Personalities | Elton John | Seventies | Rock

From a shy piano player, Elton John became one of the most extrovert performers of the 1970s. He has sold over 250 million records worldwide and is now almost a national institution.

Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on 25 March 1947, he won a part-time piano scholarship to London’s Royal Academy Of Music at the age of 11. By the time he left school in 1963 to work for a music publisher he was already playing in local band Bluesology who backed visiting American singers like Major Lance, Patti LaBelle, Doris Troy and Billy Stewart.

On The Road To Fame

In 1966 the group became a back-up band for Long John Baldry and Dwight changed his name, taking the Christian names of Baldry and saxophone player Elton Dean. He left in 1967 and teamed up with aspiring lyricist Bernie Taupin (born 22 May 1950). They signed to Dick James Music in 1968 and their songs were covered by Three Dog Night and Lulu. Elton’s first album, Empty Sky (1969) showed potential but it was Elton John (1970) that lit the fuse, particularly in America after rave reviews for his debut at the Los Angeles Troubadour. A Top 10 single with ‘Your Song’ helped the album go Top 5.

Between 1971 and 1976 Elton released over a dozen albums, seven of which went to No. 1 in the US along with five No. 1 singles. While the UK chart statistics were not as impressive (four No. 1 albums, one No. 1 single) he scored just as many hits.

1971 saw four Elton albums: Tumbleweed Connection that reflected Taupin’s fascination with the American West, the live 17-11-70, the film soundtrack Friends and the lush, haunting Madman Across The Water.

The hits started to flow in 1972, launched by ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Honky Cat’ from Honky Chateau, followed by ‘Crocodile Rock’ and ‘Daniel’ from Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player (1973), ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, ‘Candle In The Wind’ and ‘Bennie And The Jets’ from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) and ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ and ‘The Bitch Is Back’ from Caribou (1974).

Hitting The Right Note

Elton’s flamboyant shows – his outrageous glasses got bigger in proportion to the venue – made him one of the top live attractions. In 1974, after he had recorded a cover of The Beatles’ ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ with ‘Dr. Winston O’Boogie’ on guitar, he persuaded Winston’s alter ego John Lennon to join him on stage at New York’s Madison Square Garden. It was to prove Lennon’s last live appearance.

Elton premiered Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975) at London’s Wembley Stadium and immediately followed up with Rock Of The Westies (1975) featuring ‘Island Girl’. After his first UK No. 1 single with ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ (a duet with Kiki Dee) and the double album Blue Moves (1976) Elton took a break and bought Watford Football Club.

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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