Weekend Songs: Elton John, ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’
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Classic rock is about heavy hooks, power chords and tight harmonies. But it’s also about letting loose and enjoying the good times. And there’s no better time for that than Friday evening, when we pick up our paycheck, punch out of work and enjoy a couple days of much-needed rest and relaxation.
Of course, “rest” and “relaxation” are subjective terms; sometimes, they entail sitting in an easy chair and nursing a favorite beverage, while other moments call for a little more energy. For those times, we have classic anthems like Elton John‘s ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,’ an example of the often ballad-friendly pianist’s ability to let loose with a good old-fashioned rocker.
A middling hit from John’s brilliant 1973 album ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ ‘Saturday’ was written early in the recording sessions. In fact, it was first tracked during the band’s aborted sessions in Jamaica, and the results so dissatisfied Elton that they decamped for the Château d’Hérouville near Paris, where they’d previously worked on ‘Honky Chateau’ and ‘Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player.’ The familiar environs helped relax the band, producing an appropriately loose session for a song about getting soused and releasing pent-up aggression.
According to engineer David Hentschel, the instrumental bed for ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’ was recorded in a single take. “They knew the track,” he recalled during an interview with Sound on Sound. “But then, none of the tracks were rehearsed to death anyway. They knew each other, they knew all of the material and even the songs that were written in France were done fast.”
“I’ve seen him write songs in the time that it’s taken me to make a chicken sandwich,” added guitarist Davey Johnstone. “If he wrote a song in roughly 20 minutes, we’d go over there, and by the time we plugged in and got our s— together and played it a couple of times [that would be] another 15 minutes. Then the red light would go on, and usually the second or third take would be the one that we’d end up with. Sometimes it would go to four or five, but that didn’t often happen. A lot of times we’d use the first take.”
Part of a double album whose tracks were heavily weighted toward nostalgic themes, ‘Saturday’ recalled lyricist Bernie Taupin’s younger days at the local pub, where weekend nights often included raucous violence as a matter of course. The Sunday mornings after those Saturdays were probably lost to sober reflection, but this song’s all about the good times — and perhaps not coincidentally, John had plenty of them during the recording of the album.
“Nowadays, sometimes, it’s an effort, and recording can be difficult,” John reflected to Sound on Sound. “But I think in those days, because we were a unit, because of my relationship with Bernie and the band and the management team and everything that went with it, it was just like a little family and it was great … It was magic. That time in my life, that creative period will never, ever come back again. You search for it and you try to say, ‘Oh, it would be great to do,’ but it’ll never happen like that again. It was a special time.”