|Song by Elton John from the album Empty Sky|
|Released||3 June 1969 (UK)
13 January 1975 (US)
21 March 1980 (US)
|Recorded||DJM Studios, 1969
Strawberry Studios, France, June 1972
MCA Records (US/Canada: 1975)
|Writer||Elton John, Bernie Taupin|
|Producer||Steve Brown (1969)
Gus Dudgeon (1972)
|Empty Sky track listing|
"Skyline Pigeon" is a ballad by Elton John with lyrics by Bernie Taupin. It is the eighth track on his first album, Empty Sky. It was originally released in August 1968 as a single on the Pye label by Guy Darrell and simultaneously by Roger James Cooke on Columbia Records. It was also recorded by Deep Feeling, a short-lived band formed by Jim Capaldi and Luther Grosvenor in 1970, Dana, and Gene Pitney on his Pitney '75 album.
The original recording from the Empty Sky album has Elton John on harpsichord and organ. It is the only song on the album with John without other musicians. He wrote the song in the style of a hymn. The lyrics of the song are metaphorical - describing a pigeon that is flying high and free having been released from a human hand, with the line in the second verse, but most of all please free me from this aching metal ring, possibly revealing a human longing to be released from a broken marriage and set free to pursue new, truer dreams and ambitions - a theme that would reappear in 1975's Someone Saved My Life Tonight, using a similar metaphor of a butterfly flying free. Though there exists also the more literal interpretation of a war pigeon, as they were most commonly used to carry urgent messages in a small capsule affixed to the leg with metal bands, and carried on the backs of soldiers in small cages with a single wire door for the pigeon to look out of.
In 1972, John re-recorded the song with his band (Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnstone) during the sessions for Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player. The new recording used piano instead of harpsichord, and strings and oboe arranged by Paul Buckmaster. Originally issued as the B-side of the hit-single "Daniel", it first appeared on CD in 1988 as part of the DJM issue of the Lady Samantha compilation album, then a few years later in the US and abroad on the 1992 Mercury release Rare Masters, and finally as a bonus track on the 1995 reissue of Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player.
"Skyline Pigeon" was played on the radio as early as 1968. It was the most popular song during the very early period of John's musical career, but it was not released as a single. The song was performed live in various eras and venues throughout John's career, mainly in Britain, and frequently during his solo shows and pairings with the percussionist Ray Cooper. John has always said he regards "Skyline Pigeon" as one of the first "great" songs that he and Taupin wrote. John performed the song at the funeral of the AIDS victim and friend Ryan White in 1990 on a grand piano, although he played Roland Piano on tour and in the studio at the time.
Apart from its earlier appearances on record, a live, solo piano version recorded at the Royal Festival Hall in London during summer 1974 was also included as the opening number on the "Here" side of the Here and There album in 1976, a place it retained in the 1995 2-CD expanded version remixed by the album's original producer Gus Dudgeon. It was also released on Volume 1 of two EltonJohn.com limited edition CDs recorded live in Madison Square Garden, as part of a series of solo performances John gave in October 1999. The song received a brief revival during a UK tour in 2009.
The 1972 version was a hit in Brazil. A live performance from 17 January 2009, was broadcast on TV along with the rest of an entire concert John that performed in São Paulo, Brazil. Again in Brazil in 2011, he played the song during a concert at Rock in Rio in front of 150,000 people in Rio de Janeiro, on 23 September. During the 2013 tour he played the song again in São Paulo, on 27 February, and in Porto Alegre, on 5 March.
- Elton John: piano, vocals
- Davey Johnstone: acoustic guitar
- Dee Murray: bass guitar
- Nigel Olsson: drums
- Paul Buckmaster: orchestral arrangements
- Claude Bernardin (1995). "Rocket Man: The Encyclopedia of Elton John". p. 191. Greenwood Press,