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Music

The classic song Elton John recorded twice

@TylerGolsen

Honkey Château was a breakthrough for Elton John. Although he had experienced a fair bit of success in the proceeding few years, it was on Honkey Château that John shot into the stratosphere. Landing at number one on the US album chart and number two on the UK album chart, Honkey Château also contained John’s signature song ‘Rocket Man’, which solidified his place among rock and roll royalty. Before the LP, John was an up-and-coming ballad singer. After Honkey Château, he was a rock star.

The album was also John’s first true-blue rock LP. While there had been elements of harder-edged rock music on his previous four albums, songs like ‘Honky Cat’ and ‘Hercules’ saw John lean into the styles of Dr. John and Little Richard, respectively. With the addition of Dave Johnstone on electric guitar, the Elton John Band were now able to hit harder than ever before, and John no longer had to be reliant on ballads.

Not that he shied away from them either. Honkey Château has plenty of softer material, from the aforementioned ‘Rocket Man’ to the appropriately-titled ‘Mellow’ to the gospel-infused ‘Salvation’. The album went back and forth between jaunty uptempo numbers and more subdued slower songs, but for one of the album’s tracks, John actually could have gone either way on its tempo and presentation.

‘Slave’ was another of Bernie Taupin’s nods to a bygone American time that he routinely romanticised in his writing. A song about endurance and perseverance in the face of injustice, ‘Slave’ could have been taken in any direction when John began composing the music for it. Initially, there was uncertainty over whether it should be a fast or slow song, so John and his band recorded it in both fashions. 

The slow, country-adjacent version of ‘Slave’ was the one that eventually ended up on Honkey Château, sitting nicely between the gospel-focused ‘Salvation’ and the darkly funky ‘Amy’. But there was also a more rollicking version of ‘Slave’ that was recorded by the band which was far more indebted to the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis than the lurching final album version. Perhaps John felt that the song’s message was incongruous with the exciting arrangement, or perhaps the band already had too many rock songs on the album. In any case, it was the slow version of ‘Slave’ that wound up on the LP.

After the release of the ‘Honky Cat’ single, there were plans to release ‘Hercules’ as the album’s third single. To pair up with the jaunty piano rocker, John picked out the fast version of ‘Slave’ to serve as the B-side of the single. The single eventually fell through, and it wasn’t until the 1995 remastered version of Honkey Château that the fast version of ‘Slave’ officially saw the light of day.

Check out both versions of ‘Slave’ down below.