Thursday, January 8, 2015

Elton John, The #1 Artist of the Seventies*

Sir Elton John is a legend.  As mentioned yesterday, it was and is a two-way fight for #1 of the decade based on all the important factors, and John's five-decade career is matched by only a handful of artists in the Rock Era.  Together with lyricist Bernie Taupin, Elton wrote classic after classic in the 70's.

Reginald Dwight was a child prodigy; he began playing piano at age 3.  Within a year, he was playing songs by ear.  At age seven, Dwight was performing at parties, and he began taking formal piano lessons.  Reginald began writing his own melodies, and he became interested in rock and roll at an early age, when his parents brought home albums from Elvis Presley and Bill Haley & the Comets. 

When Reginald was 11, he won a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.  One of his instructors said that he played back, like a "gramophone record", a four-page piece by Handel that he heard for the first time.  Dwight went to the Academy for five years, and he also took lessons from a private tutor in addition to his classes.

Dwight went to Pinner County Grammar School in Pinner, Middlesex, England.  At age 15, he got a job at a nearby pub, the Northwood Hills Hotel as a weekend pianist.  When he was 17, Reginald left school just before his A Level examinations to pursue a career in music. 

In 1964, Dwight formed the group Bluesology with his friends.  Reggie, as he was now known, worked for a music publishing company during the day, and played solo shows and worked with Bluesology at night.  Soon, Bluesology was backing American touring groups such as Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles, Doris Troy, and the Isley Brothers.  In 1966, Bluesology became the supporting group for Long John Baldry and played 16 times at the famous Marquee Club in London.

In 1967, Dwight answered an ad in the New Musical Express that would change his life.  Ray Williams, A&R manager at Liberty Records, wanted songwriters.  Dwight was proficient at writing music, but did not write song lyrics.  It so happened that Bernie Taupin, who specialized in lyrics, also answered the same ad.

At the first meeting, Williams gave Dwight a group of song lyrics written by Taupin.  Dwight wrote music to the words, and then mailed his work to Taupin, beginning a partnership that continues to this day.  In 1967, Dwight recorded their first song, "Scarecrow", and shortly afterwards, adopted the stage name Elton John.

The following year, John and Taupin joined the staff at DJM Records for Dick James, where they would write songs for other artists--one such artist was Lulu.  The time spent at DJM would later provide inspiration for the album of Elton and Bernie's careers.  John also became a session musician during this period, playing notably on the Hollies' classic "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". 

Elton signed a recording contract with Uni Records, a division of MCA, and released his first album, Empty Sky, in 1969.  Although he didn't become a superstar until 1973, John's early albums include great material.  Although Empty Sky did not contain any hits, it does include the Top Track* "Skyline Pigeon" and the title song is a worthy effort as well. 
In 1970, he hired producer Gus Dudgeon and released his self-titled album.  The first single, "Border Song", reached #92, considerably underrated as we look back on it.

John received nominations at the Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Best New Artist, and Best Contemporary Performance, Male.  Elton's second single, "Your Song", became his first big hit, leading the album to #4.  "Your Song" peaked at #3 in Canada, #4 in Ireland, #7 in the U.K., #8 in the U.S., and #10 in the Netherlands, although we now know that even those numbers are underrated.  The song has now sold over two million copies.

The album Elton John has since gone Gold, as fans who discovered Elton's star have now discovered how great an album it is.  "Take Me To The Pilot" is another outstanding example of Elton's early material.

Tumbleweed Connection went to #2 on the Album chart and sold over one million copies.  This is "Country Comfort".

One of John's keys was having a great backing band.  With Nigel Olsson, superb drummer from the Spencer Davis Group, and Dee Murray on bass, Elton performed in the U.S. for the first time at The Troubadour in Los Angeles.  John released the album Tumbleweed Connection, a concept LP loosely based on the American West, later in the year, and it became his second consecutive Top 10 album.  "Burn Down The Mission" is another incredible early Elton John track.

Elton and Bernie's music was indeed unique in those days.  This is "Amoreena".

Another favorite among Elton fans is "Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun".

Elton released the live album 11-17-70 next, before recording the music to the movie Friends.  While the movie was seen by few people, the title song from the soundtrack received significant airplay, reaching #17 on the Adult chart.  John and Taupin received a nomination at the Grammy Awards for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture, and took the album Gold.

Dudgeon invited guitarist Davey Johnstone for Elton's next album, Madman Across the Water.  Johnstone performed so well that he was welcomed in to what was becoming known as the Elton John Band.  The best chart numbers for "Levon" were #6 in Canada and #24 in the U.S., one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.

Madman made it three straight Top 10 albums in a row.  "Tiny Dancer", as we now know, was even more underrated at #13 in Australia and #41 in the United States.  "Tiny Dancer" has also now sold over two million copies.

The single "Rocket Man" has become one of Elton's signature songs--#2 in the U.K., #6 in the United States and Ireland, and #8 in Canada.

The album has now sold over two million copies.  We also feature the wild title track in this tribute.

In 1972, John released the album Honky Chateau, his fourth consecutive Top 10 and first #1 album of his career.  "Honky Cat" went to #8 in the U.S., #6 on the Adult chart, and #10 in Canada. 

Honky Chateau went Platinum, Elton's third consecutive LP to achieve that status.  "Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters" is another great track that is still a concert favorite.

The following year, Elton released the album Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, which featured the debut of amazing percussionist Ray Cooper.  By now, John was  a household name.  The single "Crocodile Rock" became his first #1 song, reaching that position in the U.S., Canada, and Switzerland, while rocketing to #2 in Australia, #3 in Germany, Norway, and Belgium, and hitting #5 in the U.K. and #10 in Ireland.  "Crocodile Rock" also went Platinum.

John scored another huge hit with "Daniel", Taupin's tale of a Vietnam War veteran, that reached #1 in Canada, #2 in the United States (#1 Adult), #4 in the U.K. and Ireland, #5 in Switzerland, and #7 in Australia.  "Daniel" sold over one million copies.

The album also reached #1 and went Triple Platinum.  Another lead track is "Elderberry Wine".

We also want to feature the song "I'm Going To Be A Teenage Idol".

Elton's early albums were memorable, and beginning to be some of the best in the business.  But John became a superstar with his ambitious 1973 release, the double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.  The lead single "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" peaked at #7 in the U.K., but only reached #12 in the U.S. and Canada.

The title song rose to #1 in Canada, #2 in the United States, #3 in Australia, #4 in Ireland, #6 in the U.K., and #9 in Norway, and has now sold over two million copies.

Elton pulled a third single from the album, and achieved a now familiar result.  "Bennie And The Jets", a story of a fictitious rock group, went Platinum and hit #1 in both the U.S. and Canada. 

Elton used to open all his concerts with the epic "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding".  Although never released as a single, it is among the cream of the crop of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.

Elton first recorded "Candle In The Wind", a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, for this album.  The song was unreleased in most countries, but it did reach #8 in Ireland.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road became John's third consecutive #1 album, and has now gone over the eight-million mark in sales.  "Grey Seal" is another reason why.

Elton released this stand-alone single for Christmas "Step Into Christmas".
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is full of great songs--this is "Harmony".

EJ's concerts were also becoming famous.  He began wearing flamboyant costumes, choosing from hundreds of pairs of glasses in his collection, and giving wild stage performances. 

Elton then started his own record label, Rocket Records, and was responsible for the huge comeback by Neil Sedaka in 1974.  Another artist he signed was Kiki Dee, with whom he would score a classic duet later.

But instead of recording on his own label, Elton signed an $8 million deal with MCA.  In 1974, Elton released his Greatest Hits album. 

John then recorded another #1 album, Caribou.  The first single was "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me", a #1 song in Canada and #2 in the United States that also sold over one million copies.

The follow-up, "The Bitch Is Back", is one of EJ's top rockers, another million seller that reached #1 in Canada (his third consecutive #1 there) and #4 in the U.S.

Caribou has now sold over two million albums, and we'll feature two more tracks.  This is "Grimsby".

"You're So Static" is another innovative gem from EJ.

John Lennon sang vocals on the single-only cover of the Beatles' "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds".  It was Elton's fourth consecutive single to sell at least one million copies, and hit #1 in the U.S. and Canada, #3 in Australia, and #10 in the U.K.  It is one of only a handful of remakes in the Rock Era to reach #1.

Elton repaid the favor by appearing on Lennon's album Walls and Bridges.  On Thanksgiving Day, the two performed three songs at Madison Square Garden in what turned out to be Lennon's last major live performance.

John released the compilation Elton John's Greatest Hits Volume II, which has now sold five million copies.  Elton recorded a new song, "Philadelphia Freedom", which became one of his biggest career hits.  The song became his fifth straight song to sell over a million copies, and was his fifth straight #1 song in Canada and his sixth straight Top 5 song in the U.S. (where it also reached #1).

For his next project, Elton and Bernie Taupin called upon memories of their early days, when they worked like rats for next to nothing.  The result was the amazing concept album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, the album of John's career.  Elton continued his Midas touch with the million-seller "Someone Saved My Life Tonight", another of his top career songs.  It stopped at #2 in Canada and #4 in the U.S., underrated numbers only because of the length of the song.  Radio stations were under the false impression that their listeners only wanted to hear songs that were three minutes or less.  Make no mistake--"Someone Saved My Life Tonight" was his masterpiece.

Those are the hits on the album.  We want to feature some of the other songs that make the album so special.  The album's title song, the autobiographical tale of Elton and Taupin, is another of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.

Another of those Top Unknown/Underrated Songs* was "(Gotta' Get A) Meal Ticket", a phenomenal album track that most of us can relate to in our early life struggles to find ourselves in this world.

"Bitter Fingers" is another amazing track.

Another song on the album that has begun to receive more airplay is "Tell Me When The Whistle Blows".

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy has gone Triple Platinum, thanks to great songs like "Better Off Dead".

Another outstanding track is "We All Fall In Love Sometimes". In the video, you will see a graphic that a magazine, which doesn't deserve to be named, ranked Elton as "the #49 artist of all-time". Listen to just his 70's material here, and that should tell you all you need to know about the credibility of this magazine.  The public has been misled long enough, the main reason I started Inside The Rock Era nearly four years ago.

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy became the first album in history to debut at #1.  Nowadays, that feat is commonplace, but only because of the lack of competition.  When Elton did it in 1975, it was an amazing achievement. 
Elton had been living the life of a rock superstar, complete with its excesses and hard work.  He wasn't happy, and he made a move that cost him, firing both Olsson and Murray, two key components in the sound that had made him famous.  To replace them, Elton hired drummer Roger Pope and bassist Kenny Passarelli, and also brought in Caleb Quaye, former guitarist with Bluesology.  That lineup backed Elton live for the first time in London's Wembley Stadium before 75,000 people.

Elton released the album Rock of the Westies, which also debuted at #1 and has gone Platinum.  Incredibly, it was John's sixth consecutive #1 album, something that no one had ever achieved before him.  His star was that hot.  The single "Island Girl" ran both John's Top 10 and his million-seller streaks to seven, reaching #1 in the U.S. and #4 in Canada and New Zealand.

John released a double-sided hit next.  "Grow Some Funk Of Your Own" and "I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford)" both reached #8 in Canada and #14 in the United States.

Elton's shows now included a $5,000 pair of glasses that spelled his name in lights.  Another from Rock of the Westies is "Hard Luck Story".

In 1975, John earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  

Pete Townshend of the Who then requested Elton to play a character in the film version of the rock opera Tommy.  In the movie, John sang "Pinball Wizard" in 54" boots.  Bally capitalized on the moment by releasing a "Captain Fantastic" pinball machine featuring an illustration of Elton as he appeared in the movie.  "Pinball Wizard" landed at #7 in the U.K. and, although it was not released as a single in the United States, it still received tremendous airplay.

To celebrate the fifth anniversary since he first appeared at The Troubadour, Elton played four shows in two nights at the famous Los Angeles venue. 

The following year, Elton released the live album Here and There, which has sold over one million copies in the U.S. alone. 

Elton and Kiki Dee teamed up for the smash duet "Don't Go Breaking My Heart", another song from his second Greatest Hits package.  The great hit that sold over two million copies was #1 in virtually every country on the planet, and was a Top 5 song everywhere.  

Later in the year, John released the double album Blue Moves.  The single "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" rose to #1 on the Adult chart in the U.S. (#6 overall), and reached #3 in Canada and Ireland, and went Gold.

The album went to #3, Elton's 11th studio album out of 11 that reached the Top 10 on the Album chart.  It had been quite a run.  Blue Moves included this Top Track*--"Tonight".

In 1977, Elton announced he was retiring from performing.  Although he of course later rescinded that announcement, who can blame him for not wanting to go through the grueling ordeal? 

Taupin, meanwhile, began working with other artists, and John hired lyricist Gary Osborne for the album A Single Man in 1978.  For the first time in years, there were no Top 20 songs on an Elton John album.

John became one of the first Western solo artists to tour the Soviet Union, then he and Ray Cooper did a two-man tour of the United States.  Elton also became one of the first white performers on the television show Soul Train.  In 1977, John released the single "Mama Can't Buy You Love", which reached #1 on the Adult chart in the U.S. (#9 overall) and #10 in Canada.  Elton received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.  

Elton released the album Victim of Love, but it did not do well.  John and Bernie Taupin reunited to write songs, although they wouldn't do an album together until 1983.

The compilation albums The Very Best of Elton John 1976-1986 (which sold two million copies), Your Songs (a Gold album), To Be Continued...(one million), Love Songs (three million), Greatest Hits 1970-2002 (five million sold), and Rocket Man:  The Definitive Hits (Gold) all must be factored into the rankings for the percentage of sales that relate to Elton's 70's material.

Elton came back strong in the 80's, and his 1997 remake of "Candle In The Wind" for the funeral of beloved Princess Diana became one of his biggest career hits.  In 1987, John and Taupin received a Special Recognition Award at the MTV Video Music Awards.  John still records and performs to sold-out audiences. 

Elton was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992, and he was received into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1994.  In 1995, John received the Polar Music Prize.

In 1996, John was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and in 1998, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for "services to music and charitable services".

In 2004, Elton received the Kennedy Center Honors, and he earned the Disney Legends Award in 2006.

John compiled 28 hits in his breakout decade, with more than a dozen other songs that still receive significant airplay.  EJ took 16 of those to the Top 10, with 6 #1 songs. On the Adult chart, he scored 18 hits, with 8 Top 10's and 4 #1's. He sold over 52 million albums in the U.S. alone.

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