Reg Strikes Back, issued in 1988, was a fine album by Elton John. He then topped it in 1989 with the release of Sleeping With The Past.
He and Bernie Taupin put a lot of thought and effort into its creation. They decided to write an album of original tunes that would serve as a tribute and memorial to the soul sound of the sixties, using such artists as Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, and The Drifters to serve as their inspiration. All the songs were crafted to match the talents of these artists. As such it was his most unified album of the eighties as all the material centered on this theme.
What is often overlooked is the first appearance by Guy Babylon on an Elton John album as a second keyboardist. He would be an ever important and increasing presence who would be a permanent addition both in the studio and live in the concert hall.
While it would not chart terribly high in the United States, only reaching number 23 on Billboard’s pop charts, it was a consistent seller for a long while and ultimately sold close to six million copies. In his home country it would become his first number one album in fifteen years.
Whenever Elton John issued a critically acclaimed album, it was fueled by hit singles and such was the case with Sleeping With The Past. “Club At The End Of The Street” is an up-beat tune about a night on the town. It has a nice pop feel and one can almost imagine The Drifters bringing their wonderful harmonies to this track. “Healing Hands” would be his last single of the decade and while it would peak at number thirteen on the pop charts, it would become a number one adult contemporary hit. Plus, it was another nice pop creation.
Someone in England came up with the idea of issuing two A-sides as a single, pairing “Healing Hands” with “Sacrifice,” the latter being the album’s strongest track. It was a wonderful love song that rightfully takes it places among the best ballads that he would create during his career. It reached number eighteen in the U.S. but amazingly became his first number one solo hit in the United Kingdom. Only his duet with Kiki Dee (“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”) had previously reached that position.
There are several other songs worth mentioning. “Durban Deep” is another of those tracks where the lyrics and music do not particularly match but it manages to come together in the end. It is a grim tale South African miners yet the music is upbeat. “Whispers” is another very good love song. “I Never Knew Her Name” is a tender song of seeing an unnamed woman at a wedding.
Sleeping With The Past brought the eighties to a close in fine style for Elton John. It was a unified and heartfelt effort, proving that he could still create excellent music.