Mama Can't Buy You Love

Album: The Thom Bell Sessions '77 (1979)
Charted: 9
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Songfacts®:

  • A variation on the "Can't Buy Me Love" theme popularized by The Beatles, this song finds Elton John offering only his love, which he hopes will be enough to win the object of his affection, who has lots of rich boys to choose from. Many of Elton's songs have a bit of his persona in them, but not this one: He was one of the richest and most successful entertainers on the planet and had developed a taste for opulence.
  • This was Elton's first hit song that he didn't co-write. It was written by the team of Leroy Bell and Casey James, who recorded as Bell & James. It was one of three songs Elton recorded when he teamed with the Philadelphia soul producer Thom Bell at the end of 1977 in hopes of making an album.

    By this time, Elton was coming down from highs of several years of hitmaking and was looking for new sounds. On the outs with his writing partner Bernie Taupin, he teamed with Bell, who produced the three tracks, including "Mama Can't Buy You Love." But when Elton abandoned the project, the three songs were binned. In 1978, he released A Single Man, his first album without Taupin. When it underperformed, his record company decided to finally release the songs he recorded with Bell, issuing them in 1979 on an EP called The Thom Bell Sessions '77. "Mama Can't Buy You Love" was released as a single and got Elton back to the US Top 10 for the first time since "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" in 1976. It also rose to #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
  • The Spinners, whom Thom Bell produced, sang backup vocals on this track. They recorded lead vocals that they hoped would be used along with Elton's, but those weren't used. According to the group, they thought it was going to be a joint collaboration, not an Elton John solo album. They did speak highly of working with him though, saying it was an honor to work with him.
  • In the UK, a different track from the EP was issued as a single: "Are You Ready For Love?" That one stalled at #42 in 1979, but a 2003 house remix by Ashley Beedle took the song to #1 in 2003. The remix was also a #1 Dance hit in America.
  • On this song, Elton turned over the keys to his producer Thom Bell and let him drive. Bell told Soul Jones: "When I first met Elton, he said, 'Look man, I'm tired. I want you to do everything... I want you to write, I want you to play. You just tell me when to sing.'"

    Bell was used to this kind of full-service production, which he did with most of the acts he worked with, but it was a rare case of Elton John ceding control. According to Bell, instead of working so hard, they played a lot of ping pong during the sessions. Apparently Elton is pretty good.

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