Born Reginald Dwight in the London suburb of Pinner in March 1947, Elton had pre-school piano lessons and his natural aptitude for the keyboards eventually won him a part-time scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. While still at school he'd started playing semi-professionally - pub songs and pop hits of the day at the Northwood Hills Hotel - and a life in music seemed more and more inevitable. He left school in March 1965, weeks before he was due to take his A levels, and worked as an office boy in the post room at Mills Music, a music publishing company in Denmark Street which in those days was the beating heart of the UK music business. He'd also joined a local semi-pro beat group/R&B band called Bluesology who eventually eased into soul mode and backed the likes of Major Lance, Doris Troy, Patti LaBelle and Billy Stewart. They also made three unsuccessful singles, the first of which Reg sang vocals on, before a mass personnel change saw Long John Baldry join and he had a No. 1 MOR hit - 'Let The Heartaches Begin' - with them in November 1967.
The lucrative but creatively stifling cabaret circuit beckoned, which was not to Reg's liking and he left early in 1968 to concentrate on songwriting with his new pal Bernie Taupin whom he'd met the previous summer and with whom he'd penned the b-side, 'Lord You Made The Night Too Long', to Baldry's hit. Now having changed his name to Elton John (being an amalgam of two names from old Bluesology band members Elton Dean and John Baldry), he and Taupin signed up with Dick James Music publishers as £10-a-week staff-writers. They were also able to make demos there and it wasn't long before Elton released his first single proper, 'I've Been Loving You Too Long', in March 1968. It made no impression and the follow-up in January 1969, 'Lady Samantha', if not a strong seller did at least gain significantly more airplay and illustrated how well the John/Taupin songwriting partnership was developing. Another single, 'It's Me That You Need', followed in March and his first album, the very promising Empty Sky, came out in June. Still no chart action though so Elton and Bernie continued to write, and Elton did session work, most notably on The Hollies' 'He Ain't Heavy'.
Then, with the new decade, came a change of fortune. The single 'Border Song' released in March 1970 and, although not a hit, nevertheless paved the way for his eponymous, Gus Dudgeon-produced debut album that reached No. 11 in the album charts here and perhaps an even more impressive No. 4 in the US. Momentum was definitely gathering and Elton had moved up a level or two. A further album, Tumbleweed Connection, followed in October and did even better here reaching No. 6 in the charts, by which time he'd formed a trio with Nigel Olsson on drums and Dee Murray on bass and they'd made their live debut at The Roundhouse, to great acclaim, in April. The US took Elton and his increasingly flamboyant sense of showmanship to their hearts almost immediately and he received an ecstatic reception when he made his US live debut at The Troubadour. The press there dubbed him "a spectacular talent "the first big rock star of the new decade".
1971 saw a minor blip in Elton's otherwise upward trajectory - there was a live album, 17.11.70, that reached No. 20 in April but which suffered in the US when, in a sure sign that he'd really made it, it was bootlegged weeks before the official release. And then in November came Madman Across The Water with its Paul Buckmaster string arrangements that some found intrusive and which drew some fairly heated critical response. As a result it only managed No. 41 in the chart. Honky Chateau, containing the classic hit 'Rocket Man', restored things to order the following year (both reaching No. 2 in the singles and album chart) setting the scene for what proved to be an unbeatably successful and prolific 1973. In October 1972 'Crocodile Rock' was released and in January the elegiac 'Daniel' followed it â€“ both Top 5 singles and both taken from Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player, Elton's first No. 1 album, both here and in the US. He was now indisputably on the top of his game and the album, recorded incidentally at the Chateau d'Herouville in Northern France, a former home to another star pianist, Chopin, gave an impressive overview of the range of pop styles that Elton could tackle with real skill and panache. He later admitted that it was the first album on which he felt comfortable experimenting with his vocal performances and style.
Onward and upward, the pinnacle of Elton's early career was arguably reached in October of 1973 with the release of the astonishingly accomplished, critically lauded and mega-selling double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, a record that further established him as a songwriter and performer of immense range, able to operate convincingly in a variety of styles and have them all gel satisfyingly within his persona. A remarkable feat and one perhaps never repeated in pop music. One need only listen to the four memorable singles lifted from the album to gain a glimpse at how versatile an artist Elton had become: the piano-led rock-out 'Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting', the lilting title track, live favourite and infectiously bombastic 'Bennie & The Jets', and perhaps most poignantly his paean to Marilyn Monroe, 'Candle In The Wind'. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was again produced by Gus Dudgeon and made at Chateau d'Herouville after initial attempts to record in Jamaica were abandoned, and it emulated its predecessor by reaching No. 1 in both the UK and US album charts. Worldwide it has now sold nearly 20 million copies.
Impossible to top that kind of success, Elton did the next best thing and matched it.
His next album, Caribou, was released in June 1974 and was an immediate No. 1 hit on both sides of the Atlantic again, and another raft of Top 20 singles, including 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me', 'The Bitch Is Back', 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' and 'Philadelphia Freedom', maintained his position as supreme pop artist of the day. And so it went on through the rest of an unprecedented decade of success. Incredibly, by November 1974, just over four years after his first chart album, he was able to release an entirely credible Greatest Hits album that not surprisingly captured the No. 1 album spot yet again.
Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy and Rock Of The Westies followed in 1975, another live album, Here And There, and another double, Blue Moves, in 1976, a volume two of Greatest Hits in 1977, and A Single Man in 1978 - every one a Top 10 album. This astonishing run of creativity and success obviously couldn't continue indefinitely and towards the end of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s, 1990s and beyond Elton's success ratio was a little less constant.
There were still plenty of Top 20 albums though, almost on an annual basis - 21 At 33 (May 1980), The Fox (May 1981), Jump Up! (April 1982), Too Low For Zero (June 1983), Breaking Hearts (June 1984), Ice On Fire (November 1985), Reg Strikes Back (June 1988),Sleeping With The Past (September 1989), The One (June 1992) and Duets (November 1993). Top 10 singles haven't exactly dried up either, with his most high-profile hit being the re-release of 'Candle In The Wind' in September 1997 and which he sang so memorably at Princess Diana's funeral.
For his 25th studio album Elton harked back to his roots for Made in England (1995) which featured 'Believe' that became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Two years later along came The Big Picture (1997), another album completely written by Elton and his longtime collaborator, Bernie Taupin. It was dedicated to Elton's loingtime friend, the fashion designer, Gianni Versace who was murdered s few months before its release.
It would be a four year wait for Elton's next studio album, the excellent Songs From The West Coast (2001), which many consider to hark back sonically to his classic albums from the 1970s, featuring as it does both guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson, as well as Take That's Gary Barlow on backing vocals. Three years later Peachtree Road (2004), named after the street in Atlanta where he has a home, was solely produced by Elton, the only one of his long career.
The Captain & the Kid (2006) was the second of Elton's autobiographical albums, the first being Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy; 'The 'Kid' and the 'Cowboy' being Bernie Taupin. It features both Elton and Bernie on the cover, the first in 29 studio albums. Four years later there was another album to feature someone else on the cover with Elton. For The Union (2010) it's Leon Russell, who collaborated with Elton on the album, performing as well as writing and co-writing some of the tracks. It also features Booker T Jones playing Hammond organ, Neil Young copntributes vocals as does Brian Wilson. It was a big selling album around the world and in America it made No.3 on the Billboard album charts.
From a very 'traditional' album it was a complete change of direction for Good Morning To The Night a collaboration with Australian dance music duo, Pnau. It features tracks that include elements of numerous of Elton's material from his back catalogue. It proved extremely popular in the UK where it made No.1 on the album chart.
If his previous album was experimental then The Diving Board (2013) is a return to familiar territory with all fifteen tracks being co-written with Taupin. The standout tracks for many are the exquisite 'Home again', which came out as a single in June 2013 and 'Oceans Away'; like The Union it was produced by veteran producer T-Bone Burnett whose recent credits include both Elvis Costello and Diana Krall.
Elton’s second album released in 1970, this was his first album released in the US – ‘Empty Sky’ (his first album) not being released until 1975. This album contains the breakthrough hit ‘Your Song’ and helped establish Elton as one of the greatest ever singer songwriters. The album was produced by Gus Dudgeon. Other great tracks on this album include ‘Take Me to the Pilot’ and ‘Border Song’ – both of which have featured in Elton’s live repertoire for many years.
Instead of repeating the formula that made Elton John a success, John and Bernie Taupin attempted their most ambitious record to date for the follow-up to their breakthrough. A loose concept album about the American West, Tumbleweed Connection emphasized the pretensions that always lay beneath their songcraft. Half of the songs don't follow conventional pop song structures; instead, they flow between verses and vague choruses.
These experiments are remarkably successful, primarily because Taupin's lyrics are evocative and John's melodic sense is at its best. As should be expected for a concept album about the Wild West, the music draws from country and blues in equal measures, ranging from the bluesy choruses of "Ballad of a Well-Known Gun" and the modified country of "Country Comfort" to the gospel-inflected "Burn Down the Mission" and the rolling, soulful "Amoreena." Paul Buckmaster manages to write dramatic but appropriate string arrangements that accentuate the cinematic feel of the album.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Sitting atop the charts in 1975, Elton John and Bernie Taupin recalled their rise to power in Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, their first explicitly conceptual effort since Tumbleweed Connection. It's no coincidence that it's their best album since then, showcasing each at the peak of his power, as John crafts supple, elastic, versatile pop and Taupin's inscrutable wordplay is evocative, even moving. What's best about the record is that it works best of a piece -- although it entered the charts at number one, this only had one huge hit in "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," which sounds even better here, since it tidily fits into the musical and lyrical themes.
And although the musical skill on display here is dazzling, as it bounces between country and hard rock within the same song, this is certainly a grower. The album needs time to reveal its treasures, but once it does, it rivals Tumbleweed in terms of sheer consistency and eclipses it in scope, capturing John and Taupin at a pinnacle. They collapsed in hubris and excess not long afterward -- Rock of the Westies, which followed just months later is as scattered as this is focused -- but this remains a testament to the strengths of their creative partnership.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Elton John became a true superstar with 1972's Honky Chateau. He followed that album with Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, his most direct, pop-oriented album to date. Designed as a pastiche of classic and contemporary pop styles, the album almost sounds like an attempt to demonstrate the diversity of the John/Taupin team. Though the hits are remarkable -- "Daniel" is a moving ballad and "Crocodile Rock" is a sly take on '50s rock & roll -- the album is slightly uneven.
Several of the album tracks, particularly the knowing "I'm Gonna Be a Teenage Idol" and the rocking "Elderberry Wine," are as strong as anything John had recorded, but there are too many melodies that simply don't catch hold. Nevertheless, the singles were strong enough to keep the album at the top of the charts, and at its best, it is a very enjoyable piece of well-crafted pop/rock. "Screw You (Young Man's Blues)," "Jack Rabbit," "Whenever You're Ready (We'll Go Steady Again)," and the piano version of "Skyline Pigeon."
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was where Elton John's personality began to gather more attention than his music, as it topped the American charts for eight straight weeks. In many ways, the double album was a recap of all the styles and sounds that made John a star. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is all over the map, beginning with the prog rock epic "Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)" and immediately careening into the balladry of "Candle in the Wind."
For the rest of the album, John leaps between popcraft ("Bennie and the Jets"), ballads ("Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"), hard rock ("Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"), novelties ("Jamaica Jerk-Off"), Bernie Taupin's literary pretensions ("The Ballad of Danny Bailey"), and everything in between. Though its diversity is impressive, the album doesn't hold together very well. Even so, its individual moments are spectacular and the glitzy, crowd-pleasing showmanship that fuels the album pretty much defines what made Elton John a superstar in the early '70s.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Building off of the success of his previous long player Too Low For Zero (1983), Elton John (piano/vocals) retained his 'classic quartet' for the follow-up Breaking Hearts (1984). After an eight year ('75 -- '83) hiatus Dee Murray (bass/backing vocals), Davey Johnstone (guitar/backing vocals) and Nigel Olsson (drums/backing vocals) briefly reunited with John and Bernie Taupin (lyrics) to attempt a musical resurrection of their early-to-mid '70s sound. Without question this is one of John's most consistent efforts during his half decade on Geffen Records ('81 -- '86).
However the shift in pop music styles since 1975 as well as lack of edgy material, seemed to stifle the band's return to full form circa Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (GYBR) (1973) or Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975). Breaking Hearts was not light on hits either, yielding "Who Wears These Shoes" as well as the Top 5 smash "Sad Songs (Say So Much)"." The oft over looked "L'il 'Frigerator" is a high octane rocker that could be considered a post script to "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n' Roll)" from GYBR. The opening cut "Restless" is also one of the spunkier tracks and came off particularly well when John hit the road with his formidable sidemen to support the disc.
The vast majority of Breaking Hearts however, is met with varying degrees of success. Both "In Neon" and the reggae-dub influenced "Passengers" were best suited to the lighter pop genre and Adult Contemporary radio format where John joined the ranks of Phil Collins, Lionel Ritchie and George Michael. This stylistic direction, while concurrently popular, also criminally under-utilised the synergy between the artist and band. With the exception of the noir 'unplugged' title performance "Breaking Hearts (Ain't What It Used To Be)" a majority of the LP is indistinguishable from much of the rest of his mid '80s and early '90s catalogue.
Words - Lindsay Planer
The past Elton John has in mind is the era of soul music of the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, and although all the songs are new, he recreates it well here. The album's most notable selection is the ballad "Sacrifice," which amazingly became his first-ever number one hit in the U.K.
Words - William Ruhlmann
The Big Picture finds Elton John in strong form, turning in a by-now-predictable collection of ballads and pop songs designed to appeal to the adult contemporary audience. The difference is inspiration. With Made in England, John and his collaborator Bernie Taupin showed signs of life, and they continue that winning streak here. There may be nothing new on The Big Picture, but it's well-crafted professional pop, demonstrating John's knack for catchy pop hooks and his way with a ballad. As with any latter-day John album, hits like "Something About the Way You Look Tonight" are balanced out by some filler, but the key to the album is how album tracks like "Recover Your Soul," "If the River Can Bend," and "The Big Picture" carry emotional and melodic weight. It's a solid effort from one of pop's most reliable artists.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The Diving Board is the thirty-first studio album by British singer-songwriter Elton John. It is his thirtieth solo album and the second of his studio releases since 1979's Victim of Love without any of his regular band members.
The Diving Board was received with general critical acclaim with critics praising it as a "great return to form" and one of John's best albums of recent years and of his career. Alan Light of Rolling Stone gave the album a four star review commending its spare instrumentation and focus, saying that John has "regained his sense of musical possibility and taken a brave, graceful jump". Robert Hilburn, who famously reviewed John's American debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, praised The Diving Board's "finely crafted and deeply moving" songs that celebrate the past in a "fresh and revealing' manner. Hilburn goes on to say that if these songs had been played at the Troubadour in 1970 John would still have been "showered with applause and acclaim".
The 23rd studio album, released in 1992, recorded in Paris and produced by Chris Thomas. This features the standout tracks ‘Runaway Train’ on which Eric Clapton duets, ‘Understanding Woman’ on which Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd guests on guitar and one of the most heartfelt performances of his career, ‘The Last Song’ which chronicles an 18 year old boy dying of Aids seeking redemption. All songs on this album were composed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin except ‘Runaway Train’ co-written with Ollie Romo. Practically every song in this collection has something unique and at the same time have something in common and are united by the same spirit of warmth.