Synopsis of Pop Music
"While the other kids were Rocking Round the Clock,
We were hopping and bopping to the Crocodile Rock..."
Elton John is one of the great archetypes for that decade of decadence—our beloved 1970’s. He had countless hits and countless costumes, he jet-setted and abused his body, then recovered, and in touch with his good karma and evolving social responsibility, he gave generously to charities and to fans. When a pop superstar can taste of those 70’s fruits, then survive relatively unscathed and continue making viable records, there’s a durability and talent foundation worth talking about. And when we tire of the serious stuff, we can always talk about his eyewear choices.
Though his father wasn’t big on the idea of having a musician for a son, Reginald Kenneth Dwight’s more music-friendly mum supplied him with Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis vinyl contraband. With Dusty Springfield posters up in his room as inspiration, he tickled the ivories, and tickled so well that he won a scholarship to London’s Royal Academy of Music at the age of eleven. Lured by the rock scene in London, he quit the Academy and started playing in a local band called the Corvettes, then Bluesology, which was the backing band for Long John Baldry. But Reg soon grew tired of the piano-in-dark-pubs kind of life, and left the band to pursue his own interests. He took some memories with him when he left, and he also took a few names…constructing a new moniker for himself with Baldry’s and sax player Elton Dean’s first names.
At a 1967 singing audition, Elton got hold of a few pages of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics—which he admired greatly. The two began to correspond by mail, writing thier very first songs over the postal transit. They were eventually hired as songwriters by Dick James in 1968, for whom they wrote prolifically (and often with miraculous speed).
But then it was time for the words and music to sing out from the source. With producer Gus Dudgeon behind the studio wheel and arranger Paul Buckmaster contributing fanciful string sections, Elton made a self-titled record that was a U.K. hit, and he followed that up with Tumbleweed Connection. John made his live stateside debut in 1970, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, for which he received rave reviews and attention from music industry luminaries like Quincy Jones.
Not every release in these early years was a hit, but between ’72 and ’76, John and Taupin could literally do no wrong. Their 1972 Honky Chateau album was an American #1, and their hit singles included “Rocket Man,” “Daniel,” “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Candle in the Wind.” John started his own record label, Rocket, so that he could produce records for friends like Neil Sedaka and Kiki Dee (his crooning cohort in 1976’s chart topper “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”). He appeared in the Who-written, Ken Russell-directed Tommy as the Pinball Wizard; his stadiums shows sold out consistently; his outfits onstage were notoriously outrageous; and he dyed his hair so many times, and so many colors, that it all fell out. Ah, that 70’s merriment.
But that merry decade had its share of tragedy, too. After penning the #1 hit “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” with longtime friend John Lennon, Lennon joined him onstage for what would be the ex-Beatle’s last live appearance, at Madison Square Garden in 1974. In ’77, suffering from capricious health and constant bickering with Taupin, John announced his retirement from the music business. And the announcements would just keep coming throughout his career. From his bisexuality, to his homosexuality, to his then head-scratching hetero marriage announcement, to admissions of drug abuse and eating disorders…John was one of the first pop star celebrities to disclose private issues so publicly—and remember, these were the pre-talk show days, the days before full disclosure became an everyday media standard. For those of you who don't go in for the talk shows, but like a good sports tidbit, John bought his longtime favorite English football team, Watford, and as soon as he did, the team’s luck changed for the better.
John and Taupin reunited in 1980, making a few moderately successful records until 1983’s Too Low for Zero began yet another winning streak. With his career revived, it was finally time to take care of his health. He battled his addictions, replaced that hair that had fallen out thanks to the dye jobs, and threw himself into charity work. He declared in ’92 that all profits from his singles would be donated to AIDS-related charities. That was also the year that he matched Elvis Presley’s record as the artist with the most consecutive years—twenty-two—with a Top-40 hit on the U.S. charts.
In 1994, John wrote songs for Disney’s animated feature The Lion King with lyricist Tim Rice, winning the Academy Award for their “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” After the tragic auto-accident death of Princess Diana in 1997, John performed his “Candle in the Wind,” with new Taupin-penned lyrics, at her funeral in London’s Westminster Abbey. The single that was released shortly after the funeral went on to become the biggest-selling single of all time, overtaking Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”
In 1997, he was granted a knighthood in England, and crowned by Queen Elizabeth herself. He inducted his childhood idol Dusty Springfield, posthumously, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999—her posters apparently having been a very good luck charm for him.
John is now number two on the list of all-time solo artist album sales, behind only Garth Brooks. And given the renaissances and revivals that he’s enjoyed over his quadruple-decade career, Garth would do well to hold onto his hat.
Artist Release History1969 – Empty Sky
1970 – Elton John
1970 – Tumbleweed Connection
1971 – 11-17-70
1971 – Friends
1971 – Madman Across the Water
1972 – Honky Chateau
1973 – Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player
1973 – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
1974 – Caribou
1974 - Greatest Hits
1975 – Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy
1975 – Rock of the Westies
1976 – Here & There
1976 – Blue Moves
1977 - Greatest Hits Volume 2
1978 – A Single Man
1979 – Victim of Love
1980 – 21 at 33
1981 – The Fox
1982 – Jump Up
1983 – Too Low for Zero
1984 – Breaking Hearts
1985 – Ice on Fire
1986 – Leather Jackets
1987 – Live in Australia
1987 – Elton John Live in Australia
1988 – Reg Strikes Back
1989 – Sleeping with the Past
1992 – The One
1992 - Rare Masters (compilation)
1993 – Duets
1994 - Reg Dwight's Piano Goes Pop
1994 – The Lion King Soundtrack
1995 – Made in England
1997 – Big Picture
1999 – Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida
1999 – The Muse Soundtrack
2000 – The Road To El Dorado
2000 - One Night Only
Pop Sub Categoriespop
Essential Music AlbumsGreatest Hits (MCA, 1974)
Band MembersElton John piano, vocals
Bernie Taupin lyricist