Elton John released his first solo album Empty Sky in 1969. By 1970 he had his first top 10 pop single in the US, "Your Song." 40 years later he is one of the most successful pop artists of all time with over 25 top 10 pop hits in the US. Elton John is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and has won six Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, and a Tony Award. In 2008 Billboard ranked him as the third most successful artist of all time behind just the Beatles and Madonna. These are 10 songs that help define the music of Elton John.
This song is one of the most covered of Elton John's hit singles. It features backing vocals from two of the Beach Boys and Toni Tennille of Captain and Tennille. "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me" reached #2 when first released as a single. In 1991 it went clear to #1 on the pop singles chart as a duet with George Michael.
In 1994 Elton John collaborated with Tim Rice, a lyricist best known for his work with Andrew Lloyd Webber, to write five songs for the Disney film The Lion King. This song appears twice in the film. The song was then used to open and close the successful Broadway musical The Lion King which opened in 1997 and is still running. It is one of the top 10 longest running Broadway musicals of all time. Elton John's single went to #18 on the pop singles chart.
"Candle In the Wind" is now best remembered for its inclusion in Princess Diana's funeral. The recording of a reworked version of the song for the occasion became the bestselling pop single of all time. However, it began as a poignant tribute to movie star Marilyn Monroe. It remains one of the most sensitive and moving meditations on stardom recorded by a pop star. "Candle In the Wind" was not released as a single in its first incarnation.
This song features one of Elton John's most brilliant vocal performances of all time. Lyrically, it is a bitter breakup song. However, it is easy to get lost in the gorgeous, soaring arrangement and simpy sing along with the chorus that has more than a hint of country sway. This song spent three weeks at #2 on the pop singles chart.
By the 1980s Elton John had been written off by many as well past his prime. This song made the strong case for the status of Elton John and Bernie Taupin as one of the top pop songwriting teams of all time. Musically the song is highly nostalgic with a beautiful harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder, and the lyrics are melancholy but also comforting with words of universal identification. The song went to #4 on the pop singles chart becoming Elton John's biggest hit in three years.
"Tiny Dancer" seemed a nearly forgotten part of the Elton John repertoire until it was revived for use in the film Almost Famous in 2000. It is a sweet love ballad, in the movie it refers to a groupie a la "Superstar," that is turned into something much more musically meaningful and epic by the production and Elton John's piano. It failed to reach the top 40 when released as a single early in Elton John's career.
"Someone Saved My Life Tonight" is surely one of the biggest pop hit singles ever that depicts a suicide attempt. Reportedly, Bernie Taupin found Elton John after the latter attempted suicide using gas from the open oven. The song is filled with intense, dramatic lyric lines that create a grand theatrical production that is just restrained enough to become an instant classic. The song reached #4 on the pop singles chart.
The fictional band depicted in "Bennie and the Jets" seems almost certainly a type of homage to David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" released only a year before. Musically, the song has a distinct R&B vibe that allowed it to cross over to that singles chart. It also includes fake live audience sound effects and a distinctive Elton John piano solo. The song became Elton John's second #1 pop hit single.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin collaborated here to write a near perfect love song. "Your Song" became Elton John's first top 10 pop hit. The depiction of the song being written specifically for a lover helps make it memorable. There are subtle string arrangements here that add gravity to the song but do not overwhelm the vocals.
Despite sounding like an autobiographical song, Bernie Taupin wrote "Daniel" about a fictional character. He wrote it out of sympathy for Vietnam War veterans returning home. Additional verses spelled out the story more clearly, but the song was shortened to the wistful, beautiful song we know to keep it from being too long and somber. The song went to #2 on the pop singles chart and earned Elton John a Grammy Award nomination Best Male Pop Vocal.