There are few surviving artists of the ‘70s that still have an enduring legacy in the 21st century. While most have resided to a quieter life and are now remembered for their past glory, Elton John is a rare exception.
After all, he has collaborated with stars such as Dua Lipa in 2021 for Cold Heart (Pnau Remix) which became the sixth and seventh most-streamed song on Spotify and Apple respectively. The release made him the first solo artist to score a UK Top 10 single in six different decades, proving his generational reach. Not stopping there, John worked with pop icon Britney Spears for Hold Me Closer in 2022 which debuted at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the UK Singles Chart. Clearly, The Rocket Man has still got it.
In celebration of his 76th birthday today, we take a look at some of Elton John’s greatest songs. Of course, this is a difficult task given John and long-collaborating songwriter Bernie Taupin’s incredibly expansive oeuvre. The two of them not only worked well together but fast. Taupin, a former journalist, could quickly pen lyrics in a matter of hours and John would provide the accompanying melody just as swiftly. Their prolific output resulted in an iconic music legacy as one of the best-selling songwriting duos of all time. Ahead, here are 10 of John and Taupin’s most enduring and significant works for your listening pleasure.
Your Song (1970)
Arguably the single most important song in John’s career, the impact and power of Your Song cannot be understated. Before the single took up the airwaves in 1970, John was actually struggling to get recognised as an aspiring British musician after his debut album Empty Sky in 1969 failed to garner attention. When Your Song appeared in his second self-titled album, Elton John, and was promoted in America, radio DJs and listeners quickly discovered the song’s potential. Capturing both John’s sorrowful vocals and Taupin’s downplayed yet relatable lyrics, Your Song shot up in the charts, peaking at number eight on the Billboard chart and number seven on the UK Singles Chart. The song was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 and named one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. As his first international hit, Your Song would kick off an impressive slew of hits from John and Taupin for the next few decades.
Madman Across the Water (1971)
1971 was a busy year for the British artist. In that year alone, John released four albums, each entering the Billboard Charts. Madman Across the Water was his fourth studio album and the track of the same name couldn’t be left out of this list. Although it was not originally promoted as a single, Madman became one of John’s well-known songs due to the stripped-back nature of the song—a departure from his usual energetic pop-rock style. Featuring his powerful vocals amidst a full orchestration, Madman gave fans a glimpse into John’s progressive rock artistry.
Tiny Dancer (1971)
For a start, Tiny Dancer is criminally underrated. At least, it was when it was first released in the same Madman album. The song only made it to number 41 on the Billboard charts. However, like most of his songs, Tiny Dancer gained traction in the later years for the masterpiece that it is. The song also got a second wind of life after memorably being featured in the 2000 film Almost Famous. With masterful storytelling by Taupin, John’s signature piano and a nice dose of country twang, Tiny Dancer went on to become certified 3X Platinum in America and Gold in the UK in 2018, showing what an incredible shelf-life this song has.
Rocket Man (1972)
This list wouldn’t be right without this song. After all, it is John’s most famous nickname and the title of his 2019 biopic which has become synonymous with the legend himself. Released in 1972 as part of the Honky Château album, it rose to number two in the UK and number six in America and spent more than three months on both charts. Taupin shared that he was inspired by Ray Bradbury’s 1951 short story, The Rocket Man, which follows a lonely astronaut who misses his family while on a long mission. The iconic chorus can also be found in the chart-topping Cold Heart collaboration with Dua Lipa in 2021. Fun fact, Taupin was driving to his parents’ house when the first verse of Rocket Man hit him. Because he was on the highway with no way to write it down, he repeated the verse to himself over and over again for two whole hours. Safe to say, we’re glad he was able to write it down before he lost his train of thought!
Candle in the Wind (1973)
Originally written as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, Candle in the Wind is undoubtedly one of John’s best-known, if not the best, songs in his expansive discography. It became even more successful after the English singer adapted it to honour his close friend, Princess Diana, after her death in 1997, titling it Candle in the Wind 1997. The song became a huge worldwide hit, selling more than 30 million copies. All artist and composer royalties and profits were donated to The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, which was estimated to be at $150 million in 1999.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
As the title track of his seventh studio album of the same name, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is often heralded as John’s best song. In an album also considered his best, that’s saying something. Using iconic imagery from the Wizards of Oz, Taupin wanted to relay the message of going back to the roots and finding tranquillity in life again after dizzying mega-success. The song features John’s incredible vocals and a riveting orchestral arrangement.
Bennie and the Jets (1974)
Making up another number-one hit for John, Bennie and the Jets came about from Taupin’s vision of a futuristic android rock band. The sci-fi Kubrick-esque element also lent itself to the composition, with a funky R&B and reggae sound to it that will get your feet moving to the beat. It’s a classic and a must-sing for any Elton John fan at the karaoke.
Someone Saved My Life Tonight (1975)
Released as part of John’s ninth studio album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy in 1975, Someone Saved My Liga Tonight jumped to number four on the Billboard chart. It is a fan-favourite due to the moving and profound nature of the song. The single is a semi-autobiographical story of John’s struggle with his sexuality and his ill-fated engagement with Linda Woodrow. Because he felt trapped, he resorted to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. He was ultimately saved by his Bluesology bandmate and friend who convinced him to break off the engagement right before the ceremony. More than just a song, it’s an anthem of John’s strength, perseverance and resilience put together in a riveting performance of piano and story-telling.
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (1976)
At this point, John was a bonafide superstar and was creating hit singles left and right. His sixth number-one hit in the US was Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. He also re-released a fancier and more glamorous version of it with RuPaul in 1993 (also worth a Google!) but the original remains a classic for many reasons. This song is a testament to the timeless nature of John’s songs featuring an addictive hook and fun lyrics.
The Circle of Life (1994)
While his contributions to the British pop-rock genre are undisputed, his legacy in the Disney songbooks should not be forgotten too. The Lion King is iconic in its own right, but a lot of why it’s so well-loved is down to the original soundtracks as well. While his version doesn’t have the iconic opening yell, we all have John to thank for this pop culture piece as he composed both versions of the mega-hit. He was nominated for Best Original Song at the 1994 Academy Awards but was beaten out by his other entry, Can You Feel The Love Tonight? So really, no one actually lost.
It would be impossible to go through all of John and Taupin’s greatest hits and there are plenty of honourable mentions not on this list such as Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, Crocodile Rock, and more. Hopefully, these 10 are enough to kickstart (or resume) your Elton John journey and appreciate the vast contributions John and Taupin have made to music through six decades. Elton John is one of pop music’s greatest survivors and luckily for us, his candle light still shines brighter than ever.
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