Friday Flashback: Elton John Covers The Who's 'Pinball Wizard'!


Yeah, yeah, your cute little Beatle blokes were great and all, but they were never "Elton John on stilted platform boots playing the biggest pinball machine you're nine-year-old eyes have ever seen" cool. 

Without this scene, The Who's "Tommy" is a tedious bore, all things considered. Great concept, but come on, where are the zombies?! 

There was no bigger star in 1975 and, though we'd heard Elton on the radio plenty, this was our first time seeing him. Needless to say, he had a certain "bigger-than-life" (!) quality that sent this Toughskins-wearing bad-ass off to the record store in search of his new favorite song.


I learned  a valuable lesson that day: not all versions of songs are created equal. The version I had heard in the movie was not at all the same version as The Who's original version, which was the only version available down at the local Musicland.
I will never forget the excruciatingly long 35-minute ride home and rushing inside the house as if placing this single on my turntable was the key to saving the universe: Run, Darren, run!

At this point in the best Afternoon Special ever, I'm seen running in slowly motion as my family eggs me on. Once inside the door, I hurtle a dog, some laundry, and make a bee-line for my trusty Close 'N Play. A fraction of a millisecond later, needle touches vinyl and...

Aw man, that's not the version I wanted. Much like the clip above, The Who's original version sounds like it's in black and white whereas Elton's was recorded in Technicolor surround-sound.

When the promotional clip of Elton's version made the rounds on TV shows like American Bandstand, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Midnight Special to promote the Ken Russell-directed adaptation of The Who's Tommy, MCA Records in their infinite wisdom, re-released The Who's version.


That's right, Elton's version wasn't even released as a single in the U.S., even though it was released elsewhere and went to #7 on the UK charts.

Since both Elton and The Who were signed to MCA in the States, one has to wonder how hard it would have been for MCA to do a split single with Elton's version on one side and The Who's on the other.

Maybe The Who knew Elton's version was superior and feared being forced to kiss the turntable mat, but that didn't stop MCA from flooding the marketplace with copies of The Who's version six years after its initial release.

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