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A Single Man, released in October of 1978, was Elton John's return to the limelight after a nearly two-year hiatus from recording and touring. It is the first Elton John album not to feature Bernie Taupin as lyricist. The lyrics on this album are instead by Gary Osborne, a former lyricist for Elton associate Kiki Dee. It is the only album where the melodies were mostly written before the lyrics. It was also the first Elton album since Empty Sky to not be produced by Gus Dudgeon. Instead, Elton produced it with engineer Clive Franks at The Mill in Berks England. It was also only the second Elton LP to be released on Rocket Records—Elton's personal record label that he was contractually unable to record for prior to Blue Moves. It is also the first Elton album since Madman Across the Water to feature session musicians rather than Elton's touring band, which had disbanded after the 1977 tour; although Ray Cooper stayed on board and a few of the musicians who played on the album would become a part of the band for Elton's 1980 tour.
The album opens with "Shine on Through," a lovely piano-driven ballad. "Return to Paradise" is a tropical samba, enhanced by Ray Cooper's marimba and shaker, Tim Renwick's Acoustic Guitar, and Henry Lowther on trumpet, along with a rhythm section comprised of Steve Holly on drums and co-producer Clive Franks on bass.
"I Don't Care" is a standard rocker with a chorus of backing vocals by Vicky Brown (of the Brown family of famous backing vocalists), Joanne Slone, Steve Lange, Lyricist, Gary Osborne, and Chris Thompson.
"Big Dipper" is a funky Cajun-style mid-tempo number with a brass and woodwind section, and backing vocals from the Watford Football Club, a sports team Elton owned at the time, and the staff of Rocket Records—credited as the South Audley Streets Girl's Choir.
"It Ain't Gonna Be Easy" opens with an electric guitar riff from Tim Renwick that drives the song. It features backing from Paul Buckmaster's orchestral arrangement and Ray Cooper on vibes and tambourine, along with the rhythm section of Steve Holly on drums and Clive Franks on bass. The song itself is pretty standard.
"Part Time Love" is next. an upbeat pop number featuring longtime Elton John band member Davey Johnstone on lead guitar and backing vocals, among others.
"Georgia" is another piano ballad, once again with backing vocals by the Watford Football Club and the South Audley Street Girl's Choir. Tim Renwick shines on Leslie Guitar and Mandolins, BJ Cole adds a pedal steel guitar, and in addition to piano, Elton plays harmonium and organ on this track.
The sound of "Shooting Star" features an electric piano and Fender Rhodes along with tenor saxophone by John Crocker.
"Madness" begins with a chaotic sounding piano riff that builds until the rest of the musicians join in. In addition to the rhythm section of Franks on bass and Holly on drums, Tim Renwick plays electric guitars, Ray Cooper provides tambourine, congas, and timpani, plus another orchestral arrangement by Paul Buckmaster. Its wild style really justifies its title.
"Reverie" is composed entirely of Elton's piano and Paul Buckmaster's ARP synthesizer. "Song for Guy" is a slow samba-like tribute to Guy Burchett, who was a messenger boy for Rocket Records who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. The few lyrics reflect on the tenderness of life.
While not a terrible album by any means, A Single Man was the beginning of Elton's slide into mediocrity and his work over the next decade would range from good to okay to terrible.