Ticking

Album: Caribou (1974)
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Songfacts®:

  • This Elton John/Bernie Taupin composition is about a fictional massacre in a New York restaurant, which results in summary justice by a hail of police bullets: "you danced in death like a marionette on the vengeance of the law." When "Ticking" was first recorded, the phenomenon of indiscriminate mass shootings was fairly rare in the United States, the worst being the University of Texas Clock Tower Massacre which was perpetrated by undergraduate and former marine Charles Whitman in August 1966. Thirty-three years later the outrage of Columbine High set a disturbing trend.
  • The song is practically all piano and vocal, with a coating of ARP synthesizer played by Dave Hentschel. Elton did all the vocals, which were overdubbed in parts to create a gospel-type "choir."
  • It may be that lyricist Bernie Taupin was inspired by the Whitman shooting, albeit indirectly. The film Targets (also known as Before I Die") was based loosely on the Clock Tower Massacre. It was released barely two years after the tragedy, having been made in almost indecent haste.

    The unnamed gunman in the song murdered 14 people in his killing spree before being shot dead by the police. Whitman killed 14 people in similar fashion before he too was shot; prior to the massacre he stabbed his mother and his wife to death.
  • When he performed "Ticking" at the Christenhof Castle, Sweden, on his 2003 tour, Elton introduced the song by saying it dealt with violence in America around 1973. When Taupin wrote the lyrics he thought things would get better, not worse, but things got worse, so it's more relevant today than ever. At the end, Elton said simply, "No guns."

    The song makes a statement not only about American society but about society worldwide, and about human nature. In spite of the problems we face in the 21st Century, most people, certainly in the West, in Japan, and other advanced nations, have never had it so good. Yet the problems of survival and eking out a mere existence have been replaced by increasing psychological and social problems. Indiscriminate knifings, shootings and even mass murders by outwardly sane and rational people are often triggered by the most trivial of stimulae such as an angry glance or being "dissed" in some abstruse manner. No one knows who is ticking, and will explode suddenly and without notice. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above
  • Running 7:34, "Ticking" is one of Elton John's deep cuts that was never considered for single release but found a following among his fans. It has a powerful and prescient lyric and also some rather intricate piano work from Elton.
  • Elton tried recording his piano part to his vocal track, but couldn't get them to synch. He ended up recording his vocal and piano at the same time.

Comments: 11

  • Gerry Hofman from Vancouver, WaOne of his best serious songs.
  • Denise ArroyoHis solo version is incredible. It’s an emotional song. Some may find it disturbing and hard to listen to. However, it tells the haunting truth of what is happening in America. And Elton’s piano playing is unbelievable.
  • Jeff Chastain from Mesquite, NvThis song is missing from the online versions of the album. One of my favorites, I was disappointed that it was no long on Caribou. Perhaps the subject has just become too raw and Sir Elton decided to pull it.
  • Jon from AtlantaWow, I am really surprised. Maybe because I was a child of the 70s. This song was to me always a true story about a bar shooting in New York in 72 or 73. They had banned the song from the radio for quite a while because the police were afraid of copycat killings. I thought even that was the correct name of the bar...The Kicking Mule......I just asked my wife and messaged my brother, both kids of the 70s and both thought the same as me.
  • Scotty from Apache Junction, ArizonaI was going to post the "rifle shells" fact Jim from Pleasant Hill, Ca until I had seen his. I've personally sung this songs hundreds of times since 1974. When the "rifle shells" lyrics are sung, I substitute them with..."rifle bullets."
  • Adam from WisconsinIn an interview with Keyboard Magazine Sir Elton revealed that when he recorded the song the basic track (the piano and vocals you hear on the Lp) they were done live (um...in the studio, that is). The only overdubs are his background vocals and the synthesizer. He said the song was too difficult to the parts separately!
  • Colin from London, United KingdomI have a very clear image about how this song should be performed. Elton at the piano, no-one else on stage. As the song begins, a giant screen descends, and images appear from Columbine, Newtown, the Gabby Giffords incident. As Elton sings the line "His parents never thought of him as their troubled son", the image of Alex Jones in rant mode appears. For the rest of the song, images of the massacres are interspersed with stills of Wayne LaPierre and Conservative pundits like O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter. As the final chord reaches a crescendo, images of guns fill he screen, getting bigger and bigger...
  • Robin from Milford, NjVery, very few have even come close to the musical and lyrical GENIUS of Elton and Bernie! This song, proudly, another example.
  • Jim from Pleasant Hill, CaThe lyrics contain a technical error in that the police couldn't have pumped him full of rifle "shells" (bullet casings vs. actual bullets).
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaThis is haunting,yet powerful...
  • J.b. from San Jose, CaI was 12 (and, studying classical piano) when this song was released in 1975; I wore it OUT on the old vinyl L.P. "Caribou" (Yes, kiddies, music was played on a vinyl! platter....ha ha.
    Learning this song was tricky; the left hand keeps a "ticking" syncapated rythm. Great song, great songwriting!!! Best lyric in the song comes at the end: "Crazy boy, you'll only wind up with strange notions in your head, hearing, hearing, ticking, ticking..." Who writes lyrics that that, nowadays, and, uses such descriptive words???? Bernie and Elton did...
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