Today’s single kind of amazed me a bit. When I read the title, I immediately assumed the song to be a cover of the Elton John song of the same name, from his third studio album Tumbleweed Connection. I soon found this assumption to be correct – however, all accounts I’ve found note that this single was released in June 1969, while Tumbleweed wasn’t released until October of the following year. There’s no indication that John’s “Son of Your Father” was released as single leading up to the album’s release, nor that it was released prior to Spooky Tooth’s version at all. Yet this song was still written and arranged by longtime Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin, which leads me to conclude that this is a rather rare example of a cover song that became available to listen well before the original. Whatever instances came into place that made this possible remain a complete mystery to this music writer.
But who are Spooky Tooth anyway? They were an English rock band that were active throughout 1967-1974, though they had broken up and reunited a few times within that time frame as well, often with ever-changing lineups. Their early sound could best be described as contributors to the psychedelic rock trend that came into prominence during this time, especially noted for their twin keyboard approach in instrumentation, where they incorporated both organ and piano players in their arrangements. As the 70s came, their style became more married to the rising British hard rock scene, with songs like “Better By You, Better Than Me” being especially influential to the metal scene that would soon come into eminence in later years (this very song was covered by metal legends Judas Priest, who milked that illustrious guitar riff for all it’s worth). I can’t find too much information on them outside of these basic facts, but they tend to be amongst many rockheads’ selections of underrated, under-praised bands, and with one listen it’s really not hard to see how.
After listening to a few of their tracks, I can say with confidence that I much prefer their hard rockin’ 70s fare over their quickly dated psych rock. Nonetheless, the latter is what we’re getting today. As I mentioned earlier, this is an Elton John cover, but it should also be mentioned that Tumbleweed Connection was John’s tryst into a more honky tonk country sound. This proved to not be so successful (at least to me), and thankfully John went back to piano ballads. Spooky Tooth’s recording definitely has a bit of a more country edge to it, but the scratchy guitars, mournful organs, and impassioned vocal performance keep this well grounded in the psychedelic rock sound. It’s not a bad song, but Taupin’s lyricism here is really not within his best efforts. Moreover, it’s clear with later singles that Spooky Tooth is far more of a riff-driven band, and the limitations given by the basic chord, melody, and verse structures just give off the sense that the band is simply trying to make the most out of a style that really isn’t their specialty. I love me a good cover song now and again, especially one so far separated from its original source material. Frankly, though, I’d much rather hear Spooky Tooth’s original compositions than their attempts at others’.