Sir Elton John, born as Reginald Kenneth Dwight, a name that still circulates around as one of the most successful solo male artists of all time. Holder of a diamond, 40 platinum, 23 gold albums. Seller of more than 300 million records worldwide, and holding the impressive title of the greatest selling single of all time, "Candle in the Wind 1997".
His masterful touch with music started at an incredibly early age. At just age 3 he sat at the piano to play "The Skater’s Waltz" for his family. That led to him taking formal piano lessons at just 7 years old. He earned a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music at just age 11.
However, that’s just a very brief introduction to the legendary history of Sir Elton John. His life is far too extravagant to completely document in one article, as it even was in the movie Rocket Man, but we can look into a bit of his musical history as well as some of what could be agreed to be his best records, though that is a hard thing to pick!
1972 was the year in which John legally changed his name to what we know it as now. He changed it in tribute to the members of his first step into the professional music industry, his band Bluesology. Elton Dean and Long John Baldry were the influences that gave him his now massively iconic name.
1969 introduced the world to John’s very first album, “Empty Sky”. Though this album never reached the US until 1975 with different artwork on its cover, giving us some variants of differing values. 1970 saw the release of “Elton John”, the self-titled album featured the song that changed John’s life forever. “Your Song” climbed charts quickly, John’s first smash hit as a singer worked in part to rocket the album and the performer into popularity.
“Tumbleweed Connection” released in the same year, as well as the live album “17-11-70”. Unfortunately, the live album’s sales suffered due to the production of a bootleg. This bootleg recorded the entire 60 minutes of the show, whereas the official release featured just 40 minutes of the same performance.
Still in 1971, John and Bernie Taupin worked together to write the soundtrack for teen romance movie, “Friends”, as well as the next album, “Madman Across the Water” which featured the popular song “Levon”. Come 1972, “Honky Chateau” hit the scene and began a massive streak of number 1 albums under John’s name. “Rocket Man” featured on this album, one of his greatest hits and what would eventually become the title of the movie based on his wild life.
“Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” came in early 1973, featuring the popular song “Crocodile Rock” which was John’s first entry to the number one spot in the US Billboard Hot 100. In the very same year, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” immediately topped the charts upon release. “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”, “Bennie and the Jets” and “Candle in the Wind” were released on this album. Three popular songs that made the charts on their own, all part of a fantastic album to push it to the top.
1974 saw a legendary collaboration between Elton John and John Lennon. Both on his cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles, and then again in the song “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” on Lennon’s “Walls and Bridges”. Despite Lennon’s doubts of their collaboration hitting any charts, it did just that and even valiantly claimed the number one spot in the US.
They performed together at John’s concert on the night of Thanksgiving in 1974. Performing these two singles, John has stated that night being one of the greatest moments of his entire life.
“One of the greatest moments of my life, not only just my musical life but my personal life, was in this very building in 1974. Someone came on stage and sang three songs with us. And I’ve never heard a reception in the whole of my life like it. It was ten minutes of the most deafening roar. That person was very special, and of course you know I’m talking about John Lennon … Every time I play this building I think of him, and how much I miss him and how much he enriched all our lives.” – Elton John at Madison Square Garden, October 2000
In 1975, John’s next album not only topped the charts, but did so at its debut. “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” released to immediate critical acclaim. While this album marked a change in the Elton John Band and a turning point for the man himself, months later, the release of “Rock of the Westies” saw instant success just as the previous album had.
The live album “Here and There” and the studio album “Blue Moves” both rocked the scene in 1976. While both of them did well, John’s biggest success in 1976 was his duet with Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. The single topped charts in several countries and continues to be played and beloved to this day.
John had announced he had retired from performing live, but continued producing albums. However instead of the immense speed of pushing out two within a year, he had slowed down to just one per year now. 1978 saw “A Single Man” released. It did not break charts quite as well as his previous successes, and 1979’s “Victim of Love” flopped hard at the time.
In 1980 “21 at 33” finally came back as a success with the single “Little Jeanie” being a particularly strong hit from this album. “The Fox”, released in 1981, was actually recorded during the same sessions as the previous “21 at 33”. Despite his claims he was done with performing, he held a free concert on The Great Lawn in New York when his old band had completely reformed from their previous split.
In 1982, John release “Jump Up!”, a well performing album with a hit single “Blue Eyes”. With the old band back together, John found his spark and his place in the charts once more with the 1983 release “Too Low for Zero”.
The 80s saw a number more albums, such as “Ice On Fire” (1985), “Leather Jackets” (1986), “Live in Australia With The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra” (1987), “The Complete Thom Bell Sessions” (1989), “Reg Strikes Back” (1988) and “Sleeping With The Past” (1989). Several of these albums featured popular songs and some of them did find their way into the charts, however as an album, only “Reg Strikes Back” reached the charts.
The 90’s saw a grand return, though.
1990 brought “Sacrifice”, a song from “Sleeping With The Past” up to the UK’s number one single. Following in 1991, John made a guest appearance during George Michael’s cover of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”, which released as a single and slammed the charts at number one in both the UK and US.
1992 released “The One”, which featured several “Runaway Train”, a collaboration with Eric Clapton and “Understanding Women”, featuring stellar guitar play from David Gilmour. “The One” kicked off the tour of the same name, “The One Tour”, which ended in 2003.
1994 became another groundbreaking year for Elton John. Alongside "Time Rice", he wrote the music for the titan of a Disney movie, “The Lion King”. “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” was particularly popular and has since become one of the most legendary songs in a Disney movie to date. “Circle of Life” also performed very well as a song. Needless to say that the soundtrack for the movie sold massively well.
1996 saw the release of “Live Like Horses”, a single performed with Luciano Pavarotti, as well as a compilation album, “Love Songs”.
In 1997, faced with the death of his close friend and a national treasure, Princess Diana, John worked with his good friend Bernie Taupin to revise the lyrics of their old hit “Candle in the Wind” to honor Diana. “Candle in the Wind 1997” was only performed once, at Diana’s funeral. It very quickly became the fastest and best selling single of all time. It remains to be the highest selling single since singles charts were conceptualized. All the funds made from this single were contributed to Diana’s own charities.
In 2000, Elton John returned to the Madison Square Garden stage. Here he sold out two nights of performance, and was joined by friends Billy Joel, Blige, Ronan Keating, Bryan Adams, Anastacia and Kiki Dee, who all performed a duet with John on a classic song each. These two nights were both meant to be recorded for a live album, however only the second night was actually recorded due to equipment failure, lending the live album its title of “One Night Only”.
2001’s “Songs from the West Coast” turned fans’ heads as they could see it as John returning to his roots of the 70’s, one of the most successful periods of his career. John’s old string arranger Paul Buckmaster certainly helped recapture that old feeling. “I Want Love”, a popular single, featured Robert Downey Jr. who recorded a lip-synch of the whole song in one take.
Another of the most notable things John did in the 2000’s came in 2006, where he composed the soundtrack for the west end production of Billy Elliot. The show was a massive success and won many awards for its impressive longevity and over 4000 runs of its performance.
A few more albums from this era include “Peachtree Road” (2004), “The Captain and the Kid” (2006), “Elton John’s Christmas Party” (2006) and several deluxe editions of his older albums from the 70’s.
2010 saw John collaborate with Leon Russell, one of John’s earliest inspirations. “The Union” performed remarkably well, reaching 3 on the Billboard 200 chart as well as on the Rolling Stones’ best albums of 2010.
“Good Morning to the Night” (2012) and “The Diving Board” (2013) followed, and then concluding this massive tour of Elton John’s career is his last album, “Wonderful Crazy Night” (2016). This album was intentionally given a very upbeat and happy vibe, which is the perfect way to end this journey into the history of his records.
A subjective question that has no wrong answer, however, it does have a combined set of opinions behind it. We’ve made sure to gather some thoughts from several different places before putting a few here. With 33 albums and so many amazing songs, it’s hard to settle on just 5, but let’s give it a go.
It’s likely not a surprise to see this one here, given it’s one of Elton John’s best selling and most popular records of all time. Not only featuring several big hits such as “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”, the title track “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding”, but of course his absolute most popular song “Candle in the Wind”, made even more popular by the later version revised to tribute to Princess Diana in 1997.
Another of John’s early, golden albums. This is a concept album that reflects on the early, struggling life of both Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Their story of struggling to make it as musical artists is beautifully illustrated throughout the progression of the album. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” is a particularly heart wrenching song that reflects on John’s own suicide attempt. “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” is a warm display of the platonic love that both John and Taupin shared during their strong partnership in their music.
Another of John’s albums from his lineup of records that quickly hit number 1 in the charts. It’s a wonder to everyone how John and Taupin were able to craft so many masterful songs in such short periods of time back in the 70’s. This album paved the way for the amazing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, with its impressive writing and incredible production. “Crocodile Rock” dominated the charts, and the rest of the album holds its own with some powerful ballads and some energetic rockers.
Closing out the set with yet another of John’s smashes from the 70’s. This album sees beautiful piano work from John, and yet even more of the genius combined between both John and Taupin to craft masterpieces such as “Tiny Dancer”. A single that stands strong on its own and only gets more special over time, as well as “Levon”, another pretty special song. This record is certainly full of weird songs, but they all do their bit to make the album a great one.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Elton John remains one of the most influential and important titans of the music industry. We should have seen it coming, given his massive string of success in his early career in the 70’s. Regardless, he has cemented himself as an icon, as a face of the music industry and just about any of his records are worth owning.
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