It was a quite a day for new entries on the UK album chart on 16 January 1971. John Lennon’s first “solo” album; T. Rex’s first under that shortened name; and, below the top 40, the up-and-coming Elton John with Tumbleweed Connection.
Listen to Tumbleweed Connection right now.
A vital and sometimes under-appreciated rung of the ladder that Elton was gradually climbing towards global superstardom, Tumbleweed made its first showing on the UK sales chart just two weeks before the single that would raise his game dramatically, ‘Your Song.’ Yet, as was often the case in an era when the singles and album markets could be quite separate and distinct, the ballad that became, and remains, one of Elton’s best-known wasn’t on the album at all.
The singer-songwriter’s third LP was again produced by Gus Dudgeon, part of the core team that was already a fixture in Elton’s work, with lyricist Bernie Taupin, original guitarist Caleb Quaye, bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson. Paul Buckmaster again provided the superb orchestrations, and backing vocalists included session queen Madeleine Bell (then also of hitmakers Blue Mink) and a certain Dusty Springfield.
So, while Tumbleweed was not an album packed with singles, Elton’s latter-day audience have certainly come to appreciate many of its charms, from the tender ‘Come Down In Time’ to the dramatic ‘Where To Now St. Peter?’ and the closing ‘Burn Down The Mission.’ The one track that was not a John/Taupin original, fellow British singer-songwriter Lesley Duncan’s attractive ‘Love Song,’ was not at all out of place.
The album reached No. 6 in its first run on the UK chart, later climbing back to No. 2, and went on to a No. 5 peak and platinum status in America. “It is all too easy to go overboard with praise about Elton John,” wrote Penny Valentine about Tumbleweed in Sounds. “I am guilty of doing it – frequently. But then, when faced with an album like this one it really is impossible to do anything else. Anyway, why should one be perverse when overtaken with an album that is so splendidly overwhelming?”
Tumbleweed Connection can be bought here.