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Tumbleweed Connection

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Tumbleweed Connection
Studio album by
Released30 October 1970
January 1971 (US)
RecordedMarch 1970
StudioTrident, London
ProducerGus Dudgeon
Elton John chronology
Elton John
Tumbleweed Connection

Tumbleweed Connection is the third studio album by English singer-songwriter Elton John. It was recorded at Trident Studios, London, in March 1970, and released in October 1970 in the UK and January 1971 in the US. It is a concept album based on country and western and Americana themes. All songs are written by John and Bernie Taupin, with the exception of "Love Song" by Lesley Duncan.

In 2012, Tumbleweed Connection was ranked number 458 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album peaked at number two on the UK Albums Chart and number five on the US Billboard 200 chart.[3][4][5] In the US, it was certified gold in March 1971 and platinum in August 1998 by the RIAA.


Co-writer Bernie Taupin said of the album, "Everybody thinks that I was influenced by Americana and by seeing America first hand, but we wrote and recorded the album before we'd even been to the States. It was totally influenced by The Band's album Music From Big Pink and Robbie Robertson's songs. I've always loved Americana, and I loved American Westerns. I've always said that 'El Paso' was the song that made me want to write songs, it was the perfect meshing of melody and storyline, and I thought that here was something that married rhythms and the written word completely." John has remarked, "Lyrically and melodically, that's probably one of our most perfect albums. I don't think there's any song on there that doesn't melodically fit the lyric."[6]

Basic tracks for three of the album's titles, "Come Down in Time", "Country Comfort" and "Burn Down the Mission", were recorded at Trident during the sessions for the previous LP, Elton John, with overdubs completed for Tumbleweed Connection. An early version of "Madman Across the Water", featuring Mick Ronson on electric guitar, was also recorded during the sessions for the album. It was released on several albums and reissues of Tumbleweed Connection, though the track was ultimately re-recorded for the Madman Across the Water album.[7]

Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson appear for the first time together on this album as the rhythm section on "Amoreena". Olsson had played on one track on Empty Sky for John in 1969. It is Murray's first appearance on an Elton John album. In addition to several studio players who also performed on John's previous self-titled second album, several tracks feature backing musicians from the band Hookfoot, who were also his DJM Records label mates. Hookfoot guitarist Caleb Quaye and drummer Roger Pope had also appeared on John's Empty Sky album.

No singles were released from the album in the US by either DJM or John's US distributor, Universal Records, but "Country Comfort" (b/w "Love Song") was released as a single in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil.[8] It peaked at No. 15 in New Zealand,[9] and did not chart in the other two territories it was released in.


The wraparound cover photo for the album was taken at Sheffield Park railway station in Sussex, approximately 30 miles (50 km) south of London on the Bluebell Railway. Photographer Ian Digby Ovens[10] captured John (seated to the right in the photo but appearing to the left on the front cover, shown above) and Taupin (standing to the left, on the back cover) in front of the late-nineteenth-century station, to represent the album's rural Americana concept despite the English location. Additional photos were taken from the interior of a train on the line for the album liner notes and libretto.

In August 2020, the Bluebell Railway announced that, to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of the album, it had restored the station to look as it did when the cover photo was taken, giving people an opportunity to re-create the scene in their own photos.[11]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Christgau's Record GuideB−[13]
Rolling Stone(mixed)[15]
Rolling Stone (deluxe edition)[16]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[17]
The Village VoiceC+[19]
Yahoo! Music(favourable)[20]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[21]
Tumbleweed Connection Platinum Record

The album peaked at number two on the UK Albums Chart and number five on the US Billboard 200 chart.[3][4] In the US, it was certified gold in March 1971 and platinum in August 1998 by the RIAA. The album sold very quickly in the US, debuting at number 28 on Billbord's Top LPs,[22] an unusually high debut for a new artist at the time, and reached its peak position in just four weeks.[23]

In 2012, Tumbleweed Connection was ranked number 458 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Critical reception[edit]

Reviewing later for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote: "Half of the songs don't follow conventional pop song structures; instead, they flow between verses and vague choruses. These experiments are remarkably successful, primarily because Taupin's lyrics are evocative and John's melodic sense is at its best."

Robert Christgau wrote in his 1981 Record Guide: "good melodies and bad Westerns on it. Why do people believe that these latter qualify as songpoems?" (Note: There's an earlier Christgau review of the album, written in 1970 for The Village Voice). Reviewing for Rolling Stone, David Fricke wrote: "1971’s Tumbleweed Connection needs no improvement; it is one of the best country-rock albums ever written by London cowboys."

Robert Hillburn wrote for The Los Angeles Times: "Tumbleweed Connection is that near-perfect album that artists often spend a whole career trying to produce."[24] Dave DiMartino wrote for Yahoo! Music: "A step up from the slightly more overtly commercial Elton John... Tumbleweed is beautifully recorded and filled with very fine songs... Bordering on classic status."

"Burn Down the Mission"[edit]

"Burn Down the Mission," the tenth and final track on Tumbleweed Connection, is the most enduring and frequently played number from the album, the only one played by John on his Farewell Tour in 2022–23.[25] It was one of the very few non-singles in the Farewell Tour setlist, being played every night.[26]

Song information[edit]

"Burn Down the Mission" is musically driven by the story told by Bernie Taupin's lyrics, as is common in John/Taupin collaborations.

The lyrics themselves, while telling a simple story, are vague enough to be open to interpretation. Ostensibly the story is that of a poor community oppressed by a rich and powerful force, and the narrator, driven by some sort of revelation, has decided to take direct action to remedy the situation. However, his attempt fails and he is "taken away", presumably to meet his fate, and justifies his actions as an attempt to defend his family.

The music reflects this narrative structure by starting with a slow piano introduction and the telling of the hero's situation and his progress towards direct action; the middle section, which is faster, jazzier and brings in full instrumentation, can be read as an interpretation of the actual struggle in which the hero engages. Finally, the struggle has ended and the music returns to its initial understated form, reflecting the eventual defeat of the hero. The song ends with a restatement of the middle section while it fades out.

In the premiere episode of Elvis Costello's show Spectacle on Sundance channel, John cited Laura Nyro as an influence on, among other things, the unusual structure and rhythm changes of this song in particular.[27]

This is one of the most musically complicated works of John's career. The key changes four times before returning to the original opening chord sequence at the half-way mark. It has always been quite a fan favorite, and John has frequently performed it live over the last 40 years: [28]

  • John's first live album, the WABC radio broadcast 11-17-70, concludes with a version (running 18:10), interpolating Elvis Presley's "My Baby Left Me" and the Beatles' "Get Back"
  • The song was a regular feature of the 1974 US and UK tours, with a version from the Royal Performance in London, included in the album Here and There
  • Elton's longest and most complex standalone jam of "Burn Down the Mission" (lasting 10:17) was in the Christmas Eve 1974 performance broadcast live on the BBC from Hammersmith Odeon in London, much bootlegged as Ol' Pink Eyes Is Back and Just Like Strange Rain (listen here at timecode 9:43).
  • A more conventional rendition was recorded in December 1986 and released on Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Cover versions[edit]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, except where noted

Side one
1."Ballad of a Well-Known Gun"4:59
2."Come Down in Time"3:25
3."Country Comfort"5:06
4."Son of Your Father"3:48
5."My Father's Gun"6:20
Side two
6."Where to Now St. Peter?"4:11
7."Love Song" (Lesley Duncan)3:41
9."Talking Old Soldiers"4:06
10."Burn Down the Mission"6:21
Total length:46:56
Bonus tracks (1995 Mercury and 2001 Rocket reissue)
11."Into the Old Man's Shoes"4:02
12."Madman Across the Water" (Original version, featuring Mick Ronson)8:50
Total length:59:48
2008 deluxe edition bonus disc
1."There's Goes a Well Known Gun" (Previously unreleased band demo)3:27
2."Come Down in Time" (Piano demo)3:39
3."Country Comfort" (Piano demo)4:12
4."Son of Your Father" (Previously unreleased piano demo)4:12
5."Talking Old Soldiers" (Piano demo)4:13
6."Into the Old Man's Shoes" (Piano demo)3:40
7."Sister of the Cross" (Piano demo)4:38
8."Madman Across the Water" (Original version, featuring Mick Ronson)8:50
9."Into the Old Man's Shoes"4:02
10."My Father's Gun" (BBC session)3:43
11."Ballad of a Well-Known Gun" (BBC session)4:36
12."Burn Down the Mission" (BBC session)6:52
13."Amoreena" (BBC session)5:12
Total length:59:16


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

  • Elton John – lead vocals, acoustic piano (1, 3–6, 8–10), Hammond organ (8), backing vocals (10)
  • Brian Dee – Hammond organ (10, 13)
  • Caleb Quaye – lead guitar (1, 4, 6, 8), acoustic guitar (1, 3, 5, 6), electric guitar (5)
  • Les Thatcher – acoustic guitar (2, 10), 12-string acoustic guitar (3)
  • Gordon Huntleysteel guitar (3)
  • Lesley Duncan – backing vocals (1, 4, 5, 7), acoustic guitar (7)
  • Mike Egan – acoustic guitar (10)
  • Dave Glover – bass guitar (1, 4–6)
  • Herbie Flowers – bass guitar (2, 3, 10)
  • Chris Laurence – acoustic bass (2, 10)
  • Dee Murray – backing vocals (3, 6), bass guitar (8)
  • Roger Pope – drums (1, 4–6), percussion (1)
  • Barry Morgan – drums (2, 3, 10)
  • Nigel Olsson – backing vocals (3, 6), drums (8)
  • Robin Jones – congas (10), tambourine (10)
  • Karl Jenkinsoboe (2)
  • Skaila Kangaharp (2)
  • Ian Duck – harmonica (3, 4)
  • Johnny Van Derek – violin (3)
  • Paul Buckmaster – orchestral arrangements and conductor
  • Madeline Bell – backing vocals (1, 4, 5)
  • Tony Burrows – backing vocals (1, 5)
  • Kay Garner – backing vocals (1, 4, 5)
  • Tony Hazzard – backing vocals (1, 5)
  • Dusty Springfield – backing vocals (1, 5)
  • Tammi Hunt – backing vocals (4)
  • Heather Wheatman – backing vocals (4)
  • Yvonne Wheatman – backing vocals (4)


  • Gus Dudgeon – producer
  • Robin Geoffrey Cable – engineer
  • Gus Skinas – editing
  • Ricky Graham – digital transfers
  • Greg Penny – surround mix
  • Bernie Taupin – lyricist
  • David Larkham – art direction, design, cover design, cover artwork, photography
  • Barry Wentzell – photography
  • Ian Digby-Ovens – photography
  • John Tobler – liner notes



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[39] Gold 20,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[40]
original release
Gold 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[41]
release of 1993
Silver 60,000
United States (RIAA)[42] Platinum 1,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


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  4. ^ a b "Elton John Billboard 200 chart history", Billboard, retrieved 12 October 2020
  5. ^ "Allmusic: Tumbleweed Connection : Charts & Awards : Billboard Albums". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 May 2013.
  6. ^ John Tobler (1995). Tumbleweed Connection-Elton John. Rocket Records.
  7. ^ "Mick Ronson sessions". mickronson.com. Archived from the original on 19 January 2015. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
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  9. ^ "flavour of new zealand – search listener". Flavourofnz.co.nz. Archived from the original on 19 August 2017. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  10. ^ "Album liner notes". albumlinernotes.com.[permanent dead link]
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  12. ^ Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "Tumbleweed Connection". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  13. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: J". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved 27 February 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
  14. ^ "Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection CD Album". Cduniverse.com. 20 February 1996. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  15. ^ Landau, Jon (18 February 1971). "Tumbleweed Connection". Rolling Stone. New York. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  16. ^ Fricke, David (4 September 2008). "Tumbleweed Connection Deluxe Edition". Rolling Stone. New York. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  17. ^ "Elton John: Album Guide". Rolling Stone. Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004). Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  18. ^ "Music Reviews". Uncut.co.uk. Archived from the original on 19 May 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  19. ^ Christgau, Robert (1970). "Consumer Guide (16)". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  20. ^ [1] Archived 18 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Larkin, Colin (2007). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195313734.
  22. ^ "Billboard". 23 January 1971.
  23. ^ "Billboard". 13 February 1971.
  24. ^ "'Tumbleweed Connection' – An Early Favourite Reissued on Vinyl". eltonjohn.com. 30 June 2017. Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  25. ^ See, for example, the setlist from his final concert July 8, 2023, in Sweden: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/elton-john/2023/tele2-arena-stockholm-sweden-13a7c57d.html
  26. ^ Peruse: https://www.setlist.fm/search?page=1&query=elton+john+farewell+tour
  27. ^ "Elvis Costello with Elton John, episode 1". Archived from the original on 15 June 2011. Retrieved 28 December 2010.
  28. ^ Song entry on allmusic.com
  29. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  30. ^ "Top RPM Albums: Issue 5212". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved January 12, 2024.
  31. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved January 12, 2024.
  32. ^ Pennanen, Timo (2006). Sisältää hitin – levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972 (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava. ISBN 978-951-1-21053-5.
  33. ^ Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970–2005 (in Japanese). Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 4-87131-077-9.
  34. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
  35. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved January 12, 2024.
  36. ^ "Elton Johnrefname=Billboard 200 Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved January 12, 2024.
  37. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  38. ^ "Dutch charts jaaroverzichten 1971" (ASP) (in Dutch). Retrieved 12 January 2024.
  39. ^ "Elton John Australian Award". 20 February 2023.
  40. ^ "great britain's million sellers, 1973-74" (PDF). Cash Box. 6 July 1974. p. 8, Part II. Retrieved 20 December 2020.
  41. ^ "British album certifications – Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 19 July 2021.
  42. ^ "American album certifications – Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection". Recording Industry Association of America.

External links[edit]