Elton John’s work can be divided up into two groups; his 70’s output and the other stuff. Here we provided our guide of his best albums. We’re not saying others aren’t worth a look but these are gold and well worth investing in if you don’t already have them.
Elton John is the second album by English singer-songwriter Elton John, released in April 1970. It includes his breakthrough hit, “Your Song“, and helped to establish his career during what was considered the “singer-songwriter” era of popular music.
This was the first of a string of Elton John albums produced by Gus Dudgeon. As Dudgeon recalled in a Mix Magazine interview, the album wasn’t actually intended to launch John as an artist, but rather as a collection of polished demos for other artists to consider recording his and co-writer Bernie Taupin’s songs.
In 1967, Taupin answered an advertisement for talent placed in the NME. Elton John answered the same advert and although neither Bernie nor Elton passed the audition for Liberty Records, Ray Williams recognized their talents and put them in touch with each other. The duo have collaborated on more than 30 albums to date.
Standout tracks on this album are “Your Song”, “I Need You To Turn To” and “Sixty Years On”, although the whole album is strong.
1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road would be our choice for Elton’s best work and is also a great place to start. It’s a double and there’s no filler. Recording quality is extremely good too.
Under the working titles of Vodka and Tonics and Silent Movies, Talking Pictures, Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics in two and a half weeks, with John composing most of the music in three days while staying at the Pink Flamingo Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica. He had wanted to go to Jamaica he has said, in part, because the Rolling Stones had just recorded Goats Head Soup there. Production on the album was started in Jamaica in January 1973, though after difficulties with the sound system and the studio piano, coupled with disturbance due to the Joe Frazier and George Foreman boxing match taking place in Kingston, and violent political tension due to the poor economic situation, the band decided to move before any productive work was done.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was recorded in two weeks at the Château d’Hérouville in France, where John had previously recorded Honky Château and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player. While a version of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” was recorded in Jamaica, that recording was discarded, and the released version of the song came from the sessions at the château.
According to the album’s producer, Gus Dudgeon, the album was not planned as a two-record collection. In total, John and Taupin composed 22 tracks for the album, of which 18 (counting “Funeral for a Friend” and “Love Lies Bleeding” as two discrete tracks) were used, enough that it was released as a double album, John’s first.
Through the medium of cinematic metaphor, the album builds on nostalgia for a childhood and culture left in the past. It is both cinematic in scale and reference. Stand out tracks include the 11-minute “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” which to this day is a test for any fine audio system. Others of note include the title track, the Marilyn Monroe tribute “Candle in the Wind” and “Harmony”.
Elton’s band for this album was essentially his touring band and they were all exceptional musicians.
Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy was released in 1975 and is an introspective album written about the hardships and life experiences of John and his song-writing partner Taupin. It is largely autobiographical.
Written, according to lyricist Bernie Taupin, in chronological order, Captain Fantastic is a concept album that gives an autobiographical glimpse at the struggles John (Captain Fantastic) and Taupin (the Brown Dirt Cowboy) had in the early years of their musical careers in London (from 1967 to 1969), leading up to John’s eventual breakthrough in 1970. The lyrics and accompanying photo booklet are infused with a specific sense of place and time that would otherwise be rare in John’s music. John composed the music on a ship voyage from the UK to New York.
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, the only single released from the album (and a number 4 hit on the US Pop Singles chart), is a semi-autobiographical story about John’s disastrous engagement to Linda Woodrow, and his related 1968 suicide attempt. The “Someone” refers to Long John Baldry, who convinced him to break off the engagement rather than ruin his music career for an unhappy marriage. It was viewed by Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau as the best track on the album: “As long as Elton John can bring forth one performance per album on the order of ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’, the chance remains that he will become something more than the great entertainer he already is and go on to make a lasting contribution to rock.”
In a 2006 interview with Cameron Crowe, John said, “I’ve always thought that Captain Fantastic was probably my finest album because it wasn’t commercial in any way. We did have songs such as ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight,’ which is one of the best songs that Bernie and I have ever written together, but whether a song like that could be a single these days, since it’s [more than] six minutes long, is questionable. Captain Fantastic was written from start to finish in running order, as a kind of story about coming to terms with failure—or trying desperately not to be one. We lived that story.”
John, Taupin and the band laboured harder and longer on the album than perhaps any previous record they’d ever done to that point. As opposed to the rather quick, almost factory-like process of writing and recording an album in a matter of a few days or at most a couple of weeks (as with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”), the team spent the better part of a month off the road at Caribou Ranch Studios working on the recordings. Producer Gus Dudgeon was apparently also very satisfied with the results. The album’s producer was quoted in Elizabeth Rosenthal’s “His Song”, an exhaustive detailed accounting of nearly all John’s recorded work, as saying he thought “Captain Fantastic” was the best the band and Elton had ever played, lauded their vocal work, and soundly praised Elton and Bernie’s songwriting. “There’s not one song on it that’s less than incredible,” Dudgeon said.
Also worth a listen;
Madman Across The Water which gave us “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer”
Honky Chateau which gave us “Rocket Man” and “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”