The 1980s were an interesting decade for Sir Elton. After some under-performing and misguided projects ending the 1970s, Elton would launch a five-year period of success. Although Elton would not recapture the hysteria and Beatlesque period of his early 1970s fame, he returned to selling albums and landing songs on the charts.
Jump Up! is one of Elton’s most consistent albums. While not a classic album, it is a very solid effort. When I purchased a vinyl copy back in 1982, I nearly wore out the first side. Listening to the album again, the first side is gold, and the best sequencing of quality songs since side one of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road with “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” “Candle in the Wind” and “Bennie and the Jets.”
The two biggest tracks from the album are not rockers, “Blue Eyes” and “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny).” Elton did not stop writing rockers, but they weren’t his singles. Elton’s chart hits began to skew toward Adult Contemporary. “Blue Eyes” was aimed at a different demographic than “The Bitch is Back,” although his audience may have the been the same, just older.
When released, the album reached Gold status (500,000) which was a fraction of the what Elton used to sell. Reaching number 17 on Billboard in America, it was not a failure, but not really a hit.
Elton used three writing partners for the album. He had returned to writing with Bernie Taupin, but was also still writing with Gary Osborne, his partner on the past several albums. A new writing partner was Tim Rice. The two would re-team on The Lion King, a few years in the future.
Chris Thomas once again produced the album with his engineer Bill Price. Thomas had already worked with Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Roxy Music, The Pretenders, the Sex Pistols and some group called The Beatles.
The core band is Elton: piano; James Newton Howard: synthesizer; Jeff Pocarro: drums; Richie Zito: guitars, and Dee Murray: bass. In the past, he has used a legion of players, this time he sticks with a core group and it is spectacular, they seem really tight and playing off of each other.
“Dear John” (John, Gary Osborne) 3:31 An uptempo song to get the album underway. Driving guitar riff leaves any doubt about Elton getting too soft.
“Spiteful Child” (John, Taupin) 4:15 Rollicking piano work, also with fine guitar work by Richie Zito. Elton would play with a lot of different guitar players after splitting with his original band. Elton’s own piano playing is quite good. I’m not sure what the song is really about, could be self-reflection. This could have been a pretty good single, the arrangement is excellent.
“Ball & Chain” (John, Osborne) 3:27 With an assist from Pete Townshend on acoustic guitar, this has a country-rock beat. Pleasant, not the best of the first side.
“Legal Boys” (John, Tim Rice) 3:05 A big arrangement, grand and what you think of with Elton. Very nice orchestral backing and the vocal work is superb.
“I Am Your Robot” (John, Taupin) 4:43 A hard-driving song, with a dynamite bass line, courtesy of Dee Murray, who had rejoined the backing musicians. Synthesizers by James Newton Howard.
“Blue Eyes” (John, Osborne) 3:25 When Elton writes a classic, he goes all in. This is the kind of song he will mine further on upcoming albums. Number 12 on Billboard and number one on Adult Contemporary. Imagine other artists covering this song, the way they would with Irving Berlin, Hoagey Carmichael or Henry Mancini. I’m not saying it is as good as their classics, but it is kind of song that Sinatra, Dean Martin or Perry Como would have sang back in the day.
“Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)” (John, Taupin) 5:09 The tribute to John Lennon. It got to number 13 on the chart. Elton and John Lennon worked together briefly in the 1970s, Elton had recorded “Lucy in the Sky to Diamonds” with Lennon on background vocals. Elton had returned the favor with background vocals on “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” for Lennon in 1975.
“Princess” (John, Osborne) 4:56 Not one of my favorite songs, it’s pleasant, but just doesn’t go anywhere. Sorry, it’s rather boring.
“Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” (John, Taupin) 4:00 A galloping song, nice arrangement, sounds like Elton in the 1970s.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” (John, Taupin) 5:59 A song grand in scope that required an arrangement to do it justice. James Newton Howard arranged the strings on the album and provided the synthesizer.
The second side has the grander songs, less rock and roll, more ballad and bigger production. “Empty Garden” and “All Quiet on the Western Front” are more thoughtful with lyrics with deeper meaning and seem designed to involve you rather introspectively musically.