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Elton John: His 10 Best Country Songs

With the release of the biopic ‘Rocketman,’ we revisit the performer’s must-hear country-leaning tracks

Elton John

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In August 1980, 10 years after he made his triumphant U.S. debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, rock & roll icon Elton John celebrated with a party at another L.A. nightspot. Long famed for his outlandish costumes and turbo-charged stage show, John’s appearance at North Hollywood’s Palomino club — recognized as one of the West Coast’s most important country-music venues — might have seemed as out-of-character as the fringe-festooned black jacket or the rhinestone stars adorning the singer’s cowboy hat. But that night, as he and four musicians from his new band were joined by members of the Palomino house band, John’s brief performance included a pair of his best-known tunes, “Tiny Dancer” and “Your Song,” along with Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go,” a country-pop classic he frequently played in English pubs in the Sixties.

“I’ve always loved country music,” John told CMT in 2005, just ahead of a performance with Dolly Parton on the CMA Awards. “I love hillbilly music, I love bluegrass music. It’s just the musicianship that I love.” While name-checking several legends — Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash — John also spoke with the authority and passion of a new fan in that same interview, citing Gary Allan’s Tough All Over from that year as one of his favorite discs. And while their output as collaborators has incorporated rock, pop, gospel and blues influences, John’s longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin reached a new audience with his work in 2002, co-writing (with Matt Serletic) Willie Nelson and Lee Ann Womack’s Grammy-winning “Mendocino County Line.”

Meanwhile, Taupin’s solo albums — as well as two LPs with his acoustic-roots outfit, Farm Dogs — have been peppered with country-leaning songs celebrating the influence the genre had on him while growing up in the northeast of England. In 2018, John and Taupin enlisted a who’s who of artists for a pair of albums covering many of their best-known hits. The country portion of that set, Restoration, included Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton, Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash.

As moviegoers prepare for their first look at Rocketman, the fantastical, decidedly nontraditional retelling of Reginald Kenneth Dwight’s transformation from pudgy but musically gifted London schoolboy to internationally recognized superstar Elton John, we revisit 10 of the musician’s most country-influenced performances on record.

Elton John

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“No Shoestrings on Louise” (1970)

Owing more than a passing debt to Mick Jagger’s drawling “Dear Doctor” from the Stones’ Beggars Banquet a couple years earlier, the budding superstar slags off city women like the cunning Louise, who “milked the male population clean,” on this track off his self-titled LP. The track’s deeper Music City connections are found in one of its background singers — a British chap named Roger Cook (dad to CMT personality Katie Cook), whose country songs have been cut by George Strait, Don Williams and Crystal Gayle.

Elton John

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“Country Comfort” (1971)

A gem from the John-Taupin catalogue that has been covered numerous times by country artists from John Anderson to Juice Newton, this centerpiece of the quintessentially Americana LP Tumbleweed Connection celebrates the simpler life, before industrialization and gentrification took hold in the South. Recorded before his own version by friend Rod Stewart, John would revisit the song on the 2001 album Earl Scruggs and Friends, backed by the bluegrass legend’s banjo.

Elton John

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“Slave” (1972)

On Honky Chateau, the same LP in which he portrayed a modern explorer of outer space via “Rocket Man,” Elton fell to earth in the form of an African-American pre-Civil War slave, yearning to free himself, his family and his enslaved brothers from the shackles of oppression. With wailing steel guitar echoing the tears of his beloved, and a chorus sung in his affecting falsetto, “Slave” is a tender country ballad exuding grit and determination.

Elton John

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“Texan Love Song” (1972)

Nearly 50 years ago this comically country over-the-top piss-take on the conservative Lone Star State wasn’t considered as un-PC as it might be now. But Archie Bunker apparently wasn’t the only one in the Seventies bemoaning the infiltration of unwashed long-haired Nixon-hating hippies, Commies and fairies — or foreign pop stars — on America’s once-pristine soil. Peppered with slurs, curse words and death threats, and sung by Elton in a snarling twang, it’s still a hilarious-as-hell ditty, but not exactly a concert staple. He did, however, perform the Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player track once in 1998… in Austin, Texas.

Elton John

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“Roy Rogers” (1973)

One of the many charms of John’s brilliant Goodbye Yellow Brick Road LP was the brightly colored nostalgia in tunes including “Candle in the Wind” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” And the pre-adolescent escapism of “Roy Rogers,” an ode to John’s childhood hero, who ruled movie and TV screens in a hero’s white cowboy hat, is likely the most innocent and idyllic the glittering rocker would ever sound on record. The “great sequined cowboy” (the only performer enshrined twice in the Country Music Hall of Fame) would inspire more than a few of John’s future wardrobe choices as well.

Elton John

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“Jack Rabbit” (1973)

Why more country and bluegrass acts haven’t picked up on this barn-burner of a tune, the B-side to “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” is a mystery. An infectious ode to a renegade bunny on the run from a farmer’s gunfire, there’s admittedly not a whole lot to the tune, which runs under two minutes and consists of the same verse and chorus being repeated twice. But the playing is superb and still warrants multiple listens, if only to contemplate the wily title character’s fate.

Elton John

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“Dixie Lily” (1974)

John and Taupin revisit the American South with a majestic little tune in which one can envision them relaxing on the banks of the Mississippi as the title riverboat chugs past. Elton’s delightful honky-tonk piano moves the song along as the lyrics, once again nostalgic and dreamy, conjure a simpler time with him “watching ol’ Lily leave the world behind.” Country, with a touch of Dixieland jazz, it’s one of the pair’s most picturesque creations and a highlight of 1974’s Caribou.

Elton John

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“Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” (1975)

From the album that told the tale of their early days as musical collaborators, it was, frankly, somewhat disconcerting to pore over the Dali-esque cover art of the LP’s gatefold sleeve for the first time, only to drop the needle on what starts off as a gentle country-rock ballad. Before long, however, the title track’s quicker rock pace mirrors the pair’s dizzying ride to the top, before settling back down to its earthier beginning. Elton and Bernie offered an updated version as the title cut of 2006’s The Captain & the Kid.

Elton John

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“Can’t Get Over Getting Over Losing You” (1981)

Penned with Gary Osborne, Elton stakes a claim as a country crooner in this B-side of the U.K.-only single “Just Like Belgium.” “Can’t Get Over Getting Over Losing You” takes a page out of Opry legend Bill Anderson’s lyrical playbook — specifically his “Once a Day,” penned for Connie Smith. “I hardly ever think of you except in the morning and then in the evening, again in the afternoon,” he sings. Instead of drowning his sorrows, though, the singer expresses confidence that he’ll soon get his life together. Sure, the lyrics could use some Music Row polish, but it’s fun to hear John’s take on Nashville pathos.

Elton John

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“Jimmie Rodgers’ Dream” (2010)

A highlight of The Union, John’s terrific collaboration with one of his greatest influences, this one is told from the perspective of Rodgers, the undisputed Father of Country Music. John and Taupin, with assistance from LP producer T Bone Burnett, craft a heartbreaking yet intoxicating tale of the Singing Brakeman’s final hours as the Mississippi-born musician recounts vivid scenes from throughout his short lifetime. Rodgers died in 1933 at just 35, in a room at New York’s Taft Hotel, but in this poignant duet, recorded six years before Russell’s own passing, his storytelling spirit — as well as those of Russell, John and Taupin — is wonderfully alive and vibrant.