Sir Elton John in his heyday, was part of the British wave of modern pop rock. Elton John has sold more than 300 million records making him one of the best-selling music artists in the world. He also boasts the achievement of 58 Billboard “top 40s” and 27 “top 10s” singles in his career. His Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised more than 200 million dollars in contributions to AIDS research. In light of the upcoming movie “Rocket Man” in May 31st we put together the story behind the rocket man. We look at where he came from, the impact he made, and where the mother ship is today.
Elton John was not actually born with the name Elton John. During the beginning of his career, he used his birth name Reginald Kenneth Dwight to his parents Stanley and Sheila Dwight. As a boy, he was called “Reg,” or “Reggie.” In 1972 he had changed his name and said: “if my mother can call me Elton, then so can everyone else.”
Elton John is one of the most iconic names in the world today. Chances are no matter where you are in the world, you can ask someone if he has heard of the musician, and you will most likely get an enthusiastic “of course.” The amusing part about this is he got the idea for his new name from taking the first name of one bandmate, and the last name of another.
Even as a child, Elton John impressed as a possible future musical prodigy. According to his family, he has learned to play the piano at the age of three teaching himself “The Skater’s Waltz” by ear. By the age of eleven, he had earned a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London!
Studying at the Royal Academy of Music proved to be a significant investment of time considering it gave Elton John the tools he needed to produce good music in mass, and really monetize his talents early. Between 1970, and 1971 he had already released a whopping four albums!
Elton John was able to enjoy very early success in his career. He was extremely present on stage and full of energy, and provide his fans with masses of songs to be able to choose from. His enthusiasm was captivating, and it earned him fifteen hit singles in just three years!
5 Minute Compositions
Elton John’s musical education proved even more critical when it came to his creative process. John and his good friend Bernie Taupin had worked together on Elton’s songs. Taupin would provide him with lyrics, and Elton was reportedly able to provide a composition within just fifteen minutes at most!
Lennon’s Final Show
Elton John’s early stardom earned him the habitué of some of the most prominent rock musicians of the 60s and 70s. One of these dear friends was Beatles legend, John Lennon. After Elton John played piano on Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” and told Elton that if the song made No. 1 on the charts, he would get up on stage with him. Lennon got up and played a three-song set soon after with Elton in Madison Square Garden. It would be John Lennon’s last live show.
Working in the public eye can be a very challenging life. Everywhere a celebrity goes, someone is listening. Any wrong thing said in an interview can get taken out of context and start a year’s long feud, and when David Bowie called Elton a “token queen” of rock & roll, Elton took great offense, and their friendship fell out of balance in suit.
Playing for the Soviets
Very few musicians dared play in the Soviet Union during the late 70s and early 80s. The United States and the Soviets were still in the midst of a cold war and healing from the scars of foreign wars. Musicians like Elton played a big part in building bridges with Russians. In 1979 Elton took the mantel and was one of the first musicians to take the leap of faith and play for the Russian people. John was surprised at the prone displays of emotion displayed by the Russian fans.
“What Should We Call Her?”
Elton John draws a lot of his inspiration from his female counterparts and has named each one of his pianos after female musicians he gets inspiration from, including Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, and Diana Krall. He called his “one-million-dollar piano” Blossom, after Jazz singer Blossom Dearie.
The Wedding Singer
Booking a private band for your wedding is an expensive ordeal even on the low budget end, you will end up paying $4,000 an hour. Imagine having Elton John play at your wedding! Well for a million dollars you can, and don’t worry it’s for good cause as Elton John donates it to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, to fund research and treatment for AIDS.
Elton John is a lifelong soccer fan, and quickly got involved in the business of “football” when he became chairman, and president of his home town team the “Watford Football Club” in the 70s, and the 90s. His relationship with the team still holds steady as a set a bleacher was named after him, and his 7-year-old son even plays in the team’s academy division.
The beginning of Elton’s career was a time of great trial and tribulation. He had formed his first band “Bluesology” in 1962. The band would headline small venues and open for visiting American artist in the UK. It would be with Bluesology that Elton gets his name, and takes it solo.
Weekend at Bernie’s
In 1967 after leaving the band for a solo career, Elton John answered an ad in the music magazine to be a staff songwriter for Liberty Records. John may have been a great theoretical music writer, but he was not very lyrical. There is where he met Bernie Taupin. Taupin wrote lyrics but had no sense of composing. Their partnership was born, and the rest would be history.
Writing a hit is no easy feat, and finding a person who you enjoy working within the music industry can mean pure luck. It’s that chemistry that brings bands to the next level at the end of the day. Maybe Taupin wasn’t on stage, but it did not change the fact that the strength and chemistry he shares with Elton John launched their careers sky high. Their first single; “I’ v Been Loving You.”
Knowing who you are and what you want is a vital part of going public in the world, especially in the music industry. Elton John had a great sense of himself and was ready to debut his first U.S. album “Empty Sky” in 1970, and this was only the beginning. He still hadn’t taken himself to the American stage yet!
“Tuesday night at the Troubadour was just the beginning,’ he wrote. ‘[John is] going to be one of rock’s biggest and most important stars.” Those are the words of music critic Robert Hilburn after he attended one of Elton’s six shows in LA when he first debuted live in the U.S. Stars like Stephen Stills, Leon Russell, and even Diana Ross had packed the front row to get a chance to see the new star from Great Britain.
Unlike pop music, rock & roll is a no fake it and make it industry, if you can’t deliver live, you will not hold your fan base. Elton John was able to showcase his live performance skill with his album “17-11-70.” When word got out that an album was released of Elton’s A&R Studios in New York, it was scooped up immediately.
Elton John had the opportunity of meeting tennis star Billie Jean King at a party in 1971. The two had immediately hit it off and become great friends. To this day John reportedly takes her on tour with him to have a tennis buddy during his downtime! It’s nice to have a friend who can share something other than music with you, I guess.
Lucky Number Seven
Elton John had an extraordinary run with hit songs reaching a consecutive seven album number 1 charting spanning from May 1972 with Honky Château (featuring “Rocket Man” and “Honky Cat”), and lasted through Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player (1973), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973), Caribou (1974), Elton John’s Greatest Hits (1974), Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975) and rock of the Westies (1975).
Back in the day, making a debut top 200 song on the Billboard was no easy task. Today with social media, the process is dominated by very few groups who hold the mantles and dictate the music world. Back then you had to compete with the world for the best song. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy was the first album to debut at No. 1. He accomplished the same feat again with his next album, Rock of the Westies, which stands as John’s last No. 1, who knows if he would have gotten that fare shot today.
If you never heard of Elton John, you will in the upcoming movie made about him. You know you will! You will jump on that bandwagon to feel included, and support that hipster image. Take notes, and bring rock & roll back to America and I’ll forgive you. You may see Johns sold out 100,000 fans show at Dodger’s stadium. This is what music used to be all about.
John & Townshend
Being Elton John meant very quickly being exposed to everyone who’s anyone in rock & roll, he had even played the studio recording for The Who’s rock opera “Tommy.” Pete Townshend has said in his memoir ‘Who I Am,’ “It was a revelation to observe how quickly and efficiently Elton and his band worked, nailing a driving track with solos, lead and backing vocals in less than four hours.”
Coming out in the 1970s was very hard. Most people that even were excepting the LGBTQ community considered it a choice not something you’re born with, and the media was the opposite of excepting of gayness. In 1976 Elton John had given hope to young gay people around the world, and come out as bisexual.
Two Year Drought
After the release of Blue Moves in 1976, John began writing Bernie Taupin but also gave the stage to other writers as well. He took nearly a year off from touring. Those things, combined with a general and entirely natural waning of his popularity yielded a two-year period in which John did not have a Top 10 single in the U.S.
‘I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues’
John reunited with Bernie Taupin and his old band for 1983’s Too Low for Zero. Their first single from the record was a ballad, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” It’s a yearning, somewhat nostalgic song that soundtracked countless slow dances and tearful farewells around the world. It also gave John a Top Five hit, marking a welcome return to the upper reaches of the singles chart.
Too Low for Zero also featured a late-career anthem for Elton John. “I’m Still Standing” is all about endurance and tenacity bouncing back from a struggle and enjoying life. The video for the song was a rather large production, complete with body-painted dancers, clowns, opulent sets and lots of extras.
Fans and press alike were shocked, and more than a little skeptical, when John married German recording engineer Renate Blauel in a ceremony in Australia. To everyone’s surprise, the marriage actually lasted four years, and to no surprise, it ended after four years. According to People (quoting London tabloid reports), the pair never consummated their marriage and slept in separate bedrooms. “I wanted more than anything to be a good husband,” John wrote years later, “but I denied who I really was – which caused my wife sadness, and caused me huge guilt and regret.”
Clearing His Throat
John underwent surgery in January 1987, to remove non-cancerous polyps from his vocal cords, a procedure that both saved his voice and changed it. “My voice is the thing that’s really improved the most over the last few years,” he told Billboard in 2004.
John’s relationship with the tabloid press was never a great one, and battle lines were crossed when the Sun published a report that John had been involved in a tryst with a male escort (or “rent boy”). John vehemently denied it, and the alleged accuser later retracted his story. “They can say I’m a fat, old sod,” John said at the time. “They can say I’m an untalented bas*&^%rd; they can call me [gay] – but they mustn’t lie about me, because then I’m going to fight, and I’m determined to be a winner.” He sued and won a case when taking the Sun for $1.6 million libel lawsuit.
Take it All
Just like anyone in the world, Elton John had at one point a clutter problem in his house that he decided to solve with a public auction. Only his clutter of an original Andy Warhol painting of Marilyn Monroe just sitting around, nor do we have pottery busts of Queen Elizabeth II, or Cartier silver baskets or hundreds of iconic stage costumes were worth almost 9 million dollars.
Stars in the 70s who were obviously showing signs of femininity, or the opposite, had always taken the step back from coming out as gay. The world was just not excepting with the fact that stars would come out, and many who did come out had been significantly affected for it and lost fan base. It’s unfortunate when you think about it, but although everyone may have already had a hunch, Elton John did not dare to open up until 1988.
Coming Back with the Hits
Elton and George Michael had performed John’s 1974 No. 2 hit “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” at Live Aid in 1985. Michael was doing all the actual singing, and John and his band accompanying the Wham! In 1991, Michael, now a solo artist, brought John out at a show in Wembley Arena to share the vocals, and a recording of that performance became a massive, worldwide hit, ascending to No. 1 on the Hot 100 in the U.S.
Elton John AIDS Foundation
Having been moved to sobriety in the wake of Ryan White’s, and Freddie Mercury’s deaths, Elton John decided it was time to act and created the Elton John AIDS Foundation. He formed to help find a cure “by raising funds for evidence-based programs and policies, and also by speaking out with honesty and compassion about the realities of people’s lives,” according to the foundation’s website. The group has raised over $400 million since 1992.
A Tribute to a Friend
In 1992, Elton John had taken the stage with Axl Rose to sing a tribute to his dear old friend, fellow activist, and inspirational musician Freddie Mercury. John and Rose chose to play Bohemian Rhapsody at London’s Wembley Stadium Tribute for Freddie Mercury.
The Lion King
John created the music for Disney’s The Lion King in 1994. Since then the film has made $422 million. He also landed himself a couple hits in the process, including “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” which hit No. 4 on the Hot 100. When the Lion King was taken to Broadway in 1997, it was an even bigger hit and has grossed a reported $6 billion since its debut. You go, John! Stay tuned for our top 40 facts you need to know about the movie Rocket Man and make sure to check out our special on Bohemian Rhapsody too!