What makes Jewel Box interesting is that it avoids the obvious: no “Your Song,” no “Tiny Dancer,” no “Candle in the Wind,” and so on. Even John’s most celebrated period—the run between 1970 and 1975—shows up only in deep cuts: the surprisingly funny “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself,” the surprisingly sweet “All the Nasties,” and dozens of other songs primarily outshined by the fact that their counterparts became so tremendously famous. Instead, Jewel Box—which was curated by John himself—offers something like a cubist self-portrait: three sets of deep cuts (including one that tracks to songs mentioned in his 2019 autobiography, Me), two sets of career-spanning B-sides, and three sets of demoes and rarities capturing John at the very beginning of his career, including with his pre-solo band, Bluesology.
It’s a provocative way to frame a career. But the points are well-taken: “Elton’s Song” (from 1981’s often-dismissed The Fox) is better than the company it kept, and while 1968’s “Regimental Sgt. Zippo” doesn’t exactly hide its inspiration (hint: it’s The Beatles), you can hear John and lyricist Bernie Taupin’s mix of pomp and sincerity starting to take shape. And for all their explorations of the perversity of glamour, few were are as concise as John’s campy, contemptuous 1980 jingle for the jeweler Cartier. You know what they say about all that glitters.