mercury 3:46
Classic Elton John Polygram
No Image Rock