52. Elton John

Elton John (born Reginald Dwight) is a singer, composer and pianist from Pinner, a suburb of London, England. The son of a musician, Reginald learned to play the piano at an early age, and was playing in a local pub by age fifteen. Elton’s big break in music came several years later, when he answered an advertisement from Liberty Records. During the meeting, A&R man Ray Williams handed him a stack of lyrics by Bernie Taupin, the only artist who answered the ad. The pair proved an outstanding collaboration, a lifetime of work with a distinctive sound. Elton John was also a loyal bandleader, maintaining his core band through much of his career. Beginning in 1971, Elton John was a fixture on the AM radio, and then the FM radio. He was a model of consistency, sporting a top 40 hit every year between 1970 and 1996. Elton John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994, and named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1996.

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Elton John (b. 1947), piano, singer, songwriter

Bernie Taupin (b. 1950), lyricist

Elton John’s Band

Dee Murray (1946-1992), bass, vocals
Davey Johnstone (b. 1951), guitars, vocals
Nigel Olsson (b. 1949), drums, percussion, vocals
Ray Cooper (b. 1942), percussion

Elton Style

Delivering the several sheaves of lyrics under his arm, Taupin turns the task over to Elton who works quickly. “If I am half an hour on one and it hasn’t come by then, I move on,” he’s said. Not much time was ever wasted. “Reg has never failed to come up with a melody to my lyrics,” Bernie elaborated. “There are some that we decide later on not to use but all come out as finished songs. It’s amazing, you know, because Reg always writes a melody that is perfect.”

— excerpt from “The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits”, by Fred Bronson

Amazon.com Link to Billboard Books by Fred Bronson

In a previous essay, I preferred Jefferson Airplane’s early albums for the simple and direct message. Elton John’s earliest music is best when Taupin’s lyrics are cryptic and less straightforward, demanding John’s most complex melodies and musical structures. This seems true for most popular musicians, especially since the mid-20th century, as more musicians dared write their own compositions. Before then, professional songwriters like Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Johnny Mercer wrote a significant percentage of popular songs. Music has evolved, and more musicians write their own stories, financially motivated by the value of publishing rights.

Most successful artists toil in anonymity for years; by the time they become popular, many have a full catalog of material, which takes several albums to exhaust. Elton John was prolific during those first years of popularity, four albums of unique material in a fifteen month period. After that, Taupin and John crafted dozens of popular songs, and John’s familiar, expressive voice rarely disappoints. Elton has nine #1 hits, tied for ninth place among artists with multiple chart-topping singles.

Honky Tonk

Elton John is a practitioner of the honky-tonk piano style. He pays tribute with his song “Honky Cat” and his album Honky Chateau. Elton John, pop that piano and sing us a song, please.

Elton John at Ceasar’s Palace

My sister’s peak concert experience happened a few years ago. While visiting Las Vegas in February, 2008, to decompress, she and her fiancée (now husband) paid a premium to see Elton John up close, third row seats at Ceasar’s Palace. She adored the concert, and when I asked recently, she couldn’t stop raving about the encore, where they invited the front rows to dance on stage for “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”.

“We’re up there dancing our hearts out. I’m right there next to Davey Johnstone the guitarist, and I look a few feet over, and see Elton John pounding away on the piano. It was great. It was unbelievable. I mean it was unfuckin’ believable. Best concert I’ve ever been to.”

— Sis

Rock Of The Westies Tour, 1975

I’ve seen Elton John once before, too, at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. We sneaked in through a side door, a one time occurrence for me. Thanks to the Internet, I know the date was October 19th, 1975; let me tell the story.

I graduated from high school in 1975, but with my parent’s blessing, waited a year before attending college. I has skipped first grade, and was the youngest student in my graduating class. I wanted to play basketball in college. During the off year, I worked part-time, lifted weights and played lots of basketball. During high school, a couple high school friends started scalping tickets for local sporting events; they made good money doing it. On that October day, a group of us headed to Oakland, wanting to see the show.

The arena (now called Oracle Arena) is built above ground. The main level defines the bottom of the visible structure. Underneath are the offices, the clubhouse, the locker rooms and exercise facilities. The main floor is a glass enclosure, with emergency exits doors interspersed along the wall. A narrow pathway led to each exit through the ivy, beaten down by those who came before us.

Our high school friends did their job, buying and selling tickets, making a few bucks in the process. Then five of us scraped enough money together to buy one ticket. Maybe thirty or forty bucks, a whole lot of dough back then. We had a plan; one friend would use the ticket to enter the arena, then circle the perimeter, waiting for the right moment. A subtle nod, and the remaining four of us would make a move. And up we went that ivy lined pathway, athletic kids from the suburbs, trying to sneak in. A security policeman below yelled, “Hey! You ain’t goin’ nowhere!”

I don’t remember whether I was second, third or fourth running up the incline and flying through the door. Two policeman rushed the door as my friend flung it open and ran. I split through the opening and dodged quickly into the first entrance, only yards away. I heard my little pipe fly out of my sock as I ran. I hurried down the flight of stairs and hoped. I never saw my friends again until after the concert.

What a concert it was. The music pleased; the spectacle of Elton’s flamboyance impressed. I walked around the arena for an hour or so, then moved onto the floor for the final few songs. Elton was dressed to kill, with a headdress worthy of Beach Blanket Babylon. Elton popping that piano and singing his song, while I was young, and kind of wild, and experiencing youthful feelings of lust.

Elton John’s Downward Spiral in The Glory Days

Peak experiences for both me and my sister. Well, not quite peak for me — but memorable. Betsy, you’re the best, but I got you this time. No you didn’t! I did too!

Elton John Song Notes:

1. “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” deserves special mention. It’s the only song from the eighties I give three stars, perhaps for sentimental reasons, since I enjoy harmonica solo. Nice mid-career song by the master.

2. Momma loved “Rocket Man”.

3. Few songs over ten minutes make the collection, “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” are almost perfectly divided, each about five minutes and thirty-five seconds long.

Elton John Songs:

Tiny Dancer, Elton John ✭✭✭✭
Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time), Elton John ✭✭✭✭
Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Elton John ✭✭✭✭

Your Song, Elton John ✭✭✭
Mona Lisa And Mad Hatters, Elton John ✭✭✭
Honky Cat, Elton John ✭✭✭
Candle In The Wind, Elton John ✭✭✭
Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, Elton John ✭✭✭
I Guess That’s Why They Call The Blues, Elton John ✭✭✭

Where To Now, St. Peter?, Elton John ✭✭
Crocodile Rock, Elton John ✭✭
Grey Seal, Elton John ✭✭
Amoreena, Elton John ✭✭
Bennie And The Jets, Elton John ✭✭
Honky Cat (Live), Elton John ✭✭
This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore, Elton John ✭✭
Burn Down The Mission, Elton John ✭✭
Harmony, Elton John ✭✭

Levon, Elton John
The Bitch Is Back, Levon, Elton John
Elderberry Wine, Elton John
Border Song, Elton John
Love Song, Elton John
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart, Elton John
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Elton John
Someone Saved My Life Tonight, Elton John
Daniel, Elton John
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Elton John
Madman Across The Water, Elton John
Birds, Elton John
Philadelphia Freedom, Elton John

Related Songs:

Country Comfort, Rod Stewart ✭✭

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, The Beatles ✭✭✭✭✭

Whatever Gets You Through The Night, John Lennon

Pinball Wizard, The Who ✭✭

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