Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Elton John - 'Burn Down the Mission'

Elton John's song craft has often borrowed heavily from American Gospel. 'Border Song' and 'Take Me to the Pilot,' for instance, immediately come to mind. Not ironically then, it was his album deliberately themed around the American West which spawned one of his tightest Gospel choral compositions ever.

'Burn Down the Mission' was the final track on 1971's Tumbleweed Connection. With
Bernie Taupin penning the lyrics and John coining the hooks, the extended hymn was a certain experiment of pop sensibilities of the time. Commencing in humble piano strokes and yearning croons, the song begins no different than any other Elton song of the seventies. In fact, it even contains an infectious ballad of a chorus. But just when the track could quietly cease and guarantee itself a comfortable spot on continuous radio rotation it erupts in an epiphany of soul-searching Southern Gospel...only to repeat the cycle a couple times thereafter.

Taupin's lyrics lend further weight to the emotional power of the song. Lines such as "Behind four walls of stone the rich man sleeps / Its time we put the flame torch to their keep" speak to a call not so much against religion itself, but the tyranny committed by stewards of power. And "Burn down the mission / Burn It Down to Stay Alive" urge us all to consider our constantly tenuous relationship with authority.

In all, a not-so-subtle song that screams rebellion, 'Burn Down the Mission' is one of Elton John's finest performances. Recorded at the John-Taupin songwriting peak, it is a perfect example of the mutual harmony that can be poetry and melody.

Listen for yourself below:

Elton John - 'Burn Down the Mission'

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