b/w "Jack Rabbit" and "Whenever You're Ready (We'll Go Steady Again)"
DJM/MCA Records 502
Released 16 July 1973
Produced by Gus Dudgeon
Because of the omnipresent spotlight on his personal foibles instead of musical talent over the past 20 years, it is sometimes hard to recall that in 1973 a short of stature, chubby, balding young man born Reginald Kenneth Dwight was on the verge of becoming the biggest pop star in the world.
And the first single off of the enormously successful double LP Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was seen by some as an almost radical departure for Elton John and his songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin. But really, "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" was a metaphoric break from the studio shackles and an incorporation of the incendiary live shows that would fill baseball stadiums.
By the time of the recording of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, John was solidly poised to conquer. For the past four, solid albums (Tumbleweed Connection; Madman Across The Water; Honky Chateau; and Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only The Piano Player), he and Taupin were backed by a crack group of musicians that had honed their skills not only in the recording studio but on the road as well. Drummer Nigel Olssen, bassist Dee Murray and pianist John had the gig down cold, and now had recently brought in the ace guitarist Davey Johnstone to further heat things up.
And it is Johnstone who lends the famous intro riff to "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" that is still recognizable to almost any listener, given the song long became a radio staple. Murray's bass then steps in at fever pitch, menacingly loud in the mix. And as always, Olssen carries the mail. Taupin immediately provides the swagger for John's opening lines of the vocal: It's Saturday night/Have you seen my mates?/Tell me when the boys get here/It's seven o'clock/And I wanna rock/Gotta get a belly full of beer. The lyricist said later that he wanted to tell a simple tale of teenage rebellion in his days growing up in Lincolnshire, but with an American rock 'n roll edge to it.
And Elton is up to the musical task. While one is not really sure if the words serve as a nod to The Wild One (I'll tell the sounds that I really like/Are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike) or American Grafitti (My sister looks cute/In her braces and boots), with this bashing rhythm, who cares? By the time the joyous refrain of Saturday Night! kicks in with 1:30 still to go in this five minute opus, Elton starts his killer piano duet with Johnstone, and damned if the guy with the sequined outfits and outrageous glasses is channeling Jerry Lee Lewis, standing and pounding on the 88s for dear life.
Yep, all for the glory of rock 'n roll. Turn it up. Again and again.
Watch Elton John and Band perform "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" in Central Park, New York 1980.