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Elton John — Levon
Album: Madman Across The Water
Avg rating:
7.5

Your rating:
Total ratings: 1135









Released: 1971
Length: 5:12
Plays (last 30 days): 2
Levon wears his war wound like a crown.
He calls his child Jesus,
'Cause he likes the name.
And he sends him to the finest school in town.

Levon, Levon likes his money.
He makes a lot, they say.
Spends his days counting
In a garage by the motorway.

He was born a pauper to a pawn
On a Christmas Day,
When the New York Times said "God is dead,"
And the war's begun.
Alvin Tostig has a son today.

And he shall be Levon,
And he shall be a good man.
And he shall be Levon,
In tradition with the family plan.
And he shall be Levon,
And he shall be a good man.
He shall be Levon.

Levon sells cartoon balloons in town.
His family business thrives.
Jesus blows up balloons all day,
Sits on the porch swing watching them fly.

And Jesus, he wants to go to Venus.
Leave Levon far behind.
Take a balloon and go sailing,
While Levon, Levon slowly dies.

He was born a pauper to a pawn
On a Christmas Day,
When the New York Times said "God is dead,"
And the war's begun.
Alvin Tostig has a son today.

And he shall be Levon,
And he shall be a good man.
And he shall be Levon,
In tradition with the family plan.
And he shall be Levon,
And he shall be a good man.
He shall be Levon.

And he shall be Levon,
And he shall be a good man.
And he shall be Levon,
In tradition with the family plan.
And he shall be Levon,
And he shall be a good man.
He shall be Levon.
Comments (157)add comment
What a badman Elton was... Rock on Elton
One of the greatest songs ever. Likely. Nothing's 100% certain or even written in stone (they break). 
How great is this song....{#Bananajam}
 Stephen_Phillips wrote:
He doesn't play this song live anymore. The lyrics are too close for comfort these days. Swap Levon for Elton and you get the gist...
 
I'm with you there. Song's still great though. 
He doesn't play this song live anymore. The lyrics are too close for comfort these days. Swap Levon for Elton and you get the gist...
I know others may disagree but I consider this album to be Elton John (and Bernie's) Opus. An unparalleled body of work that stands hands and shoulders above everything else they did.  And that's saying something considering everything they, and Elton on his own, have done.
{#Notworthy}

Or perhaps it's better to say that which has been done by Sir Elton Hercules John (and Squire Bernie)?.  Knight extraordinaire to the Queen.  A title that works on several different levels doesn't it?  Heh!

Highlow
American Net'Zen
This was life-changing for all of us kids in 1971.
From way back when I was a fan of 'Elton John' and had no idea what a good songwriter some guy named Bernie Taupin was.
 dingleberry wrote:
Well, those clearly enunciated lyrics are made up for by all those balloons along with a baby jesus. And venus.

In the end, I like this explanation: don't name your kid Jesus Tostig, or he won't like you.

  
{#Roflol}
 thewiseking wrote:
Fathers and sons. Tragic.
 
Funny how much meaning people read into this song. Bernie has admitted it doesn't make much sense, just words that sounded good together.

That said, your interpretation is just as good as anyone else's.
c.
Fathers and sons. Tragic.
Never would i thought id rock to Elton in the morning!
Thanks RP!
Rock on! {#Bananajam}
Popular.  Deservedly so.  So excellent in so many ways.
Named my first cat, Levon.  Still think of him and Elton.
 kingart wrote:
Who is Alvin Tostig, and if I did a google search, would it lead me anywhere but right back to this song?  Let's find out...
 

 

The "Alvin Tostig" mentioned in the song (Levon's father) is, according to Taupin, merely fictional. 


That clarifies the matter.  Sort of. 

 
Who is Alvin Tostig, and if I did a google search, would it lead me anywhere but right back to this song?  Let's find out...
 
 MrsTom wrote:
So Alvin Tostig had a son and called him Levon Tostig and he calls his son Jesus Tostig. Deep

 
um, you forgot about the balloons
 robertomiller wrote:
Elton affects a little Leon Russell in the opening… which is cool by me. EJ is clear about the influence Russell had on him early on.  I just wonder if "Levon" was a little tip of the hat to "Leon."  ?
 

So Alvin Tostig had a son and called him Levon Tostig and he calls his son Jesus Tostig. Deep
 Typesbad wrote:

I totally agree.  Nice melody, good vocals, over produced but well executed.  But the clearly heard lyrics are just annoying as hell.

 
Kind of like Rocket Man. 
Weird accent he puts on - or am I missing the point?
Elton affects a little Leon Russell in the opening… which is cool by me. EJ is clear about the influence Russell had on him early on.  I just wonder if "Levon" was a little tip of the hat to "Leon."  ?
 
Well, those clearly enunciated lyrics are made up for by all those balloons along with a baby jesus. And venus.

In the end, I like this explanation: don't name your kid Jesus Tostig, or he won't like you.
 Sasha2001 wrote:

what is this song about, anyway? I mean, I love it, its brilliantly absurd, but...
 
Levon always struck me as a politician, selling cartoon balloons in town and wearing his war wound like a crown. Am I Capt. Obvious?
 scott_bruce wrote:


OK Trailhub, I have to hoist the Bullshit flag on this one. Roughly how often DO you hear Levon being played on mainstream radio there in St Louis?

 
I hear this song on terrestrial radio about once a week in NC, and I only listen to music radio on the drive home from work. There are three or four of his other songs that I hear more often. I don't know about St. Louis though.
 handyrae wrote:
Great song as long as you don't pay too much attention to the lyrics. I did and was like, "Whah?"

 
I totally agree.  Nice melody, good vocals, over produced but well executed.  But the clearly heard lyrics are just annoying as hell.
Some songs are magic in their time. And beyond. This is one. Thanks, Bill, for knowing the distinction. 
It was the Weekly World Enquiry, not the New York Times. Get your facts straight.


 handyrae wrote:
Great song as long as you don't pay too much attention to the lyrics. I did and was like, "Whah?"

 
what is this song about, anyway? I mean, I love it, its brilliantly absurd, but...
No thanks
Great song as long as you don't pay too much attention to the lyrics. I did and was like, "Whah?"
 (former member) wrote:

 George Carlin's Hippy Dippy Weatherman.

 
Thanks Laz.  Hadn't thought about that character in a LONG time, but it still brought a smile when I did.

I think its cool that Elton's first son was born "on a Christmas Day" and his middle name is "Levon"
Madman is the only Elton John album I own, and the only one anyone needs. It's amazing to hear how talented he was before he became a parody of himself...
happy to say, I think early (less known) Elton John is getting a resurgence right now - besides on RN playlists!  Eg today I was in a French Connection store (i know..) and it was playing on the store playlist.  Sounded great to fresh ears, compared to the muzak around at the moment.
Wow, Thanks, keep forgetting how good this album is.
 scott_bruce wrote:


OK Trailhub, I have to hoist the Bullshit flag on this one. Roughly how often DO you hear Levon being played on mainstream radio there in St Louis?

 
If the definition of "mainstream" includes your run-of-the-mill typical annoying classic rock station and even the lame midwestern definition of progressive rock radio (and my definition includes both), then yes, you will hear it all the time. 

No offense to Elton.  Much respect is due.  Just burned out on this.  Even after a decade+ of eschewing FM. 
I hear ya!  This was indeed a golden period of creativity for Elton, and I vividly recall my mother shaking her head in amazement and disbelief as she was talking with a fellow shopper in the check-out line about the cover story on all the tabloids — "Elton John a Multi-Millionnaire Rock Star!" at the local grocery store in '73 or 4...  She and the other lady were saying, "He's so GOOFY!" and "—My land, yes, all those crazy glasses and get-ups!"  They may have been in disbelief, shock and denial at his newfound fame & fortune, but there was no denying the fact that his songs were all over the radio and TV at the time, and he and Bernie T. definitely ruled the Pop Charts!

On_The_Beach wrote:

From '70 - '75 EJ & Bernie put together an almost unbelievable string of classic albums . . .

1970 Elton John
1970 Tumbleweed Connection
1971 Madman Across The Water
1972 Honky Chateau
1973 Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player
1973 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
1974 Caribou
1975 Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy
1975 Rock Of The Westies

. . . but all good things must come to an end.
 


Im listening on good headphones, and I thought to myself: "thats odd, ive never heard that irritating howling noise in the background of this song before."  Turns out they were testing the emergency sirens in my neighborhood.  Carry on.

...19 years old - running produce from Nogales, AZ to Calgary,AB when this first aired - boy do some of these songs make me old...


Over the years this has grown to be my favorite Elton John song.  Just something about it...
Ugh. Please stop playing this song. Please. I turn the station (ANY station) that plays this. 
 scott_bruce wrote:


OK Trailhub, I have to hoist the Bullshit flag on this one. Roughly how often DO you hear Levon being played on mainstream radio there in St Louis?
 
St. Louis is a noted Elton John hotbed...
 trailhub wrote:
Gawd I'm sick of hearing this song (on mainstream radio, not here). But have to admit that it really is a good song, overplayed or not.
 

OK Trailhub, I have to hoist the Bullshit flag on this one. Roughly how often DO you hear Levon being played on mainstream radio there in St Louis?
Gawd I'm sick of hearing this song (on mainstream radio, not here). But have to admit that it really is a good song, overplayed or not.
 jersey_birdman wrote:

Madman, Tumbleweed Connection and Honkey Chateau: what a run of work....

 
From '70 - '75 EJ & Bernie put together an almost unbelievable string of classic albums . . .

1970 Elton John
1970 Tumbleweed Connection
1971 Madman Across The Water
1972 Honky Chateau
1973 Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player
1973 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
1974 Caribou
1975 Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy
1975 Rock Of The Westies

. . . but all good things must come to an end.
 listen_n_sf wrote:
How fortunate for me.  To be a kid discovering music on an AM clock radio when this was new.
 

close, my tranny was hidden under my pillow, lest 'the oldies' heard.....
 gemtag wrote:
Definitely his best album and imo his best song. He and Taupin made a great team. This is how I will always remember Elton John. A young brash kid with a song and an attitude. 
 
Don't forget Gus Dudgeon, very instrumental in his early sound and production
incredible juncture of talent.     
I wouldn't have survived growing up without Elton John's music.  The first album I ever bought was Captain Fantastic.  I used to be so in love with him growing up!!  I shoulda known right then I'd have trouble with men!!  Still love him!!
I grew up in the 80s and always considered myself aware of Elton John and his sound, but I recently went back and listened to this album for the first time and was blown away by its groovy sophistication. Well played Messrs Dwight and Taupin!
This man is a genius.
 rdo wrote:


What about the play on words?  "He shall Believe On" 

 
Never noticed that before...thanks for pointing it out rdo.

Definitely his best album and imo his best song. He and Taupin made a great team. This is how I will always remember Elton John. A young brash kid with a song and an attitude. 
I don't like the idea of Elton John. I don't like the glam, the ridiculous outfits, the shoes which should never have even been imagined, the crap glasses, the sad haircuts (and the sadder hair transplant). I don't like the chirpy 80s superstar in a boater, the Candle in the Wind tortured mourner, the trashy 70s glitter-bedecked Pinball eejit, the various attempts to come back with an album of meaningful songs.

But the first two or three albums are utter genius, cracking song-writing, great orchestration, good musicianship (even if the drummer were once accused of sounding like he is slapping a frankfurter against a bucket). Brilliant stuff, and this is one of the best.

Ho hum. 

 Art_Carnage wrote:
The meaning is pretty obvious. It's about how wealth destroys the Tostig family over three generations.

Alvin Tostig has nothing, but when his child arrives, he decides it's time to make his fortune, which he does. His son is raised in an environment of wealth and privilege, but still has a sense of duty. But later in life he became consumed with money, and went a bit mad. His own child feels abandoned, and hates his father. You know, it's pretty much the George H. W. Bush story.

 

What about the play on words?  "He shall Believe On" 

Had no idea how much I loved EJ until I saw him in concert last spring.  2 hours and 45 minutes of solid playing and probably 3-4 songs were unbeknownst to me.  {#Notworthy}
The meaning is pretty obvious. It's about how wealth destroys the Tostig family over three generations.

Alvin Tostig has nothing, but when his child arrives, he decides it's time to make his fortune, which he does. His son is raised in an environment of wealth and privilege, but still has a sense of duty. But later in life he became consumed with money, and went a bit mad. His own child feels abandoned, and hates his father. You know, it's pretty much the George H. W. Bush story.

I bought this album two or three years ago to get Tiny Dancer and love every song on it, it's one of my favourite albums now.  Early Elton really was great stuff.
 jbtidwell wrote:
But what is this song about?
This doesn't make sense, either, but I still like it.


Great song, and very interesting comments thread. Thanks to all, especially B & R for bringing a smile to my neck of the woods.
 Cynaera wrote:
... Listening to this song just pulls things back into focus for me. I can't save all the animals suffering at the hands of humans. I can only do what I can do. Music gives me strength to try, and this song, among others, helps me to keep my focus on making the world a better place.

Please refrain from condemnation. Just listen to the music and appreciate it. And if it motivates you to do good things, DO them.

 
Love that sentiment, Cynaera. Your admonition reminds me of a personal motto of a former colleague: "Do what's right. Do it right. Do it right now."

This song is just fantastic. It changes my mood (for the better) the minute it comes on.

Right on, Elton!

 listen_n_sf wrote:
How fortunate for me.  To be a kid discovering music on an AM clock radio when this was new.
 Sneaking into my older sister's room to play the vinyl on a portable Magnavox while she's on a date.


 handyrae wrote:
I was at my dentist and heard this song, so I tried to pay attention to the lyrics (better than paying attention to having my teeth cleaned). I couldn't figure it out so I looked up the lyrics online. They still didn't make sense. But they sound meaningful. I'm glad I'm not the only person who has no idea what they mean.
 
I was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic the other day and had to listen closely to these lyrics because this was on the station I was listening to.  Pure idiocy.  Not a bad tune though.

Madman, Tumbleweed Connection and Honkey Chateau: what a run of work.... 


Another shining ship in the fleet of masterpieces put out by Elton and Bernie!{#Notworthy}
I'm slogging through e-mails about abandoned dogs and cats, animals that have been doused in gas and burned, animals that have been dumped by the side of the road, animals that have been starved to the point of death..... Yeah, I get this every day.  Listening to this song just pulls things back into focus for me. I can't save all the animals suffering at the hands of humans. I can only do what I can do. Music gives me strength to try, and this song, among others, helps me to keep my focus on making the world a better place.

Please refrain from condemnation. Just listen to the music and appreciate it. And if it motivates you to do good things, DO them.

obscure lyrics, yes, but the best Elton John song ever imho {#Angel}
 Baby_M wrote:

As a piece of music, I've always liked this one.  I'll confess, though, that the lyrics come off pretentious and a touch incoherent to me.

 
An apt description of Bernie's lyrics.

Elton's son:          Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, born 12/25/2010

Named after Levon Helm.


As with others here, I feel damn lucky I was around for this era of John's career. Genuis, indeed.


 listen_n_sf wrote:
How fortunate for me.  To be a kid discovering music on an AM clock radio when this was new.
 
Heh. My eyes tear up a little at how true this is.

Elton, George Carlin's Hippy Dippy Weatherman, Riders on the Storm, 25 or 6 to 4, Green Eyed Lady... What a period.

How fortunate for me.  To be a kid discovering music on an AM clock radio when this was new.
 BKardon wrote:

What a fantastic line.

 

...I'm just saying, is all.....
So the general consensus is that EJ's older stuff is his best stuff—-Is there any better example of that truth than this??
 BKardon wrote:

What a fantastic line.
 
I must agree!!!
I wore this out on my first cassette player in my first car (upgraded from the factory 8-track). Hard to have perspective; the song is really probably just "pretty good", but it has that history…

 linzie wrote:

No need to comment about this classic stuff, if you have a poster of LL Cool J on your wall....

 
What a fantastic line.

 dkwalika wrote:
Back when I was young and he still sang. He actually had some soul.
 
As a piece of music, I've always liked this one.  I'll confess, though, that the lyrics come off pretentious and a touch incoherent to me.

 ambrebalte wrote:
That is the Elton John I love, and not the one singing the thing with the candles.
 
I'm with ya, but I did like the "first" Candle in the Wind on the Yellow Brick Road album.
Yes, the early Elton stuff  - never tire of it!

I can name that song in 1 note.

Classic!
One of the best albums of this century!
 dkwalika wrote:
Back when I was young and he still sang. He actually had some soul.
 

Exactly, on all counts.

outstanding early Elton John - Bernie Taupin, when they made good music.....!
Back when I was young and he still sang. He actually had some soul.
That is the Elton John I love, and not the one singing the thing with the candles.
 WonderLizard wrote:
Ironically, on the way home I was listening to Levon Helm's Electric Dirt, a muscle bound marvel of an album. I've always wondered if—even secretly—this song wasn't about Helm ("he was a good man") or an eponymous avatar of sorts. With art anything is possible, eh? Don't get why anyone would want to trash Sir Elton. He's a good man and a fine performer. Think I'll repair to the music room and luxuriate in Tumbleweed Connection. On vinyl.

 
Self-edit. While pondering the dialog between lmic and cc_rider below, especially the intriguing notion that Taupin's lyrics, like Costello's, sometimes have a somatic vs. intellectual resonance (if I may paraphrase), I looked it up. This is what I found at songmeanings.net, posted by RainbowDemon and chaoticone:

"According to Gus Dudgeon, who produced Madman Across the Water and wrote an essay containing this information to accompany the remastered version, the name 'Levon' was inspired by Levon Helm, drummer, lead singer, and founder of The Band, <snip> ...apparently Elton John's and Bernie Taupin's favorite group in those days. <snip>

'Tracing the name 'Alvin Tostig' is fairly straightforward, but with a bit of a twist. Taupin has said the name was fictitious. But Taupin was from Wessex and there was a historical 'Tostig,' who was the Earl of Wessex back in the 1040s. So perhaps Taupin pulled the name out of history without realizing it."

 cc_rider wrote:

I think many of Bernie's lyrics are kind of 'stream of consciousness' rather than a well-defined narrative. Some of his stuff just doesn't make much sense. But it sets a mood, a feeling. I can't really explain it. 'Dancing about Architecture' I guess.
 
Agreed, well said.

As another poster (RidgehandDad) has said at Elvis C's "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes," and I think appropriate for this one, too:

His lyrics are a bit of a Rorschach test and allow for lots of visceral resonance. They are understood somatically even when they are not intellectually.

 WonderLizard wrote:
Ironically, on the way home I was listening to Levon Helm's Electric Dirt, a muscle bound marvel of an album. I've always wondered if—even secretly—this song wasn't about Helm ("he was a good man") or an eponymous avatar of sorts. With art anything is possible, eh? Don't get why anyone would want to trash Sir Elton. He's a good man and a fine performer. Think I'll repair to the music room and luxuriate in Tumbleweed Connection. On vinyl.
 
Have room for one more?  

Ironically, on the way home I was listening to Levon Helm's Electric Dirt, a muscle bound marvel of an album. I've always wondered if—even secretly—this song wasn't about Helm ("he was a good man") or an eponymous avatar of sorts. With art anything is possible, eh? Don't get why anyone would want to trash Sir Elton. He's a good man and a fine performer. Think I'll repair to the music room and luxuriate in Tumbleweed Connection. On vinyl.

From one of my all time favorite albums.

I swear, half of you have no clue! The guy was/is a genius. Probably more 'was' because, as I truly agree , most of his best stuff was all early. He was a child prodigy at 4, as a classical pianist. The words do blend in, and, if you have any imagination, tell a story. Taupin is an all time great lyricist!!!! No need to comment about this classic stuff, if you have a poster of LL Cool J on your wall....


I agree - what Elton is now - practically an honorary member of the royal family - you forget that in the 70s he was a proper singer-songwriter up with the best of them. But this song isn't one of his real gems.
Still gives me chills after so much time...{#Sunny}
so sad and beautiful.

 rbigelo wrote:
Friends and I who enjoyed albums like Madman Across the Water, Honky Chateau, 11-17-70, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboys, Don't Shoot Me, I'm only the Piano Player and his first self-titled LP, to this day cannot understand that happened to the guy. This early stuff is SO good. What happened?
 
3 words; fame, money, drugs.
But other than that, the creative well just ran dry; it happens to almost every artist. You just gotta be happy we got so much great music from EJ in the early/mid 70s.

Friends and I who enjoyed albums like Madman Across the Water, Honky Chateau, 11-17-70, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboys, Don't Shoot Me, I'm only the Piano Player and his first self-titled LP, to this day cannot understand that happened to the guy. This early stuff is SO good. What happened?

Thanks, Bill.

This album was very influential in my teenagehood....GENIUS...{#Hearteyes}
I was at my dentist and heard this song, so I tried to pay attention to the lyrics (better than paying attention to having my teeth cleaned). I couldn't figure it out so I looked up the lyrics online. They still didn't make sense. But they sound meaningful. I'm glad I'm not the only person who has no idea what they mean.
Reading the posts, I feel bad for the people who have to trash this artist. Probaly more jealousy than anything else.
When Elton John appeared on The Rosie O'Donnell Show about 10 years ago, she requested that he perform this song because it's her favorite EJ tune. I hate to admit I respect the opinion of that loud-mouthed, no-talent hack...but I have to agree with her on this choice. It's a fine song, and it's refreshing to hear it on RP while commercial radio seems to think the only song Elton sang in the 70s was "Bennie and the Jets."


After years on RP where life was just good ...
... two Elton John songs in two days!!!!    {#Sorry}
Please! Whats up???? Where is Chuck Norris when we need him? 
 Bocephus wrote:
Did Taupin just get really stoned and write down whatever came into his head? Lyrics make no sense at all—fortunately Elton's singing makes up for it.
 
I think many of Bernie's lyrics are kind of 'stream of consciousness' rather than a well-defined narrative. Some of his stuff just doesn't make much sense. But it sets a mood, a feeling. I can't really explain it. 'Dancing about Architecture' I guess.

I love all this old E.J. stuff.

c.

Is it me, or does he sing out of his range a few times on this song? 

rtkmusic wrote:
Elton John - Levon Vienna Teng - My Medea another fine seque! :clap:
yeah! :clap: :clap:
physicsgenius wrote:
God, this is awful. The hyperactive orchestra. The florid singing.
No comment. None at all.
Elton was surely great in his younger days.
Elton John - Levon Vienna Teng - My Medea another fine seque! :clap:
zap969 wrote:
Does anyone else find the intro to this song similar to that of Tiny Dancer, or is it just me?
Indeed
You just made my day -- old Elton John!!!!!!
Does anyone else find the intro to this song similar to that of Tiny Dancer, or is it just me?
Gregorama wrote:
I guess one who rates "Sympathy for the Devil" as a 1 has a right to his opinion as well as I do. I just don't get it. Glad I'm not in his world.
This is what I image PG looks like.
physicsgenius wrote:
The only thing worse than an Elton John song is having to listen to Elton John sing it.
Why? Does someone have you tied down? I'm enjoying this. Elton was in his prime. Of course, now he puts out mostly dribble.
God, this is awful. The hyperactive orchestra. The florid singing.
Bocephus wrote:
Did Taupin just get really stoned and write down whatever came into his head? Lyrics make no sense at all--fortunately Elton's singing makes up for it.
Do you really think so? Lyrics and singer both merit no more than a 2 And thats because I'm in a good mood today!! :puke:
Okay, I got motivated... Though this doesn't give the whole story, it helps slightly: https://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mlevon.html If anyone finds out more, please share!
Bocephus wrote:
Did Taupin just get really stoned and write down whatever came into his head? Lyrics make no sense at all--fortunately Elton's singing makes up for it.
I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only person clueless about what this song means. I've loved it for years, even while it's puzzled me...
This sounds good, some 26 years later! Elton in his prime...
One of THE defining artists of the 1970's. Nice to hear it again after so many years.
jbtidwell wrote:
But what is this song about?
I haven't a clue. But that applies to a pretty good chunk of the stuff I like. Ultimately, what this or any song is "about" is the personal associations it brings up (thoughts, images, feelings, memories, etc.), and that's enough to make it meaningful to me, even if I can't give you a literal explanation of what the performer had in mind.