Empty Sky (Uni, 1969)
Elton John (Uni, 1970)
Tumbleweed Connection (Uni, 1971)
11-17-70 (Uni, 1971)
Madman Across the Water (Uni, 1971)
Honky Chateau (Uni, 1972)
Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player (MCA, 1973)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (MCA, 1973)
Caribou (MCA, 1974)
Greatest Hits (MCA, 1974)
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (MCA, 1975)
Rock of the Westies (MCA, 1975)
Here and There (MCA, 1976)
Blue Moves (MCA, 1976)
Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (MCA, 1977)
A Single Man (MCA, 1978)
Victim of Love (MCA, 1979)
The Complete Thom Bell Sessions (MCA, 1979)
21 at 33 (MCA, 1980)
The Fox (MCA, 1980)
Jump Up! (Geffen, 1982)
Too Low for Zero (Geffen, 1983)
Breaking Hearts (Geffen, 1984)
Ice on Fire (Geffen, 1985)
Leather Jackets (Geffen, 1986)
Live in Australia (MCA, 1987)
Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (Geffen, 1988)
Reg Strikes Back (MCA, 1988)
Sleeping With the Past (MCA, 1989)
To Be Continued (MCA, 1990)
The One (MCA, 1992)
Duets (MCA, 1993)
Made in England (Rocket/Island, 1995)
Love Songs (Mercury, 1996)
The Big Picture (Mercury, 1997)
Aida (Mercury, 1999)
One Night Only (Universal, 2000)
Songs From the West Coast (Universal, 2001)
Peachtree Road (Universal, 2004)
The Captain & The Kid (Universal, 2006)
Rocket Man: The Definitive Hits (Mercury, 2007)
The Elton Run is a great road-trip game: Using the radio's scan and seek buttons, see how long you can keep a continuous streak of Elton hits rolling. It's been proven possible to follow the Elton Run up I-95 from Virginia all the way to Boston. The hazard: One sixth of your listening time will be devoted to "Your Song," Elton's most overplayed standard even though everybody hates it. ("If I was a sculptor/But then again, no": Jesus H. Christ on ice and Mary in the penalty box.) But Elton has a staggering number of hits—at least one in the Top Forty every year from 1970 through 1995. With his electric boots and mohair suits, he's the prima of all donnas, sitting like a princess perched in his electric chair. He entertains by picking brains. He sells his soul by dropping names. And for all his camp flamboyance, he's aged into the one of the most beloved entertainers on earth.
Elton's best album is Greatest Hits, Vol. #2, the cream of his grand early-to-mid-Seventies run: "Philadelphia Freedom" (written for tennis great Billie Jean King), "The Bitch Is Back," "Island Girl," "Levon," and "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." To ward off that annoying great-artist smell, there are also horrific versions of "Pinball Wizard" and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." Greatest Hits has too much goop but seven historic classics including "Rocket Man," a Bowie rip that's one of the best songs about husbandhood ever written; the gangsta-gangsta "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," where Elton grabs his switchblade and motorbike to hit the leather bars; and the terrifying "Bennie and the Jets," an occult invocation to the pagan goddesses of glam rock, complete with blood, honor, electric music, riots in the streets, and a sacrifice of the fatted calf.
Elton always made erratic albums, but if the hits are all you know, you'd be surprised how many great songs he scattered along the way. Songwriting partner Bernie Taupin provided great stupid lyrics ("Bennie and the Jets") and stupid serious lyrics ("Candle in the Wind"); he also wrote some great serious lyrics ("Rocket Man"), which happened just often enough to keep everyone confused. The Wild West concept job Tumbleweed Connection has "Country Comfort" and "Amoreena," the song that plays over the opening credits of Dog Day Afternoon. Madman Across the Water has "Levon," an excellent imitation of Cher's consonants-only vocal style. Honky Chateau, Elton's first actual rock & roll album, has some of his greatest nonhits, such as "Mellow," "Hercules," "Slave," and "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters." The Truffaut answer record, Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, comes down to the hits: "Crocodile Rock," which Elton revived with an all-croc band on "The Muppet Show," and the extremely annoying "Daniel."
The double-vinyl Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is Elton's biggest, best, catchiest, silliest, most pretentious, and most rocking set, a fun house of pansexual perversion. It's packed with mythic hits and oddities, with special praise for side three's femme-fatale triptych of "Sweet Painted Lady," "Dirty Little Girl," and "All the Young Girls Love Alice." ("Getting paid for being laid/I guess that's the name of the game"—oh, that Bernie.) Caribou has glitzy bitch-rockers plus the cozy love ballad "Pinky." Rock of the Westies has "Island Girl," a much more honest song about prostitution than "Lady Marmalade," and the fantastic self-loathing ballad "I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford)," one of his best songs ever, and buried on the flip side of the awful "Grow Some Funk of Your Own." The autobiographical Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy didn't have many good songs, but it inspired a pinball machine, back when that really meant something.
Elton's popularity took a dive around the time he came out, in the late Seventies, and so did his music. He fought his way back with "Mama Can't Buy You Love" (sweet Philly soul), "Little Jeannie" (remembered for the idiotic chorus "I want you to be my acrobat"), and the triumphant "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues." He even cracked MTV with the gayest video ever, "I'm Still Standing." On the radio, Elton was rolling like thunder under the covers, but he faded as a songwriter. His Eighties hits had occasional glimmers, such as "Kiss the Bride" and "Wrap Her Up." Duets had a funny remake of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," with RuPaul as Kiki Dee.
The 2000s witnessed something of an Elton renaissance. Songs From the West Coast was such a great idea, you wonder why it took 25 years: Why doesn't Elton just sit down at the piano and make an Elton John album? The result was easily the Captain's most fantastic platter since Rock of the Westies. Peachtree Road played like a sequel, with Elton and Taupin turning in some of their most personal songs ever, as well as ballads like "They Call Her the Cat," about a post-op transsexual woman. Billed as the official followup to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, The Captain & The Kid was an autobiographical concept album about Elton and Taupin's lives since the Seventies, rocking out with red-blooded fervor on hot ones like "Just Like Noah's Ark."
Elton has been such a hit-making machine that he's had some hits twice, such as "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," which became a 1991 duet with George Michael ("Ladies and gentlemen…Mr. Elton John!"), and "Candle in the Wind," rewritten in 1997 for Princess Diana's funeral. The Rocket Man is a career-spanning one-disc hits collection, usefull if you don't have Vol. #2 or a car stereo.
Elton also has many live albums and muddled compilations—the one called Love Songs includes "Daniel," even though it's apparently about driving your brother to the airport. The pricey, filler—stuffed box To Be Continued is a case of great music in a clunky package. The 1991 tribute album Two Rooms features a strange array of celebrities pretending they understand what the songs are about: Kate Bush comes close, but Roger Daltrey and Jon Bon Jovi don't stand a chance.
Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).
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