Elton John did something on 15 July 1972 that he’d never done before in America — and it was something he hadn’t done in his own country yet either. On the US album chart for that week, Elton’s Honky Chateau toppled the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main St from the summit, giving the British singer-songwriter his first No. 1 on either side of the Atlantic. It stayed on top for five weeks and on the chart for 61.
Elton had devoted a great deal of time to breaking America, and this was the period that would really see him assume superstar status. He’d already had three top ten albums in the US and been acclaimed as one of the most original writers of his generation for albums like Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across The Water, but Honky Chateau, named after the now-famous Château d'Hérouville near Paris, where it was recorded, raised his game to new levels. Elton and his band loved the creative atmosphere so much, they stayed there for three albums.
The first single from the album, ‘Rocket Man,’ had been climbing the Hot 100 since early May, and peaked at No. 6 in the very week the parent album landed at the top. ‘Honky Cat’ would follow it into the top ten in September.
Elton’s British audience were still being a little slower on the uptake. They took Honky Chateau to No. 2 and the ‘Rocket Man’ single to the same position, but ‘Honky Cat’ could only reach No. 31. It wasn’t until 1973’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player began a run of four consecutive UK No. 1 albums that Elton’s British preeminence became truly unstoppable.
Produced by Gus Dudgeon with Elton’s faithful band of Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson, plus of course with Bernie Taupin also in residence at the Chateau as in-house lyricist, Honky Chateau remains a delightful listen. Tracks like ‘Honky Cat’ and ‘Hercules’ lay bare Elton’s southern rock influences, with a particular nod to Dr. John, and ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’ remains one of his most charming early ballads. 44 years ago exactly, no one could argue that his first stay in the Chateau helped Elton conquer America.
Purchase Honky Chateau.