2. “Time is Tight” (45) —– 3. “Time is Tight” (LP version) —– 4. “Tank’s Lament” —– — Booker T. & The MGs

Time is Tight is the national anthem.  There’s no words so nobody sings.  They should just play the 45 version before all sporting events.  When the final Al Jackson drum rolls break through, relief, PLAY BALL, everybody is hyped.  Time is Tight is about your hectic life, it’s about getting there fast without crashing, it knows it is a preliminary to something else.  It is not the thing in itself, but it is on the way to the thing and might be better than the thing.

Booker T. & The MGs obviously knew they had something special with this one because they worked it over quite a bit, and the perfect version – the 45 – didn’t come out immediately.  Two versions of the melody appear on their criminally ignored soundtrack album to a movie called Uptight! that appeared in 1968.  The movie, although it’s middlebrow in places, is underrated: it’s a well-acted tale of betrayal and revenge set in Cleveland, so up to date that footage of Martin Luther King’s funeral begins the film.  You can see the whole movie on youtube as of this writing, and I recommend it as a historical document at the very least and a pretty good late 60s movie by any criteria.  MLK’s assassination sets the scene for “Tank’s Lament,” which is quite a revelation musically if you only know Time is Tight from the single.  Remarkably, the driving melody, slowed down, works as well as a song of mourning.  With a tearful, churchified organ playing the main melody, a sternly spaced 1-2-3-3-3 from deep left piano keys begin and end the track.

Time is Tight emerges in name at the end of the soundtrack album.  Time is not quite tight enough yet in this version, but some interesting moves combine the slow approach of Tank’s Lament with climactic moves that were wisely left off the 45 version (without actually being bad).  This is the way they used to play it on stage.  As of this writing there’s a film on youtube of the MGs playing a version close to this one in 1970 (not particularly tight mind you), with Creedence Clearwater Revival watching from the side, enraptured and smiling.

Permanently, time comes together tight on the single.  National Anthem.

 

1. “Daniel” by Elton John

Eyes are referenced throughout.  When I was a sentimental child and instantly loved it for its melody and sense of mystery and longing, I thought it was about a blind person.  “Your eyes have died but you see more than I” meant that older, wiser Daniel had some inner wisdom that supplanted his blindness – a longstanding but affecting cliche.

“Daniel” is much more interesting than that.  Daniels eyes work just fine, mechanically.  Daniel sees more than the singer of the song mainly because Daniel leaves.  Daniel goes places; the singer doesn’t.  It’s a song about being left behind, which is the saddest feeling in the world.  Daniel isn’t blind, he just doesn’t value life, so his “eyes have died”.  Daniel gets to go to Spain.  As if answering a question, the singer says “no I’ve never been” (to Spain).

But “Daniel says it’s the best place he’s ever seen.  He should know – he’s been there enough.”  This sudden expression of bitterness in the midst of this tender tribute makes the whole lyric permanently interesting, especially since the singer immediately adds “Oh I miss Daniel, oh I miss him so much,” before the chorus.  And here’s the thing: we believe him.  He really does miss Daniel, and excuses him for his “scars that won’t heal,” more than he’d ever resent him.

Bernie Taupin’s lyrics get criticized often but this is perfectly constructed.  The singer sees more than Daniel, can see Daniel waving goodbye from a plane in the sky.