In about a year and a half Elton John and Bernie Taupin will celebrate a rather stunning achievement: 50 years working together as a songwriting team. “That makes me immensely proud,” says Taupin, phoning in from his California home. “The fact is that we’re still actually making records. We’re still a viable team. I think we’re probably the longest-lasting songwriting team in music history. I guess you could also say Jagger/Richards, if they make a new record, that is.”
But the Rolling Stones have only made a single record in the past 18 years (and even then, it was questionable how much Mick and Keith actually wrote together), but Bernie and Elton have never slowed down. Their new record, Wonderful Crazy Night, hits stores on February 5th. We spoke with Taupin about the new album, his life as a painter, his rock-solid friendship with Elton John, why he’s never heard a Kanye West song, and why he hasn’t even thought about retiring.
How did you first hear that this new record was happening?
The idea came up sooner than I expected after [2013’s] The Diving Board. I didn’t expect Elton to want to go back in so soon. The thing is, it’s my tendency to set the tenor for the albums when I’m writing. As you’ve probably realized from my past work, my tendency is to lean a little toward the more esoteric. I like darker subject matter, but I think that this time Elton felt there was enough pain and suffering in the world without me contributing to it, so he wanted to do something that exuded positive energy.
It was then just a matter of me getting over the fact that he wanted to do it so soon after the last two albums, and it was a matter of me putting on a different hat, though I liked the idea. I like the idea of coming at it from a different angle. We’re not the sort of guys who are going to solve the world’s problems and write about fracking and corporate greed. I don’t particularly have a problem with Starbucks [laughs], so we’ll leave that to other people. No names mentioned [laughs].
Tell me how you started.
Once I got the idea of it, it was pretty easy. I knew that, basically, it was gonna be a loud, brash pop record. I don’t want to say there wasn’t a tremendous amount of thought put into the songs, but I certainly realized that we wanted to blow skirts up. We wanted to write songs that were really hook-driven. As I think I wrote in the liner notes, I’m dealing with a guy that’s got more hooks than a tackle box.
The combination of the two of us on this different level was a fun adventure that we haven’t really investigated since the loud, brash pop-rock we were doing in the mid-1970s. I think it’s a natural curve for us to come back to. We’re visited our early roots with the last album, and I think it was natural to return to the poppier sound of our mid-1970s work.