World-renowned and multi million-selling hitmaker
Words such as “icon” and “legend” are generally overused when it comes to musicians; Elton John is one of the few who has an indisputable claim to both. Over six decades, the man born Reginald Kenneth Dwight has shown an unparalleled ability to move with the times while remaining indelibly unique.
John’s career suffered a series of false starts, first as a member of the band Bluesology, then in failed auditions for King Crimson and for a slot on Liberty Records’ roster. It was at the latter where he first crossed paths with a prolific lyricist called Bernie Taupin, and one of the greatest partnerships in musical history was forged.
Taupin and John began churning out songs at an astounding rate, first for other singers then for release under Elton John’s own name. His debut album Empty Sky arrived in 1969 to little fanfare and even less commercial success. The follow-up, 1970’s Elton John fared much better, yielding one of his most potent ballads, Your Song.
John’s third album was an abrupt departure from the soulful pop of its predecessors. Released in 1970, Tumbleweed Connection was a cinematic concept album about the American West with a loose, country rock sound. It proved a huge success, which John further built upon with 1971’s Madman Across The Water, which opened with another future classic in the form of Tiny Dancer.
The albums kept coming thick and fast, with Honky Chateau arriving in 1972. Thanks to singles Honky Cat and Rocket Man, the album became John’s first US No.1 and turned John from a respected singer-songwriter into a global superstar, starting a run of seven consecutive No.1 platinum albums, right up to 1975’s Rock Of The Westies.
John’s skyrocketing popularity stalled in 1976 after negative public reaction to his revelation to Rolling Stone that he was bisexual. Exhaustion and a strained relationship with Bernie Taupin caused him to pull back on his touring and release schedules, aiming for a conservative one album a year.
Several years of sold-out tours but average reviews and record sales followed, until Too Low To Zero catapulted John back into the stratosphere in 1983. The single I’m Still Standing saw John become a fixture on MTV, while I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues became a Top 10 hit.
Despite the success, the ’80s were a turbulent time for Elton John, between alcohol and drug addiction, struggles with bulimia and a marriage that was doomed to fail. Following a record-breaking stint at Madison Square Garden, John retreated from the spotlight again, re-emerging in 1991, rejuvenated and refocused. After founding the Elton John AIDS foundation, he returned to recording with 1992’s The One, his most commercially successful album since Blue Moves in 1976.
In 1994, John scored an Oscar for his theme from The Lion King, Can You Feel The Love Tonight, co-written with Tim Rice. However, his contribution to the ’90s was dominated by the death of his friend Princess Diana of Wales and John and Taupin’s rewritten version of Candle In The Wind, which John performed at her funeral and went on to become the fastest selling single of all time in both the US and the UK.
Elton John started the new millennium strongly with 2001’s Songs From The West Coast, his best-reviewed record since the ’70s. The singles I Want Love and This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore were in steady rotation on MTV, partly thanks to videos starring Robert Downey Jr and Justin Timberlake as Elton John proxies. The album was no flash in the pan, as John followed it with the equally well-received and commercially successful Peachtree Road.
Following a high-profile and lavishly theatrical residency at Caesars Palace, John returned to recording with two albums produced by the highly regarded producer and former Dylan sideman T-Bone Burnett. In 2018, he announced an extended farewell tour called Farewell Yellow Brick Road, the latter part of which was rescheduled to late 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
In 2019, Rocketman, a biopic of Elton John’s life starring Taron Egerton and directed by Dexter Fletcher, was released. John contributed a new song to the soundtrack, a duet with Egerton called (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again, which won another Oscar for Best Song.
A huge career-spanning collection of B-sides and rarities called Jewel Box was released in 2020.