Rock Through the Ages: Elton John

“The great thing about rock and roll is that someone like me can be a star.” Elton John

Elton John, a featured artist in Rock Through the PagesSir Elton John is a British singer, songwriter, composer and pianist. In terms of sales and lasting popularity, Elton John was the biggest pop superstar of the early '70s. Initially marketed as a singer and songwriter, John soon revealed he could craft Beatlesque pop and pound out rockers with equal aplomb. He could dip into soul, disco, and country, as well as classic pop balladry and even progressive rock. His versatility, combined with his effortless melodic skills, dynamic charisma, and flamboyant stage shows, made him the most popular recording artist of the '70s.

Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on the 25th of March in 1947. Elton's musical abilities surfaced early. He started to play the piano at the tender age of four. Somewhat of a child prodigy, he could play by ear any melody he heard. It wasn’t long before the boy was being pressed into service as a performer at parties and family gatherings. He began taking piano lessons at the age of seven. Elton showed great musical aptitude at school, including the ability to compose melodies, and gained some notoriety by playing like Jerry Lee Lewis at school functions. When Elton John was 11, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. One of his instructors reports that, when he entered the Academy, she played a four-page piece by Handel, which he promptly played back like a "gramophone record".

After studying for six years, John left school with the intention of breaking into the music business. Elton was 14 when he and friends formed a band, the Corvettes, which evolved into Bluesology. It was 1961 and they played Ray Charles and Jim Reeves ballads Fridays to Sundays, at the Northwood Hills Hotel, Middlesex. With the money he made from this work, Elton bought himself his first electric piano. By the mid 1960s, Bluesology was backing American soul and R&B artists, including Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. In 1966, Elton left Bluesology and auditioned unsuccessfully, as lead vocalist, for progressive rock bands King Crimson and Gentle Giant. The turning point in Elton’s career came a few years later, when, during an audition for Liberty Records as a songwriter, he met lyricist Bernie Taupin. A strong musical partnership began that would last to this day.

Elton John changed his name, by deed poll, from Reginald Kenneth Dwight to Elton Hercules John in 1972. The name came from Elton Dean, a saxophonist, and the late Long John Baldry, a British blues musician. Hercules was the name of the horse in the British television sitcom ‘Steptoe and Son’. The team of John and Taupin joined Dick James's DJM Records as staff songwriters in 1968, and over the next two years wrote material for various artists, like Roger Cook and Lulu. Taupin would write a batch of lyrics in under an hour and give it to John, who would write music for them in half an hour, disposing of the lyrics if he couldn't come up with anything quickly. For two years, they wrote easy-listening tunes for James to peddle to singers. Their early output included an entry for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1969, called "Can't Go On (Living Without You)". It came in sixth of six songs. During this period, John also played on sessions for other artists including playing piano on The Hollies' "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" and singing backing vocals for The Scaffold.

‘Empty Sky’, Elton's first album received somewhat of an empty response, despite its good reviews. He quickly followed this with ‘Elton John’ in 1970. It established the formula for subsequent albums; gospel-chorded rockers and poignant ballads. After the second single "Your Song" made the U.S. Top Ten, the album followed suit. John's first American concert took place at The Troubadour in Los Angeles and he was introduced by by Neil Diamond. Elton John was backed by ex-Spencer Davis Group drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray. Kicking over his piano bench Jerry Lee Lewis-style and performing handstands on the keyboards, John left the critics raving, and drew praise from fellow artists such as Quincy Jones and Bob Dylan. John followed it quickly in February 1971 with the concept album Tumbleweed Connection, which received heavy airplay on album-oriented radio in the U.S., helping it climb into the Top Ten. The rapid release of Tumbleweed Connection established a pattern of frequent releases that John maintained throughout his career.

During 1972, the final piece of what would become known as the Elton John Band fell into place, with the addition of Davey Johnstone, playing on guitar and backing vocals. Murray, Olsson, and Johnstone came together with John and Taupin's writing, John's flamboyant performance style, and producer Gus Dudgeon to create a hit-making chemistry for the next five Elton John albums. Known for their instrumental playing, the members of the band were also strong backing vocalists who worked out and recorded many of their vocal harmonies themselves, usually in John's absence. The band released Honky Chateau, which became John's first American number 1 album, spending five weeks at the top of the charts and spawning the hit single Elton John performing"Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)." The song is often compared to David Bowie's "Space Oddity".  Elton John's next album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" gained instant critical acclaim and topped the chart on both sides of the Atlantic. It also temporarily established John as a glam rock star. It contained the Number 1 hit "Bennie and the Jets", along with the popular and praised "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "Candle in the Wind", "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting", and "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" . Elton John would later remake "Candle in the Wind as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales. Since 1997, that song has been the largest selling single of all time.

Throughout the mid-'70s, John's concerts were enormously popular, as were his singles and albums, and he continued to record and perform at a rapid pace until 1976. That year, he revealed in an interview in Rolling Stone that he was bisexual; he would later admit that the confession was a compromise, since he was afraid to reveal that he was homosexual. Many fans reacted negatively to John's bisexuality, and his audience began to shrink somewhat in the late '70s. The decline in his record sales was also due to his exhaustion. After 1976, John cut his performance schedule drastically, announcing that he was retiring from live performances in 1977 and started recording only one album a year. His relationship with Taupin became strained following the release of 1976's double album Blue Moves, and the lyricist began working with other musicians. Throughout the decades Elton John has continued to produce wonderful music.

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Elton John
English singer, song writer, piano player. Songs include; "Good-Bye Yellow Brick Road" "Rocket Man" "Daniel" "Candle in the Wind"