The Long and Winding Yellow Brick Road: Three Must-Read Elton John Biographies
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Say what you want about Elton John, but the superstar is still standing after all these years.
Despite a string of well-documented struggles, John is as resilient — and relevant — as ever, with the blockbuster biopic Rocketman generating renewed interest in the singer’s life and catalog. Fueled by the popularity of the film, books on John have soared in popularity online, with with both fans and curious onlookers wanting a glimpse into the at once thrilling and tumultuous life of the man born Reginald Kenneth Dwight.
We’ve rounded up three of the best-selling biographies about Elton John that you can get online. Captain Fantastic focuses specifically on John’s scintillating seventies rise to mega-fame, and pulls from over 90 firsthand interviews with the people closest to him. The book reveals the raw stories behind almost every song from those ten years, along with previously unpublished details of his collaborations with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin, as well as conversations with John’s original bandmates. It also touches upon his struggles with sexuality at a time when being gay wasn’t widely accepted, and had only become legal a few years prior (John came out as bisexual in a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone, later stating he was “quite comfortable being gay” in another 1992 RS interview). Though this is only one decade of his 50+ year odyssey, there’s more than enough packed into these ten years to fill multiple books. The stories of Elton’s ascent is a lively, colorful, intimate and insightful look at a creative force that would change music forever.
The second, an autobiography in John’s own words, features him looking back and speaking candidly about everything from his on-stage costumes to his off-stage temper-tantrums, with his signature wit and cheeky commentary. Some stories are lighter than others, such as meeting lyricist Taupin in 1967. The two quickly shared a songwriting chemistry, along with a fascination with the imagery and sounds of the American south and west (and then later shared a bunk bed in London’s Tin Pan Alley). Other stories delve into the heavier subjects, revealing more details into the difficulties he faced as his fame increased. Heartfelt and often hilarious, John proves himself as not only a seasoned musician and performer, but a great writer as well.
Finally, David Buckley’s Elton: The Biography offers a third-party observational summation of his life, from the outside looking in. Buckley’s book traces the long trajectory of John’s complex career, documenting his battles with partners, management, tabloids, and his own thoughts of quitting the music business for good. It’s a realistic portrait of John’s character, as well as his extreme generosity – John started the AIDS Foundation in 1992, raising more than $300 million over 24 years.
All three of these are must-reads for any Elton John fan.
1. Captain Fantastic: The Definitive Biography of Elton John in the ’70s
The seventies were a career-defining decade for Elton John, and a wild ride (for both him and the reader). At over 800 pages, this bio is loaded with interviews, most of which the author conducted in-person with important players in John’s life.
The stories offer a backstage glimpse into his dazzling performances and difficult personal life, from the highs of hanging with legends such as Katherine Hepburn and John Lennon to the stories behind the songs, and finding his signature sound of sadness and sass, wistfulness and wit.
The attention to detail here is meticulous, sometimes intensely, like his suicide attempts, one of which had never before been spoken of. While the story of John in the seventies could likely fill a few more books, this stops at the decade’s end, and some readers will want to continue on to other books on our list to read about the singer’s decline in the eighties and meteoric rise back to the top.
Extensively researched and well-written, with never before published photos, the book features a foreword by Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and an afterword by pianist A.J. Croce, son of Jim.
2. Me: Elton John Official Autobiography
The only official autobiography by Sir Elton, this first-person tell-all describes the days of hanging with legends like Elvis, Gianni Versace, Freddie Mercury, Princess Diana and even Queen Elizabeth. But while the behind-the-scenes celebrity anecdotes are fun to read, getting clean is a significant part of the story here, as John is fully open about his mistakes, and the pit of drug addiction that took him decades to climb out of.
While it’s a rough ride, the tone is told from a modern-day John who has found peace in sobriety and foundation in family. His writing is honest and raw, with a twinge of wit, and self-deprecating dark humor.
Fans wanting to know more about John’s songwriting and recording process might be more interested in the other options here. Still, this is an enjoyable and well-written ride through an amazing career, as told by the Rocketman himself.
3. Elton: The Biography
Starting in the late 1960s, this is a comprehensive and sometimes critical deep-dive into the Captain’s captivating career.
From his rocky childhood in a post-war London suburb, the book tracks the development of Elton John as a performer and a person, the influence that music has had on him, and in turn, the influence he’s had on music and pop culture as a whole.
Author David Buckley doesn’t sugar-coat anything here, and shines aggressive sunlight on John’s dark demons of divorce, substance abuse, slander in British tabloids, and struggles with both physical and mental health.
The real difference in Buckley’s book that sets it apart from the others is delving into Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s songwriting process. The two had an instant and unmatched creative chemistry. According to Buckley, Taupin would write stacks of lyrics, and if one resonated with John, he could crank out a hit song – sometimes in under 15 minutes while the band was having breakfast.
Buckley, who has previously written about David Bowie and R.E.M, has packed this book with first-hand interviews and meticulous research, telling John’s story as a gripping, page-turner drama.
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