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Ten Incredible Elton John Performances

Watch renditions of classics like ‘Bennie and the Jets,’ ‘Your Song’ and ‘Rocket Man’

Elton John

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Unlike many of his contemporaries, Elton John has been performing consistently since breaking big in the early Seventies, rarely going for very long without playing a tour or residency. This gallery collects 10 brilliant performances of some of his best songs, from his early days as a glam rocker through his current status as an elder statesman of pop.

By Matthew Perpetua

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‘Take Me to the Pilot’

"Take Me to the Pilot" is a staple of John's live set in part because it's wonderfully malleable, sounding great as a straight piano rock number or with a full-on orchestral arrangement. This version, filmed at the BBC studio in 1970, splits the difference with strings and back-up singers adding flair to John's charismatic performance.

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‘Your Song’

Elton John broke big with "Your Song," which remains one of pop's greatest heartstring-tugging ballads. He's performed the tune more than any other number in his catalog, but this rendition filmed for the BBC's Top of the Pops in 1971 is a wonderful document of the song when it was still fresh and new.

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This version of "Levon," filmed for the BBC2 program Sounds for Saturday in November 1971, came out just as Madman Across the Water hit stores in the United Kingdom. It's a staggering performance – John is just entering his prime as a vocalist, and his band lays down a fluid groove that adds a soulful dimension to what would otherwise be a straight ballad.

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‘Grey Seal’

"Grey Seal" didn't turn up on an album until 1974's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, but it was kicking around in John's catalog since the earliest days of his career. This performance, shot at a concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in 1974, captures the groovy, swooping rocker in its finished form, complete with wild bongo accompaniment.

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‘Bennie and the Jets’

John's 1980 free concert in Manhattan's Central Park attracted one of the biggest crowds in the history of pop music at the time, with the star playing to a vast audience of 400,000. He brought his A-game to the show, particularly in this confident, energetic version of the groovy hit "Bennie and the Jets" that stretches out to 10 minutes with an impressive improvised section that inspires a great deal of air-piano playing in the audience.

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‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’

Elton John was joined by Kiki Dee for this version of their perky duet "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," recorded live at the Hammersmith Odeon in London for the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1982. Both singers fully commit to the goofy spirit of the tune, resulting in a take that actually outdoes the gleeful sound of the studio recording.

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‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’

John was joined by fellow rock royalty Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Bryan Adams and Ray King for this spirited run through the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road hit "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" from the singer's set at the Prince's Trust Concert at Wembley Arena in London in 1987.

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‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’

It's pretty rare to see Elton John perform without his piano, but in this video of the singer performing his song "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" as a duet with George Michael in 1991, he's clearly relishing the opportunity to cut loose without having to pound out chords.

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‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’

Elton John and Billy Joel are the undisputed kings of piano rock and that's reason enough for them to share a stage – but beyond having similar careers, they actually complement each other very, very well. In this duet version of John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," filmed live at Madison Square Garden in 2000, the two men trade off verses and give the tune a regal vibe that sets it apart from the original mid-Seventies recording.

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‘Rocket Man’

John's voice has changed a lot over the years, with his high range slowly diminishing as he advances in age. He's still a remarkable vocalist, though, as is clear in this rendition of "Rocket Man," filmed at the star's Red Piano revue in Las Vegas in 2005. His phrasing has gone deeper and raspier, lending the tune a kingly gravitas.