Widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of our time, Elton John’s musical journey is bursting with iconic timestamps.
Throughout his formative years, there were some key events responsible for shaping a legacy, defining his legend, and ultimately propelling him to the musical immortality we see today.
Meeting Bernie Taupin
Under his real name of Reginald Dwight, Elton John was finding little success in the music business. Effectively a support act, his band Bluesology toured with a range of R&B and American soul artists. John would also perform solo at a number of London-based hotels.
However, things slowly changed when in 1967 young Reg responded to an advert in the New Musical Express (NME) about the opportunity to join forces with independent songwriters.
John arrived at the music label A&R, where manager Ray Williams handed him reams of lyrics by unknown lyricist Bernie Taupin. Elton was never always open to admit that whilst he could compose music with relative ease, penning the words came less naturally and so being fed material as a foundation was game-changing.
Taupin and John’s partnership rapidly developed. The duo joined DJM Records in 1968 and within two years Elton had released his first two albums, Empty Sky and the self-titled follow-up Elton John, which included one of his classic tracks “Your Song.”
The beginning of 1970 offered the maturing pianist an incredible opportunity that would heavily mold his formative years and help launch his career into the musical stratosphere.
John was gifted the chance to perform a six-night run at The Troubadour, a renowned Los Angeles club, where he would make his American live debut. The venue was a hotbed for A-list celebrities of the time, from Diana Ross to Neil Diamond, all eager to get a glimpse of the ‘next big thing.’
The shows were the stuff of legend. John’s performances were deafening, energized, and reckless in equal measure with respected critics widely claiming he was “going to be one of Rock’s biggest and most important stars.”
Six Consecutive Number One Albums
The summer of 1972 through the close of ‘75 is still seen as somewhat of a ‘golden period’ for Elton John and his breathtaking musical output. The stunning quality and remarkable consistency of his work during these years is still heralded by music fans.
During this two-and-a-half-year stint, he produced an astonishing six consecutive albums that would reach Number One in America.
Some of his most famous releases throughout this fruitful period included Honky Chateau (with the hit single “Rocketman”), the superb Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and the epic Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy.
It marks an achievement rarely matched by the majority of artists in mainstream music and something even the likes of U2 and Madonna failed to emulate. The six albums in question spawned some of John’s most memorable hits including “Crocodile Rock” and “Daniel.”
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
In 1973, Elton John unleashed his seventh album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. This project was considered by many to be his greatest work up to that point. It received extremely high praise amongst the world’s music press with Rolling Stone handing out five-star acclaim.
Some of the LP’s masterful highlights include “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” the title track, and “Candle In The Wind.”
Unsurprisingly, the album reached number one in four countries, the U.K., US, Australia, and Canada selling over eight million copies and going eight times platinum in the process.
Playing At Dodger Stadium
By the mid-1970s, Elton John was a bona fide global superstar. His album Caribou had reached the top spot again and introduced the classic, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.”
He’d also worked with John Lennon, broken the elusive American market, even performing at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Pianist had also collaborated with The Who on their epic rock movie, Tommy.
And so, in October 1975, Elton performed at Dodger Stadium, in front of 100,000 fans over the course of two sell-out concerts. The famous image of him wearing a sparkly version of an LA Dodgers baseball uniform has become nothing short of iconic.
Each night John performed an impressively lengthy set with a total of three incredible encores, made up of album tracks, anthems, and greatest hits.
“This wasn’t just a concert, this was an experience,” said one music writer at the time. “We were all transfixed by the music, the party atmosphere, and the sheer joy of being there.”
“I’m Still Standing”
At the turn of the 80s and by his standards, Elton John’s musical output and resulting chart successes were very much lacking, compared to the consistency and quality of his past work.
Yet the release of his 1983 album Too Low For Zero marked a return to form for John and the undoubted brilliance of his LP’s first single “I’m Still Standing.”
Now described as one of his all-time greatest ‘anthems,’ the track is a masterful celebration of resilience. Its positive themes, coupled with a high-tempo beat and supremely catchy chorus, meant it became an unstoppable force.
The song will also be fondly remembered for its elaborate music video with the inclusion of numerous extras including ‘party-goers,’ clowns, and dancers. The visual extravagance was especially apt during a period when MTV and the importance of video promotion were on a steep upward curve.
“Candle In The Wind” (’97)
Whilst in stark contrast to the groundbreaking moments of his early career, Elton John will forever be associated with his heartwarming contribution to commemorating Prince Diana’s untimely death
In August 1997, John chose to perform live at her funeral, in front of millions mourning both in person and at home, with a reworking of his song “Candle In The Wind.”
Working alongside Beatles producer George Martin, Taupin adapted the original lyrics (previously written about the tragic downfall and demise of Marilyn Monroe) as a tribute to the late Royal’s memory. John’s performance was one of the most moving moments of the ceremony.
Released as a double A-side, along with the hit “Something About The Way You Look Tonight,” John went on to sell an incredible 33 million copies of “Candle In The Wind” and inevitably reached Number one worldwide.
This one track firmly cemented John’s legacy as a global megastar.
Photo: Elton John, 1975 (Getty Images)
PS — While we’re on the topic of Rock History, you might enjoy our YouTube series of daily one-minute nuggets of memorable moments…
Bernie Taupin actually “cleverly adapted” the original lyrics to “Candle in the Wind” for the 1997 version, not Elton as your sentence seems to imply.
I was going to say the same thing. Bernie Taupin was the one who reworked the lyrics to pay tribute to Princess Diana.
Also…not to nitpick but Princess Diana’s funeral was in September ’97, not August. September 6, 1997, to be precise. It sticks in my memory because it was also my husband’s and my wedding day. That said, the updated version of Candle was VERY touching and a lovely tribute to Princess Di.
Two corrections: “Tiny Dancer” was from “Madman Across the Water”, which did not hit #1, and “I’m Still Standing” was the first single from “Too Low for Zero”, not the second.
Thanks for the notes. We’ll update the article.
Kudos for making corrections. While you’re at it, you could correct these: (1) “Elton was never always open to admit…” (I assume I don’t need to point out the error); (2) Elton broke the elusive American market, not “illusive.”
Hi Ray Williams here thank you for the mention, I was also his personal manager and organised his gig at the Troubadour With Jerry Heller an agent at Chartwell artists owned by the legendary Jerry Perenchio who represented Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor!
Cheers to you all