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Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

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Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
Studio album by
Released23 May 1975[1]
RecordedAugust 1974[2]
StudioCaribou Ranch, Nederland, Colorado
LabelMCA Records (US)
DJM Records (UK)
ProducerGus Dudgeon
Elton John chronology
Elton John Greatest Hits
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
Rock of the Westies
Singles from Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
  1. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight"
    Released: 23 June 1975

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is the ninth studio album by English musician Elton John. The album is an autobiographical account of the early musical careers of Elton John (Captain Fantastic) and his long-term lyricist Bernie Taupin (the Brown Dirt Cowboy). It was released in May 1975 by MCA Records in America and DJM in the UK and was an instant commercial success. The album was certified gold before its release, and reached No. 1 in its first week of release on the US Billboard 200, the first album to achieve both honours. It sold 1.4 million copies within four days of release, and stayed in the top position in the chart for seven weeks.[4][5]

Though they would all appear on later albums, this was the last album of the 1970s with the original lineup of the Elton John Band (guitarist Davey Johnstone, bassist Dee Murray, and drummer Nigel Olsson). Murray and Olsson, who had formed John's rhythm section since 1970, were fired prior to the recording of the follow-up album Rock of the Westies. Johnstone would remain in the band for that album and tour, and John's 1976 double-album Blue Moves, after which he only appeared on one track for A Single Man, for the most part playing with other artists until rejoining John for his 1982 Jump Up! Tour. Until 1983's Too Low for Zero, this was the last album on which Elton John and his classic band played together.

In 2003, the album was ranked number 158 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list.[6]


Written, according to lyricist Bernie Taupin, in chronological order, Captain Fantastic is a concept album that gives an autobiographical glimpse at the struggles John (Captain Fantastic) and Taupin (the Brown Dirt Cowboy) had in the early years of their musical careers in London (from 1967 to 1969), leading up to John's eventual breakthrough in 1970. The lyrics and accompanying photo booklet are infused with a specific sense of place and time that would otherwise be rare in John's music. John composed the music on a ship voyage from the UK to New York.

"Someone Saved My Life Tonight", the only single released from the album (and a number 4 hit on the US Pop Singles chart), is a semi-autobiographical story about John's disastrous engagement to Linda Woodrow, and his related 1968 suicide attempt. The "Someone" refers to Long John Baldry, who convinced him to break off the engagement rather than ruin his music career for an unhappy marriage. It was viewed by Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau as the best track on the album: "As long as Elton John can bring forth one performance per album on the order of 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight', the chance remains that he will become something more than the great entertainer he already is and go on to make a lasting contribution to rock."[7]

In a 2006 interview with Cameron Crowe, John said, "I've always thought that Captain Fantastic was probably my finest album because it wasn't commercial in any way. We did have songs such as 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight,' which is one of the best songs that Bernie and I have ever written together, but whether a song like that could be a single these days, since it's [more than] six minutes long, is questionable. Captain Fantastic was written from start to finish in running order, as a kind of story about coming to terms with failure—or trying desperately not to be one. We lived that story."[8][9]

John, Taupin and the band laboured harder and longer on the album than perhaps any previous record they'd ever done to that point. As opposed to the rather quick, almost factory-like process of writing and recording an album in a matter of a few days or at most a couple of weeks (as with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), the team spent the better part of a month off the road at Caribou Ranch Studios working on the recordings. Producer Gus Dudgeon was apparently also very satisfied with the results. The album's producer was quoted in Elizabeth Rosenthal's His Song, an exhaustive detailed accounting of nearly all John's recorded work, as saying he thought Captain Fantastic was the best the band and Elton had ever played, lauded their vocal work, and soundly praised Elton and Bernie's songwriting. "There's not one song on it that's less than incredible," Dudgeon said.


The 2006 album The Captain & the Kid is the sequel, and continues the autobiography where Captain Fantastic leaves off.

Cover art[edit]

The intricate cover art was designed by pop artist Alan Aldridge, drawing fantastic imagery from the Renaissance painting The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch.[10][11] The original LP package also included two booklets; a "Lyrics" booklet which contained an uncompleted lyric for "Dogs in the Kitchen" that did not appear on the album, and another booklet called "Scraps", which collected photos and snippets of reviews, personal diary entries and other memorabilia of John and Taupin during the years that are chronicled on the album. The original LP also contained a poster of the album's cover.

In 1976, Bally released a Capt. Fantastic pinball machine with artwork by Dave Christensen of Elton John in his "pinball wizard" character from the movie Tommy. In 1977, Bally released a "home model" version with artwork by Alan Aldridge.

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Rolling Stone(favourable)[7]
The Village VoiceB[13]

The album reached number 1 in its first week of release on the US Billboard 200, the first ever album to do so, reportedly selling 1.4 million copies within 4 days of release, and it stayed in that position in the chart for seven weeks.[4][5] It was certified gold based on pre-release orders in early May 1975, two weeks before it was even officially released, and was certified platinum and triple platinum in March 1993 by the RIAA.

In Canada, it also debuted at number 1 on the RPM national Top Albums chart and only broke a run of what would have been fifteen consecutive weeks at the top by falling one position to number 2 in the ninth week (31 May–6 September).[14] On the UK Albums Chart, it peaked at number 2.

In 2003, the album was ranked at number 158 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list.[6]

Later releases[edit]

A deluxe 30th anniversary edition CD was released September 2005, containing the complete album and adding "House of Cards", the B-side to the 7" single of "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." Recorded during the sessions for Caribou, "House of Cards" previously only appeared on CD on the 1992 Rare Masters collection.[15] Also included is a second disc containing the complete album performed live at Wembley Stadium on 21 June 1975.

In September 2005, Elton John and his band again performed the entire album (minus "Tower of Babel" and "Writing") in a series of sold-out concerts in Boston, New York City and the tour's final stop, Atlanta, in October. These "Captain Fantastic Concerts" were a part of the Peachtree Road Tour and were the longest concerts in Elton's career, many lasting at least three-and-a-half hours. The songs from Captain Fantastic were aired by Capital Gold Radio in a broadcast taken from 16 September 2005 performance in Boston.

"Curtains", among other songs from the album, was sampled in Pnau's 2012 album Good Morning to the Night.

"We All Fall in Love Sometimes" was covered by Jeff Buckley.[16] It was also covered by Coldplay for the 2018 tribute album Revamp: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, except where noted.

Side one
1."Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy"5:46
2."Tower of Babel"4:28
3."Bitter Fingers"4:35
4."Tell Me When the Whistle Blows"4:20
5."Someone Saved My Life Tonight"6:45
Side two
6."(Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket"4:01
7."Better Off Dead"2:37
9."We All Fall in Love Sometimes"4:15
Total length:46:32

Note: On the original DJM Records CD version, "We All Fall in Love Sometimes" and "Curtains" are both combined into one track, making it a nine-track album. On all other CD versions (MCA Records, Polydor and French label Carrere Records), the two tracks are separated.

Bonus tracks (1995 Mercury and 1996 Rocket reissue)[edit]

11."Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"John Lennon/Paul McCartney6:18
12."One Day at a Time"John Lennon3:49
13."Philadelphia Freedom" 5:22
Total length:62:01

30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition[edit]

Bonus track
14."House of Cards"3:12
Total length:65:13
Disc two: Live from "Midsummer Music" at Wembley Stadium, 21 June 1975
1."Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" 7:02
2."Tower of Babel" 4:38
3."Bitter Fingers" 5:06
4."Tell Me When the Whistle Blows" 4:39
5."Someone Saved My Life Tonight" 7:17
6."(Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket" 7:19
7."Better Off Dead" 3:01
8."Writing" 5:30
9."We All Fall in Love Sometimes" 3:57
10."Curtains" 8:48
11."Pinball Wizard"Pete Townshend6:31
12."Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" 7:40
Total length:71:28


Track numbers refer to CD and digital releases of the album.

Wembley Stadium, 21 June 1975


  • Producer – Gus Dudgeon
  • Engineer – Jeff Guercio
  • Assistant engineer – Mark Guercio
  • Remixing – Gus Dudgeon and Phil Dunne
  • Remastering – Tony Cousins
  • Digital transfers – Ricky Graham
  • Art direction and graphic conception – David Larkham and Bernie Taupin
  • Cover design and illustrations – Alan Aldridge and Harry Willock
  • Booklet illustrations – Alan Aldridge and John Hair
  • Package design – David Larkham
  • Inner sleeve photography – Terry O'Neill
  • Booklet photos – Sam Emerson, David Larkham, Anthony Lowe, Michael Ross and Ian Vaughan.
  • Liner notes – John Tobler, Paul Gambaccini (Deluxe Edition)


Grammy Awards
Year Nominee / work Award Result
1976 Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy Album of the Year[17] Nominated
Best Pop Vocal Performance – Male[18] Nominated



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[36] 2× Platinum 100,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[37] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[38] Gold 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[39]
Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[40] 3× Platinum 3,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


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  2. ^ 10 Things You Need to Know About Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy Retrieved 8 April 2018
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  6. ^ a b "500 Greatest Albums of All Time Rolling Stone's definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time". Rolling Stone. 31 May 2009. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  7. ^ a b Landau, Jon (17 July 1975). "Elton John: Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 29 January 2009. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  8. ^ "Interview with Cameron Crowe". eltonjohnitaly.com.
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  11. ^ Spencer, Neil (4 October 2008). "Alan Aldridge talks about his ground-breaking work for Penguin, Elton John and the Beatles". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  12. ^ https://www.allmusic.com/album/r10466/review
  13. ^ Christgau, Robert (16 June 1975). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  14. ^ Library and Archives Canada. Top Albums/CDs - Volume 23, No. 14, May 31 1975 Archived 26 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "'Caribou' – Inside the Studio and on the Charts".
  16. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Jeff Buckley – We all fall in love sometimes". YouTube.
  17. ^ "GRAMMYs' Best Albums 1970–1979". grammy.org. Archived from the original on 4 March 2014. Retrieved 1 November 2011.
  18. ^ "Grammy Awards: Best Pop Vocal Performance – Male". rockonthenet.com. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  19. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  20. ^ "Austriancharts.at – Elton John – Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" (in German). Hung Medien. Retrieved March 25, 2024.
  21. ^ "Top RPM Albums: Issue 6149a". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved March 25, 2024.
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External links[edit]