Hardly a hero
Just someone his mother might know.
Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25, 1947, in Pinner, England, classically-trained Sir Elton John began his career in various blues bands and as a session musician, before answering a newspaper ad by Liberty Records for aspiring songwriters. He was given his first set of lyrics by Bernie Taupin, a struggling lyricist, to set them to music. Taupin liked what he heard, and the two formed a platonic and professional bond—they have been a songwriting team (Taupin lyrics, John music) for most of John's career.
Changing his name by deed poll to "Elton Hercules John" in 1970 (Elton for saxophonist Elton Dean, John for a singer Reg's old band Bluesology backed up, Long John Baldry, and Hercules, well from a racehorse in Brit Com Steptoe and Son), Elton (with Bernie's lyrics in tow) would gain a reputation as a singer-songwriter-pianist par excellence. By 1972, he had begun to wear increasingly flamboyant costumes, clothes, and eyeglasses, which became a trademark for him until the mid-1980s. He became an unexpected superstar, with a string of highly successful albums such as Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across the Water, Honky Chateau, Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (a double), and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. His success tapered by the late-1970s, especially after outing himself in 1976. In the meantime, he appeared in the film Born to Boogie as himself, and in Tommy singing "Pinball Wizard".
He has had numerous comebacks in The '80s and The '90s, and successfully rehabilitated himself from drugs, alcohol, and bulimia in 1991. He later helped score The Lion King with Tim Rice in 1994 (winning an Oscar), and co-authored several Broadway musicals, including The Lion King, Lestat, Aida, and Billy Elliot. He received a star on the Hollywood Hall of Fame in 1975, inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, and was knighted in 1998. A theatrical revue of his songs, featuring Sir Elton in concert amid elaborate staging, films, and props, titled "The Red Piano'', opened in Las Vegas in 2004 and closed in 2009.
He has performed at Live Aid, Live 8, the Freddie Mercury Concert For Life and the Concert For Diana. He has also performed at the funeral for Princess Diana in 1997, singing a revised rendition of his 1973 hit "Candle in the Wind". "Candle in the Wind 1997", produced by Beatles producer Sir George Martin, became the most successful single of all time at 37 million copies, all royalties donated to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
Elton is chairman of Watford Football Club, and founding chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF), which he founded in 1992 after Ryan White's death.
He is well-known for his deft sense of humor, massive spending sprees and very public tantrums. He is also well-known for wearing odd costumes and crazy glasses, especially in The '70s. His fortune is estimated at £175 Million, making him one of the most successful musicians of all time.
Good friends with fellow piano man Billy Joel, with whom he has toured sporadically since the 1990s.
His life and career are fictionalized in the biopic Rocketman (2019).
- Empty Sky (1969)
- Elton John (1970)
- Tumbleweed Connection (1970)
- Madman Across the Water (1971)
- Honky Chateau (1972)
- Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player (1973)
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
- Caribou (1974)
- Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975)
- Rock of the Westies (1975)
- Blue Moves (1976)
- A Single Man (1978)
- Victim of Love (1979)
- 21 at 33 (1980)
- The Fox (1981)
- Jump Up! (1982)
- Too Low for Zero (1983)
- Breaking Hearts (1984)
- Ice on Fire (1985)
- Leather Jackets (1986)
- Reg Strikes Back (1988)
- Sleeping with the Past (1989)
- The One (1992)
- Duets (1993)
- Made in England (1995)
- The Big Picture (1997)
- Songs from the West Coast (2001)
- Peachtree Road (2004)
- The Captain and the Kid (2006)
- The Union (with Leon Russell) (2010)
- The Diving Board (2013)
- Wonderful Crazy Night (2016)
- Friends (1971)
- The Lion King (1994)
- Aida (1999)
- The Muse (1999)
- The Road to El Dorado (2000)
- Billy Elliot The Musical (2005)
- Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)
- 17-11-70 (1971) titled 11-17-70 in the USnote
- Here and There (1976)
- Live in Australia (with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) (1987)
- One Night Only (2000)
This musician provides examples of:
- Adam Westing: In Kingsman: The Golden Circle.
- Air Voyance: "Daniel" is all about this.
- Album Title Drop: Ice on Fire comes from a line in "Nikita". The Union comes from a line in "Gone to Shiloh".
- The Alcoholic: "Elderberry Wine", "Social Disease", "Talking Old Soldiers" and "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" depict this in song. Elton's main lyricist Bernie Taupin sobered up in Real Life in the late '70s, Elton himself by 1990.
- Badass Boast: "The Bitch Is Back", along with Self-Deprecation.
- Ballad of X: "Ballad of a Well-Known Gun", "The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-34)", "Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes", "The Ballad of Blind Tom"
- Becoming the Mask: As a child, he had good eyesight, but started wearing glasses in homage to his childhood hero Buddy Holly. After more than 40 years, his eyesight has deteriorated to the point that he really needs those glasses.
- Break-Up Song: Plenty to choose from. "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me", "Cold As Christmas (In the Middle of the Year)", "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word", "High Flying Bird", "I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)", "I'm Still Standing" (a more vitriolic variety), "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" (ditto).
- Bury Your Gays: "All the Girls Love Alice", the ballad of a teenage lesbian prostitute who tragically dies young.
- Call to Agriculture: "You can't plant me in your penthouse/I'm going back to my plough."
- Canon Discontinuity: Leather Jackets he's dubbed the worst album he made. Perhaps also Victim of Love, the only album he never played any songs live from.
- Camp Follower: "Sweet Painted Lady"
- Christmas Songs: "Step into Christmas", along with its B-side, "Ho! Ho Ho!". "Cold as Christmas (in the Middle of the Year)" name-checks the holiday but is not itself a Christmas song.
- Chronological Album Title: 21 at 33, his 21st album, with Elton being 33 years old at the time. The "21" figure includes live albums and compilations in addition to studio albums.note
- Concept Album:
- Tumbleweed Connection is Taupin's tribute to The Wild West. Notably, neither he nor Elton had visited America at the time the album was written.
- Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is about Elton and Taupin's early years in the music business together. The Captain & the Kid picks up the story years later.
- Sleeping with the Past is Elton and Bernie's tribute to the great soul artists of the 1960s and 1970s.
- Country Mouse: "Honky Cat". Bernie Taupin himself was one, which is reflected in many of his lyrics, as he faced a lot of opposition from his family to try to make it big in the city as a songwriter.
I should've stayed on the farm, should've listened to my old man
- "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" counts as well.
- Cover Version: "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"; "Pinball Wizard".
- Before being signed, Elton sang on soundalike low-budget recordings of famous songs of the day marketed to Woolworth's stores, similar to the "Drew's Famous" or "Countdown Singers" albums one finds at department stores nowadays. Occasionally, to capitalize on Elton's later success, you'll find albums like "Chartbusters Go Pop!" or "16 Legendary Covers" featuring these recordings. Witness his covers of "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum, or, erm, "Young, Gifted and Black" by Aretha Franklin!
- He also covered Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" for a Rumours tribute album in 1998.
- Covers Always Lie: He often points out how moody and sullen he looks on the cover of his 1970 self-titled album, shrouded in darkness with normal-looking glasses, but that even in his earliest performances, he was already displaying strong showmanship and a surprising rock energy for the leader of a piano-bass-drums trio, which the media was surprised at, given his being marketed as a "sensitive singer-songwriter".
- Digital Piracy Is Evil: Surprisingly subverted when he said, "I do think it would be an incredible experiment to shut down the whole internet for five years and see what sort of art is produced over that span." He wasn't necessarily referring to online piracy, but more that he felt that the Internet was making people emotionally detached and over-reliant on technology and that it allowed Dreadful Musicians to flood the market with poorly produced material.
- Driven to Suicide:
- "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself" attempts to play this trope for laughs. Complete with a tap-dance solo in the middle eight.
- "Someone's Final Song" from Blue Moves is a more tragic take on suicide.
- Elton made two notable attempts at suicide — one after heiress girlfriend Linda Woodrow falsely told him she was pregnant and that he was the father, then suggested he choose between her or his music — as documented in "Someone Saved My Life Tonight"note and once in Los Angeles in 1975 intentionally in front of his visiting mother and grandmother, who were joining him for the unveiling of his star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame and concert at Dodger Stadium, by downing fifty Valium and attempting to drown himself in the hotel pool.note
- Early Installment Weirdness: The entirety of his debut Empty Sky, a harpsichord-driven album with hardly any piano and more in common with psychedelic pop than the piano-driven soft rock style he'd adopt afterward. The one song to survive in setlists has been "Skyline Pigeon", but even that was re-recorded in a more typical style in 1973.
- Epic Instrumental Opener: "Funeral for a Friend" is the most obvious example. Several songs from Blue Moves have these as well; "Tonight" goes on for three minutes before Elton starts singing.
- Epic Rocking: His most notable examples include "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding", "Carla/Etude/Fanfare/Chloe", "Tonight", "Gulliver/Hay Chewed/Reprise". However, he tends to have at least one song on most of his albums that passes the six-minute mark. For example, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy has the 6:42 "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" and 6:18 "Curtains". He insisted on the former being the only single from the album and refused to let it be edited in length. It became a huge hit despite its lengthy running time.
- Expository Hairstyle Change: In 1992, he got a hair implant as he switched from Camp Gay to Straight Gay. The orange hair dye is emblematic of his switch from "reflective singer-songwriter Elton" to the glam period of 197276.
- For Doom the Bell Tolls: "Funeral for a Friend"
- Freudian Excuse: The titular protagonist of "All the Girls Love Alice" has her teenage rebellion attributed to "a simple case of Mummy Doesn't Love Me Blues."
- Genre Roulette: A typical Elton album, especially in The '70s, could go from pop to soul to country to rock to funk to torch songs to ballads to Broadway-style tunes to Epic Rocking.
- God Is Dead: The New York Times said so.
- Gratuitous Panning: The chorus of the "Crocodile Rock" (the "la, la, la, la, la" parts) are panned to where the vocals are on the left channel and the Farfisa organ melody is on the right channel. The rest of the song has quite a lot of panning as well, but the chorus is the most blatant part.
- Greatest Hits Album: He's naturally had several; the first, released in 1974, is his best-selling album to date at 32 million copies and counting.
- Grief Song: "Empty Garden" about the death of John Lennon (see below).
- "The Last Song" (a song concerning a gay boy and his estranged father reconciling with each other on the boy's death bed as he was dying of AIDS). Written in memory of Ryan White (whom Elton knew), Bernie faxed the lyrics to him shortly after Freddie Mercury's death. Elton said that he had cried the whole time throughout making it.
- "Candle in the Wind". Considering it was written about the death of one of the iconic women of the 20th century (Marilyn Monroe) and repurposed for another (Princess Diana) it's arguably the most famous of his grief songs.
- "Blues Never Fade Away" from The Captain & the Kid mourns John Lennon, Ryan White and one other friend of Elton and Bernie's.
- Idol Singer: "I'm Going to Be a Teenage Idol" from Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player is a depiction of one. It was written in tribute to Elton's friend Marc Bolan at the height of "TRexstacy".
- Incompatible Orientation: "Elton's Song", well ahead of his own coming out and indeed the song's time overall.
- Intentionally Awkward Title: The B-Side to the title track to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a song called "Screw You", retitled "Young Man's Blues" in America to avoid offense.
- Let's Duet: Elton has done many duets over his career:
- His first number 1 single in the UK was "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Kiki Dee in 1976. At that point, he had already scored five chart-toppers in the U.S.
- His live duet of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" with George Michael in 1991 far outperformed its original release, hitting #1 in the U.S., UK, and many other markets.
- A lesser-known duet with Eric Clapton, "Runaway Train" (no relation to the later Soul Asylum song), was used in Lethal Weapon 3.
- Licensed Pinball Table: Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, a tie-in to both the album and to the movie Tommy.
- Location Song: His song "Belfast" is a Protest Song against the conflict in Northern Ireland.
- Lyrical Dissonance:
- "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself", "Since God Invented Girls", "Angeline".
- Bernie Taupin at the time of the latter album's release noted that Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy was a musically "up" album about failure, while The Captain & the Kid was a low-key album about success.
- Medley: "Yell Help/Wednesday Night/Ugly" from Rock of the Westies"; "Gulliver/Hay Chewed/Reprise" on Empty Sky"; "Carla/Etude/Fanfare/Chloe" on The Fox.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Most of his music falls between 1 and 3, but he's also made songs that score as high as 6.
- Nice Hat: In The '80s, prior to his hair weave operation, he started to wear hats more and more often, straw boaters in the middle of the decade and odd triangular caps and baseball hats later in the decade to cover up his balding pate.
- No Title: "This Song Has No Title" is paradoxically enough an aversion.
- The Oner: The videos for "This Train Don't Stop Here Anymore"note and "I Want Love".
- One-Man Song: Song for Guy, Nikita.
- Pop-Star Composer: With Tim Rice for Disney's The Lion King and Dreamworks' The Road to El Dorado. Also provided music for Gnomeo and Juliet, the film of which he co-executive produced.
- Precision F-Strike: "The Bitch Is Back", "The bitch is in her smile" from "Bad Blood" which he did (usually uncredited) with Neil Sedaka.
- Protest Song: Some of his songs have subtle elements of this. "Daniel" is a Vietnam War vet (although it's subtle; a cut verse would have made this clearer), while "Ticking", an account of a gun massacre that killed 14 people, is a protest of American Gun Culture. Furthermore, as mentioned above, "Belfast" is a protest against The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
- Rags to Riches: "Levon", to the extent that anyone can make sense of the lyrics, is apparently one of these stories; Levon's father, Alvin Tostig, is a poor man with high expectations for his son, Levon himself has apparently made a fortune selling party supplies (especially cartoon balloons), and his son Jesus has ambitions far beyond the party store that Levon can't quite accept.
- Refuge in Audacity:
- "The Bitch Is Back". Often, his outrageous costumes and goofy glasses ran on this, in a more clean-cut way, along with Rule of Fun and Up to Eleven. Donald Duck suits, Eiffel Tower hats, six-foot tall Mohawks, the glasses that lit up E-L-T-O-N. His 50th birthday saw him attend a costume party in a Louis XIV costume with a giant wig, where he had to be lifted off a truck via a crane. And that was after he toned down the costumes/glasses.
- "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself". Not too many artists play suicide for laughs.
- Religion Rant Song: "If There's a God in Heaven (What's He Waiting For?)".
- Rock-Star Song: "Bennie and the Jets", "I'm Gonna Be a Teenage Idol" and some others, including the entire Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and The Captain & the Kid albums.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road".
- Self-Titled Album: His second album, and his Breakthrough.
- "Sesame Street" Cred: He once played "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" with The Electric Mayhem. He also appeared on a Totally Minnie video and he executive produced and contributed music to Gnomeo and Juliet.
- "Levon" was named in tribute to Levon Helm of The Band.
- His 1973 album, Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player was reportedly named after a joking response Elton made to his friend Groucho Marx when the comedian teased him that it would make more sense for the singer to call himself John Elton. The album cover takes it further, showing a couple buying tickets outside a marquee to a nighttime movie, with a poster of Go West on display to the right.
- One of the songs on his collaboration album The Union with Leon Russell included a song called Jimmie Rodgers' Dream which is named after the influential country singer.
- Significant Birth Date: 'Levon'. 'He was born to a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas day...'
- Stylistic Suck: The audience in "Bennie and the Jets" is clapping behind the beat.
- This Is a Song: "This Song Has No Title", "Your Song". "Step Into Christmas" opens with the line "Welcome to my Christmas song."
- This Is Your Song: Trope Namer.
- Two First Names: His stage name, Elton John, provide examples.
- Unlimited Wardrobe: Crazy hats, eyeglasses, sunglasses, platform shoes, outfits, costumes and other articles of clothing in The '70s. He (slightly) toned them down by 1988, though the loud suits and Cool Shades he currently wears might also count.
- Vocal Evolution: His voice began with a more youthful and bright tone at the start of his career and naturally matured over the course of his career until the mid-1980s until his throat surgery in 1987 changed his voice from a tenor to a baritone, and it's only deepened since. He has rarely used his trademark falsetto range since the voice change, with the extent of his ability to even do so any longer shrouded in mystery.
- Vocal Range Exceeded: By Elton's 1986 "Tour De Force" concert tour promoting Leather Jackets, one in which Elton and his band would be accompanied for part of the set list by a symphony orchestra, Elton would suffer increasing vocal problems due to frequent marijuana and alcohol abuse, bulimic binging and purging and drug-fueled vocal oversinging and misuse, culminating in the recording of the concert film and live album Live in Australia, where he very clearly is struggling throughout the concert from vocal strain and laryngitis. Doctors would soon discover non-cancerous, though career-threatening, nodules in his throat. Surgery done in 1987 would prove successful, but would vocally put Elton out of commission for several months. When he returned by late 1987 at a Prince's Trust concert special, his tenor vocal range would be lowered to a baritone.
- Word Salad Lyrics: "Levon", "Take Me to the Pilot", "Solar Prestige a Gammon". The latter was a deliberate attempt to invoke The Walrus Was Paul, and like many other examples of the trope, got heavily (over-)analysed anyway.