Elton John's classic hits are so woven into our collective consciousness that recording new versions for the Rocketman movie came with its own challenges. But as soundtrack producer Giles Martin tells UCR, the movie's subject gave him carte blanche to do whatever he wanted.

"I met up with Elton and [director] Dexter [Fletcher] in Vegas when he was doing his residency over there before we started the project," Martin says. "And he said, 'I trust you guys. I'm really looking forward to hearing what you're gonna do.'"

John's response led to a bit of concern, because the freedom Martin now had could have backfired. Fortunately, the producer used the film as a guide for how to make the new arrangements.

"I'm trying to get this song to work in the movie," he notes. "So it doesn't seem corny or contrived. It seems natural that [star] Taron [Egerton] would be singing it. I'm trying to protect the actor and the music at the same time. And then from that, you get different arrangements."

An example of this was "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," which begins in the movie with a single note at the piano repeated before the vocal starts. Martin notes how the introduction "symbolizes how broken Elton is at this time. He's about to get married to Renate [Blauel] as a last resort. But in all honesty, I just thought it didn't suit the scene to have a big-sounding song there, so I changed it."

Listen to 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me' From 'Rocketman'

On the other hand, the arrangement for "I'm Still Standing," which closes out the movie, moved into a more rocking direction because Martin had trouble finding someone to play the "slap-bass" style found on the original recording.

Many of the songs in Rocketman are truncated to fit the action, and Martin worked closely with the script team to figure out which parts to leave in. "In a lot of the cases, the songs are the score for the film," he says. "It wasn't like, 'Here's the song. Now you can edit it to the film.' They're specifically arranged for that scene."

But after all the recording had been completed, the studio sprung some news on him. "We weren't going to [release] a soundtrack to begin with," he explains. "I recorded and arranged what I needed to record and arrange. And then, suddenly, it was decided we were going to do a soundtrack album. I was like, 'Do you realize that we've only got half of that song?' Which is kind of funny."

Martin also says that his work on the Beatles' remasters, and especially their Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil show Love, was "good training" for re-contextualizing John's songs in Rocketman, calling it "the closest thing to Love that I've done." And even though he's worked with material to which people have strong emotional attachments, he doesn't let that stop him from the task at hand.

"I always think that someone can do a much better job than I can at this, so I have to do the best job I can," he says. "That's kind of the way I approach it. I don't really think about anything else. I can't think, 'I can't do anything with this song, because it's this song.' That would be a disservice to what we're expected to do."

 

 

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