I honestly cannot remember a time when I did not hear Elton John on the radio. I can honestly say that I remember hearing “Your Song” being played on AM radio stations from Indianapolis AND even the little local station. Of course, when I discovered FM radio in the early 1970s, Elton was a major star on those station’s playlists. And, one of the first truly rock artists’ albums I received as a gift was Sir Elton’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Plus, I have a couple of 45s (remember those?) that Elton released on his original label MCA and on his own label Rocket Man.
And, I distinctly remember the buzz on the bus the day Elton was to play on the old Friday night TV rock show Midnight Special. You see, the school bus hierarchy had an unwritten law that the high school kids rode in the back, with the middle school kids in the middle rows and us elementary kids in the front. But, for some reason, the high school kids always wanted me to be in the back with them. It probably was an effort to keep me from flapping my jaw constantly, or maybe it was to honor my eidetic memory, especially with sports stats and music information. Honestly, it was for the former. Anyway, I remember the rumor being that Elton was going to wear special high soled shoes that were clear with gold fish swimming in them. And, since Elton was a flamboyant dresser, I was intrigued with his image every bit as with his music. With no disrespect to the man, at the time, he was like a living and breathing cartoon character, and I loved him for that!
By the time I reached middle school, Elton John’s popularity had peaked. No other artist was his equal at the time, though Stevie Wonder was close. That was until that infamous Rolling Stone interview in which he admitted that he was bisexual. Maybe it was my naivety or because I grew up around homosexuals while my mother was working on her masters degree in art education, but I honestly saw nothing wrong with the lifestyle. The gay men and women in mom’s classes were always nice to me, although I did sense that something was different between myself and them, as a kid, I could care less.
But, all of a sudden, people who were in my life were getting rid of their Elton John records, posters and memorabilia. I wish I had had the foresight to have latched onto much of that stuff and kept it. But, as they say, hindsight is always 20/20. Still, I did not understand how one minute you could love a person’s music and the next you hate it AND him. So, being the type of person that I am, I continued to listen to Elton through that bigoted phase that the public was going through. But, as we now know, Elton is held in high esteem throughout the world for his philanthropy and his music catalog. The world has come a long way with regards to race and sexual orientation, but we still have a long way to go. Remember Jesus instructed us that he was the new covenant and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And, since when I point a finger at others, I always notice that there are three pointing back at me, I will try not to judge others when I have my own issues that keep me from being perfect.
Okay, so enough of my soapbox! Sorry guys, allow me to get back on track here. Next to The Beatles, individually or together, Elvis Presley or The Stones, Elton probably has as many hits as the next person(s) in line. So, to honor one of the all-time greats in the history of rock music, as well as one of the few rock artists that I would pick to have a theoretical lunch with, let’s look at My 25 Favorite Songs by him. So, on with the countdown!
25. “Candle in the Wind” (1973). Technically, I could have picked any version, including Elton’s version in honor of Princess Diana, but I still prefer the original.
24. “Little Jeannie” (1980). This was a hit during that time of the interview backlash. But, he was proving to everyone that he still had his talent, no matter how much booze it was floating in.
23. “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” (1976). This is a great song that I will forever associate with my parents’ divorce, which is a very unfortunate thing all the way around.
22. “Island Girl” (1975). Hey Bondo! Remember playing Rock of the Westies and KISS Alive! all night New Year’s Eve 1975? And, how many “radio programs” did we rock that night.
21. “Mama Can’t Buy Me Love” (1979). Elton proved that he was a human jukebox when he did this disco song. This man is so talented that it’s not funny.
20. “Levon” (1971). Elton had so many hits on his first Greatest Hits album that this early hit had to wait for the second edition to be immortalized.
19. “Honky Cat” (1972). How did a song this good end up so low on my list? Because the man has that many great songs!
18. “Pinball Wizard” (1976). Yes, the movie version of The Who’s Tommy was a total freak-out. But, who does not remember the sight of Elton John performing this song with those crazy huge Doc Martin boots? That image is burnt into my memory forever.
17. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (1975). Elton John took a cut from The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper that was for all purposes a John Lennon song written about a painting a young Julian Lennon did, and not an acid trip as commonly thought. Or, is it? Regardless, Elton took the song to Number One.
16. “The Bitch Is Back” (1974). At the time, I didn’t realize Elton was giving us a clue as to his sexuality in the song. But, like I said, who cares. I just loved that I could “sing” the B-word around my parents without many repercussions. I still love that!
15. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” [with Kiki Dee] (1976). I remember singing that song with Lori Dunwiddie in the back of the bus as a middle schooler. I took Elton’s part, if it wasn’t obvious.
14. “Daniel” (1973). This song is one of the 45s I own. I have always been a sucker for lyrical melancholia. This song took on greater meaning when I learned that it was an anti-Vietnam song.
13. “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore” (2002). Since the beginning of the 21st century, Elton John has been on a creative roll. He has reached back to his glory days for inspiration and his newest albums have all been terrific. But this haunting song about his past is absolutely a timeless masterpiece that will only grow in significance in his total catalog as the years pass.
12. “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)” (1982). At the times of the release of this song, I was writing my research paper for my second college English course on John Lennon. To me, this was the first tribute song for the late Lennon that actually conjured up the sound of Lennon’s music and lyrics. Leave it to Elton and his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin to nail this song.
11. “Rocket Man” (1972). Please forget President Trump’s use of the title for his nefarious reasons and remember what a great song this is! This is the blood relative of Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.
10. “Crocodile Rock” (1973). I was influenced to check out my mom’s 45 collection after hearing this song. “Crocodile Rock” hearkened back to the Fifties music Elton and Bernie grew up on.
9. “Philadelphia Freedom” (1976). This song was written as per request of tennis great Billie Jean King’s request that Elton write a song about her Philadelphia Freedom professional tennis team. And, of course, this song rocketed to number one during the bicentennial birthday fever this country had at the time.
8. “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting” (1973). Here we have arguably Elton’s hardest rocking song in his repertoire. This song is still fun to hear!
7. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973). Like I alluded to earlier, I have always been drawn to songs that have a melancholia theme or those that depict depression, since I have been battling that darkness all my life. And no one, and I really mean no one does it like Elton, since he too battles that dark side as well. For that, I feel a kinship with John and Taupin.
6. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (1974). We are traveling through some of Elton’s darkest songs right now, so it should be obvious to all why I love this song.
5. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” (1975). When I first heard this song, I KNEW their were others like me who felt the world’s problems so intensely without the ability to do anything about it. And, this song literally has saved many times during those moments of dark turns in myself.
4. “Your Song” (1971). I really don’t care who inspired this song because the lyrics of love are so universal that it does not matter to whom Elton may be singing. Plus, the words are totally Taupin’s. None of this matters since the outcome is a near perfect love song.
3. “Bennie and the Jets” (1974). Think about this for a moment. Elton was so big at the time that this song was a hit on the R&B chart! He was so funky on this song that Soul Train’s audience was shocked to see it was a white man who did this song when he performed it on the show over forty years ago. Plus, the song has probably the most misquoted lyrics of any song ever! How can you beat those two factoids?
2. “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” (1983). Are you kidding me? This song is so perfect that I am without words to describe it.
1. “Tiny Dancer” (1972). What can you say about a song that is used in one of the most perfectly realized scenes in movie history? The movie is Almost Famous, and the scene is when the band is on the bus with everyone pissed at each other, and this song comes on the radio, showing each person that it’s the music that holds them together. No other song could be used to the same effect in that scene, because there are few songs that make you forget about your differences and show you the commonality you all have is the love of music. How perfect is that?
Well, fans, there you have it! I hope you enjoyed it enough to go put on some Elton John on your source of choice and blast it out! Until tomorrow, keep on rockin’ in the free world!