This tells the story of a guy in the '50s and '60s who frequented a restaurant where the patrons loved an obscure dance called the Crocodile Rock. Because of all the events that happened in the '60s, however, this unknown little dance forever vanished into history and no one cared anymore. Even his girlfriend, who also enjoyed "burning up to the Crocodile Rock," left him. It's a catchy little song with really sad lyrics.
There is a distinct '50s musical theme in this song. Elton said that it contains flavors of a lot of his favorite early rock songs, including "Little Darlin'
," "At The Hop
" and "Oh Carol
," as well as songs by The Beach Boys and Eddie Cochran. The title is a play on the Bill Haley song "See You Later Alligator
" - Haley's "Rock Around The Clock
" even gets a mention, as that's what the other kids were listening to while our hero was doing the Crocodile Rock.
Elton's lyricist Bernie Taupin told Esquire in 2011 that this song is "a strange dichotomy because I don't mind having created it, but it's not something I would listen to."
This was the first of many #1 singles by Elton John in the US. His first in the UK came in 1976 with Kiki Dee ("Don't Go Breaking My Heart"). His first solo #1 in the UK was "Sacrifice" in 1990.
The falsetto hook from Pat Boone's 1962 hit, "Speedy Gonzales
" has some similar "La La"s, and that song's writers spoke out, accusing Elton of plagiarism. There was no legal action taken, and Elton has copped to the influence, saying "Crocodile Rock" was "a really blatant homage to 'Speedy Gonzales' and all the great '50s and '60s records that we used to love."
A precursor to this song is Elton's 1970 single "Rock And Roll Madonna," which pays tribute to the musical form. "This time I wanted to do something that was a send-up of the early '60s rather than an out-and-out rocker," he told Beat Instrumental. I wanted it to be a tribute to all those people I used to go and see as a kid. That's why I used the Del Shannon-type vocals and that bit from Pat Boone's 'Speedy Gonzales.'"
Elton added: "We also tried to get the worst organ sound possible... something like Johnny and The Hurricanes used to manage to produce. This type of song is actually a very hard thing to write because the temptation is to try too hard and go beserk."
Don McLean has mentioned that this is similar to his hit "American Pie
," which came out the previous year. Both songs are about young people in the '50s obsessed with rock n' roll, but disappointed when the music "dies." Both songs also feature a Chevy. Elton admits the song is highly derivative because it's about the things he grew up with. In Elton John: The Definitive Biography
, Elton is quoted as saying: "I wanted it to be a record about all the things I grew up with. Of course it's a rip-off."
Elton performed this on The Muppet Show when he appeared on a Season Two episode in 1977. A very popular song with kids, it made for a great opening number, with Elton performing in a swamp with a crocodile chorus.
This song helped send the Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player album to #1 on both sides of the Atlantic. It was Elton's first #1 in the UK, but Honky Chateau went to #1 in the US earlier that year.
A few "firsts" are attributed to both the song and album. It was the first song released as a single on the MCA label (catalog #40000) after MCA dissolved its Uni (Elton John's previous label), Decca, Kapp and Coral labels. It was also MCA's first #1 song as well as Elton John's first #1. (thanks, Denny - Pittsburgh, PA)
There is a Crocodile Rock in The Philippines. Check it out in Song Images
A partial inspiration for this song is the Australian band Daddy Cool and their hit single "Eagle Rock," which Elton discovered on his 1972 tour to Australia. In the artwork for the Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player packaging, there is a shot of Bernie Taupin wearing a badge that says "Daddy Who?" (thanks, Taal - Brisbane, Australia)
The sheer popularity of this song caused a backlash against it in some circles - notably disc jockeys who had to play it over and over. Stations used to determine what songs they would play by using "auditorium testing," where listeners were gathered into a big room and played hooks from different songs, which they would then rate. This song always got very high marks, which embedded it onto playlists and drove some DJs to hate it.
The odd thing is that Elton has a very deep catalog filled not just with meaningful hits, but with more obscure songs that many listeners enjoy. "It was just a one-off thing," Elton said of "Crocodile Rock," adding, "It became a huge hit record, and in the long run, it became a negative for me."
Elton has described this song as "disposable pop." Bernie Taupin gave his thoughts in a 1989 interview with Music Connection
. Said Taupin: "I don't want people to remember me for 'Crocodile Rock.' I'd much rather they remember me for songs like 'Candle In The Wind
' and 'Empty Garden
,' songs that convey a message. Well, they don't really need to convey a message, as long as they can convey a feeling. But there are things like 'Crocodile Rock,' which was fun at the time, but it was pop fluff. It was like, 'Okay, that was fun for now, throw it away, and here's the next one. So there's a certain element of our music that is disposable, but I think you'll find that in anybody's catalog."
One of Elton's more memorable performances of this song took place on September 7, 1973 at the Hollywood Bowl. As Elton played from his piano, a few feet behind him, sound engineer Clive Franks played electric piano while wearing an enormous crocodile head.
The Baha Men recorded a new version of this for the film The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course with new lyrics that described the life of Steve Irwin. Ironically, "Suzie" (the girl described in this song) is the name of Steve Irwin's dog, who appears frequently on the series. (thanks, Brett - Edmonton, Canada)