Elton John has had one of the most varied and successful careers in music. With his 65th birthday today on March 25th it's time for me to take a look back and honor a performer that I've listened to for decades, sang along with in the car, the shower, and while bopping around the house, and finally saw in concert in Las Vegas a few years ago.
Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in Middlesex, England "Reggie" began showing an interest and proclivity for the piano at the age of 3 when he was able to hear a song and reproduce it. By the time he was 15 he was the weekend pianist in a local pub. In 1964 he formed his first group, Bluesology. At the age of 19 he was given a stack of lyrics from Bernie Taupin by the A & R manager of Liberty Records and one of the longest running collaborations began. He soon changed his name to Elton John to honor Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and blues singer Long John Baldry.
Scarecrow- In 1967 the first John/Taupin collaboration was recorded. Here is a demo version of that song.
In 1970 the album Elton John was released providing his first single, Border Song.
Border Song- A 1970 vintage look at Elton. That shag haircut was all the rage. I had one.
The same album produced their first bona fide hit, Your Song. We all thought it was "our" song, didn't we? The following video has over 25 million hits on it. I rest my case.
I think some of his most achingly beautiful songs were written for an obscure movie called Friends. It has not been released on dvd and there are only limited used VHS versions out there. I think the soundtrack is better than the film itself and my vinyl version is just about worn out.
Michelle's Song- Another favorite from the film Friends.
Seasons- Yet another song from the Friends soundtrack. I know, I know, there are so many other songs to get to! But this moves me every time I hear it. I think this album was a foreshadowing of what was to come from Elton John and his future collaborations on many movie scores and theatrical productions.
I really think I could just do an entire post about the Friends soundtrack, but it's time to move on. There was Tumbleweed Connection- a nice concept album which did not chart any singles but I love Burn Down the Mission, Madman Across the Water gave us Tiny Dancer and Levon, Honky Chateau gave us Rocket Man and Honky Cat, Don't Shoot me I'm Only the Piano Player churned out Daniel and Crocodile Rock. How am I supposed to choose which songs to include for your listening pleasure here? Someone, somewhere will be disappointed if I leave one out. So here they are all.
Burn Down the Mission
Rocket Man- This may have been my favorite moment from The Red Piano show I saw in Las Vegas. I thought the film made by David LaChapelle starring Justin Timberlake as a young Elton that accompanied it was fabulous.
1973 brought us Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, regarded by many as Elton's finest album. To date it has sold over 30 million copies. With hits such asFuneral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, Bennie & the Jets, Candle in the Wind, Grey Seal and Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting radio play was all dominated by this album. But what is most amazing to me is learning that Elton wrote the music for the album in 3 days, and Taupin wrote the lyrics in two and a half weeks. The words " prolific" and "genius" come to mind.
Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Bennie & the Jets - from The Red Piano show in Vegas. I just marvel at him as a pianist.
Candle in the Wind
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting- Live from Central Park 1980.
Caribou was released in 1974 and included The Bitch is Back and Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me.
The Bitch is Back
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me- from Live Aid with George Michael
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy was released in 1975 and was an autobiographical look at John's and Taupin's early days as struggling songwriters. Someone Saved My Life Tonight was the only single released from the album but Elton has been quoted as saying he thought it was his finest album because it was not commercial in any way. Sadly, this album marked the end of the Elton John Band and collaboration with drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray.
Rock of the Westies followed with the new band lineup. I have to say I missed Nigel & Dee's sound on this release. Island Girl was the only hit from the album. Blue Moves followed with Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
1970 - 1976 is also held in the most regard critically for Elton as well as being his most commercially successful period. Between 1972-75 Elton John saw seven consecutive albums reach Number 1 in the charts, which had not been accomplished before by any musician. An amazing feat.
Beginning in 1975 Elton's personal life became fodder for the tabloids when he suffered a drug overdose and in 1976 announced in a Rolling Stone interview that he was bisexual. A marriage to Renata Blauel in 1984 which ended three years later, losing his voice in 1986 while on tour and the subsequent surgery that altered his voice, rocked Elton's world for awhile. Reuniting with band mates Olsson and Murray got him back on track musically and he returned to the charts with I'm Still Standin', I Guess That's Why They Call it The Blues, Sad Songs ( Say So Much), and Sacrifice.
Elton's prolific songwriting hit the big screen with the Disney film and subsequent stage production of The Lion King , the score for Aida (sidenote: I am seeing a production of it March 27), as well as Billy Elliott:The Musical.His three year stage production The Red Piano was a consistantly sold out event at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and is the only time I've seen him perform live. It was an audio-visual treat and despite clocking in at well over 2 hours ended all too soon for my liking.
Elton appears peaceful and happy in his personal life now with his partner David Furnish. Their son Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John was born December 25, 2010 in California via a surrogate. It's impossible for me to calculate just how much happiness Elton's music has brought to my life. I'm content to know he is leading the life he's always hoped to have. While this post features more music videos than I've ever included before there is more music not included. I believe any musicphile should have Elton's entire catalog in their collection in order to have a true appreciation for his vast body of work. Happy birthday Elton!