Target Practice

Target Practice: Elton John “Island Girl”

Welcome to Target Practice where bad popular songs of the past and present get shot. Elton John. Not much needs to be said about how legendary he is as a music artist, crafting some of the best music of the 70s to even the 90s. I’ve given him a lot of praise on my Best lists where he’s made multiple appearances. For those about to ask, yes, I did watch the Rocketman movie and it was pretty good. There you go. Now while Elton has made a lot of classics, that doesn’t mean he has no duds, which takes us to today’s Target Practice victim, which happens to be one of his number one singles, topping the charts in 1975. This is Island Girl.

I see your teeth flash, Jamaican honey so sweet
Down where Lexington cross 47th Street

So we got ourselves a sex worker in New York City who’s from Jamaica. Because of course, the sex worker is black. Why couldn’t she have any other occupation that wasn’t stereotypical and further reinforce the sexual objectification of black women?

She's a big girl, she's standing six foot three
Turning tricks for the dudes in the big city

Six foot three? What the hell is she doing working the streets when she could be playing for the WNBA? Nah, I take that back. The WNBA wasn’t a thing until 1996 and this song was released in the 70s.

Island girl
What you wanting with the white man's world
Island girl
Black boy want you in his island world
He want to take you from the racket boss
He want to save you but the cause is lost
Island girl, island girl, island girl
Tell me what you wanting with the white man's world

And now we have a black guy, who’s also from Jamaica, who wants to save her on some Drake shit. This would be cool if it went somewhere, but it doesn’t as you listen to the rest of the song. And I hope Elton isn’t talking about himself when he talks about “black boy you you in his island world” because he’s a British white guy who’s also gay.

Well, she's black as coal, but she burn like a fire
And she wrap herself around you like a well-worn tire

You know, the phrase “burn like a fire” could mean two different things in this scenario: one, she’s extremely attractive, and two, she has an STD. Considering her occupation, the latter is plausible.

You feel her nail scratch your back just like a rake
Oh, he one more gone, he one more John who make the mistake

Nails scratching your back. Ouch. Who are you with, Catwoman? I would continue on, but there’s no more new lyrics by this point.

This song should have been stranded. It’s easily one of Elton John’s weakest songs, tackling something that’s way out of his depth. This was the 70s and reggae was starting to blow up worldwide, especially in the U.K. with usually white artists co-opting reggae sounds and using Jamaican patois in their music. And nearly every time they did it, it always comes off forced and phony and Elton John is no exception to the rule as the music in Island Girl sounds like the bargain-bin version of the reggae sound. Hell, we don’t even know anything about the titular Island Girl. All that we know is that she’s a sex worker and that’s about it. I’m not asking for a full novel, but the lack of details and further explanation hurts this song a lot. You want a better song about the same subject? Go to Lady Marmalade by LaBelle. It’s miles above this crap. Next Target Practice, …

Peace!!

SONG OF THE WEEK

Lady Marmalade-LaBelle

5 thoughts on “Target Practice: Elton John “Island Girl”

  1. I think you shouldn’t really blaming Elton when it comes to the lyrics. It was Bernie Taupin that wrote the lyrics to this song, as with any other Elton John songs. Still, im still scratching my head as to why Taupin would write lyrics like this. And this song, as with the entire album, Rock of The Westies, reflect John & Taupin exhaustion as a lyricst & composer. Although the album sold well, becoming his second album to make a number one debut in the charts. Many critics and fans alike noted the decline of the quality of the songs in this album, as many of the songs of this album are just filler tracks. The fact that this album was released just months after the masterpiece, Captain Fantastic and Brown Dirt Cowboy is a huge letdown for the songwriting duo. And by the time the next album, Blue Moves came out, Elton had fully lost its godly status (partly due to Elton came out as bisexual in 1976)

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  2. I did not know Elton John could write such a confusing mess of a song and was this suppose to drum up images of a cool summer scenery with a beautiful woman? Lyrics sound confusing and all over the place.

    For future target practices, any chance you could tackle some of those songs from your older worst of lists you added before you reformatted them to just the year end lists? By that, I mean just the charting hits such as Booty

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  3. Speaking of Lady Marmalade, turns out one of the writers of the song is the same guy who sang I Like Dreaming? Who’d have known?

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  4. Surprised you weren’t harsher on the song especially with the chorus but agree regardless and Stereogum’s review of this song in their Number Ones column does a good job at further explaining the issues in Island Girl. Even as an Elton John fan, I’ve never encountered Island Girl a lot and it’s a good thing cause this is without a doubt one of his worst songs and in today’s world wouldn’t fly without controversy especially with those lyrics. There’s a reason this song wasn’t included in the Rocketman movie which I also enjoyed for the most part. I’m not expecting a story song to be very lyrical but at least have some good details to make it interesting and not have it based around racist tropes and stereotypes. The music is also pretty weak and as the review noted sounds like Elton John trying to write a Bob Marley after only seeing a picture of him. Lady Marmalade is easily the better song on this subject mainly because it doesn’t try to project morals and stereotypes on the worker and it’s much better musically. Island Girl practically got to number one in 1975 due to Elton John’s huge level of fame like Drake in 2018. And like Drake in 2018, Elton John in 1975 could practically do no wrong on the charts no matter how underwhelming the music he released was. He took a cover of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds to number one, had the first two albums to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, and helped revitalize the career of Neil Sedaka and even sang uncredited backing vocals on Sedaka’s Bad Blood which Island Girl replaced at number one which is like the equivalent to Drake’s appearance on SICKO MODE. To quote Stereogum’s review, “So maybe it’s best to ignore “Island Girl” as a song and to simply look at it as evidence of the hot streak that Elton John was on in 1975. Even on the worst kind of autopilot, Elton John could still will a deeply underwhelming single to #1. That’s power.“

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