Elton John

Elton John (born March 25, 1947) is an English vocalist, pianist, songwriter, and philanthropist with a career stretching back to the mid-1960s. He achieved global stardom with his self-titled second album in 1970. Since that time, he has recorded more than 30 albums and scored numerous hits that have gained evergreen status around the world.

Early Life

John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25, 1947, in Pinner, Middlesex, England. His father, a Royal Air Force flight lieutenant, was a trumpeter in the Bob Millar Band, which played military dances. The Dwight’s were avid record buyers, raising Reginald on the popular music of the day. He knew he wanted to be a musician after hearing the early rock n’ roll hits of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Dwight took up piano as a small child, leaning to play pieces like Waldteufel’s “The Skater’s Waltz” by ear. He started taking formal piano lessons at age seven. By age 11, he won a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. According to one professor, Dwight recited the entirety of a lengthy Handel piece after hearing it once.[1]  He attended the academy for five years, singing in the Saturday choir and mastering the works of Frédéric Chopin and Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Dwight’s divorced when Reginald was 14. He moved with his mother and her new husband into a flat on Frome Court, where he remained until he hit paydirt in the states. Around this time, he got a four-nights-weekly pianist residency at the Northwood Hills Hotel. Though normal-sighted, he started wearing horn-rimmed glasses in emulation of Buddy Holly.


In 1962, Dwight formed Bluesology with his neighbor, guitarist Stewart “Stu” Brown. After some months on the local pub circuit, they scored a weekly residency at London’s Establishment Club with a setlist comprised of blues standards by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Memphis Slim.

In 1965, Bluesology signed with an agency that sent them on tour as the UK backing band for visiting American acts, including The Isley Brothers, Doris Troy, Billy Stewart, and Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles. In July, Bluesology debuted with the Dwight original “Come Back, Baby” (b/w the Witherspoon cover “Times Getting Tougher Than Tough”), followed in November with the Dwight original “Mr. Frantic” (b/w the Slim cover “Everyday (I Have the Blues)”). Both singles appeared on Fontana; the second features an uncredited early appearance by guitarist Bernie Holland, who later surfaced in Jody Grind, Stealers Wheel, and Hummingbird.

Bluesology expanded to a brass-integrated sextet for a German tour behind American soulster Major Lance. In late 1966, they linked with English blues singer Long John Baldry. Dwight and Brown were the only original members in a lineup that now included (future Soft Machine) saxophonist Elton Dean and (future Juicy Lucy) guitarist Neil Hubbard.

In May 1967, Dwight deputized Simon Dupree & the Big Sound keyboardist Eric Hine on two dates in Scotland. In October, Bluesology signed to Polydor (as Stu Brown & Bluesology) for their third single: “Since I Found You Baby,” a brassy mid-tempo soul-pop number by veteran English entertainer Kenny Lynch, who co-wrote the b-side (“Just a Little Bit”) with American songwriter Mort Shuman.

In late 1967, Dwight left Bluesology and pursued a songwriting career. He answered an ad in the New Musical Express placed by Liberty records A&R Ray Williams, who introduced Dwight to another respondent, lyricist Bernie Taupin. Dwight and Taupin began a songwriting partnership that would span more than fifty years. Their first completed song was the September 1967 demo “Scarecrow.” Later that year, Dwight adopted the professional name Elton John, derived from his ex-bandmates Elton Dean and Long John Baldry.


In 1968, Elton John and Bernie Taupin became staff writers for Dick James Music (DJM), a publishing company established by English music mogul Dick James (1920–1986). At DJM, John–Taupin wrote songs for assorted pop performers, including Scottish singer Lulu, who recorded their composition “I Can’t Go On (Living Without You),” the sixth runner-up to the UK entry in the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest.

As a sessionist, John plays piano on “An Olympic Record,” a 1968 Columbia a-side by pop parodists The Barron Knights. He sings backing vocals on one side (“Lily the Pink”) by Scaffold, a folk-comedy trio with Mike McGear (aka Peter McCartney, the younger brother of Paul McCartney). Elton plays and sings backup on “Delilah,” a 1968 global chart-topper by Tom Jones.

Regimental Sgt Zippo

Between November 1967 and May 1968, John recorded his first round of Taupin co-writes at Dick James Studios in London. The intended album — shelved in favor of his proper debut Empty Sky — appeared fifty-three years after its completion as Regimental Sgt Zippo. It contains twelve psych-tinged originals: ten John–Taupin numbers and two (“Sitting Doing Nothing,” “You’ll Be Sorry to See Me Go”) co-written by DJM session guitarist Caleb Quaye, a late-period Bluesology member who recently cut the Philips psych single “Baby Your Phrasing Is Bad” (b/w “A Woman of Distinction”).

“When I Was Tealby Abbey” (2:35)
“And the Clock Goes Round” (3:06)
“Sitting Doing Nothing” (2:30)
“Turn to Me” (3:16)
“Angel Tree” (2:04)
“Regimental Sgt. Zippo” (4:44)
“A Dandelion Dies in the Wind” (3:14)
“You’ll Be Sorry to See Me Go” (2:34)
“Nina” (3:50)
“Tartan Coloured Lady” (4:09)
“Hourglass” (2:44)
“Watching the Planes Go By” (4:07)

Elton plays organ and piano (grand and electric), plus harpsichord on Regimental Sgt Zippo, which features Quaye on acoustic and electric guitars, flute, percussion, and backing vocals. Two recent members of psychsters The Mirage — bassist Dee Murray (a brief Spencer Davis Group player) and drummer Dave Hynes — round out Elton’s studio band.

Quaye produced the songs, which feature select backing by the Paul Fenoulhet Orchestra, conducted by Fenoulhet (1906–1979) of the WWII-era Skyrockets Dance Orchestra. The engineer, Frank Owen, worked beforehand with the Isle of Wight Cherokees, a precursor to Aubrey Small. Zack Laurence, a veteran Parlophone jazz-pop composer, handles orchestral arrangements.

Regimental Sgt Zippo appeared in 2021 in a vintage psychedelic sleeve that depicts young Elton from multiple angles, engulfed in swirls and enhanced with three colors: mustard, magenta, and turquoise.

“I’ve Been Loving You”

In March 1968, John released his debut solo single, “I’ve Been Loving You,” a Taupin co-credited number backed with the Elton lone-write “Here’s to the Next Time.” Quaye produced the single, which appeared in limited quantity on Philips (UK only). Despite the label info, Elton lone-wrote “I’ve Been Loving You.” All subsequent originals (through 1976) are genuine John–Taupin compositions.

In Portugal, Philips issued “I’ve Been Loving You” as a maxi-single with one track from the Sgt Zippo sessions (“Angel Tree”) and the 1968 Dick James demo “Thank You For All Your Loving.


In February 1969, Decca Records issued a single by the Bead and Beer Band titled “Dick Barton Theme (The Devil’s Gallop),” a cover of the 1946 theme by British composer Charles Williams to the BBC Light Programme serial Dick Barton – Special Agent. The Bread and Beer Band was a studio project by Elton, Caleb Quaye, and Hollies bassist Bernie Calvert. They wrote the b-side, “Breakdown Blues,” with one Lennox Jackson.

John continued as a sessionist with piano credits on 1969 singles by Scaffold (“Gin Gan Goolie”) and Family Dogg (“A Way of Life”). He sings backing vocals on both sides of the November CBS release “Good To Be Alive” (“Same Old Story”), the third single by fifteen-year-old singer Tina Charles, a future UK disco-pop star.

Meanwhile, Simon Dupree & the Big Sound covered the John–Taupin number “I’m Going Home.” John plays piano on “Give It All Back,” the b-side of the November 1969 Parlophone single “The Eagle Flies Tonight,” the final Big Sound release. Upon their breakup, Big Sound leaders the Shulman brothers considered John as a possible keyboardist–singer for their new band, Gentle Giant, but they revoked the invitation after they heard his debut album.

Elton made his second appearance on a global hit with “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” the September 1969 standalone single by The Hollies. He sings and plays piano on the gospel-tinged ballad, which reached No. 3 in the UK and Irish singles charts and No. 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100. John also plays on the September 1969 DJM single “Mr. Boyd” (b/w “Imagine”) by Argosy, the starting vehicle of musician–singer Roger Hodgson, the soon-to-be co-frontman of Supertramp.

“Lady Samantha”

In January 1969, John issued his second Philips single, “Lady Samantha” (b/w “All Across the Havens”). Both sides were recorded the prior month at DJM Studios and produced by Steve Brown. The songs were performed during Elton’s first BBC Radio broadcast (10/28/68) but soon dropped from his setlist.

Elton is backed on “Lady Samantha” by Quaye, bassist Tony Murray, and drummer Roger Pope. Murray played concurrently in Plastic Penny, a pop-psych band that made two 1968–69 albums on Page One. Their second (Currency) contains a cover of the unheard Sgt Zippo number “Turn to Me.”

“It’s Me That You Need”

On May 16, 1969, Elton released his third single, “It’s Me That You Need,” a swelling John–Taupin ballad backed with the mid-tempo rustic rocker “Just Like Strange Rain.”

John recorded both sides with Brown in April at Olympic Studios. He’s backed on the single by Quaye, Pope, and DJM studio engineer Clive Franks, who plays bass on “It’s Me That You Need,” which features strings conducted by Cy Payne, an arranger on recent recordings by The Idle Race, Kate, The Barrier, and select North American acts (Harper and Rowe, The Guess Who).

This was the fifth release on DJM Records (DJS 205), which issued the single in the UK and Italy. Elsewhere, “It’s Me That You Need” appeared on Fontana (France) and Philips (Singapoe).

In 1971, DJM issued “It’s Me That You Need” in Japan, where it reached No. 2 on the Oricon International Singles Chart.

Empty Sky

Elton John released his debut album, Empty Sky, on June 6, 1969, on DJM. It features nine John–Taupin originals, including “Hymn 2000,” “Western Ford Gateway,” “Skyline Pigeon,” and “Val-Hala.” The album opens with the titular “Empty Sky,” his second-longest studio original. Empty Sky closes with the lengthy three-part medley “Gulliver – Hay Chewed – Reprise.”

1. “Empty Sky” (8:29)
2. “Val-Hala” (4:11)
3. “Western Ford Gateway” (3:15)
4. “Hymn 2000” (4:29)

1. “Lady What’s Tomorrow” (3:09)
2. “Sails” (3:45)
3. “The Scaffold” (3:18)
4. “Skyline Pigeon” (3:37)
5. “Gulliver – Hay Chewed – Reprise” (6:58)

Sessions took place between November 1968 and April 1969 at Dick James Studios. Elton plays  Hohner Pianet and harpsichord in addition to piano and organ on Empty Sky, which features Quaye, Pope, and Murray. Quaye and Pope recently formed the band Hookfoot with fellow DJM sessionists but their first-recorded album (A Piece of Pye) wound up shelved for four decades.

One track (“Lady What’s Tomorrow”) features Murray’s Plastic Penny bandmate, drummer Nigel Olsson. Select passages feature saxophonist Don Fay, a recent backer of bluesman Errol Dixon. Harpist Graham Vickery of Pye blues-rockers Shakey Vick also appears on the album.

DJM music coordinator Steve Brown produced Empty Sky, which Frank Owen engineered in sequence with As I Am, the singular solo album by Troggs guitarist Chris Britton. Clive Franks, the tape operator on Empty Sky, is credited with “whistling.”

Empty Sky is housed in a gatefold designed by Dave Larkham. The front depicts a line-enhanced blue-scale Elton against a cloudy backdrop. The inner-gates have light blue-scale images of him and Bernie behind a wall of lyrics. The back has white text on purple with credits and liner notes by Tony Brandon and David Symonds (both pictured). Symonds writes that Elton “does not confine himself to the brighter side of life. The runcible has since changed to the smouldering crucible of a million injustices.” (Runcible is a nonsense word invented by English Victorian author Edward Lear as a whimsical adjective for objects.)

Empty Sky first appeared in the UK and South Africa. DJM later issued the album in Japan (1970), Oceania and Italy (1972), and Germany and Mexico (1975). In the US, Empty Sky remained unavailable until January 1975 when MCA released to capitalize on Elton’s transatlantic stardom.


Elton John formed his first backing band with Olsson and Dee Murray. He performed his first show as Elton John on March 25, 1970, at the Revolution Club, a rock hotspot in Bruton Place, Mayfair, in central London. On April 7, he played the Roundhouse, a converted railway shed in Chalk Farm that ushered London’s psychedelic boom.

As a sessionist, Elton backed Tom Jones on the singer’s 1970 cover of “I Who Have Nothing,” a 1963 Leiber–Stoller song first recorded by Ben E. King. He also plays on the 1970 DJM single “Have You Seen Your Savior” (b/w “White Line Road”) by Scottish posters My Dear Watson. He appears on one track (“Just a Day”) on the 1970 Vertigo release From Home to Home by Fairfield Parlour, a folk-psyh mutation of Kaleidoscope. Elton also earned two 1970 credits behind The Hollies: their March 1970 a-side “I Can’t Tell the Bottom From the Top” and one track (“Perfect Lady Housewife”) on their November Parlophone release Confessions of the Mind (issued stateside as Moving Finger).

Elton sings “From Denver to L.A,” a co-write between Hal Shaper and French film composer Francis Lai for the 1970 British sports drama The Games starring Michael Crawford and Ryan O’Neal. American small-press Viking issued the song as a mono / stereo promo single with the singer credited as ‘Elton Johns.’

Island Records initially booked Elton as a vocalist on the winter–spring 1970 sessions for In the Wake of Poseidon, the second album by King Crimson. However, KC bandleader Robert Fripp nixed the proposal.

Elton John

Elton John released his self-titled second album on April 10, 1970, on DJM (UK) and Uni (US). It features ten John–Taupin originals, including “The King Must Die,” “The Greatest Discovery,” “First Episode at Hienton,” “Take Me to the Pilot,” the much-covered “Border Song” and the singer’s international breakthrough hit “Your Song.”

1. “Your Song” (4:04)
2. “I Need You to Turn To” (2:32)
3. “Take Me to the Pilot” (3:46)
4. “No Shoe Strings on Louise” (3:31)
5. “First Episode at Hienton” (4:48)
6. “Sixty Years On” (4:35)
7. “Border Song” (3:22)
8. “The Greatest Discovery” (4:12)
9. “The Cage” (3:28)
10. “The King Must Die” (5:21)

Elton John is the singer’s first of fourteen albums produced by Gus Dudgeon. Trident staffer Robin Geoffrey Cable engineered this and Elton’s subsequent three albums. This also marks Elton’s first of nine pairings with string conductor Paul Buckmaster, who recently arranged singles by Locomotive and David Bowie (“Space Oddity”). Buckmaster himself performs the cello solo on “The Greatest Discovery.” Steve Brown reappears as ‘production coordinator.’

Elton plays harpsichord on “I Need You to Turn To” and piano throughout the album, which also features organist Brian Dee (“Sixty Years On,” “Border Song”) and Moog synthesizer by Buckmaster’s wife Diana Lewis (“First Episode at Hienton,” “The Cage”).

Four songs (“Take Me to the Pilot,” “No Shoe Strings on Louise,” “Border Song,” “The Cage”) feature a six-piece studio choir with members of Blue Mink (Madeline Bell, Roger Cook), Edison Lighthouse (Tony Burrows), The Ladybirds (Kay Garner), and singer–songwriters Lesley Duncan and Tony Hazzard.

Elton John features five guitarists: mainly Clive Hicks (six tracks) and Quaye (four), plus Colin Green (Spanish guitar on “Sixty Years On”), Roland Harker (“I Need You to Turn To”), and Rumplestiltskin member Alan Parker (“Take Me to the Pilot”). Clark, Green, and Hicks all play on “You’re Song.” Colin, Kay, and Belle would all partake in the 1972 Rediffusion project The Seven Ages of Man.

The album has three bassists: Dave Richmond (“You’re Song,” “Border Song,” “The Greatest Discovery”), Alan Weighall (“Take Me to the Pilot,” “No Shoe Strings on Louise,” “The Cage”), and Les Hurdle (“The King Must Die”). Richmond, a founding member of Manfred Mann, also plays on 1969–70 albums by Scott Walker and Bread Love and Dreams (Strange Tale of Captain Shannon and the Hunchback from Gigha).

Blue Mink’s Barry Morgan drums on five tracks; Pentangle‘s Terry Cox drums on “The Greatest Discovery” and “The King Must Die.” Harpist Skaila Kanga, a sessionist on James Taylor’s first album, plays on “I Need You to Turn To” and “The Greatest Discovery.”

Original UK copies of Elton John are housed in a matte, textured gatefold sleeve designed by Larkham with photography by Stowell Stanford. It shows Elton’s shaded, half-visible profile (front), a lyric spread with titles in pink Blackletter font (inner-gates), and a side-to-side photo of the core creative team (Lewis, Buckmaster, John, Taupin, Dudgeon, Quaye, Brown).

DJM lifted “Border Song” as an advance single on March 20, 1970, backed with the non-album “Bad Side of the Moon.” Elton mimed “Border Song” on the April 2 broadcast of the BBC music program Top of the Pops, which aired it amid current hits by Juicy Lucy (“Who Do You Love?”), Slade (“Shape of Things”), Tom & Dusty Springfield (“Morning Please Don’t Come”), and Rufus Thomas (“Do the Funky Chicken”).

“Border Song” first appeared in the US on the Congress label and reappeared in July on Uni. It cracked the Billboard Hot 100 at 92. In Canada, the song reached No. 35. Aretha Franklin covered the song as an October 1970 Atlantic a-side (parenthetically subtitled “Holy Moses”). Her version reached No. 23 on the Cashbox Top 100 and reappeared on her 1972 album Young, Gifted and Black. The 5th Dimension cover “Border Song” on their 1972 album Individually & Collectively. Solomon Burke combines “Your Song,” “Border Song,” and “Take Me to the Pilot” in a short medley (3:17) titled “Three Psalms of Elton” on his 1971 MGM release Electronic Magnetism.

Toe Fat cover “Bad Side of the Moon” on their 1970 second album Toe Fat Two. Canadian rockers April Wine cover the song on their 1972 second album On Record.

Elton promoted the album with an April 21 appearance at Pop Proms 1970, a week-long concert series hosted by Radio One DJ John Peel with sets by Bronco, Fleetwood Mac, Fotheringay, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, If, Jody Grind, Mighty Baby, Mott the Hoople, Quintessence, and Traffic. John played on Day 2 (Tuesday) along with T. Rex and The Pretty Things. He played four documented May UK shows and had the June 5 headline slot at London’s Marquee Club.

Elton John peaked at No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart. It also reached No. 4 in Canada and No. 2 in Australia and Denmark.

“Rock and Roll Madonna”

On June 19, Elton John released the non-album single “Rock and Roll Madonna,” a 12-bar guitar–piano boogie. Quaye, Pope, and Hookfoot bassist Dave Glover play on the track. The b-side, “Grey Seal,” is a mid-tempo ballad with sparse piano–vocal verses and a swelling, orchestrated chorus.

“Rock and Roll Madonna” remained a non-album track outside of Germany, where Hansa placed it as the opening track on Elton John in lieu of “I Need You to Turn To.”

In 1973, Elton rerecorded “Grey Seal” for his seventh album. This version appears on his 1974 UK rarities comp Lady Samantha.

On June 19, 1970, Elton played his first show abroad at Mantorp’s Racing Circuit in Östergötland, Sweden. On Sunday the 21st, he held his second Roundhouse engagement, followed by a June 26 show at St. Mary’s College in Twickenham. On July 11, he played Knokke Casino in Knokke, Belgium.

On August 14, Elton played an extended set at the Yorkshire Folk Blues and Jazz Festival, a shambolic three-day hillside event in Krumlin, Barkisland, with sets by Fairport Convention, Groundhogs, Ralph McTell, and Fotheringay. Elton played Day 1 (Friday), which also featured Amazing Blondel, Atomic Rooster, The Humblebums, Manfred Mann Chapter Three, and headliners The Pretty Things. (The intended Saturday headliner, Pink Floyd, didn’t appear due to bad weather, which forced the festival’s organizers to cancel Sunday’s shows.)

First US Show

On August 25, 1970, Elton John made his US debut at the Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, where he held a six-night engagement, supported by singer–songwriter David Ackles.

On the first night, Elton floored the audience with an energized set that included numbers from his self-titled album and a cover of the Rolling Stones recent rocker “Honky Tonk Women.” He performed in a piano power-trio setting with the Olsson–Murray rhythm section; no guitarist. They ended the set with a twenty-minute version of the yet-unreleased John–Taupin original “Burn Down the Mission.”

Rock photojournalist Ed Caraeff — who caught the famed guitar-burning image of Jimi Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival — captured Elton’s flying stage routine. Between shows, Elton visited the Disneyland Resort in nearby Anaheim and returned with Mickey Mouse ears that he wore on stage at subsequent shows. His newfound flamboyance stunned Olsson and Murray, who knew Elton as the subdued singer–songwriter at Dick James Studios. Audiences, likewise, were shocked by the raw energy of his performances and the contrast between his stripped live arrangements and orchestrated studio recordings.

After the Aug. 25–30 LA engagement, Elton played six straight nights (Sept. 1–6) at the Troubadour North in San Francisco. On September 10, he made his first appearance in New York City at the Playboy Club. On Sept. 11–12, he played the Electric Factory in Philadelphia.

Elton, now the conquering hero, played an October 2 homecoming show at London’s Royal Albert Hall, supported by Sandy Denny and her band Fotheringay. 

“Your Song”

On October 26, 1970, Uni Records issued “Take Me to the Pilot” as Elton John’s third proper US single. However, DJs favored the b-side, “Your Song,” which caught on with listeners and prompted Uni to flip sides. With its earnest delivery, universal message, gripping bridge (“I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind, that I put down in words”), and heartfelt refrain (“how wonderful life is when you’re in the world”), “Your Song” became his stateside breakthrough hit. It reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Cashbox Top 100 and No. 9 on the US Adult Contemporary chart. The song’s success lifted its seven-month-old parent album, Elton John, to No. 4 on the Billboard 200.

In Canada, “Your Song” reached No. 3 on the RPM Top Singles chart and No. 4 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

Tumbleweed Connection

Elton John released his third album, Tumbleweed Connection, on October 30, 1970, on DJM and Uni. It contains nine John–Taupin originals and “Love Song,” which Elton co-wrote with Lesley Duncan. Each side closes with a lengthy epic number: “My Father’s Gun” and “Burn Down the Mission.” Musically and lyrically, the songs invoke Old West themes.

1. “Ballad of a Well-Known Gun” (4:59)
2. “Come Down in Time” (3:25)
3. “Country Comfort” (5:06) Rod Stewart covers this song on his June 1970 second album Gasoline Alley, released four months ahead of Tumbleweed.
4. “Son of Your Father” (3:48) Spooky Tooth cover this song on their July 1970 fourth album The Last Puff, released three months before Tumbleweed.
5. “My Father’s Gun” (6:20)

6. “Where to Now St. Peter?” (4:11)
7. “Love Song” (3:41)
8. “Amoreena” (5:00)
9. “Talking Old Soldiers” (4:06)
10. “Burn Down the Mission” (6:21)

bonus 11. “Into the Old Man’s Shoes”

Sessions took place in March 1970 at Trident, where Dudgeon produced the album in sequence with titles by Magna Carta and Michael Chapman. This is Elton’s second album engineered by Geoffrey Cable, who worked on concurrent titles by Affinity (self-titled), Andwella, Genesis (Trespass), Harvey Andrews, Jade, and Van der Graaf Generator (The Least We Can Do, H to He).

Country Comfort” features steel guitarist Gordon Huntley (Forest, Gospel Oak), violinist Johnny Van Derek, and Blue Mink drummer Barry Morgan, who also plays on “Come Down In Time” alongside reedist Karl Jenkins (Soft Machine). Leslie Duncan and Blue Mink singer Madeline Bell sing backing vocals on Son of Your Father,” “Ballad of a Well Known Gun,” and “My Father’s Gun.” The latter two also feature Tony Hazzard and Dusty Springfield on backing vocals.

Tumbleweed Connection is housed in a gatefold sleeve with photography by Ian Digby-Ovens and Barrie Wentzell. It presents Elton and Bernie in sepia-tinged Old West settings on the outer-gates (outside a saloon) and inner-gates (inside a steam train). The location used for the period imagery is Sheffield Park, a railway station in Fletching, East Sussex, built in 1882.

The Tumbleweed inner-gate contains a twelve-page booklet with lyrics, credits, and photos of the album’s players: Olsson, Murray, and Hookfoot (Quaye, Glover, Pope, and harpist Ian Duck), plus Buckmaster, Dudgeon, Geoffrey Cable, and Leslie Duncan. Wentzell’s photography also appears on 1970 album covers for Forever More, Jody Grind (Far Canal), Tin Tin (self-titled), Trapeze, and Yes (Time and a Word).

Elton released no singles from Tumbleweed Connection in the Northern Hemisphere because he wanted the songs to be heard in the album’s context. However, DJM lifted “Country Comfort” as a single in Oceania (b/w “Love Song”).

Tumbleweed Connection reached No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 5 on the Billboard 200. It peaked at No. 4 in Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. In 1995, Mercury reissued the album with two bonus tracks: “Into the Old Man’s Shoes” and an early version of “Madman Across the Water,” recorded with guitarist Mick Ronson, a member of Bowie’s backing band Hype, which morphed into the Spiders from Mars.

Elton flew back to the states for a sixteen-city tour, starting with an Oct. 29–31 engagement at the Boston Tea Party with brass-rockers Dreams (with drummer Billy Cobham and the Brecker Brothers). In San Francisco, he opened for The Kinks on a three-night stand (Nov. 12–14) at the Fillmore Auditorium. On November 17, he played a set at Manhattan’s A&R Recording Studios for a live radio broadcast on WABC-FM. On Nov. 27–28, he headlined a multi-act bill with Catfish and Uriah Heep at Detroit’s Eastown Theatre.

Elton John rounded out 1970 with a Dec. 20 show at London’s Roundhouse. He found a manager in 21-year-old EMI promoter John Reid, who met Elton at a Christmas Motown party.

Sister duo Birds of a Feather (aka the Chanter Sisters) cover “Country Comforts” on thir 1970 self-titled album, which also contains covers of “Border Song,” “Take Me to the Pilot,” and an Elton-backed version of “Bad Side of the Moon.”


In January 1971, DJM issued “Your Song” in the UK in Europe. It reached No. 4 in the Netherlands, and went Top 10 in Ireland (No. 10) and Belgium (No. 16). In Oceania, “Your Song” reached No. 11 in Australia and No. 18 in New Zealand. In the UK, it reached No. 7 and rocketed him to superstar status.

TotP aired “Your Song” on its New Year’s Eve 1970 broadcast along with a new song, “Can I Put You On,” from an upcoming soundtrack. They reaired it on Jan. 14 and Feb. 4 amid current hits by Ashton Gardner & Dyke (“Resurrection Shuffle”), Badfinger (“No Matter What”), Cat Stevens (“Moonshadow”), Labi Siffre (“Make My Day”), The Supremes (“Stoned Love”), and The Who (“I Don’t Even Know Myself”).

Elton John played twenty-two UK shows between Jan. 2 and March 3, 1971, including a set at the Lanchester Arts Festival, a Feb. 5 event at Lanchester Polytechnic with sets by Caravan, Climax Blues Band, Curved Air, Indian Summer, Mr. Fox, Osibisa, and Strawbs.

At IBC Studios, John produced Side Two of It Ain’t Easy, the first of two albums on Warner Bros. by ex-Bluesology singer Long John Baldry. Side One was produced by Rod Stewart, Baldry’s co-singer in the earlier combos Steampacket and the Hoochie Coochie Men. The album contains covers of the Faces (“Flying”), Lesley Duncan (“Mr. Rubin”), Randy Newman (“Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield”), and an early cover of “It Ain’t Easy,” a 1970 song by American singer–songwriter Ron Davies (popularized by David Bowie on his 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars). Warner lifted Baldry’s recording of the otherwise unissued John–Taupin song “Rock Me When He’s Gone” as the album’s single.

Elton also plays piano on two cuts (“Help Me Jesus,” “Mr. Rubin”) on the 1971 CBS release Sing Children Sing, the debut album by Lesley Duncan. It contains her version of their co-write “Love Song.” John also plays on a 1971 version of “Skyline Pigeon” by Australian singer and former Seekers frontwoman Judith Durham, who covers the song on her 1971 A&M release Climb Ev’ry Mountain.


On March 5, 1971, Paramount Records issued Friends, Elton John’s soundtrack to the namesake British-French teen-romance film by director Lewis Gilbert (Alfie, The Spy Who Loved Me, Educating Rita). It features five John–Taupin numbers (“Friends,” “Honey Roll,” “Seasons,” “Can I Put You On,” “Michelle’s Song”) and three short John–Buckmaster pieces: “Variations on Friends Theme (The First Kiss),” “Variation on Michelle’s Song (A Day in the Country),” and “I Meant to Do My Work Today (A Day in the Country),” the last set to a poem by English Romantic author Richard Le Gallienne. Side Two contains “Four Moods,” a lengthy Buckmaster instrumental.

1. “Friends” (2:20)
2. “Honey Roll” (3:00)
3. “Variations on Friends Theme (The First Kiss)” (1:45)
4. “Seasons” (3:52)
5. “Variation on Michelle’s Song (A Day in the Country)” (2:44)
6. “Can I Put You On” (5:52)

1. “Michelle’s Song” (4:16)
2. “I Meant to Do My Work Today (A Day in the Country)” (1:33)
3. “Four Moods” (10:56)
4. “Seasons Reprise” (1:33)

Quaye, Olsson, and Murray play on “Can I Put You On” and “Honey Roll.” The latter also features Sam Apple Pie saxophonist Rex Morris. Morgan drums on “Friends” and “Michelle’s Song.” Madeline Bell and Lesley Duncan appear as backing singers along with Liza Strike, a vocalist on It Ain’t Easy and 1971 albums by Mick Softley, Michael Chapman, Mike Heron, Peter Bardens, Rosetta Hightower, Stray, and Whistler.

Buckmaster did the orchestral arrangements on Friends, which Dudgeon produced and Geoffrey Cable engineered for Paramount Records.

DJM and Uni issued “Friends” as a single (b/w “Honey Roll”). The song reached No. 5 in Italy and went Top 20 in France (No. 12), Canada (No. 13), and the US (No. 17 Cashbox).

Elton John played five UK cities between March 6 and 28, hitting Leicester, Kingston, Bristol, London, and Croydon, where he played Fairfield Halls, the site of 1970–71 live recordings by Eric Clapton and The Nice. 


On April 1, 1971, DJM and Uni issued 17-11-70, a document of Elton John’s performance at New York’s A&R Recording Studios for the live WABC-FM broadcast. Of the thirteen songs that John, Olsson, and Murray performed on November 17, 1970, the album contains six: two from Elton John (“Take Me to the Pilot,” “Sixty Years On”), one from Friends (“Can I Put You On”), one non-album b-side (“Bad Side of the Moon”), the Stones cover (“Honky Tonk Women”), and the elongated version of the Tumbleweed number “Burn Down the Mission,” which interpolates parts of The Beatles’ “Get Back” and the 1950 R&B chestnut “My Baby Left Me,” written and first recorded by Delta bluesman Arthur Crudup.

1. “Take Me to the Pilot” (6:43)
2. “Honky Tonk Women” (4:09)
3. “Sixty Years On” (8:05)
4. “Can I Put You On” (6:38)

1. “Bad Side of the Moon” (4:30)
2. “Burn Down the Mission” (incl. “My Baby Left Me” and “Get Back”) (18:20)

Dudgeon produced 17-11-70, which Manhattan soundman Phil Ramone engineered amid projects with Burt Bacharach, Lazarus, and Paul Winter’s Consort. 17-11-70 reached No. 20 on the UK Albums Chart, No. 10 on the Canadian RPM, and No. 11 on the US Billboard 200.

The full A&R Studios set includes three additional songs apiece from Elton John (“Your Song,” “Border Song,” “I Need You to Turn To”) and Tumbleweed (“Amoreena,” “Country Comfort,” “My Father’s Gun”), plus the then-unreleased “Indian Sunset” from his upcoming fourth studio album.

Of the seven missing songs performed on November 17, “Amoreena” appears on the 1996 17-11-70 reissue on Rocket Records. The entire thirteen-song set remained unavailable until the 2017 two-LP reissue on the label branch of Record Store Day, a biannual vinyl celebration.

Elton embarked on a forty-four date US spring tour, which started in Providence on April 2, 1971, at Loew’s State Theatre and wrapped in Harrisburg, Penn, on June 18 at the Farm Show Arena. The tour included swings through Texas, the Great Plains, the Northwest, and Hawaii, plus two stops in New York, including a June 10–11 engagement at Carnegie Hall.

Elton, in his first Rolling Stone cover feature, appears on the magazine’s June 10, 1971, issue (No. 84). Celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz took the grayscale photo of the singer, caputured floor-seated and hand-crossed, clad in star boots and a 3/4 t-shirt that reads “BERNIE TAUPIN FUNKY MONKEY” with an (obscured) cross-fingered image of the lyricist. In the four-page article, John tells journalist David Felton that “I vowed when I started on the road… if I’m gonna be an entertainer (which I didn’t want to be, I really didn’t want to go on the road as Elton John, but I had to because the records didn’t sell), I vowed I was really gonna try and give it everything I got.”


In June 1971, Bernie Taupin released the spoken-word album Taupin on DJM (UK) and Elektra (US). It contains poetry set to music by Quaye and Scottish guitarist Davey Johnstone, who plays acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, sitar, and lute on the album. Side One consists of “Child,” a poem divided into nine subtitles, including lyrics from the Elton John track “The Greatest Discovery.”

Side Two contains six musical poems, including the three-part “Verses After Dark,” co-written by American singer–songwriter Shawn Phillips, who plays sitar, electric guitar, 6- and 12-string acoustic guitars, koto, and does additional spoken word on Taupin, which also features Strawbs double-bassist Ron Chesterman, Third Ear Band violinist Richard Coff, Chitinous Ensemble player Diana Lewis, and Australian jazz drummer Chris Karan, once of the Dudley Moore Trio.

Johnstone joined folksters Magna Carta for the 1970–71 Vertigo albums Seasons and Songs From Wasties Orchard. His work on Taupin impressed Elton John, who hired Davey as his live guitarist and musical director. This marked the start of Johnstone’s fifty-year tenure in the Elton John Band.

On July 13, the Elton John Band played Garden Party II, an event at London’s Crystal Palace Bowl with sets by Fairport, Rory Gallagher, and Yes. On August 8, they played the Vilar dos Mouros Festival, an event in the Viana do Castelo district of northwest Portugal with sets by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and local psychsters Quarteto 1111.

On August 27, Elton took his band on a US tour with back-to-back shows in New Jersey, followed by shows in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and three dates in upstate New York. After a round of southwest shows, they did their six-date, four-city tour of Japan (Oct. 5–11) and their first tour of Oceania, which covered four cities in Australia and an October 29 show at Western Springs Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. 

Madman Across the Water

Elton John released his fourth proper studio album, Madman Across the Water, on November 5, 1971, on DJM and Uni. It contains nine John–Taupin originals, including the pre-existing concert staple “Indian Summer” and the re-recorded title track (first cut during the Tumbleweed sessions). The first two songs, “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon,” later achieved radio evergreen status.

1. “Tiny Dancer” (6:17)
2. “Levon” (5:22)
3. “Razor Face” (4:42)
4. “Madman Across the Water” (5:57)

1. “Indian Sunset” (6:47)
2. “Holiday Inn” (4:17)
3. “Rotten Peaches” (4:58)
4. “All the Nasties” (5:09)
5. “Goodbye” (1:49)

Madman sessions first occurred on February 27 (“Levon”) at Trident Studios, followed by six months with sessions on August 9 (“Tiny Dancer”), 11, and 14. The album features Olsson and Murray on four songs: “All the Nasties,” “Holiday Inn,” “Tiny Dancer,” and “Rotten Peaches.” Johnstone plays acoustic guitar on the final two, plus the title track. He plays mandolin and sitar on “Holiday Inn,” which features electric guitar by Quaye, who appears with Hookfoot colleagues Pope and Glover on “Tiny Dancer” and “Razor Face.”

Madman features twelve additional session musicians and eight backing vocalists. “Levon” features Quaye with Barry Morgan, bassist Brian Odgers, and library keyboardist Brian Dee (on harmonium). Accordion player Jack Emblow plays on “Razor Face” with organist Rick Wakeman, who plays on “Rotten Peaches” with guitarist Chris Spedding (slide), bassist Herbie Flowers, and drummer Terry Cox. The last two also play on “Indian Sunset” and (with Spedding) “Madman Across the Water,” which also features percussionist Ray Cooper, an eventual mainstay of Elton’s band who plays tambourine on “Rotten Peaches” and “All the Nasties.”

Of the sessionists, Flowers partook in Blue Mink, Rumplestiltskin, and the latter’s instrumental variants Hungry Wolf and Ugly Custard. Wakeman — a recent sessionist for Cat Stevens (“Morning Has Broken”), T. Rex (“Get It On”), and Bowie (“Changes”) — was between a three-album gig in Strawbs and his star-making run in Yes. Spedding (ex-Battered Ornaments) plays on Lesley Duncan’s debut and 1970–71 albums by Bob Downes, Julie Driscoll, Linda Lewis, Michael Gibbs, Mike D’Abo, Neil Ardley, Ian Carr’s Nucleus, and Paul Korda.

Cochise steel guitarist B. J. Cole, responsible for the slide licks on “Tiny Dancer,” appears on concurrent album by Humble Pie, Nazareth, Peter Sarstedt, Phillip Goodhand-Tait, and Ray Fenwick. Olsson employs him on the 1971 DJM release Nigel Olsson’s Drum Orchestra and Chorus.

“Tiny Dancer,” “Holiday Inn,” and “Rotten Peaches” feature backing vocals by returning singers Lesley Duncan, Liza Strike, Roger Cook, and Tony Burrows, plus Barry St. John (of Les Humphries Singers), Terry Steele (later Hiroshima), and the duo of Sue (Glover) & Sunny (Leslie). “Indian Sunset” and “All the Nasties” feature the Cantores em Ecclesia Choir directed by Robert Kirby, an arranger for Audience, Gillian McPherson, John Kongos, Nick Drake, Shelagh McDonald, and Spirogyra.

Dudgeon produced Madman Across the Water in succession with 1971 albums by Audience (The House On the Hill), Marsha Hunt, and the self-titled RCA–Neon release by Spring. Buckmaster conducted orchestral arrangements on seven songs (everything except “Razor Face” and “Rotten Peaches”). His wife, Diana Lewis, plays ARP synthesizer on “Rotten Peaches” and the title track. Geoffrey Cable engineered Madman and Spring amid projects with Colin Scot, Harry Nilsson, Peter Hammill (Fool’s Mate), and VDGG (Pawn Hearts).

This would be Elton’s last album for four years with backing by members of Hookfoot, who released their first of three albums in 1971 on DJM.

Larkham designed the album’s matte, textured, denim-themed gatefold. It shows the title in gradient blue (front) and the song titles embroidered next to a denim seam (back). The inner-gates picture Elton in a grayscale short-haired medium-shot (left) and a bluescale long-haired profile (right). Original copies have a twelve-page inner booklet with lyrics and pics of John and Tauplin by photojournalist Bob Gruen, plus Victorian-era photos of subjects who represent the album’s musical and production team. Taupin dedicates “Tiny Dancer” to his new wife, Maxine (pictured on Page Three). Gruen also has visual credits on 1971 albums by Labelle, Larry Coryell, and Lotti Golden.

Elton and his band plugged Madman with six late November shows (21–28) in Coventry, Manchester, Leicester, Bournemouth, Plymouth, and Bristol.

On November 29, 1971, Uni lifted “Levon” (b/w “Goodbye”) as Elton’s fifth proper US single. It reached No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 6 in Canada.

In December, Elton player seven documented UK shows, including a 12/10 date at Newcastle’s City Hall with the Texan folk-pop duo England Dan & John Ford Coley.

Madman Across the Water reached No. 8 in Australia and No. 9 in Canada. It went Top 20 in Italy (No. 14), Spain (No. 11), and Japan (No. 13). In the US, the album reached No. 8 on the Billboard 200. It was later certified double-Platinum (2 million sales) by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Elton accompanied his friend Marc Bolan of T. Rex for their December 27 TotP mime of “Get It On,” a UK summer No. 1 that TotP aired as part of a holiday roundup of the year’s biggest hits, including 1971 chart-toppers by the Rolling Stones (“Brown Sugar”), Rod Stewart (“Maggie May”), and Slade (“Coz I Luv You”).


On February 5, the Elton John Band played their first concert of 1972 at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

Uni lifted “Tiny Dancer” as Elton John’s sixth US single on Feb. 7 (b/w “Razor Face”). Due to its unedited full-album length (6:12), many AM stations refused to playlist the song. Consequently, “Tiny Dancer” peaked at No. 29 on the Cashbox Top 100 and No. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did, however, reach the Top 20 in Australia (No. 13) and Canada (No. 19). Despite its modest peaks, “Tiny Dancer” later achieved FM evergreen status.

In late February, Elton played five concerts in England, including two national youth benefits at London’s Shaw Theatre. Elton opened March with a four-city Scottish tour, followed by two appearances at Jahrhunderhalle in Frankfurt, Germany.

Between his own live and studio work, John produced Side One of the April 1972 Warner release Everything Stops for Tea by Long John Baldry. Olsson and Johnstone play on the five Elton–produced numbers; Johnstone co-wrote “Wild Mountain Thyme” with Baldry, who also covers songs by John Kongos (“Jubilee Cloud”) and the Australian band Daddy Cool (“Come Back Again”). Rod Stewart produced Side Two and plays banjo on the trad number “Mother Ain’t Dead.”

On April 26, Elton launched an eleven-date US tour with three shows in Texas, followed by a Midwest swing that included three Ohio dates and a May 13 show at the Field House in DeKalb, Illinois.

Honky Château

Elton John released his fifth studio album, Honky Château, on May 19, 1972, on DJM and Uni. This is his first album with backing on all tracks by his live band: Olsson, Murray, and Johnstone. The album spawned two Billboard Top 10 hits and became his first of seven US No. 1 albums. The title combines part of the first track (“Honky Cat”) with the name of the French château where sessions took place.

Honky Château features ten John–Taupin originals.

1. “Honky Cat” (5:12)
2. “Mellow” (5:33)
3. “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself” (3:35)
4. “Susie (Dramas)” (3:25)
5. “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be a Long, Long Time)” (4:40)

1. “Salvation” (3:59)
2. “Slave” (4:22)
3. “Amy” (4:03)
4. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” (5:01)
5. “Hercules” (5:21)

Sessions occurred in January 1972 in Hérouville, France, at the Château d’Hérouville: a castle facility also used for 1972 recordings by Alice, Joan Armatrading, Pink Floyd, T. Rex, Zoo, and most infamously by Jethro Tull, who abandonded their intended followup to Thick As a Brick due to conditions at the château (the recordings later appeared as The Chateau d’Isaster Tapes). 

Gus Dudgeon produced Honky Château amid work on Grave New World by Strawbs and Armatrading’s debut. This is the first of Elton’s two albums with engineer Ken Scott, a late-period Beatles soundman who produced Bowie’s 1971–73 output.

Honky Château features Elton on Hammond organ (“Mellow,” “Susie”), harmonium (“Salvation”), and the Fender Rhodes electric piano (“Honky Cat”) in addition to grand piano (everything but “Slave”).

Olsson plays on everything except the percussion-free “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” which features Johnstone on mandolin. Davey plays banjo on “Honky Cat” (the only guitar-free track) and “Slave,” which also features his slide work.

French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty plays electric violin on “Mellow” and “Amy,” which also features percussionist Ray Cooper, who played his first live shows with John in early 1972. “Legs” Larry Smith (ex-Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band) does the tap dance on “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself.” Dudgeon plays the whistle on “Hercules.”

“Honky Cat” features a four-piece French brass section: trombonist Jacques Bolognesi and saxophonists Alain Hatot and Jean-Louis Chautemps (all recently of Janko Nilovic’s Giant) and trumpeter Ivan Jullien. “Salvation” features backing vocals by Bell, Hazzard, Strike, and Larry Steel, a recent auxiliary for Jonathan Kelly, Masters Apprentices, and Tír na nÓg.

Honky Château is housed in a sepia gatefold with photography by Ed Caraeff. It shows a bearded close-up of Elton (front); headshots of John, Olsson, Murray, and Johnstone (back); and a lyrics spread with a distant field shot of Taupin (inner-gates).

On April 7, 1972, DJM lifted “Rocket Man” as an advance single, backed with the Madman tracks “Holiday Inn” and “Goodbye.” In the US, “Rocket Man” appeared on April 17 (b/w “Susie (Dramas)”). “Rocket Man” reached No. 2 in the UK, No. 6 in Ireland, and No. 8 in Canada. In the US, “Rocket Man” reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 11 on the Cashbox Top 100.

Elton and his band mimed “Rocket Man” on the April 27 broadcast of TotP, which twice re-aired it amid spring hits by Chickory Tip (“What’s Your Name”), Lindisfarne (“Lady Eleanor”), Long John Baldry (“Iko Iko”), The Moody Blues (“Isn’t Life Strange?”), The Move (“California Man”), Ringo Starr (“Back Off Boogaloo”), The Rolling Stones (“Tumbling Dice”), Sly & the Family Stone (“Runnin’ Away”), T. Rex (“Metal Guru”), and Greek singer Vicki Leandros (“Come What May”).

On June 2, Elton played London’s Crystal Palace Bowl as part of a Beach Boys-headed multi-bill with sets by Joe Cocker, Melanie, Richie Havens, and Sha Na Na. That month, Elton and his band returned to Château d’Hérouville to record their next album.

On July 31, Uni issued “Honky Cat” as Elton’s eighth US single (b/w “Slave”). In the UK, DJM lifted “Honky Cat” on August 25 as the album’s second single, backed with the 1969 rarities “Lady Samantha” and “It’s Me That You Need.” Elton plugged its UK release with an eight-date tour (Aug. 26–Sept. 17) supported by Linda Lewis.

“Honky Cat” reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 10 in Canada. In New Zealand, it reached No. 4 on the Listener chart. In early live performances, Elton donned a cat costume for “Honky Cat,” which TotP aired on its August 31 broadcast amid hits by Blackfoot Sue (“Standing In the Road”), Roxy Music (“Virginia Plain”), Rod Stewart (“You Wear It Well”), and Slade (“Mama Weer All Crazee Now”).

Honky Château reached No. 1 in Spain and No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart. The album also went Top 10 in Canada (No. 3), Australia (No. 4), Italy (No. 5), Norway (No. 8), and the Netherlands (No. 9). In the US, Honky Château reached No. 1 and later achieved Platinum certification by the RIAA.

The planned third single, “Hercules,” never materialized but its intended b-side, an uptempo alternate version of “Slave,” appears as a bonus track on the 1996 Rocket reissue of Honky Château.

Elton consolidated the album’s stateside success with the Legs Larry Tour: a 23-date North American swing (Sept. 26–Oct. 27) that hit the Northeast, Midwest, Canada, Hawaii, and the West Coast, including two shows at the Berkeley Community Theatre supported by Family. During his Oct. 22–24 stop in the LA–Anaheim area, he visited the Rancho Mirage property of comedic legend Groucho Marx, who made a hand-gun gesture and referred to the singer as ‘John Elton,’ to which the singer raised his hands and said “don’t shoot me, I’m only the piano player.”

“Crocodile Rock”

On October 27, 1972, DJM issued “Crocodile Rock,” an uptempo fifties nostalgia spoof backed with “Elderberry Wine” — both tasters from the album completed four months earlier at Château d’Hérouville.

Elton and his band flew home from the Legs Larry Tour for an October 30 command performance for the queen at the London Palladium. Two days later, they appeared in Stillwater, Oklahoma, for a 21-date (Nov. 1–26) jaunt that covered the Deep South and East Coast. On November 20, “Crocodile Rock” became Elton’s first release on MCA, which retired its Uni division.

“Crocodile Rock” reached No. 5 in the UK and No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Cashbox Top 100. It also reached No. 1 in Canada, Italy, New Zealand, and Switzerland. The song went Top 3 in Australia, Belgium, Germany, and Norway.

Elton and his band mimed “Crocodile Rock” on the November 8 broadcast of TotP, which reaired the song across three fortnights amid autumn–winter hits by David Bowie (“The Jean Genie”), Family (“Burlesque”), Gilbert O’Sullivan (“Claire”), Gladys Knight & the Pips (“Help Me Make It Through the Night”), Jeff Beck (“Hi-Ho Silver Lining”), Lynsey De Paul (“Getting a Drag”), Michael Jackson (“Ben”), The Stylistics (“I’m Stone In Love With You”), and Wizzard (“Ball Park Incident”).


“Crocodile Rock” entered the Billboard Top 10 on the week of January 13, 1973. Three weeks later, it overtook “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder as the No. 1 song in the US. It held the top spot for three weeks, then bowed down for “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack.

Cashbox ranked “Crocodile Rock” No. 4 on its 1973 year-end chart, just ahead of songs by Diana Ross (“Touch Me in the Morning”), Paul McCartney & Wings (“My Love”), Carly Simon (“You’re So Vain”), and Billy Paul (“Me and Mrs. Jones”). Paul’s hit comes from his 1972 Philadelphia International Records release 360 Degrees of Billy Paul, which contains a cover of “Your Song.”

Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player

Elton John released his sixth album, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, on January 22, 1973, on DJM and MCA. It contains both sides of his preceding single (“Crocodile Rock,” “Elderberry Wine”) and eight new John–Taupin originals, including two brassy, uptempo numbers (“Elderberry Wine,” “Midnight Creeper”), two lavish ballads (“Blues for Baby and Me,” “High Flying Bird”), an R&B romp (“I’m Going to Be a Teenage Idol”), a rustic redneck spoof (“Texan Love Song”), and the orchestral epic “Have Mercy on the Criminal.” The album’s humble opener, “Daniel,” is one of his most recognized ballads.

1. “Daniel” (3:55)
2. “Teacher I Need You” (4:10)
3. “Elderberry Wine” (3:34)
4. “Blues for Baby and Me” (5:39)
5. “Midnight Creeper” (3:52)

6. “Have Mercy on the Criminal” (5:58)
7. “I’m Going to Be a Teenage Idol” (3:56)
8. “Texan Love Song” (3:33)
9. “Crocodile Rock” (3:55)
10. “High Flying Bird” (4:12)

Sessions took place with Gus Dudgeon in June 1972 at the Château d’Hérouville; nicknamed ‘Strawberry Studios’ in the credits (not to be confused with the Stockport, England, facility run by 10cc). Ken Scott, who plays ARP synthesizer on “Daniel,” engineered Don’t Shoot Me ahead of Aladdin Sane, the April 1973 RCA release by David Bowie. Buckmaster does the orchestral arrangements on “Blues for Baby and Me” and “Have Mercy on the Criminal.”

John plays grand piano on everything apart from “Texan Love Song” (harmonium), “Midnight Creeper” and “Daniel,” which feature the Fender Rhodes electric piano. He also plays Mellotron (“Daiel,” “Teacher I Need You”) and Farfisa organ (“Crocodile Rock”). “I’m Going to Be a Teenage Idol” features ‘Leslie piano’ (a grand piano filtered through a Leslie effects processor).

Davey Johnstone plays acoustic and Leslied electric guitar on all tracks, plus banjo (“Daniel”), sitar (“Blues for Baby and Me”), and mandolin (“Texan Love Song”). Don’t Shoot Me is Elton’s first album with rock backing confined to Johnstone, Murray, and Olsson. They sing backing vocals on “Teacher I Need You,” “I’m Going to Be a Teenage Idol,” and “High Flying Bird.”

Dudgeon summons the “Honky Cat” horn section (Bolognesi, Chautemps, Hatot, Jullien) on three tracks: “Elderberry Wine,” “Midnight Creeper,” and “I’m Going to Be a Teenage Idol.”

Larkham designed the album cover with DJM art director Michael Ross, also credited with visuals on 1972–73 titles by Hookfoot, Goodhand-Tait, Sam Apple Pie, and the 1972 Uni release Queues by Vigrass & Osborne, the duo of singer Paul Vigrass and singer–lyricist Gary Osborne. Don’t Shoot Me is housed in a gatefold that shows the title on the billboard of a fifties movie theatre (front) and a similar image as a photo within a photo (back). As a tribute to the title source, a poster to the 1940 Marx Brothers film Go West appears on the far right. The left inner-gate shows the album’s credits in the style of a vintage film poster, complete with deco font and a childhood pic of Reginald at his piano. Original copies have a twelve-page booklet with lyrics and Caraeff color pics of Elton, Bernie, and the band.

DJM lifted “Daniel” ten days ahead of the album on January 12, 1973; backed with a remake of the Empty Sky track “Skyline Pigeon.” It reached No. 4 in the UK and Ireland and went Top 10 in New Zealand (No. 2), Norway (No. 8), South Africa (No. 7), and Switzerland (No. 5). In March, MCA issued “Daniel” in North America, where it reached No. 1 in Canada and No. 2 on Billboard and Cashbox.

Elton and his band mimed “Daniel” on the January 11 broadcast of TotP, which twice aired it amid winter 1973 hits by Chairmen of the Board (“I’m On My Way to a Better Place”), Colin Blunstone (“How Could We Dare to Be Wrong”), Electric Light Orchestra (“Roll Over Beethoven”), Elvis Presley (“Always On My Mind”), Free (“Wishing Well”), Sweet (“Blockbuster”), and The Temptations (“Papa Was a Rolling Stone”).

Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player reached No. 1 in the UK, Australia, Canada, Italy, and Norway. It peaked at No. 2 in Finland and the Netherlands and No. 4 in Denmark and Japan. In the US, the album became his second consecutive No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and later certified triple-Platinum (3,000,000 sold). The 1996 Rocket reissue contains four additional tracks: the remade “Skyline Pigeon” and the late-1973 b-sides “Screw You (Young Man’s Blues),” “Jack Rabbit,” and “Whenever You’re Ready (We’ll Go Steady Again).”

Elton and his band played their first 1973 show on February 24 at the Starlight Room in Boston, England. After eighteen UK dates (through March 27 at Manchester’s Hard Rock), they did a four-city tour of Italy (April 11–17). In May, they recorded twenty-two songs at Château d’Hérouville.

“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”

On June 29, 1973, Elton John released “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” an energized riff-rocker backed with “Whenever You’re Ready (We’ll Go Steady Again)” and “Jack Rabbit” — all tasters from the May château sessions.

“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” reached No. 7 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. Elton and his band mined the song on the June 29 broadcast of TotP, which twice aired it amid hits by Clifford T. Ward (“Gaye”), David Bowie (“Life On Mars”), Jackson 5 (“Hallelujah Day”), Joe Simon (“Step By Step”), Mott the Hoopler (“Honaloochie Boogie”), Slade (“Sqweeze Me Pleeze Me”), and Sylvia (“Pillow Talk”).

On August 14, they launched a 34-date US tour at the Municipal Auditorium in Mobile, Alabama, supported by the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver. Stevie Wonder joined them onstage during their September 25 show at Boston Garden. The tour ran through October as the new album dropped.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Elton John released his seventh album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, on October 5, 1973, on DJM and MCA. This is his first studio double-album with the summer hit “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and sixteen new John–Taupin originals.

Side One contains the two-part epic “Funeral for a Friend–Love Lies Bleeding,” his longest song at more than eleven minutes. Side Two contains a re-recorded version of the 1970 b-side “Grey Seal.”

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road became his third consecutive US chart-topper and spawned three further chart singles: “Bennie and the Jets,” “Candle in the Wind,” and the title track.

1. “Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding” (11:09)
2. “Candle in the Wind” (3:50)
3. “Bennie and the Jets” (5:23)

1. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (3:13)
2. “This Song Has No Title” (2:23)
3. “Grey Seal” (4:00)
4. “Jamaica Jerk-Off” (3:39) inspired by John and Taupin’s January stay in the country, where Bernie wrote the album’s lyrics.
5. “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” (5:59)

1. “Sweet Painted Lady” (3:54)
2. “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909–34)” (4:23)
3. “Dirty Little Girl” (5:00)
4. “All the Girls Love Alice” (5:09)

1. “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n Roll)” (2:42)
2. “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” (4:57)
3. “Roy Rogers” (4:07)
4. “Social Disease” (3:42)
5. “Harmony” (2:46)

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is Elton’s third consecutive album recorded at Château d’Hérouville in France, where sessions took place with Dudgeon in May 1973, four months after their aborted attempt to record in Jamaica, which intrigued Elton due to the Rolling Stones’ recent use of Kingston’s Dynamic Sounds Studio for their August 1973 release Goats Head Soup.

Elton plays grand piano on all but two songs: “Jamaica Jerk-Off” and “Dirty Little Girl.” On the former, he plays Farfisa organ (also heard on “Bennie and the Jets,” “This Song Has No Title,” and “Your Sister Can’t Twist”). On the latter, he plays Mellotron (also heard — along with Fender Rhodes electric piano — on “No Title” and “Grey Seal”).

Johnstone regular guitar (electric and acoustic) throughout the album, as well as banjo, slide, and steel on select tracks. He, Murray, and Olsson sing backing vocals on six tracks, including “Funeral for a Friend,” “The Ballad of Danny Bailey,” and “Harmony.”

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is the first of three consecutive Elton albums engineered by David Hentschel, a soundman on recent albums by Al Stewart (Orange), Atomic Rooster, Genesis (Nursery Cryme), Home, Jackson Heights, Mott the Hoople, and the 1973 self-titled debut by Queen. He plays ARP synthesizer on “Funeral for a Friend” and “All the Girls Love Alice,” which features car effects Olsson and backing vocals by English pop singer Kiki Dee, a recent Motown Rare Earth signee with a backlog of sixites singles (and a 1968 album) on Fontana.

“Alice” also features tambourine by Elton’s live auxiliary player Ray Cooper, who possibly plays the uncredited vibraphone on “Sweet Painted Lady.” (He later plays the instrument on Elton’s twelfth studio album.) Olsson, who plays congas and tambourine on assorted tracks, is possibly responsible for the uncredited percussive sundries (maracas, timbales, claves) heard on “Jamaica Jerk-Off,” which features vocal trade-offs by ‘Reggae Dwight’ (Elton), and ‘Toots Taupin’ (Bernie) and a mystery figure dubbed ‘Prince Rhino.’ American Latin jazz-funk saxophonist Leroy Gómez solos on “Social Disease.”

Six tracks — “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “I’ve Seen That Movie Too,” “Sweet Painted Lady,” “The Ballad of Danny Bailey,” “Roy Rogers” and “Harmony” — feature orchestral arrangements by Del Newman, a string conductor on 1972–73 albums by Armatrading, Family (Bandstand), Nilsson (Son of Schmilsson), Peter Frampton, and Rick Springfield.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road names two assistant engineers: Château soundman Andy Scott and Trident mixer Peter Kelsey. Scott also worked on 1973 titles by the French bands Ange and Zao (Z=7L) and the 1974 Kedzie Records release Each Man Makes His Destiny by Paris-based American funksters Ice, an alternate name of the Lafayette Afro Rock Band.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is housed in a six-panel trifold cover designed by Larkham and Ross with artwork by Ian Beck. The cover depicts a platform-booted Elton, who walks into a poster of a yellow brick road; plastered on a brick wall along a sidewalk with a mini lavender piano. The back cover illustrates a poster with titles and credits; tacked to a wall above a teddy bear. The third panel has park photos of Elton, Bernie, and the band; tacked to the same wall.

The inner-trifold has lyrics in assorted colors with variable title fonts and accompanying illustrations, including sketches of Marilyn (“Candle In the Wind”), Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh (“I’ve Seen That Movie Too”), and Bette Davis (“You’re Sister Can’t Twist”). A photo of Taupin and his then wife, Maxine, accompanies “The Ballad of Danny Bailey.”

On September 7, DJM lifted “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” as the second advance UK single, backed with the non-album “Screw You (Young Man’s Blues).”

The single reached No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 4 in Ireland and Australia. It also went Top 10 in New Zealand (No. 2), South Africa (No. 7), and Norway (No. 9).

On October 15, MCA lifted “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” in North America, where it reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. on the Cashbox Top 100 and the Canadian RPM.

Elton and his band mimed “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” on the October 11 broadcast of TotP, which aired it across two fortnights amid hits by Bryan Ferry (“A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”), The Carpenters (“Top of the World”), ELO (“Showdown”), Ike & Tina Turner (“Nutbush City Limits”), The Isley Brothers (“That Lady”), Nazareth (“This Flight Tonight”), The Spinners (“Ghetto Child”), and Status Quo (“Caroline”).

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road reached No. 1 in the UK, Australia, US, and Canada. It went Top 10 in Denmark (No. 4), Italy (No. 5), Norway (No. 5), Sweden (No. 7), Spain (No. 8), and New Zealand (No. 9). The album later certified Platinum in the UK (300,000), double-Platinum in Canada (200,000), ten-times Platinum in Australia (500,000), and octuple-Platinum in the US (8,000,000).

Elton and his band greeted the album’s release with the final ten dates (Oct. 5–21) of their US tour with Sutherland Brothers & Quiver.

“Step into Christmas”

On November 23, 1973, Elton John released “Step into Christmas,” a jolly Yuletide anthem backed with “Ho, Ho, Ho (Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas).”

Elton and his band mimed “Step into Christmas” on the December 12 broadcast of TotP, which aired it amid hits by Cozy Powell (“Dance With the Devil”), Faces (“Pool Hall Richard”), Leo Sayer (“The Show Must Go On”), and Steeleye Span (“Gaudete”). Elton performed it on the December 22 broadcast of The Gilbert O’Sullivan Show., where Bernie deputized Ray Cooper on percussion.

In late November, Elton commenced a nine-stop UK tour comprised of thirteen shows, including two-nighters in Glasgow (Dec. 10–11, Apollo) and Birmingham (Dec. 16–17, Town Hall), the latter with Kiki Dee. Elton wrapped the tour with a Dec. 21–23 holiday engagement at the Hammersmith Odeon.

The Rocket Record Company

In 1973, Elton John founded the Rocket Record Company in partnership with Bernie Taupin, Gus Dudgeon, and Steve Brown. Elton talks about the venture in the August 16 issue of Rolling Stone (No. 141), which depicts the singer in a cartoon cover illustration by Kim Whitesides. In the six-page feature by writer and radio presenter Paul Gambaccini, Elton insists that he co-founded the label to nurture up-and-coming talent; not to promote his own releases (he points to the Moody Blues and their Threshold label as an example of a small roster drowned by its star act).

Rocket’s debut release (PIGL 1) was If It Was So Simple, the first of two albums by Longdancer, a folk-rock band with guitarist Kai Olsson (Nigel’s brother) and guitarist–singer Dave A. Stewart (later of The Tourists and Eurythmics).

Davey Johnstone released his singular solo album, Smiling Face, in late 1973 as the second Rocket release (PIGL 2). It contains ten originals, including three co-writes with his wife Di, plus a cover of the Bert Jansch–John Renbourn composition “After the Dance” and the trad standard “A Lark In the Morning With Mrs. McCleod.” Smiling Face features backing by Nigel Olsson and Dee Murray with select appearances by Joan Armatrading, BJ Cole, and Elton himself (harmonica on “Keep Right On”). Hentschel, who plays ARP on “Janine,” co-engineered the Dudgeon-produced album with Ken Scott.

Elton and Nova Sound Studios engineer Clive Franks co-produced Loving and Free, the December 1973 Rocket release (PIGL 5) by Kiki Dee. It features two otherwise unrecorded John–Taupin numbers (“Supercool,” “Lonnie and Josie”) and covers of songs by Free (“Travellin In Style”) and Stealers Wheel (“You Put Something Better Inside Me”), plus four Kiki originals, including the closing ballad “Sugar On the Floor.” Loving and Free spawned a UK and Australian Top 20 hit with “Amoureuse,” a 1972 song by French singer Véronique Sanson, who co-wrote it with Gary Osborne.


In January 1974, Elton John recorded new music at the recently opened Caribou Ranch, a converted barn facility in the Rocky Mountains near Nederland, Colorado. Music mogul James William Guercio built the studio on earnings from his main client, brass-rockers Chicago, who recorded their 1973–77 output (albums VI through XI) at the ranch, the site of their July 1973 ABC broadcast Chicago in the Rockies.

Elton and his band launched their second Japanese tour with a February 1–2, 1974, engagement at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan. The ten-show tour hit Osaka, Fukuoka, Kyoto, and Nagoya, then returned Tokyo for a Feb. 13 show at Shinjuku Kohsei Nenkin Hall. Ray Cooper joined as a full-time member of Elton’s band.

On February 4, 1974, MCA lifted “Bennie and the Jets” as the third North American Yellow Brick single, backed with the popular deep-cut “Harmony.” It reached No. 1 on the Canadian RPM and the US Billboard Hot 100 and Cashbox Top 100. “Bennie” also reached No. 15 on Billboard‘s Hot Soul Singles chart.

Insiders tapped “Harmony” as a possible a-side; a notion mooted by its use as a b-side and the upcoming release of John’s next album. In Boston, “Harmony” reached No. 1 on WBZ-FM’s listener-voted chart.

On February 22, DJM lifted “Candle in the Wind” (b/w “Bennie and the Jets”) as the third Yellow Brick single in the UK, Europe, and Oceania. It reached No. 11 on the UK Singles Chart. Both songs charted as a double a-side in Australia (No. 5), Ireland (No. 18), and New Zealand (No. 13).

TotP aired “Candle in the Wind” on its March 21 broadcast along with hits by Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye (“You Are Everything”), ELO (“Ma-Ma-Ma Belle”), The Hollies (“The Air That I Breathe”), and Mott the Hoople (“The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll”).

Elton and his band traveled Down Under for a six-show tour (Feb. 21–March 18) that covered five cities in Australia (Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Randwick, Perth) plus Auckland, New Zealand, where they performed to 49,000 fans at Western Springs Stadium (2/28).

In May, Elton and his band performed two UK benefit shows: one for the Invalid Children’s Aid Association (5/18: Royal Festival Hall) and with guests Rod Stewart and Nazareth at Vicarage Road, Watford (5/5). Elton appears on Stewart’s 1974 album Smiler, which contains a cover of the unreleased John–Tauper composition “Let Me Be Your Car” with John on piano and backing vocals.

On May 27, Elton and his band played to 12,500 London fans at Wembley’s Empire Pool Arena. John appeared stateside at a June 14 Beach Boys concert at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY, where he joined the band onstage for encores of “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin’ USA.”


Elton John released his eighth album, Caribou, on June 24, 1974, on DJM and MCA. It has ten John–Taupin originals that range from uptempo riff-rockers (“The Bitch Is Back,” “Grimsby”) to harmonized ballads (“I’ve Seen the Saucers,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”) and brassy R&B (“You’re So Static,” “Stinker”) with forays into country (“Pinky,” “Dixie Lily”) and music hall (“Solar Prestige a Gammon”). The album closes with “Ticking,” a lengthy piano-laden narrative about a young man pushed over the edge.

1. “The Bitch Is Back” (3:44)
2. “Pinky” (3:54)
3. “Grimsby” (3:46)
4. “Dixie Lily” (2:55)
5. “Solar Prestige a Gammon” (2:52)

6. “You’re So Static” (4:53)
7. “I’ve Seen the Saucers” (4:48)
8. “Stinker” (5:20)
9. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (5:36)
10. “Ticking” (7:34)

12. “Sick City” 5:23
13. “Cold Highway” 3:25

Elton named the album after Caribou Ranch, where he laid the tracks with Dudgeon in January after sessions wrapped on Chicago IV. Additional sessions took place in London (Trident) and Santa Monica at Brother Studios, a newly opened facility owned by the Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson. This is Elton’s first album since 17-11-70 with involvement by Clive Franks, who engineered Caribou in sequence with the 1974 Rocket release Totally Out of Control by the Hudson Brothers. Dave Hentschel mixed Caribou at Trident Studios.

Elton plays grand piano thoughout Caribou and Hammond organ on “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Hentschel plays ARP synthesizer on three tracks (“Pinky,” “Solar Prestige a Gammon,” “Ticking”) and Mellotron on DLtSGDoM. Cooper plays assorted hand and pitch percussion, including vibraphone, castanets, and tubular bells.

Four tracks (“The Bitch Is Back,” “You’re So Static,” “Stinker,” “Don’t Let the Sun”) feature the Tower of Power horn section: trumpeter Greg Adams, trombonist Mic Gillette, and saxophonists Steve Kupka (baritone), Lenny Pickett and Emilio Castillo (both tenor). Pickett also plays clarinet on “Solar Prestige” and soprano sax on that and “Dixie Lily.” ToP organist Chester D. Thompson plays on “Stinker.”

“The Bitch Is Back” features backing vocals by Clydie King, Sherlie Matthews, Jessie Mae Smith, and Dusty Springfield. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” features backing vocals by Captain & Tennille and Caryl Wilson along with fellow Beach Boys Bruce Johnston and Billy Hinsche.

Caribou is housed in a single sleeve designed by Larkham and Ross with Caraeff photography. It shows Elton posed before an imitation lakeside backdrop in a tiger top and loon pants. The back covers shows him (blue leisure suit) and Bernie (leath suit) seated on stools against a background film projection. Elton’s face appears in rose-colored frames on the otherwise monochrome inner-sleeve photo.

On May 24, DJM lifted “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” as an advance single, backed with the non-album “Sick City.” It went Top 20 in the UK Ireland, and Australia but faired better in North America, where MCA issued the single on June 10. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” reached No. 1 in Canada and No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

TotP aired “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” on its June 13 broadcast amid hits by Alan Price (“Jarrow Song”), Arrows (“A Touch Too Much”), Cozy Powell (“The Man In Black”), First Class (“Beach Baby”), Leo Sayer (“One Man Band”), and Ray Stevens (“The Streak”).

On August 30, DJM and MCA lifted “The Bitch Is Back” as the second Caribour single, backed with the non-album “Cold Highway.” It peaked at No. 15 in the UK but reached No 1 in Canada. In the US, “The Bitch Is Back” reached No. 5 on the Cashbox Top 100 and No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Elton and his band mimed “The Bitch Is Back” on the September 5 broadcast of TotP, which twice aired the song amid hits by 10cc (“Silly Love”), Andy-Fairweather Low (“Reggae Tune”), Brian Protheroe (“Pinball”), Carl Douglas (“Kung Fu Fighting”), Cat Stevens (“Another Saturday Night”), The Commadores (“Machine Gun”), Don Covay (“It’s Better To Have”), and Robert Wyatt (“I’m a Believer”).

Caribou reached No. 1 in the UK, Australia, Canada, Denmark, and the US. It peaked at No. 2 in Japan and went Top 10 in Italy (No. 8), Norway (No. 6), Spain (No. 4), Sweden (No. 3), and Yugoslavia (No. 5). The album later certified double-Platinum in Australia (100,000) and the US (2,000,000).

Elton and his band plugged Caribou with a 24-date autumn US tour that included multiple dates with the Kiki Dee Band, then promoting their 1974 Rocket release I’ve Got the Music in Me and it’s title hit (written by ontime Trees bassist Bias Boshell and covered in 1975 by Thelma Houston with Pressure Cooker). The tour launched on September 25 at the Dallas Convention Center and wrapped on November 15 at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium.

“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”

On November 15, 1974, Elton released the Beatles cover “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,” recorded at Caribou with guitar and backing vocals by John Lennon, who performs under the pseudonym Dr. Winston O’Boogie (Winston was Lennon’s middle name). The b-side, “One Day (At a Time),” is a cover of Lennon’s recent deep cut from his 1973 album Mind Games.

Elton, in turn, plays piano on “Whatever Gets You thru the Night,” the lead-off single on Lennon’s 1974 release Walls and Bridges, recorded in the summer of 1974. After Lennon’s single reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, he appeared (as promised) at Elton’s November 24 show at Madison Square Garden, where the two performed both a-sides and “I Saw Her Standing There.”

On December 2–3, Elton and his band played the Philadelphia Spectrum, then headed home for a 12/12 appearance on TotP, where they mimed “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” amid autumn hits by Barry White (“You’re The First, The Last, My Everything”), Bachman-Turner Overdrive (“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”), Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes (“Get Dancing”), Status Quo (“Down Down”), Rod Stewart (“You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything”), and Wizzard (“Are You Ready to Rock”).

For the 1974 Christmas holiday, Elton and his band played five straight nights (Dec. 20–24) at the Hammersmith Odeon. “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” reached No. 10 in the UK and No. 3 in Australia. In January 1975, it reached No. 1 in Canada and the US. Elton’s “Lucy” cover is the second of two non-Beatles versions of a Lennon–McCartney song (after the 1964 Peter & Gordan hit “A World Without Love”) to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Lady Samantha

In 1974, DJM issued Lady Samantha, a UK-only rarities compilation on cassette and 8-track. It contains fourteen songs, including the recent b-sides “Skyline Pigeon” (remake), “Jack Rabbit,” “Screw You (aka Young Man’s Blues),” “Whenever You’re Ready (We’ll Go Steady Again),” and “Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas).”

Lady Samantha also collects John’s early non-albums tracks, including the title-sake song (his first a-side) and both sides of the 1969–70 singles “Rock and Roll Madonna” (b/w the original “Grey Seal”) and “It’s Me That You Need” (b/w “Just Like Strange Rain”), plus the long-elusive b-sides “Bad Side of the Moon” and “Into the Old Man’s Shoes.” Two songs from the Friends soundtrack (“Friends” and “Honey Roll”) round out the set.

DJM later reissued Lady Samantha on vinyl (1980) and CD (1988). All fourteen songs appear on John’s 1992 compilation Rare Masters, a double-CD with twenty-four additional tracks.

Greatest Hits

In November 1974, Elton’s first Greatest Hits collection appeared on DJM, MCA, and Polydor. It rounds up ten of his then-most familiar songs among US and UK audiences.

The US tracklist features two songs from his self-titled second album (“Your Song,” “Border Song”) and eight 1972–74 numbers: two each from Honky Château (“Honky Cat,” “Rocket Man”) and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player (“Daniel,” “Crocodile Rock”), plus three from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (title track, “Bennie and the Jets,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”) and one from Caribou (“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”).

UK copies replace “Bennie and the Jets” with “Candle in the Wind.” Greatest Hits contains nothing from Empty Sky (still unissued in the US) and Tumbleweed Connection (which had no singles). Madman Across the Water is also unrepresented, possibly because “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon” had yet to achieve evergreen status.

Photographer Terry O’Neill took the compilation’s front- and back-cover photos, which show the bespectacled singer at his piano in a white hat, suit, and bow tie.

Greatest Hits reached No. 1 in the UK, US, Australia, and Canada. It peaked at No. 2 in New Zealand and No. 3 in Norway. The compilation has since certified Diamond in Canada (1,000,000), quintuple Platinum in Australia (250,000), and seventeen-times Platinum in the US (17,000,000).


In January 1975, MCA issued Empty Sky for the first time in North America. This version is housed in a blue gatefold with a sphinx-like caricature illustration by Belgian artist Jean Michel Folon, who also did cover art for The Great Lost Kinks Album and 1974 releases by James Vincent (Culmination) and Nelson Angelo. Six years after its UK DJM release, Empty Sky reached No. 30 in Canada and No. 6 on the Billboard 200.

On February 12, Elton John appeared on the pilot episode of Cher, a CBS variety show hosted by singer–entertainer Cher. They perform a duet rendition of “Bennie and the Jets” and act in a skit with comedian Flip Wilson where they imagine themselves in a retirement home in the year 2025 (fifty years in the future). Elton also plays piano on a medley of “Mockingbird,” “Proud Mary,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “Never Can Say Goodbye” — a duet between Cher and Bette Midler.

Elton appears in filmmaker Ken Russell’s 1975 musical Tommy, an adaptation of the 1969 rock opera by The Who. John plays the Pinball Wizard, who sings the namesake song as the film’s titular character (played by Who frontman Roger Daltrey) excels at pinball despite his limitations (“That deaf, dumb, and blind kid.. sure plays a mean pinball!”). The Elton John Band’s version of “Pinball Wizard” appears on the Tommy soundtrack, released in March 1975 on Polydor.

Elton also plays piano on three cuts (“Guru Banana,” “Circular Letter,” “Toujours La Voyage”) on Sweet Deciever, the March 1975 Island Records release by Soft Machine co-founder Kevin Ayers, who recently signed onto Reid’s management.

“Philadelphia Freedom”

On February 24, 1975, Elton John released the standalone single “Philadelphia Freedom,” inspired by four-time US Open champ Billie Jean King. The b-side is the Beatles cover “I Saw Her Standing There,” recorded live with John Lennon at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 1974.

John asked Taupin to write a song in honor of Jean King and her team, the Philadelphia Freedoms, a charter franchise of World Team Tennis. King — best known for her 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” victory over 1946–47 World No. 1 professional champ Bobby Riggs — recently founded the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Elton and his band recorded “Philadelphia Freedom” in August 1974 at Hollywood’s Sound Factory with Dudgeon and orchestrator Gene Page, who also arranged one track (“Something Lacking In Me”) on Olsson’s 1975 selft-titled second album (Rocket #PIG-2158). They held the session during a break from work on Elton’s ninth album at the Caribou Ranch.

“Philadelphia Freedom” reached No. 1 in Canada, No. 2 in New Zealand, No. 4 in Australia, and No. 12 in the UK. In the US, the song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 32 on the publication’s R&B chart. TotP aired the song to a dance by Pan’s People on its March 13 and 27  broadcasts amid hits by 10cc (“Life Is a Minestrone”), Fox (“Only You Can”), Gloria Gaynor (“Reach Out, I’ll Be There”), the Kiki Dee Band (“(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am”), and Sweet (“Fox On the Run”).

On May 17, 1975, Elton John became the first white performer to appear on the syndicated US R&M music variety program Soul Train, where he mimed “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Bennie and the Jets.”

“Philadelphia Freedom” ranks No. 3 on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1975, behind hits by Captain & Tennille (“Love Will Keep Us Together”) and Glen Campbell (“Rhinestone Cowboy”) and just ahead of David Bowie (“Fame”), Earth, Wind & Fire (“Shining Star”), and two pre-Beatles singers in the midst of comebacks: Neil Sedaka (“Laughter In the Rain”) and Four Seasons frontman Frankie Valli (“My Eyes Adored You”).

Sedaka’s hit appeared stateside on the 1974 Rocket release Sedaka’s Back, a compilation of three UK longplayers, including the 10cc-backed 1972–73 albums Solitaire and The Tra-La Days Are Over. Like Elton, Sedaka was a pianist, composer, and singer who collaborated with lyricists. John sings uncredited backing vocals on “Bad Blood,” a Billboard and Cashbox No. 1 from Sedaka’s 1975 Rocket release Overnight Success, which also contains a Top 10 lounge remake of Neil’s 1962 No. 1 “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.”

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

Elton John released his ninth album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, on May 19, 1975, on DJM and Uni. It’s a concept album with ten originals that chronicle the plight of Captain Fantastic (John) and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (Taupin) in the early years of their songwriting partnership. Taupin wrote the lyrics chronologically while John composed the music on a cross-sea voyage from London to New York.

Musically, the album balances country (title track), cabaret (“Better Off Dead”), and ballads (“We All Fall in Love Sometimes”) with rock raunch (“(Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket”) and bouyant ivory-laden numbers (“Bitter Fingers”). Each side closes with a slow harmonized epic that unfolds to a grand climax.

1. “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” (5:46)
2. “Tower of Babel” (4:28)
3. “Bitter Fingers” (4:35)
4. “Tell Me When the Whistle Blows” (4:20)
5. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” (6:45)

6. “(Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket” (4:01)
7. “Better Off Dead” (2:37)
8. “Writing” (3:40)
9. “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” (4:15)
10. “Curtains” (6:15)

Sessions occurred with Dudgeon in August 1974 at the Caribou Ranch, also used for Chicago VIII and concurrent albums by Joe Walsh, Chicago keyboardist Robert Lamm (Skinny Boy), and the collaborative disc by Mahavishnu Orchestra alumni Jerry Goodman and Jan Hammer (Like Children). Jeff Guercio (James William’s brother) engineered Captain Fantastic with assistance by third brother Mark Guercio. “Tell Me When the Whistle Blows” features orchestration by Gene Page.

Elton John plays grand piano on everything except “Whistle Blows” and “Writing,” which feature the Fender Rhodes electric piano, also heard on “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” which also features John on the ARP String Ensemble. He plays clavinet on two tracks (“Whistle Blows,” “Meal Ticket”) and both harpsichord and Mellotron on the closing pair “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” and “Curtains,” which both feature Hentschel on ARP synthesizer.

Davey Johnstone plays guitar throughout with select instances of mandolin (title track) and piano (“Writing”). Captain Fantastic is Elton’s last album for eight years with Murray and Olsson, who round out the rhythm section with Cooper, who plays assorted percussion, including gong and jawbone on the title track.

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is housed in an elaborate gatefold by illustrators Alan Aldridge and Harry Willock. The front shows Captain Fantastic — swarmed by birds, fish, amphibeans, and gargoyle-like critters — atop his piano, which tilts above a cottage in a soup bowl. The back shows the Brown Dirt Cowboy inside a crystal ball with “cute” animals (Maxine’s head appears on a bird’s body) and members of Elton’s band in smaller crystals amid the critters, who possibly represent unsavory industry characters that John and Taupin encountered in their career. The inner-gates contain blue-framed photos of the two and Elton’s five-piece band.

Original copies include a poster-size version of the album art; a sixteen-page booklet of lyrics and pics; and a sixteen-page scrapbook of pics, press clippings, and a comic (four pages) titled The Life & Loves of Elton John.

In late June, DJM and MCA lifted “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” as the only Captain Fantastic single, backed with the non-album “House of Cards.” It reached No. 2 in Canada, No. 1 on the Cashbox Top 100 and No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy reached No. 2 in the UK and No. 1 in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. It also went Top 10 in Austria (No. 7), Finland (No. 10), Norway (No. 2), and Spain (No. 3). In the US, Captain Fantastic shipped Gold and became the first album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. It sold 1.4 million in its first four days (one year before the RIAA introduced Platinum certification) and held the No. 1 spot for seven weeks.

Captain Fantastic later certified Platinum in Canada (100,000), double-Platinum in Australia (100,000), and triple-Platinum in the US (3,000,000).

Just prior to the June–July sessions for his next album, Elton replaced Murray and Olsson with American bassist Kenny Passarelli (of Joe Walsh’s Barnstorm) and returning drummer Roger Pope (of the now-defunct Hookfoot). He also hired American James Newton Howard (ex-Mama Lion) as his keyboardist and orchestral conductor. Pope’s colleague Caleb Quaye joined as rhythm guitarist.

Elton and the band played a June 21 show at Wembley Stadium, supported by the Beach Boys, Eagles, Joe Walsh, Rufus, and Stackridge, a Kinks-like vaudevillian pop band that signed to Rocket for their 1975 fourth album Extravaganza.

Elton played select summer dates, including a June 29 show at Oakland Coliseum with the Doobie Brothers. On July 19, Elton joined the Rolling Stones onstage at Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins, Colorado. He initially joined them to play on “Honky Tonk Women” but remained onstage throughout the show.

On July 24, Elton and his band played the 2nd Festival Van De Gouden Leeuw, a two-day event in Blankenberge, Belgium, with sets by Kiki Dee, Leo Sayer, Maggie Bell, Rory Gallagher, and assorted French and Belgian acts, including Joe Dassin and Koen De Bruyne.

In August, Elton marked the fifth anniversary of his US Troubador debut with a three-night engagement at the Hollywood venue (25–27), supported by Kiki Dee.

Rock of the Westies

Elton John released his tenth album, Rock of the Westies, on October 4, 1975, on DJM and Uni. It contains six songs credited to John–Taupin and a seventh (“Hard Luck Story”) credited to ‘Ann Orson’ and ‘Carte Blanche’ (female pseudonyms for the pair). Johnstone helped them write two songs: the three-part medley “Yell Help” and the uptempo rocker “Grow Some Funk of Your Own.”

1. “Medley: Yell Help / Wednesday Night / Ugly” (John, Davey Johnstone, Taupin) (6:15)
2. “Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future)” (3:29)
3. “Island Girl” (3:42)
4. “Grow Some Funk of Your Own” (4:47)
5. “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)” (5:27)

1. “Street Kids” (6:25)
2. “Hard Luck Story” (5:16)
3. “Feed Me” (4:00)
4. “Billy Bones and the White Bird” (4:25)

Rock of the Westies is Elton’s third consecutive album recorded at the Caribou Ranch, used concurrently by Earth Wind & Fire (That’s the Way of the World) and Frank Zappa. Sessions occurred in June–July 1975 with Jeff and Mark Guercio. Gus Dudgeon produced Westies in succession with 1975 albums by Howard Werth & The Moonbeams and Solution, a Dutch jazz-rock band that signed to Rocket for their third album, Cordon Bleu.

John restricts himself on Westies to vocals and piano, which he plays on every track except “Feed Me.” Newton Howard plays electric piano on five tracks; synthesizers on three (“Grow Some Funk,” “Robert Ford,” “Billy Bones”); Hohner clavinet on the first two songs and Mellotron on “Island Girl.” On the medley, he also plays harpsichord, ARP synthesizer, and Elka Rhapsody string synthesizer.

Johnstone and Quaye double on acoustic guitar on two tracks (“Grow Some Funk,” “Robert Ford”) and double on electric on six. One exception is “Street Kids,” while Johnstone plays slide while Quaye plays electric rhythm and lead. Cooper’s arsenal includes marimba (“Island Girl”), tympani (“Billy Bones”), and vibraphone (“Grow Some Funk,” “Robert Ford,” “Feed Me”).

Labelle guest as backing vocalists on the medley. Clive Franks does likewise on “Feed Me.” Kiki Dee sings backup on seven tracks while Elton (under his Ann Orson alter ego) overdubs himself on six.

Rock of the Westies is housed in a Larkham-designed single sleeve with ranch-bound photographs by Terry O’Neill that show Elton close-up (front), Bernie and the band (back), and individual pics of John, Taupin, and the six musicians (inner sleeve). Original copies contain a two-fold lyrical insert. DJM copies replicate the headshots on the LP labels.

In late September, DJM lifted “Island Girl” as a single, backed with the non-album Kiki Dee cover “Sugar on the Floor,” the closing track on Loving and Free. It went Top 20 in the UK and Australia and reached No. 4 in Canada and New Zealand.

In the US, “Island Girl” reached No. 1 on the Cashbox Top 100 and (for three weeks) the Billboard Hot 100, where it unseated Sedaka’s “Bad Blood.” It debuted on Billboard after a one-week break in Elton’s 25-month streak on the Hot 100 (a record topped only by Pat Boone).

TotP aired “Island Girl” to a dance segment by Pan’s People on its October 16 broadcast, which also featured hits by ABBA (“S.O.S.”), The Chi-lites (“It’s Time for Love”), David Essex (“Hold Me Close”), Esther Phillips (“What a Difference a Day Made”), Justin Hayward & John Lodge (“Blue Guitar”), and The Trammps (“Hold Back the Night”).

Rock of the Westies reached No. 1 in Canada, No. 5 in the UK, and No. 4 in Australia and New Zealand. It went Top 10 in Denmark (No. 3), Norway (No. 6), Spain (No. 8), and Sweden (No. 6). In the US, Westies became his seventh and final No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. It later certified Platinum in the US, Canada, and Australia.

Elton and his new band (Johnstone, Quaye, Passarelli, Pope, Cooper, Newton Howard) embarked on a sixteen-date, eleven-city US tour with backing vocalists Cindy Bullens, Jon Joyce, and Ken Gold. The tour commenced on September 29 at the San Diego Sports Arena and wrapped two nights (October 25–26) at LA’s Dodger Stadium, where they were joined onstage by Billie Jean King and the James Cleveland Choir.


In January 1976, “Grow Some Funk of Your Own” reappeared as the second Rock of the Westies single, backed with “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford).” It reached No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In March, Polydor lifted “Pinball Wizard” from the Tommy soundtrack as a single, backed with the Yellow Brick Road track “Harmony.” Elton’s cover of The Who classic reached No. 7 on the UK Singles Chart.

That spring, John Reid played Elton three songs from a just-recorded album by an EMI artist with no American label. One of the songs, “Devil Woman,” was written by ex-Twilights guitarist Terry Britten and ex-Family Dogg singer Christine Holmes, who first recorded it under her solo stagename Kristine Sparkle. Elton agreed to sign the mystery artist to Rocket for the US market. To his surprise, he discovered the singer was Cliff Richard, one of Elton’s boyhood idols. Cliff’s debut Rocket release, I’m Nearly Famous, appeared in May 1976 and signaled the singer’s career renaissance. “Devil Woman” became the former British teen idol’s first ever American Top 10 hit.

Meanwhile, Elton became club chairman of Watford F.C., a then-Fourth Division football club from Watford, Hetfordshire, that John (a lifelong fan) intended to lift to First Division (a goal achieved in the 1981–82 season).

Here and There

On April 30, 1976, DJM and MCA released Here and There, Elton’s second live album, sourced from two 1974 shows: the 5/18/74 children’s benefit at Royal Festival Hall and the 11/24/74 show (with guest John Lennon) at Madison Square Garden. The title refers to the transatlantic cities: Here (London, Side One) and There (New York, Side Two).

Here contains renditions of one song each from Empty Sky (“Skyline Pigeon”), Elton John (“Border Song”), Tumbleweed (“Love Song”), Honky Château (“Honky Cat”), and Don’t Shoot Me (“Crocodile Rock”). There contains one songs from Honky (“Rocket Man”), two from Yellow Brick Road (“Bennie and the Jets,” “Funeral for a Friend”), and the early staple “Take Me to the Pilot.”

1. “Skyline Pigeon” (4:34)
2. “Border Song” (3:18)
3. “Honky Cat” (7:15)
4. “Love Song” (5:25)
5. “Crocodile Rock” (4:15)

1. “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” (11:11)
2. “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)” (5:12)
3. “Bennie and the Jets” (6:09)
4. “Take Me to the Pilot” (5:48)

Both sides feature the Elton Band’s 1974 lineup: Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson, and Ray Cooper. “Love Song” features a guest appearance by its co-writer, Lesley Duncan. Dudgeon produced and engineered Here and There with concert soundman Phil Dunne.

Photographer David Nutter took the album’s cover images, which show Elton’s black grand piano (front) and Elton himself in a mink scarf and trench coat perched atop the piano (back). The inner-sleeve contains of photo of his band’s equipment with Olsson’s customized kick-drum (DRUMORK) and liner notes by Paul Gambaccini.

Here and There reached No. 6 in the UK, No. 3 in New Zealand, and No. 4 on the Billboard 200.

Elton and his Westies backing band (Johnstone, Quaye, Passarelli, Pope, Cooper, Newton Howard) and live vocal trio (Bullens, Gold, Joyce) embarked on the Lounder Than Concorde Tour, and five-week, 21-city UK jaunt that started with an April 29–30 engagement at the Grand Theatre in Leeds and wrapped with a June 3–4 showcase at the Capitol Theatre in Cardiff, Wales.

“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”

On June 21, 1976, Elton John released “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” a duet with Kiki Dee, backed with “Snow Queen.”

John and Taupin co-wrote “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” under their pseudonyms Ann Orson and Carte Blanche (also used on “Hard Luck Story”). They selected Dee after their first choice, Dusty Springfield, proved too ill to duet with John. “Snow Queen” is joint-credited to John, Taupin, Dee, Johnstone, and photographer David Nutter.

John plays electric piano on “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” which features five-sixths of his Westies backing band (Quaye, Passarelli, Pope, Cooper, Newton Howard) with uncredited backing vocals by Bullens, Gold, and Joyce. Dudgeon and crew produced the song on March 27 during a break between sessions for Elton’s next album.

In the video, Elton (plaid leisure suit) leads Kiki (peach overalls) into a soft-lit studio where the two trade-off at the mic.

“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” reached No. 1 on the UK Singles chart and held that spot for six weeks in the summer of 1976. It also reached No. 1 in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Rhodesia, Ireland, and France. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” made the Top 3 in Belgium, Sweden, and the Netherlands. In Switzerland and Germany, the song peaked at No. 4 and 5, respectively.

Top of the Pops first aired the video on the program’s July 8 broadcast and reaired it a fortnight later amid hits by 5000 Volts (“Dr. Kiss Kiss”), Billy Ocean (“L.O.D. (Love on Delivery)”), Candi Staton (“Young Hearts Run Free”), Dorothy Moore (“Misty Blue”), Isley Brothers (“Harvest for the World”), The Real Thing (“You to Me Are Everything”), Steve Harley (“Here Comes the Sun”), and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band (“The Boston Tea Party”).

TotP then reaired it weekly from July 29 and August 26 amid summer hits by ABBA (“Dancing Queen”), Bryan Ferry (“The Price of Love”), Cliff Richard (“I Can’t Ask for Anything More Than You”), David Dundas (“Jeans On”), The Equals (“Funky Like a Train”), Hot Chocolate (“Heaven Is on the Back Seat of My Cadillac”), Lou Rawls (“You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”), Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (“Blinded By the Light”), Slik (“The Kid’s a Punk”), Tavares (“Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel”), Thin Lizzy (“Jailbreak”), and Wings (“Let ‘Em In”).

Select airings set “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” to a skit by the TotP in-house dance troupe Ruby Flipper.

“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 66 on the week of July 4, 1976, the US Bicentennial. On the week of August 7, it overtook “Kiss and Say Goodbye” by The Manhattans as the No. 1 song in the US. It held that spot for four weeks, then bowed down for “You Should Be Dancing” by the Bee Gees. The song also reached No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart.

“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” ranks No. 2 on the 1976 Year-End Singles charts in the UK (behind “Save Your Kisses for Me” by the Brotherhood of Man), New Zealand (behind “Fernando” by ABBA), and the US (behind “Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney & Wings). This marked Elton’s second consecutive Top 3 Billboard Year-End placement. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” was Elton’s sixth and final Billboard No. 1 (barring his involvement in Dionne & Friends).

The song’s success elevated Dee’s profile after the non-release of Cage the Songbird, her intended 1976 album that got shelved after the chart-stall of its late-1975 advance single “Once a Fool”.

Louder Than Concorde Tour (US)

On June 29, 1976, as “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” began its chart runs worldwide, Elton and his band launched a sixteen-city US tour dubbed ‘Louder Than Concorde (But Not Quite as Pretty).’ It commenced with a two-nighter at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, and wrapped in mid-August in New York City, where he played seven nights (Aug. 10–13 and 15–17) at Madison Square Garden, followed by the Aug. 18 multi-bill (with Bonnie Riatt and Muddy Waters) of the summer-long Schaefer Music Festival at Wollman Rink in Central Park. These would be his last US shows for three years.

After the 8/17 Madison Square Garden show, Elton told Rolling Stone reporter Cliff Jahr “My life in the last six years has been a Disney film and now I have to have a person in my life.” Jahr offered to pause the tape but John declined, then added “I’ve never talked about this before… I haven’t met anybody that I would like to settle down with — of either sex.” The three-page interview appears in the October 7, 1976, issue of Rolling Stone (No. 223), which features John on the cover, reclined in a Watford F.C. sweater beside the headline “Elton’s Frank Talk: The Lonely Love Life of a Superstar.”

On September 17, Elton played an eighteen-song set at the Edinburgh Playhouse. He started the show with four numbers from his self-titled second album (“I Need You to Turn To,” “Sixty Years On,” “Border Song,” “The Greatest Discovery”) and included a mid-set sequence of recent ballads: “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” and a new number, “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.”

Blue Moves

Elton John released his eleventh album, Blue Moves, on October 22, 1976, on MCA and Rocket. It’s his second studio double-album (after Goodbye Yellow Brick Road) with twelve John–Taupin numbers and five tracks with additional input from Johnstone (“Cage the Songbird,” “If There’s a God in Heaven (What’s He Waiting For?)”), Quaye (“Boogie Pilgrim”), Howard (“One Horse Town”), and all three (“The Wide Eyed and Laughing”).

Blue Moves contains two instrumental interludes: “Your Starter For…” (by Quaye) and “Theme From a Non-Existent TV Series,” plus the orchestral epic “Out of the Blue” (wordless but co-credited to Taupin). This is the second of two albums with the six-piece Elton John Band lineup of Westies and the Louder Than Concorde tours (Johnstone, Quaye, Passarelli, Pope, Cooper, Newton Howard).

Blue Moves was Elton’s last album with producer Gus Dudgeon barring their mid-eighties reunion. This is the first of his albums on Rocket Record, the label he co-founded three years beforehand. After Blue Moves, John and Taupin put their partnership in a four-year holding pattern.

1. “Your Starter For…” (1:23)
2. “Tonight” (7:52)
3. “One Horse Town” (5:56)
4. “Chameleon” (5:27)

5. “Boogie Pilgrim” (6:05)
6. “Cage the Songbird” (3:52) Kiki Dee also recorded this song for her shelved 1976 album (released in 2008).
7. “Crazy Water” (5:42)
8. “Shoulder Holster” (5:10)

9. “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” (3:48)
10. “Out of the Blue” (6:14)
11. “Between Seventeen and Twenty” (5:17)
12. “The Wide Eyed and Laughing” (3:27)
13. “Someone’s Final Song” (4:10)

14. “Where’s the Shoorah?” (4:09)
15. “If There’s a God in Heaven (What’s He Waiting For?)” (4:25)
16. “Idol” (4:08)
17. “Theme From a Non-Existent TV Series” (1:19)
18. “Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance!)” (6:43)

Sessions took place in March 1976 at studios in Toronto (Studio Eastern Sound), London (Abbey Road), Los Angeles (Sunset Sound), and Santa Monica (Brother). Dudgeon produced the album in sequence with the 1976 Epic release Planes, the fourth solo album by ex-Zombies singer Colin Blunstone.

Blue Moves marks the return of conductor–arranger Paul Buckmaster, who last worked with Elton on Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player. He conducts the Martyn Ford Orchestra on “Crazy Water,” “If There’s a God in Heaven,” and (with Centipede cellist Michael Hurwitz) “One Horse Town.” The Gene Page Strings appear on “Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance!).” The London Symphony Orchestra plays on “Tonight” and “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.”

Elton plays grand piano on fourteen tracks and makes selective use of harmonium (“Where’s the Shoorah?”) and harpsichord (“Non-Existent TV Series”).

Newton Howard plays synthesizer on eight tracks, including “One Horse Town,” “Someone’s Final Song,” and “Non-Existent TV Series,” which also feature him on Fender Rhodes electric piano. He plays Hammond organ on three cuts (“Boogie Pilgrim,” “Between Seventeen and Twenty,” “If There’s a God in Heaven”) and makes limited use of Mellotron (“Cage the Songbird”) and clavinet (“Crazy Water”).

Johnstone plays mandolin on three cuts (“Tonight,” “Between Seventeen and Twenty,” “Non-Existent TV Series”), slide on two (“Boogie Pilgrim,” “Bite Your Lip”), and acoustic guitar and dulcimer on “Cage the Songbird.” He plays sitar on “The Wide Eyed and Laughing,” which features Quaye on acoustic guitar.

Cooper plays glockenspiel and marimba on the two interludes and vibraphone on “One Horse Town,” “Chameleon,” “Out of the Blue,” and “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” His percussive sundries take prominence on “Crazy Water” and “Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance!),” both jam numbers steeped in Latin rhythms.

“Idol,” “Boogie Pilgrim,” and “Shoulder Holster” feature a four-piece horn section composed of David Sanborn (saxophone), Barry Rogers (trombone), and his onetime Dream bandmates the Brecker Brothers: Randy (trumpet) and Michael (saxophone). “Shoulder Holster” also features accordionist Carl Fortina.

Blue Moves features twelve backing vocalists. “Cage the Songbird” and “The Wide Eyed and Laughing” feature Graham Nash and David Crosby. “Chameleon” and “Crazy Water” feature Cindy Bullens, Gene Morford, Jon Joyce, Toni Tennille, Ron Hicklin, and Bruce Johnston. Three tracks (“Boogie Pilgrim,” “Bite Your Lip,” “Where’s the Shoorah?”) feature the Southern California Community Choir.

Blue Moves lists six engineers. At Brother, the Elton John Band recorded six songs — “Chameleon,” “Cage the Songbird,” “Crazy Water,” “Between Seventeen and Twenty,” “The Wide-eyed and Laughing,” “Someone’s Final Song” — co-engineered by Dudgeon and in-house soundman Earl Mankey, an original member of Sparks.

Ontime Trees guitarist David Costa designed the Blue Moves cover, which appropriates part of The Guardian Readers, an impressionist painting by British artist Patrick Procktor, R.A. (1936-2003). Nutter took the inner-gate photography, which shows a lone jaw-dropped Elton (right) and the band (left). Bernie twice appears on the sky-blue lyrical inner-sleeves.

Rocked lifted “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” as a single, backed with “Shoulder Holster.” It reached No. 11 in the UK and Australia and No. 3 in Ireland and Canada. In the US, the song reached No. 7 on the Cashbox Top 100, No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No. 1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart. In the video, Elton (without glasses) mimes at his white grand piano in a brown mohair jacket against a white backdrop. Midway, he appears in a pale pink suit with lavender-striped lapels.

Elton mimed “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” in a houndstooth suit on the November 25 broadcast of TotP, which aired his segment amid current hits by ABBA (“Money Money Money”), Be-Bop Deluxe (“Maid In Heaven”), Billy Ocean (“Stop Me (If You’ve Heard It All Before)”), Chicago (“If You Leave Me Now”), Cliff Richard (“Hey Mr. Dream Maker”), and the Kursaal Flyers (“Little Does She Know”).

Blue Moves reached No. 3 in the UK, No. 7 in New Zealand and No. 8 in Australia. It also went Top 10 in Denmark (No. 5), Italy (No. 9), the Netherlands (No. 7), Norway (No. 5), and Spain (No. 10). In North America, Blue Moves reached No. 4 in Canada and No. 3 on the Billboard 200.

In late January 1977, Rocket lifted “Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance!)” as the second US–Canadian Blue Moves single and “Crazy Water” as the second UK–European single, both backed by “Chameleon.”

Dee Dee Bridgewater covers “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” on her 1978 Elektra release Just Family, her third solo album and second since her transition from vocal jazz to R&B.


Elton John and Clive Franks co-produced the March 1977 Rocket release Kiki Dee, the singer’s sixth-recorded, fifth-released album. It contains two re-recorded songs from the unreleased Cage the Songbird: “Chicago” and “First Thing In the Morning,” both with orchestral arrangements by Gene Page. Davey Johnstone plays mandolin and dulcimer on “Bad Day Child” and acoustic guitar on “Night Hours,” which also features James Newton Howard, who plays on six tracks, including “Keep Right On” with Blue Moves guests Randy Brecker and David Sanborn. The opening track, “How Much Fun,” is a Robert Palmer cover with synth strings by ELO keyboardist Richard Tandy.

Meanwhile, TotP aired “Crazy Water” at the close of its March 10 broadcast, which also featured numbers by Barbara Dickson (“Another Suitcase In Another Hall”), ELO (“Rockaria”), Graham Parker (“Hold Back the Night”), Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran (“Rock Bottom”), and Manhattan Transfer (“Chanson D’Amour”).

“The Goaldiggers Song”

In April 1977, Elton John released “The Goaldiggers Song,” a limited-edition charity single (b/w “Brian, Jimmy, Elton and Eric”) to fund playing fields in poor areas. Elton signed half of the roughly 500 copies pressed of the single, which became a high-priced collectible.

In early May, Elton held a six-night engagement at the Rainbow (2–7), where played solo half-sets and welcomed Ray Cooper for the second half of each night. On May 28, Elton appeared with Olivia Newton-John at Windsor for the Big Top Show, and event tied to the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Elton greeted Elizabeth in a checker-lapelled liesure suit.

On June 17, Elton did an impromptu fill-in gig for soul-pop singer Jimmy Helms at the Valedictory Ball at Shoreditch College Chapel in Egham. Organizers secured Elton at the last minute when they rang his gate in nearby Old Windsor. Elton agreed as long as they had a piano on site. The Valedictory Ball also featured sets by funksters FBI and Moon.

Meanwhile, Rocket paired “Bite Your Lip” as a third UK Blue Moves a-side of a split-single with the Kiki Dee track “Chicago.” It peaked within the UK Top 30.

On July 17, Elton appeared in Hawaii for an intimate show at the Blue Max, a hotspot in Lahaina with an airplane that hung from the ceiling.

Elton John’s Greatest Hits Volume II

On September 13, 1977, Elton John’s Greatest Hits Volume II appeared on DJM, MCA, and Polydor. It features eight songs that post-date its predecessor: one song each from Captain Fantastic (“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”) and Blue Moves (“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”) and two from Rock of the Westies (“Island Girl,” “Grow Some Funk of Your Own”), plus the 1974–76 non-album hits “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Pinball Wizard,” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”

Volume II opens with a shortened version of “The Bitch Is Back” (3:39), a Caribou single missing from the first Greatest Hits. North American copies (MCA) contain “Levon,” a sleeper hit from Madman Across the Water, an album unrepresented on the first volume. UK and European copies (DJM) swap “Levon” with “Benny and the Jets,” a song from the US–Canadian Greatest Hits that European copies omitted in favor of “Candle In the Wind,” an a-side outside North America.

Volume II sports a cover photo of Elton dressed for a baseball game at a golf course after dark. The photographer, veteran art director Gered Mankowitz, took sixties cover shots of the Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull. His 1975–77 visual credits include covers for Babe Ruth, Budgie, Easy Street (Under the Glass), Gino Vannelli (The Gist of the Gemini), Glenn Hughes, Groundhogs, Hummingbird, Murray Head (Say It Ain’t So), Sherbet (Photoplay), and Sparks (Indiscreet).

Meanwhile, Elton and Clive Franks co-produced September–October Rocket releases by Scottish popsters Blue (Another Night Time Flight) and China, a pop quartet composed of Davey Johnstone, James Newton Howard, Roger Pope, and bassist Cooker Lo Presti, a sideman of Melissa Manchester. China contains nine Johnstone–Newton Howard cowrites and two numbers (“Broken Woman,” “Savage”) with lyrics by Taupin. Kiki Dee co-wrote “Shameful Disgrace.” On November 3, Elton and China played Wembley’s Empire Pool. Elton and Franks also produced a standalone single for Welsh musician Maldwyn Pope.

That autumn, Elton flew to Seattle to cut an album of outside compositions with producer Thom Bell, an architect of the Philly soul sound with assorted Northeast acts (The Spinners, The Stylistics, Ronnie Dyson, New York City). However, tensions arose between John and Bell before the proposed album reached completion.

Elton guest-hosted the December 15, 1977, broadcast of TotP, which featured numbers by Darts (“Daddy Cool–The Girl Can’t Help It”), Donna Summer (“I Love You”), The Emotions (“I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love”), Julie Covington (“Only Women Bleed”), and Wings (“Mull of Kintyre”).


In January 1978, Elton John commenced work on new material at The Mill in Cookham, Berks, with a new producer (Clive Franks) and a new lyricist (Gary Osborne). After a year of co-productions on Rocket acts, Franks — a tape operator on Empty Sky and the engineer on Caribou — replaced Gus Dudgeon, Elton’s producer since his self-titled second album. 

Osborne hovered in John’s orbit since 1972 when they shared the same US label (Uni) and art designer (Michael Ross). In 1973, Kiki Dee charted with the Osborne co-write “Amoureuse” from her John–Franks co-produced Rocket release Loving and Free. Recently, Osborne served as chief lyricist on the CBS double-album Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, a rock opera based on the 1897 H.G. Wells sci-fi serial. War of the Worlds features Moodies frontman Justin Hayward on two cuts, including “Forever Autumn,” a song first found on the 1972 Wayne-produced Uni release Queues by Vigrass & Osborne. Hayward’s version reached No. 5 on the UK Singles Chart.

John, in a reversal of writing methods, wrote melodies in advance of the lyrics for his new material. Taupin, meanwhile, collaborated with Alice Cooper on three songs (“From the Inside,” “Nurse Rozetta,” “Serious”) on the American singer’s 1978 Warner release From the Inside, which counts Dee Murray and Kenny Passarelli among its five bassists.

Elton appears on the Season Two 14th episode of the American puppet sketch comedy The Muppets, where he duets with Miss Piggy on “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and performs “Crocodile Rock” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” backed by Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem. The episode (produced October 25–27, 1977) premiered in the UK on January 8, 1978 (ITV) and in the US on February 6 (CBS). In his Muppets segments, John sports side-burns and collar-length hair, both trimmed by the time of his December TotP appearance.


On March 21, 1978, Elton John released “Ego,” a standalone single backed with “Flintstone Boy,” a rare Elton lone-write.

“Ego” is a 1976 John–Taupin composition that went unrecorded at the time of Blue Moves. Elton recorded the two songs between January and March 1978 during sessions for his upcoming album of Osborne co-writes. Paul Buckmaster arranged the single, which features Franks on bass and Cooper on tambourine, vibraphone, train whistle.

For the “Ego” and concurrent album sessions, Elton welcomed guitarist Tim Renwick and drummer Steve Holley. Renwick — an Al Stewart sideman and longtime member of Yellow Brick tour mates Sutherland Brothers & Quiver — played on 1974–75 albums by Vigrass & Osborne (Steppin’ Out) and Kai Olsson (Once In a While). Holley did stints in Horse and G.T. Moore & the Reggae Guitars and played on Kiki Dee plus recent albums by Paul Brett and Arthur Brown.

In the “Ego” video, Elton mimes into a vintage mic on a dark soundstage with the words ELTON and EGO in overhead blue neon. His wardrobe in the clip — black forties-style suit, fedora, and pink tie (no glasses) — became his standard look for the next six years.

The video cuts to scenes of childhood Elton (played by actor John Emberton) in a school production of Romeo and Juliet and adult Elton as an implacable casting agent. On pan-ins, Elton puckers cross-eyed with each utterance of “immatureish.” Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, a longtime Rolling Stones video-maker, also did recent clips for Wings (“Mull of Kintyre,” “With a Little Luck”) and the Stones upcoming “Miss You.”

A Single Man

Elton John released his twelfth album, A Single Man, on October 16, 1978, on Rocket (UK, Europe, Oceania) and MCA (North America). It features nine songs co-written with lyricist Gary Osborne. Musically, the album encompasses soul ballads (“Shine on Through”) and uptempo R&B (“I Don’t Care”) with forays into gospel (“Georgia”), Dixieland (“Big Dipper”), and tropical pop (“Return to Paradise”).

Side One closes with “It Ain’t Gonna Be Easy,” a lounge-blues number that (at nearly eight and a half minutes) is his third longest studio track. The album’s sung portion climaxes with “Madness,” a churning rocker with strident fretwork by guitarist Tim Renwick.

Elton lone-wrote the final two numbers: “Reverie,” a piano etude that segues into “Song for Guy,” a mid-paced piano instrumental with classical flourishes and light vocables.

1. “Shine on Through” (3:45)
2. “Return to Paradise” (4:15)
3. “I Don’t Care” (4:23)
4. “Big Dipper” (4:04)
5. “It Ain’t Gonna Be Easy” (8:27)

1. “Part-Time Love” (3:16)
2. “Georgia” (4:50)
3. “Shooting Star” (2:44)
4. “Madness” (5:53)
5. “Reverie” (0:53)
6. “Song for Guy” (6:35) John composed this piece in 1977 after waking from a morbid dream of death. That same day, Guy Burchett, a seventeen-year-old Rocket Record messenger boy, died in a motorcycle accident. John named this piece in honor of Burchett’s memory.

Sessions took place between January and September 1978 at The Mill with Clive Frank, who co-produced and engineered A Single Man. He plays bass on everything apart from “Shooting Star,” which features Madman guest and prolific sessionist Herbie Flowers, who recently formed the classical-rock supergroup Sky.

Elton John plays piano throughout with instances of clavinet (“I Don’t Care”), harmonium and church organ (“Georgia”), and Fender Rhodes electric piano (“Shooting Star”). On “Song for Guy,” he plays Mellotron, ARP synthesizer, and Solina String Synthesizer.

Renwick plays guitar on everything except “Shine on Through,” “Shooting Star” and the final two numbers. He also plays mandolin on “Georgia,” which also features B.J. Cole (a Madman guest) on slide guitar. Davey Johnstone only appears on “Part-Time Love.”

Steve Holley drums on everything but the last two numbers and plays ‘motor horn’ on “Big Dipper,” which also features a three-piece brass section from Chris Barber’s Jazz Band. After this album, Holley joined the final lineup of Wings. Ray Cooper plays hand percussion throughout and makes select use of marimba (“Return to Paradise”) and vibraphone (“It Ain’t Gonna Be Easy”). On “Song for Guy,” he plays wind chimes and rhythm box.

Paul Buckmaster did orchestral arrangements on six numbers (the odd-numbered songs). This would be his final appearance on an Elton album for seventeen years. Trumpeter Henry Lowther plays on “Return to Paradise.”

Osborne sings backing vocals on four songs, including “I Don’t Care” and “Part-Time Love,” which also feature backing by singers Vicky Brown (ex-Breakaways), Joanne Stone (of R & J Stone), and the male–female frontal pair of supergroup Night: Stevie Lange (then wife of Robert “Mutt” Lange) and Chris Thompson (the once-and-future Earth Band singer). “Big Dipper” and “Georgia” feature the South Audley Street Girl’s Choir and the Watford Football Club.

Franks co-engineered and mixed A Single Man with Stuart Epps and Here and There soundman Phil Dunne, who both worked concurrently on the United Artists release Whatever Happened to Benny Santini?, the debut album by Chris Rea. Dunne also produced the 1978 third solo album by Nigel Olsson, which features eight original co-writes — including one (“Part of the Chosen Few”) with Paul Davis —  and a cover of the Billy Joel song “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” (from Joel’s 1976 fourth album Turnstiles).

A Single Man is housed in a gatefold sleeve designed by David Costa with photography by Terry O’Neill. It shows Elton standing with a cane on the Long Walk to Windsor Castle in boots, knickers, a trench coat and top hat. The inner-gate shows him in a red Jaguar XK140 FHC. Costa also designed visuals on the 1978 Rocket release State of Shock by the Australian sister vocal trio The Moirs. O’Neill’s photography also appears on recent albums by John Miles (Rebel), Michelle Phillips, and The Who (Who Are You).

Twelve days before the album, Rocket issued “Part-Time Love” as a single, backed the John–Taupin exclusive “I Cry at Night.” It went Top 15 in the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and on the US Cashbox chart.

Elton filmed a video for the German music program RockPop, where he mimes on a sixties-themed soundstage surrounded by mod-attired youth and TV personality Cathy McGowan, the one-time host of the ITV music program Ready Steady Go!

In late November, “Song for Guy” became the second single, backed with the non-album John–Taupin number “Lovesick.” It reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart, his highest placement there since “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” thirty months beforehand. It also went Top 10 in Belgium (No. 9), the Netherlands (No. 6), and New Zealand (No. 7).

Elton shot a video to “Song for Guy” for the December 1978 broadcast of the Australian music show Countdown. It shows him at a piano in a flatcap on a dark soundstage under a beaming blue spotlight. The song reached No. 14 on the Australian Kent Music Report. MCA delayed the single’s release until February 1979 in the US, where it cracked the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.

In the Netherlands, Rocket lifted “Return to Paradise” as the second Single Man a-side (b/w “Lovesick”). In Germany, “Paradise” appeared on the b-side of “Song for Guy” but some pressings have the sides reversed.

A Single Man reached No. 8 in the UK and Australian reached its highest peaks in Norway (No. 4) and New Zealand (No. 5). It also went Top 20 in Canada (No. 12), Germany (No. 16), Italy (No. 13), the Netherlands (No. 16) and Spain (No. 12). In the US, the album reached the Billboard 200 and shipped Platinum within two months.

Elton limited his initial promotion of A Single Man to TV appearances and inside engagements. On October 14, 1978, he performed “Shine on Through,” “Return to Paradise,” and “Song for Guy” before MCA staff at LA’s Century Plaza Hotel. On Oct. 20, he performed “Part-Time Love,” “Shooting Star,” and “Guy” at RTL Studios in Paris. On November 2, he performed at the British Phonographic Industry’s annual ball at the London Hilton.

On December 8, Elton appeared at an Eric Clapton concert at Guilford’s Civic Hall, where he and George Harrison joined the guitarist on stage for a rendition of the 1957 Bobby Bland blues standard “Further On Up the Road,” a fixture of Clapton’s set since his 1975 live album E. C. Was Here.


Elton John launched his Single Man Tour with a February 5–6 eangagement at the Stockholm Concerthaus. The tour consisted of nineteen Continental stops (through March 11 in Madrid) and fifteen cities in the British Isles (March 17–April 26), followed by multi-nights in Jerusalem (May 1–3) and Tel Aviv (5–6). In contrast to the extravagance of prior tours, each Single Man show consisted of a solo piano–vocal set by John, followed by a second set with Ray Cooper on assorted percussion.

Journalist Roy Carr interviews Elton as a secondary subject in the February 1979 issue of Trouser Press (No. 36 with Lou Reed on the cover). In the five-page interview, Elton recounts his days in Bluesology and the work behind his first three solo albums. He reveals a moment where Jeff Beck nearly joined his backing band before Beck’s manager demanded a 90% take for his client, an offer that (in John’s recollection) Dick James rebuffed with a prediction: “Within nine months, Elton John will be earning 15,000 dollars a night,” purportedly stated nine months before Elton’s US debut at the Troubadour. Elton claims that after his early setbacks, he didn’t want to tour the US and only went to LA to hoard albums from Tower Records.

“Anyway, I played the Troubadour and it all began to happen. Within ten days, I was known from coast to coast. All we did was play rock ‘n’ roll from the word go and for some strange reason people were amazed. I firmly believe that my American success was a freak. I was just the right person in the right place at the right time.”

Further in the interview, Elton bemoans the current state of American radio and its emphasis on staple classics at the expense of newer acts. “I thought that the Sex Pistols would have made it stateside on just curiosity value.” He voices support of the new wave and notes the transatlantic disparity of its major purveyors. “Here in Britain, all the big new wave acts like [Elvis] Costello, the Pistols, The Jam, Sham 69, Buzzcocks, The Clash, Boomtown Rats, [Siouxsie &] the Banshees, The Stranglers, and Johnny Rotten’s new band [Public Image Ltd] have all had big chart hits and yet it’s strange how none of those records has sold in America.” He singles out Costello’s 1977 single “Alison” as “such a great song that, at one time, I seriously considered covering it myself.”

In late May, Elton became the third Western performer (after Cliff Richard and Boney M) to perform in then-Communist Russia. He did four nights in Leningrad at the Bolshoi Oktyabrsky Concert Hall (May 21–24) and four nights in Moscow at the Rossya Concert Hall (May 25–28). Each show followed the half-solo / half-Cooper format and ended with a cover of “Back In the USSR,” the Beatles’ 1968 ode to Russian girls. BBC Radio 1 broadcast the final show via satelite. A Single Man appeared in Russia (without “Big Dipper” and “Part-Time Love”) as Poyot Elton John on the state-run Melodiya label.

Meanwhile, Rocket Record scored with its newest act, singer–songwriter Judie Tzuke, whose May 1979 debut album Welcome to the Cruise reached No. 14 on the UK Albums Chart on the strength of its Buckmaster-arranged ballad “Stay with Me till Dawn,” a No. 16 single (No. 8 in Australia).

The Thom Bell Sessions

In June 1979, MCA and Rocket issued The Thom Bell Sessions, a three-song 12″ EP drawn from the autumn 1977 sessions at Seattle’s Kaye-Smith Studios. It features three songs by the Philly writing team of Leroy M. Bell (Thom’s nephew) and Casey James. Thom helped them write the longest track, “Are You Ready for Love.”

MFSB — the big band on numerous releases by Philadelphia International Records —  backs Elton on this EP. The Spinners appear as backing vocalists. This marks the first time since the 1970 rarity “From Denver to L.A.” that Elton functions in the interpretive singer capacity with no instrumental input. In advance of this release, John remixed the tapes with Clive Franks at London’s Utopia Studios.

“Three Way Love Affair” (5:31)
“Mama Can’t Buy You Love” (4:03)
“Are You Ready for Love” (8:16)

MCA issued “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” as a 7″ single with “Three Way Love Affair.” It reached No. 10 on the Cashbox Top 100 and No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In 1989, MCA issued The Complete Thom Bell Sessions, which assembles the full contents of Elton’s time at Kaye-Smith Studios. The six-song album contains the original EP contents and an early version of the Single Man “Shine on Through.” It also features one John–Taupin number with Thom Bell’s input (“Nice and Slow”) and “Country Love Song,” a song credited to PIR staff writer Joseph Jefferson, a onetime member of the Nat Turner Rebellion with his brother Major Harris.

“Nice and Slow” (4:43)
“Country Love Song” (5:05)
“Shine on Through” (7:46)
“Mama Can’t Buy You Love” (4:09)
“Are You Ready for Love” (8:16)
“Three Way Love Affair” (5:00)

The Complete Thom Bell Sessions restores the original 1977 mixes of each song. The biggest changes occurs on “Mama Can’t Buy You Love,” where Spinners Bobby Smith and John Edwards singer the second verse.

Victim of Love

Elton John released his thirteenth album, Victim of Love, on October 13, 1979, on MCA and Rocket. It features seven tracks produced by Pete Bellotte, an assistant of Munich-based Italian producer Giorgio Moroder. The album starts with an extended cover of the Chuck Berry chestnut “Johnny B. Goode,” rendered here with dance characteristics (4/4 downbeats; sliding hi-hats; octave basslines) codified in the team’s earlier work with Donna Summer and Roberta Kelly.

Bellotte co-wrote the remaining six songs. Three (“Warm Love in a Cold World,” “Spotlight,” “Street Boogie”) have input by Stefan Wissnet and Gunther Moll, both ex-members of Sahara, a Krautrock band that evolved from Subject ESQ. The two played in Moroder’s in-house band Munich Machine. Michael Hofmann, another Sahara alumnus, co-wrote “Thunder in the Night.” The title track features writing input by Jerry Rix and (ex-Vita Nova keyboardist) Sylvester Levay, both former sidemen of jazz-rock reedist Ralf Nowy. Pete co-wrote “Born Bad” with UK library composer Geoff Bastow.

As with The Thom Bell Sessions, Elton acts as an interpretive singer on Victim of Love with no creative input.

“Johnny B. Goode” (8:06)
“Warm Love in a Cold World” (4:30, 3:22 on older pressings)
“Born Bad” (5:16, 6:20 on older pressings)

“Thunder in the Night” (4:40)
“Spotlight” (4:24)
“Street Boogie” (3:56)
“Victim of Love” (4:52, 5:02 on older pressings)

John and Bellotte cut the album in August 1979 at Musicland Studios, Moroder’s Munich facility, where Bellotte produced Victim of Love in sequence with albums by Melba Moore and Gonzalez.

Victim of Love has two assistant engineers: Hans Menzel, a soundman on Musicland rock recordings — Deep Purple, Ian Gillan Band, Rory Gallagher (Calling Card), Paice Ashton Lord (Malice In Wonderland), Uriah Heep — and Carolyn Tapp, who worked on Bad Girls and recent albums by Suzi Lane and The Sylvers.

Victim of Love features Musicland sessionists Thor Baldursson (keyboards) and Keith Forsey (drums) along with Gonzalez players Roy Davies (keyboards) and Tim Cansfield (rhythm guitar). Two American sessionists — guitarist Craig Snyder (Impact, Phyllis Hyman, Universe City) and bassist Marcus Miller (Don Cherry, Lenny White, Lonnie Liston Smith) — round out the backing band. Miller (then 20) appears on seveteen albums released in 1979, including titles by Dave Valentin, Lee Ritenour, Lips, Shunzo Ohno, Steve Grossman, Tom Browne, Urszula Dudziak, and the Epic release Adrenalin by English jazz-funk keyboardist David Bendeth.

Additional sessions took place in Hollywood at Rusk Sound Studios, where Doobies Patrick Simmons and Michael McDonald sang backing vocals on “Victim of Love” and Toto guitarist Steve Lukather laid solos on “Warm Love in a Cold World” and “Born Bad.”

Caribou guest Lenny Pickett plays saxophone on “Johnny B. Goode.” Paulinho da Costa, a ubiquitous session percussionist, plays throughout Victim of Love, which also features vocal backing by sessionist Stephanie Spruill (Bobby Hutton, Bobbi Humphrey, Donald Byrd, Side Effect) and Waters singers Julia Tillman and Maxine Willard.

Victim of Love went Top 20 in Australia and Norway and spawned two singles: “Victim of Love” and “Johnny B. Goode.” Jubilee Graphics designed the cover, which shows enframed shots of Elton in Dollger square shades by English fashion photographer David P. Bailey.

Elton didn’t promote Victim of Love, which appeared amid a seventeen-city US tour with Ray Cooper. The tour commenced on September 19 at Tempe’s Gammage Auditorium and wrapped on November 11 at Houston’s Hofheinz Pavilion. They few to Australia and did four-night engagements at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion (Nov. 25–28) and Melbourne’s Festival Hall (Nov. 30–Dec. 3) and two nights at Perth’s Entertainment Centre (Dec. 6–7).


Elton John greeted the new decade with preparations on a new studio album. He reteamed with Bernie Taupin and continued his partnership with Gary Osborne. Elton also wrote with Tom Robinson, a singer, activist, and bandleader who charted with two 1977–78 rock albums and recently formed the post-punk combo Sector 27. Their first-released co-write was the June 1979 EMI single “Never Gonna Fall In Love..(Again),” a dance-rock number credited to Tom Robinson With the Voice Squad.

For live shows, Elton welcomed back bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson. He also reinstated James Newton Howard as his keyboardist and orchestrator.

21 at 33

Elton John released his fourteenth studio album, 21 at 33, on May 13, 1980, on MCA and Rocket. It features three John–Osborne songs (“Little Jeannie,” “Dear God,” “Take Me Back”) and co-writes with Tom Robinson (“Sartorial Eloquence,” “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again”) and Judie Tzuke (“Give Me the Love”).

Elton reunites with Bernie Taupin on three numbers: “Chasing the Crown,” “White Lady White Powder,” and “Two Rooms at the End of the World,” titled in reference to their working relationship.

The album’s title refers to Elton’s overall album count — fourteen studio albums, two live albums, two greatest hits compilations, a soundtrack, a rarities compilation (Lady Samantha), and the recent EP — and his age at the time of release.

1. “Chasing the Crown” (5:36)
2. “Little Jeannie” (5:14)
3. “Sartorial Eloquence” (4:45)
4. “Two Rooms at the End of the World” (5:40)

1. “White Lady White Powder” (4:34)
2. “Dear God” (3:47)
3. “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” (4:09)
4. “Take Me Back” (3:52)
5. “Give Me the Love” (5:30)

Sessions first occured in September 1979 in Nice, France, at at Super Bear Studios, a recently built facility used for 1978–79 albums by Chris De Burgh, Kate Bush, and Pink Floyd (The Wall). Additional sessions took place between January and March 1980 in Los Angeles Sunset Sound and Rumbo Studios. Elton co-produced the album with Clive Franks, who co-engineered the tracks with Super Bear’s Patrick Jauneaud.

The 21 at 33 sessions produced roughly two-album’s worth of material. Songs excluded from 21 at 33 (barring b-sides) include “Heart in the Right Place,” “Carla–Etude,” “Fanfare,” “Chloe,” and “Elton’s Song,” which all appeared on Elton’s next album.

Elton John plays grand piano on five tracks and makes selective use of the Yamaha electric piano (“Two Rooms”) and the Wurlitzer electric piano (“Take Me Back”). James Newton Howard plays Fender Rhodes on “Never Gonna Fall” and “Little Jeannie,” which also features the Yamaha CS-80.

21 at 33 features twenty session musicians and fourteen backing vocalists. Bassist Reggie McBride plays on everything except “White Lady White Powder,” which features Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson, who also drums on “Little Jeannie,” where Murray sings backing vocals. Drummer Alvin Taylor handles the remaining tracks.

Steve Lukather plays guitar on six tracks while Toto bandmade David Paich plays organ on “Dear God.” Olsson sideman Richie Zito plays guitar on electric guitar on two non-Lukather cuts (“White Lady,” “Take Me Bac”) and acoustic guitar on “Little Jeannie” and “Dear God,” which also features guitarist Steve Wrather.

Three songs (“Little Jeannie” “Two Rooms,” “Give Me the Love”) feature three-piece horn sections, including Wrecking Crew saxophonist Jim Horn, a sessionist on recent albums by Ben Sidran, Boz Scaggs (Silk Degrees), Randy Crawford, and Kiki Dee’s 1978 Rocket release Stay With Me. Select 21 at 33 tracks feature alto saxist Richie Cannata (“Give Me the Love”) and fiddlist Byron Berline (“Take Me Back”).

Stephanie Spruill reappears with Saint Tropez singer Venette Gloud and Rocket-resident backing vocalist Carmen Twillie on “Chasing the Crown,” “Sartorial Eloquence,” “Give Me the Love,” and “Dear God.” The last of those features six choir singers, including Toni Tennille, Bruce Johnstone, Curt Becher (aka Curt Boettcher, a producer of sixties sunshine pop), and onetime Herman’s Hermits frontman Peter Noone. Eagles members Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Timothy B. Schmit sing backing vocals on “White Lady White Powder.” Bill Champlin — then between his tenures in the Sons of Champlin and Chicago — sings backing vocals on “Little Jeannie” and “Give Me the Love.”

21 at 33 sports a cover designed by Norman Moore with photography by Jim Shea. It has a white-framed dimensional scheme of cards and chips in a four-color setting (red, yellow, blue, green). Sequentially, the images show disembodied hands holding cards beside stacked white and red poker chips (front); the white chips in disarray (back); the cards dropped with one hand on the red stack (inner-front); and both stacks toppled with the two hands joined (inner-back). The four-color scheme carries over to the LP labels. Original copies come with white insert with lyrics in blue (Side One) and red (Side Two). Moore also has design credits on late-seventies albms by Cafe Jacques (Round the Back) and ELO (Discovery).

Rocket and MCA lifted “Little Jeannie” as the first single, backed with the non-album John–Osborne number “Conquer the Sun.” It reached No. 1 in Canada (No. 2 Adult Contemporary) and No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 (No. 1 Adult Contemporary). It also went Top 10 in Australia (No. 9), New Zealand (No. 5), Switzerland (No. 4), and South Africa (No. 8).

In August, “Sartorial Eloquence” became the second single, backed with the non-album John–Osborne number “White Man Danger” (6:21) and the miniature “Cartier” (0:47), credited to ‘Carte Blanche’ (Taupin) and ‘Dinah Card’ (John). European copies suffix the a-side with the parenthetical subtitle “Don’t You Want To Play This Game No More.”

In November, Rocket lifted “Dear God” as a maxi-single with three non-album tracks: John’s lone-write “Tactics,” the John–Osborne “Steal Away Child,” and the John–Taupin “Love So Cold.” The single appeared in the UK, Australia, and Italy.

21 at 33 reached No 12 on the UK Albums Chart, No. 10 on the Canadian RPM, and No. 13 on the Billboard 200. The album reached its highest peaks in New Zealand (No. 3), Norway (No. 6), and Australia (No. 7).

21 at 33 Tour

Elton launched a ten-week, 39-city US and Canadian tour, which commenced on September 4 in Madison, Wisconsin, at the Dane County Coliseum and wrapped with multi-nights at the Inglewood Forum (Nov. 6–9) and Honolulu’s Blaisdell Center (Nov. 14–16). This was Elton’s first tour in four years with a full backing band, comprised of Murray, Olsson, Newton Howard, and guitarists Richie Zito (lead) and Tim Renwick (rhythm). On the Nov. 6 Forum show, Davey Johnstone joined them onstage for the Blue Moves number “Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance).”

The opening act on this tour was Judie Tzuke, who played songs from her second album, the May 1980 Rocket release Sports Car.

On September 13, Elton gave a free concert at Central Park in New York City, were he played before 400,000 attendees.

On October 15, Elton was the featured guest on The Phil Donahue Show. In the forty-minute interview, he talks about his strict upbringing and past relations with his enstranged father. He reveals how his wild earlier stage antics freed him from childhood restrictions: “I was having a ball. For the first time in my life, I was boss.”

In late November, Elton and his band flew to New Zealand for a seven-city Oceanic tour commenced at Auckland’s Western Springs (Nov. 22) and wrapped with three nights in Perth, Australia, at the Entertainment Centre (Dec. 20–22).


Elton duets with French star France Gall on “Les Aveux,” a slow piano–strings ballad backed with “Donner Pour Donner,” a medium Fender Rhodes ballad. John, a fluent French speaker, co-wrote both songs with her husband Michel Berger. Murray, Olsson, and Newton Howard appear on the single, which Clive Franks produced at LA’s Sunset Sound. “Les Aveux” appeared on Atlantic (France, Belgium) and Rocket (Germany, Netherlands).

Elton also duets with Kiki Dee on “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” a cover of the 1966 Four Tops a-side co-written by Stevie Wonder and Motown staff writer Ivy Jo Hunter. The John–Dee ballad version appears on Kiki’s 1981 RCA–Ariola release Perfect Timing.

The Fox

Elton John released his fifteenth album, The Fox, on May 20, 1981, on Geffen (North America) and Rocket (everywhere else). It contains four John–Taupin numbers (“Just Like Belgium,” “Fascist Faces,” “Heels of the Wind,” “The Fox”) and two John–Osborne co-writes (“Breaking Down Barriers,” “Heart in the Right Place”).

Osborne submits “Nobody Wins,” his translation of the song “Tendresse” by French singer–songwriter Jean-Paul Dreau. The penultimate track, “Elton’s Song,” is an outtake from the prior album with lyrics by Tom Robinson.

John self-composed the two-part instrumental “Carla–Etude,” which segues into “Fanfare,” an interlude co-credited to James Newton Howard.

The Fox is one of the first rock albums with an accompanying music video for each song.

1. “Breaking Down Barriers” (4:42)
2. “Heart in the Right Place” (5:15)
3. “Just Like Belgium” (4:10) Jim Horn plays alto saxophone on “Just Like Belgium,” which features French spoken word by character actress Colette Bertrand (Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, Hart to Hart).
4. “Nobody Wins” (3:40)
5. “Fascist Faces” (5:12) features the Cornerstone Baptist Church Choir with spoken voice by the Reverand James Cleveland.

1. “Carla/Etude” John (4:46)
2. “Fanfare” (1:26)
3. “Chloe” (4:40)
4. “Heels of the Wind” (3:35)
5. “Elton’s Song” (3:02)
6. “The Fox” (5:20) Harpist Mickey Raphael (Leon Russell, Willie Nelson) plays on “The Fox,” which features eight backing vocalists, including Jim Gilstrap and Oren Waters.

“Heart in the Right Place” and most of Side Two (apart from “Heels of the Wind” and “The Fox”) stem from the 21 at 33 sessions (Sept. 1979 – March 1980) at Super Bear (Nice) and Sound Recorders (Los Angeles). Sessions for the six newer songs took place in January 1981 at Abbey Road Studios (London) and the Village Recorder and Davlen Sound Studios (LA), where Chris Thomas produced The Fox in sequence with albums by Pete Townshend and The Pretenders.

Elton John plays piano on everything but “Nobody Wins,” an electronic track with synthesized drums programmed by Roger Linn, inventor of the sample-equipped LM-1 Drum Computer. James Newton Howard plays synthesizer on seven cuts and makes select use of Fender Rhodes (“Chloe”), Hammond organ (“The Fox”), and vocoder (“Heart in the Right Place”). He conducts the London Symphony Orchestra on the first half of Side Two.

Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson form the rhythm section on five songs (all odd-numbered tracks except “Fanfare”). Those same tracks feature Richie Zito, the guitarist on Olsson’s last three solo albums. Bassist Reggie McBride and drummer Alvin Taylor play on “Heart in the Right Place” and “Chloe.” Steve Lukather plays the guitar solo on “Heels of the Wind.” His Toto bandmates Steve Porcaro and Jeff Porcaro handle synthesizers and drum programming, respectively, on “Fascist Faces.”

Venette Gloud and Bill Champlin reappea as backing vocalists on “Breaking Down Barriers” and “Heels of the Wind” along with Bill’s future wife, Tamara Champlin.

Eric Blum photographed the album cover under art director Richard Seireeni. It shows a lilac room with furnishings by Fat Chance. The room has a vintage TV atop a radio on a glass table with a stuffed nearby fox and a picture of a black panther. Elton appears on the TV screen. Blum also did visuals for the Tarney–Spencer Band (Three’s a Crowd) and the upcoming Sparks release Angst In My Pants.

Rocket and Geffen lifted “Nobody Wins” as the first single, backed with the non-album John–Taupin number “Fools In Fashion,” both from the 21 at 33 sessions. It reached No. 10 in Norway. On June 20, Elton gave a private concert for Prince Andrew at Windsor Castle.

In July, “Just Like Belgium” became the second single in all Rocket territories, backed with the non-album John–Osborne number “Can’t Get Over Getting Over Losing You,” another 21 at 33 outtake. Geffen lifted “Chloe” as the second single in North America, backed with the John–Taupin 21 at 33 outtake “Tortured.”

The Fox reached No. 4 in Australia, No. 5 in Norway, and No. 6 in New Zealand. It also went Top 20 in Austria (No. 11), the UK (No. 12), and the Netherlands (No. 20). Later CD versions combine “Carla–Etude,” “Fanfare,” and “Chloe” into one long track (10:52).

The corresponding video album, Visions, appeared in 1982 on VHS and and CED. It contains videos for each song by director by Russell Mulcahy.

Jump Up!

Elton John released his sixteenth album, Jump Up!, on April 9, 1982, on Geffen and Rocket. This is his third album with lyrics by multiple collaborators. It contains four John–Osborne co-writes (“Dear John,” “Ball & Chain,” “Blue Eyes,” “Princess”) and one song (“Legal Boys”) co-written by Tim Rice, the longtime lyricist of composer–playwrite Andrew Lloyd Webber. The remaining five songs are John–Taupin numbers: “Spiteful Child,” “I Am Your Robot,” “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny),” “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?”

1. “Dear John” (3:31)
2. “Spiteful Child” (4:15)
3. “Ball & Chain” (3:27)
4. “Legal Boys” (3:05)
5. “I Am Your Robot” (4:43)

6. “Blue Eyes” (3:25)
7. “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)” (5:09)
8. “Princess” (4:56)
9. “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” (4:00)
10. “All Quiet on the Western Front” (6:03)

Sessions took place in September–October 1981 at AIR Studios on the island of Montserrat in the Lesser Antilles. Additional sessions occured Pathe Marconi Studios in Paris. This is Elton’s first of three consecutive albums produced by Chris Thomas, who worked with John on the prior winter on the newer Fox numbers. Thomas and engineer Bill Price worked on Jump Up! in succession with the 1982 ATCO release All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, the fourth non-Who album by Pete Townshend, who plays guitar on “Ball and Chain.”

Jump Up! lists two assistant engineers: Nigel Barker (Fingerprintz, Adam & the Ants) and AIR soundman Mike Stavrou, who also worked on 1981–82 albums by the Little River Band, Mike Batt, the Michael Schenker Group, and Paul McCartney’s resurgent Tug of War.

Elton John plays grand piano on most of Jump Up! (barring “Ball and Chain”), plus harpsichord on “Empty Garden.” James Newton Howard plays Fender Rhodes, synthesizers, and handles string and brass arrangements. John’s core rock backing consists of Dee Murray, Richie Zito, and Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro. Single Man sessionist Steve Holley guets on tambourine (“Ball and Chain”) and synth drum (“I Am Your Robot”). Orchestral leader Martyn Ford (billed as ‘Mountain Fjord’) conducts the brass and strings with concertmaster Gavyn Wright.

Blue Moves and Single Man designer David Costa conceived the Jump Up! cover: a free-form pattern of b&w dots and cross-lines with pink and yellow scalene triangles against a mint background. The photos, by David Nutter, show Elton posed in a forties-style blazer with a blue fedora and tie (front) and shocked in a V-shoulder leather jacket (back). The lyrical inner-sleeve has mirrored images of Elton sideways in a white blazer and black fedora.

In March, Rocket lifted “Blue Eyes” as the first UK single, backed with the non-album John–Taupin number “Hey Papa Legba,” a product of the last round of Clive Franks sessions (circa 1980). “Blue Eyes” reached No. 8 in the UK, Ireland, and Belgium and No. 4 in Australia.

In the “Blue Eyes” video, Elton mimes alfresco on his white grand piano in a wide sky-blue suite with a pink shirt and white fedora. The location is Marks Point on the Bondi to Bronte walk in Tamarama, a beachside suburb of Sydney, Australia.

In North America, where Geffen issued “Blue Eyes” as the second Jump Up! single, the song reached No. 5 in Canada and No. 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It topped the Adult Contemporary charts in both countries.

Geffen lifted “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)” as the first North American single, backed with the non-album John–Osborne number “Take Me Down to the Ocean” from the Jump Up! sessions. It reached No. 12 on the Cashbox Top 100 and No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 (No. 18 Adult Contemporary). In Canada, “Empty Garden” reached No. 8 on the RPM Top Singles and Adult Contemporary charts.

In the rust-tinged “Empty Garden” video, Elton mimes alfresco at his white grand piano, clad in a maroon forties suit and fedora, surrounded by cast-iron fencing at an apartment entrance walkway (intended to represent the exterior of Manhattan’s Dakota Apartments, Lennon’s last place of residence).

“Empty Garden” appeared as the second Jump Up! singles in Rocket territories, where it reached No. 14 in New Zealand.

In September, Rocket lifted “Princess” and the third single, backed with the non-album  John–Taupin number “The Retreat,” another outtake from the last Franks sessions. Meanwhile, Geffen lifted “Ball and Chain” as the third North American single, backed with a remix of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone”

In the “Ball and Chain” video, Elton walks around in a red cap on a soft-lift soundstage, surrounded by his classic three-piece band of Dee Murray (who plays on the song), Davey Johnstone and Nigel Olsson (who don’t).

In November, Rocket lifted “All Quiet on the Western Front” as the fourth UK single, backed with the remix of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone (Re-Mix).”

Jump Up! reached No. 1 in New Zealand and No. 3 in Australia and Norway. It went Top 20 in the UK (No. 13), US (No. 17), Canada (No. 19), and Sweden (No. 15). In the US, the videos to “Ball and Chain” and “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)” received high rotation on the fledgling cable music channel MTV.

The Jump Up Tour

Elton promoted Jump Up! with a world tour: his first since 1973 with his classic three-piece backing band of Johnstone, Murray, and Olsson. They launched the Jump Up Tour on March 6, 1982, at Aukland’s Western Springs Stadium. In Sydney, they played six nights (March 16–21) at the Hordern Pavillion, where George Harrison joined Elton onstage for “Empty Garden,” performed as a tribute to John Lennon. The Oceanic leg wrapped on April 7 at the Perth Entertainment Center.

On April 17, Elton appeared as a musical guest on the NBC late-night comedy-sketch program Saturday Night Live (Season 7, Episode 17), where John and his band performed “Empty Garden” and “Ball and Chain.” The guest-host that evening, country legend Johnny Cash, performed three numbers.

The Jump Up Tour covered twenty-three cities across Europe (April 30–May 30) and thirty-one cities across North America (June 12–Aug. 7). Elton’s stateside stops included multi-night engagements in Hoffman Estates, Illinois (July 10–11: Popular Creek Music Theatre, supported by Quarterflash) and Madison Square Garden (Aug. 4–7), where Yoko and Sean Ono (Lennon’s seven-year-old son) joined Elton onstage for “Empty Garden.”

Elton brought the tour home with a November 2–3 engagement a Newcastle’s City Hall, followed by multi-nights in fourteen other UK cities. The tour cilminated with a fifteen-night engagement (December 9–24) at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, where Elton donned a Nutcracker uniform. Kiki Dee joined him onstage during the Christmas Eve show for “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”


Too Low for Zero

Elton John released his seventeenth album, Too Low for Zero, on May 30, 1983, on Geffen and Rocket. This is his first album since 1976 comprised primarily of John–Taupin songs and the first since Captain Fantastic with the classic Elton John Band: bassist Dee Murray, drummer Nigel Olsson, and guitarist Davey Johnstone, who co-wrote “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” one of John’s most recognized evergreens.

Musically, the album ranges from slow, swelling ballads (“Cold as Christmas,” “One More Arrow,” IGTWTCItB) to upbeat tracks (“I’m Still Standing,” “Kiss the Bride,” “Whipping Boy”).

1. “Cold as Christmas (In the Middle of the Year)” (4:19)
2. “I’m Still Standing” (3:02)
3. “Too Low for Zero” (5:46)
4. “Religion” (4:05)
5. “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” (4:41) Stevie Wonder plays the harmonica solo.

1. “Crystal” (5:05)
2. “Kiss the Bride” (4:22)
3. “Whipping Boy” (3:43)
4. “Saint” (5:17)
5. “One More Arrow” (3:34)

Sessions began in September 1982 between the US and UK legs of the Jump Up Tour. Elton and his band finished the album in January with producer Chris Thomas, who also worked on the 1983 debut album by Big Country. They recorded Too Low for Zero at AIR (Montserrat) and Sunset Sound Recorders (Hollywood).

Elton John plays grand piano on everything apart from and “Kiss the Bride” and “Saint,” a track with Clavinet and synthesizers, also heard on the first seven tracks. He also plays Fender Rhodes on “Cold as Christmas,” the only track with no electric guitar but one of five with acoustic. Ray Cooper returne with percussion on that song, which also features harpist Skaila Kanga (last heard on the 1970 self-titled album) and Kiki Dee. James Newton Howard does string arrangements on “One More Arrow.”

Clive Piercy designed the album’s minimal white cover art, which shows four tiny horizontal characters: the number two, an iverted pyramid, the number four, and a circle (2 ▼ 4 0) — representations of the title Too Low for Zero. The white lyrical inner-sleeve has brash colored paint stripes similar to those seen on the 1983 Police album Synchronicity.

“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” appeared in Rocket territories as an April 1983 advance single, backed with the non-album instrumental “Choc Ice Goes Mental.” It reached No. 4 in Australia and No. 5 on the UK Singles chart. It also reached No. 4 in South Africa and No. 1 in Zimbabwe.

In October 1983, Geffen issued “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” as the third Too Low single in North America, where it reached No. 9 in Canada (No. 1 Adult Contemporary) and No. 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100 (No. 2 Adult Contemporary). Geffen copies feature the “The Retreat,” the non-album 1980 song that first appeared on the UK “Princess” single.

Geffen lifted “I’m Still Standing” in April 1983 as the first single in North America, backed with “Love So Cold” from the 1980 Rocket “Dear God” single. “I’m Still Standing” reached No. 1 in Canada and No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In July, “I’m Still Standing” appeared in Rocket territories as the second single, backed with the John solo instrumental “Earn While You Learn” (6:42), another newly unearthed track from the 21 at 33 sessions. For the b-side, Elton credits himself on the back sleeve as Lord Choc Ice. “I’m Still Standing” reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 1 in Switzerland. It grazed the top in Ireland (No. 2) and Australia (No. 3) and also went Top 10 in Germany (No. 10), the Netherlands (No. 8), and South Africa (No. 9).

Geffen lifted “Kiss the Bride” in July 1983 as the second North American single, backed with “Choc Ice Goes Mental,” another instrumental credited to Lord Choc Ice and produced by ‘Commodore Orpington.’

In October, “Kiss the Bride” became the third Too Low single in Rocket territories, where it reached No. 17 in Ireland. The b-side, “Dreamboat,” is a John–Osborne outtake from the 21 at 33 sessions with additional writing input by guitarist Tim Renwick. The two songs also appeared on a maxi-single with the 1978 sides “Ego” and “Song for Guy.”

In November, Rocket lifted “Cold as Christmas (In the Middle of the Year)” as a fourth single (b/w “Crystal”) in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. In Germany, Rocket issued “Too Low for Zero” as the fourth and final single (b/w “Religeon”). In February 1984, the title track appeared as an Australian a-side, backed with the John–Osborne 21 at 33 outtake “Lonely Boy,” a b-side on subsequent Northern hemisphere singles.

Too Low for Zero reached No. 2 in Australia and New Zealand and No. 7 in the UK. It also went Top 10 in Germany (No. 5), Norway (No. 6), and Spain (No. 7). The album later certified Platinum in Canada (100,000 sold) and the UK (300,000) and quantuple-Platinum in Australia (350,000 sold). Depsite its peak of 25 on the Billboard 200, Too Low for Zero certified Platinum in the US, where the videos to “I’m Still Standing” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” received heavy MTV rotation.

The 1998 Mercury reissue of Too Low for Zero includes “Earn While You Learn,” “Dreamboat,” and “The Retreat” as bonus tracks.

Elton limited the album’s inital promotion to TV and video. In October, John and band played eight nights (7–10 and 12–15) at the Sun City Casino in Johannesburg.


On February 19, 1984, Elton John launched the Too Low for Zero Tour at Addington Showgrounds in Christchurch. The Oceanic leg hit three New Zealand cities and five in Australia, including a five-nigh engagement (Feb. 28–March 3) at Melbourne’s Sports and Entertainment Center and eight non-consecutive nights at Sydney’s Entertainment Center. While there, he wed German recording engineer Renate Blauel, a soundwoman on recent albums by Akiko Yano, Duran Duran (Rio), Japan (Gentlemen Take Polaroids), Riuichi Sakamoto, and Yukihiro Takahashi.

For the Too Low Tour, Elton used his classic backing band (Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson) and a new member: keyboardist Fred Mandel, a onetime sideman of Domenic Troiano and Alice Cooper. Most recently, he played on the single “Star Fleet” by Brian May & Friends and the just-released Queen album The Works.

The Elron John Band closed March with a two-nighter at the Hong Kong Coliseum. They launched the European leg on April 5 at the Hala Oliwia in Gdansk in then-communist Poland. After touch-downs in ten Eastern Bloc cities, they played seix weeks of Western European dates, concluding with a June 11–12 engagement at the Teatro Tenda di Lampugnano, a short-lived 5,300-capacity indoor arena in Milan.

Breaking Hearts

Elton John released his eighteenth album, Breaking Hearts, on June 18, 1984, on Geffen and Rocket. This is the second of two albums recorded by the reunited original Elton John Band: Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray, and Nigel Olsson.

Breaking Hearts is a self-contained band recording of John–Taupin numbers apart from “Passengers,” which features saxophonist Andrew Thompson and writing input by Johnstone and one Phineas Mkhize. The closing track, “Sad Songs (Say So Much),” is one of John’s most recognized evergreens.

1. “Restless” (5:17)
2. “Slow Down Georgie (She’s Poison)” (4:10)
3. “Who Wears These Shoes?” (4:04)
4. “Breaking Hearts (Ain’t What It Used to Be)” (3:34)
5. “Li’l ‘Frigerator” (3:37)

1. “Passengers” (3:24)
2. “In Neon” (4:19)
3. “Burning Buildings” (4:02)
4. “Did He Shoot Her?” (3:21)
5. “Sad Songs (Say So Much)” (4:55)

Sessions took place between December 1983 and April 1984 at AIR Studios, Montserrat, where Renate engineered Breaking Hearts concurrently with Hysteria, the long-awaited fourth studio album by The Human League. Chris Thomas produced Breaking Hearts in sequence with 1984 albums by The Pretenders, One the Juggler, and the sophomore release by Big Country.

Elton John plays grand piano on seven tracks and synthesizers on all but two (“Burning Buildings” and the title track). He makes select use of Hammond organ (“Li’l ‘Frigerator”), harmonium (“Passengers”), Fender Rhodes and harpsichord (“In Neon”), and clavinet (“Sad Songs”).

Johnstone, Murray, and Olsson sing play their respective instruments on everything apart from “Breaking Hearts (Ain’t What It Used to Be).” They sing backing vocals on everything except “Li’l ‘Frigerator,” which features Aussie saxophonist Andrew Thompson (Australian Crawl, Moving Pictures, Renee Guyer). Johnstone plays sitar on “Did He Shoot Her?”

David Costa designed the Breaking Hearts cover, which cuts to a shaded, down-brim shot of Elton by photographer Richard Young. The back cover features a monochrome shot of Bernie Taupin by fashion photographer Herb Ritts, who also photographed Olvia Newton-John’s recent covers.

Elton John preceded Breaking Hearts with the May 1984 single “Sad Songs (Say So Much),” backed with the non-album John–Osborne number “A Simple Man.”

“Sad Songs” reached No. 7 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It reached No. 4 in Australia, Austria, and Canada and also went Top 5 in Ireland (No. 2), Switzerland (No. 3), and South Africa (No. 5).

Elton and his band ushered Breaking Hearts with a six-city tour of Ireland and England, where they wrapped the Too Low Tour with a June 30 performance at London’s Wembley Stadium for a live broadcast on BBC Radio 1.

In August 1984, Rocket lifted “Passengers” as a second single (b/w “Lonely Boy”). Elton performed at an Aug. 10 red cross gala in Monte Carlo for Prince Rainier.

Breaking Hearts reached No. 1 in Australia and Switzerland and No. 2 in the UK and New Zealand. It also went Top 10 in Germany and Spain (both No. 5), Austria (No. 4), and Norway (No. 7). In North America, Breaking Hearts reached No. 10 in Canada and No. 20 on the Billboard 200. Elton and his band promoted the album’s stateside release with a three-month summer–fall tour (Aug. 17–Nov. 18).

In November 1984, “Who Wears These Shoes?” became the third single, backed with the 1980 rarity “Tortured” (last seen on the b-side of “Chloe”). In the US, Geffen lifted “In Neon” as a single, backed with the 1980 rarity “Tactics.” In February 1985, “Breaking Hearts (Ain’t What it Used to Be)” became the fourth UK a-side (b/w “In Neon”).


May 25, 1985 Patinoire Des Vernets, Geneva, SUI June 2, 1985 Picturesque Venue, Montreaux, SUI (Montreaux rock festival)

“Act of War”

In June 1985, Elton released “Act of War,” a duet with American soul-pop singer Millie Jackson.

Live Aid July 13, 1985 Wembley Stadium, London, ENG (Live Aid)

“That’s What Friends Are For”

Ice on Fire

Elton John released his nineteenth album, Ice on Fire, on November 4, 1985, on Geffen and Rocket.

1. “This Town” 3:56
2. “Cry to Heaven” 4:16
3. “Soul Glove” 3:31
4. “Nikita” 5:43
5. “Too Young” 5:12
1. “Wrap Her Up” (John, Taupin, Davey Johnstone, Fred Mandel, Charlie Morgan, Paul Westwood) 6:21
2. “Satellite” (4:37 in length on CD reissue) 3:57
3. “Tell Me What the Papers Say” 3:40
4. “Candy by the Pound” 3:56
5. “Shoot Down the Moon” 5:09

Recorded January – June 1985
Studio Sol Studios (Cookham, Berkshire, UK) and CTS Studios (Wembley, London, UK).
Elton John – lead vocals, acoustic piano (1–3, 5, 8, 10, 11), Yamaha GS1 piano (4, 5), synthesizer (4, 7, 9, 11), backing vocals (4)
Fred Mandel – synthesizers (1, 4, 5, 10, 11), keyboards (2, 3, 6–9), sequencer (6), electric guitar (7, 11), finger snaps (7), arrangements (10)
Davey Johnstone – electric guitar (1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11), Spanish guitar (2), synth guitar (2, 7), backing vocals (3, 5, 6–9)
Nik Kershaw – electric guitar (4, 7, 11), backing vocals (4)
Paul Westwood – bass (1, 2, 6)
Deon Estus – bass (3, 7, 11)
David Paton – bass (4, 8, 9)
John Deacon – bass (5)
Pino Palladino – bass (10)
Charlie Morgan – drums (1, 2, 6)
Mel Gaynor – drums (3, 7, 11)
Dave Mattacks – drums (4, 8, 9), military snare (5)
Roger Taylor – drums (5)
Frank Ricotti – percussion (3, 5), vibraphone (9)
James Newton Howard – string arrangements (3, 6)
Gus Dudgeon – horn arrangements (3, 6), Simmons drums (5, 11), arrangements (10)
David Bitelli – horn arrangements (1, 3, 6, 9), baritone saxophone (1, 6, 9), tenor saxophone (3, 6)
Bob Sydor – tenor saxophone (3)
Phil Todd – alto saxophone (6)
Nick Pentelow – tenor saxophone (9)
Pete Thomas – tenor saxophone (9)
Rick Taylor – trombone (1, 3, 6, 9), horn arrangements (9)
Chris Pyne – trombone (9)
Raul D’Oliveira – trumpet (1, 3, 6, 9)
Paul Spong – trumpet (1, 3, 6, 9)
Sister Sledge – backing vocals (1)
Alan Carvell – backing vocals (3, 5, 7–9)
Kiki Dee – backing vocals (3, 5, 6, 8, 9)
Katie Kissoon – backing vocals (3, 5, 6, 8, 9)
Pete Wingfield – backing vocals (3, 5, 6–9)
George Michael – backing vocals (4), featured vocals (6)
Millie Jackson – lead and backing vocals (11)

Produced by Gus Dudgeon
All lyrics by Bernie Taupin
Recorded by Stuart Epps
Mixed and Edited by Graham Dickson and Gus Dudgeon
Additional Mixing and Editing by Tom Pearce
Mastered by Gordon Vicary at The Townhouse (London, UK).
Design – David Larkham
Photography – Terry O’Neill

“Nikita” backed with the instrumental “The Man Who Never Died”
Released: 4 October 1985

“Wrap Her Up”
Released: November 1985

“Cry to Heaven”
Released: February 1986
“Soul Glove”
Released: 1985 (Spain only)

Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[3] 2
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[4] 9
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[5] 11
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[6] 6
French Albums (SNEP)[7] 14
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[8] 5
Italian Albums (Musica e Dischi)[9] 22
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[10] 8
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[11] 2
Spain (Spanish Albums Chart)[12] 6
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[13] 16
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[14] 2
UK Albums (OCC)[15] 3
US Billboard 200[16] 48 

Elton John Ice on Fire Tour

  • Elton John – lead vocals, piano, acoustic guitar on “Love Song”
  • Davey Johnstone – lead guitar, backing vocals
  • David Paton – bass guitar
  • Fred Mandel – keyboards, rhythm guitar
  • Charlie Morgan – drums
  • Ray Cooper – percussion (UK leg)
  • Jody Linscott – percussion (Europe and North American legs)
  • Alan Carvell – backing vocals
  • Helena Springs – backing vocals
  • Shirley Lewis – backing vocals
  • Onward International Horn Section

November 14-17, 1985 Royal Dublin Society, Dublin, IRE November 20-21, 1985 Newport Centre, Newport, WAL November 23-24, 1985 St. Austell Coliseum, St. Austell, ENG November 26-27, 1985 City Hall, Sheffield, ENG November 28-29, 1985 Playhouse, Edinburgh, SCOT December 1-3, 1985 Apollo, Manchester, ENG December 4-5, 1985 Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, ENG December 7, 1985 Brighton Centre, Brighton, ENG December 11-19, 1985 Wembley Arena, London, ENG December 21-23, 1985 National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, ENG December 30-31, 1985 International Centre, Bournemouth, ENG


January 3-4, 1986 Glasgow Centre, Glasgow, SCOT January 5-7, 1986 City Hall, Newcastle, ENG January 9-11, 1986 Kings Hall, Belfast, NI

March 1, 1986 Palacio de Deportes, Madrid, SPA March 2, 1986 Velodromo de Anoeta, San Sebastian, SPA March 4, 1986 Palau dels Esports, Barcelona, SPA March 6, 1986 Patinoire de Mériadeck, Bordeaux, FRA March 7-8, 1986 Palais des Sports, Toulouse, FRA March 10, 1986 Palais des Sports de Gerland, Lyon, FRA March 11, 1986 Parc des Expositions, Marseille, FRA March 12, 1986 Zénith Sud, Montpellier, FRA March 14, 1986 Palais des Sports de Beaulieu, Nantes, FRA March 15, 1986 Parc de Penfeld, Brest, FRA March 17, 1986 Palais des Sports Saint-Sauveur, Lille, FRA March 18-22, 1986 Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, Paris, FRA March 23, 1986 Palais de Beaulieu, Lausanne, SUI March 25, 1986 St. Jakobshalle, Basel, SUI March 26-27, 1986 Hallenstadion, Zurich, SUI March 29-30, 1986 Olympiahalle, Munich, GER

April 1, 1986 Waldbuhne, Berlin, GER April 2, 1986 Eilenriedehalle, Hannover, GER April 3-4, 1986 Festhalle, Frankfurt, GER April 5, 1986 Westfalenhalle, Dortmund, GER April 6, 1986 Sporthalle, Cologne, GER April 8-9, 1986 Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Ludwigshafen, GER April 10, 1986 Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle, Stuttgart, GER April 12-14, 1986 Alsterdorfer Sporthalle, Hamburg, GER April 16, 1986 Stadthalle, Bremen, GER April 19-20, 1986 Wiener Stadthalle, Vienna, AUT April 23-24, 1986 Ahoy Sportpaleis, Rotterdam, NED April 26, 1986 Forest National, Brussels, BEL

June 28, 1986 Wembley Arena, London, ENG (guest at Wham’s final concert) July 20, 1986 Wembley Arena, London, ENG (Princes Trust concert 1986)

August 15, 1986 Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI August 17-18, 1986 Pine Knob Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI August 19, 1986 Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH August 21, 1986 Sandstone Amphitheater, Bonner Springs, KS August 22, 1986 Met Center, Bloomington, MN August 23, 1986 Poplar Creek Music Theater, Hoffman Estates, IL August 26, 1986 CNE Grandstand, Toronto, ON August 27, 1986 Stade Parc Jarry, Montreal, QC August 29, 1986 Civic Center, Hartford, CT August 30, 1986 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY August 31, 1986 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD September 2, 1986 Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA September 3 & 5-6, 1986 Centrum, Worcester, MA September 7, 1986 Civic Center, Providence, RI September 8, 1986 Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA September 11-14, 1986 Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY September 16, 1986 Omni, Atlanta, GA September 19, 1986 Hollywood Sportatorium, Pembroke Pines, FL September 20, 1986 Leon County Civic Center, Tallahassee, FL September 21, 1986 USF Sun Dome, Tampa, FL September 23, 1986 Starwood Amphitheatre, Antioch, TN September 24, 1986 Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis, TN September 26, 1986 Summit, Houston, TX September 27, 1986 Reunion Arena, Dallas, TX September 30, 1986 McNichols Arena, Denver, CO October 1, 1986 Salt Palace, Salt Lake City, UT October 3, 1986 Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, CA October 4, 1986 Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, CA October 7-8 & 10-15, 1986 Universal Amphitheatre, Los Angeles, CA October 12, 1986 Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA

Leather Jackets

Elton John released his twentieth album, Leather Jackets, on October 15, 1986, on Geffen and Rocket.

1. “Leather Jackets” 4:10
2. “Hoop of Fire” 4:14
3. “Don’t Trust That Woman” (Cher, Lady Choc Ice [John][8]) 4:58
4. “Go It Alone” 4:26
5. “Gypsy Heart” 4:46
1. “Slow Rivers” (duet with Cliff Richard) 3:13
2. “Heartache All Over the World” 4:01
3. “Angeline” (John, Taupin, Alan Carvell[9]) 3:56
4. “Memory of Love” (John, Gary Osborne) 4:08
5. “Paris” 4:01
6. “I Fall Apart” 4:00

Recorded January 1985, January – February, May – September 1986
Studio Wisseloord, Hilversum; CTS, London; The SOL, Cookham.

Elton John – lead vocals, Yamaha GS1 (1, 8), grand piano (2, 4–6, 10), Roland JX-8P (2, 11), MIDI piano (3), Yamaha CP-80 (11)
Fred Mandel – synthesizer programming and sequencing (1, 4, 7), Yamaha DX7 (2, 6, 9), Korg DW-8000 (3, 10), Roland JX-8P (4, 11), Roland Jupiter 8 (5, 6, 10, 11), Roland P60 (7, 9), Prophet 2000 (7), Yamaha TX816 Rhodes (10), grand piano (11)
Davey Johnstone – acoustic guitar (1-5, 7, 9), electric guitar (2-11), backing vocals (2, 4, 5, 7-10)
David Paton – bass (2, 3, 5, 9-11)
Paul Westwood – bass (6)
John Deacon – bass (8)
Gus Dudgeon – drum programming (1), electronic percussion (1, 4, 7)
Dave Mattacks – drums (2, 5)
Charlie Morgan – drums (3, 4, 6, 7, 9-11), electronic percussion (4)
Roger Taylor – drums (8)
Graham Dickson – electronic percussion (1, 3, 4, 7)
Frank Ricotti – percussion (2)
Jody Linscott – percussion (3), tambourine (7)
James Newton Howard – string arrangements and conductor (6)
Martyn Ford – orchestra contractor (6)
Gavyn Wright – orchestra leader (6)
Alan Carvell – backing vocals (2, 4, 5, 7-10)
Katie Kissoon – backing vocals (2)
Pete Wingfield – backing vocals (2)
Shirley Lewis – backing vocals (4, 5, 8-10)
Gordon Neville – backing vocals (4, 5, 7-10)
Kiki Dee – backing vocals (6)
Cliff Richard – lead vocals (6)
Vicki Brown – backing vocals (7)
Albert Boekholt – Emulator vocals and samples (9)

Produced by Gus Dudgeon
Tracks 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9 10 & 11 engineered by Graham Dickson
Tracks 2, 5, 6 & 8 engineered by Stuart Epps
Assistant Engineers – Albert Boekholt and Ronald Prent
Mixed by Graham Dickson and Gus Dudgeon
Mastered by Greg Fulginiti (US)
Studio Coordinators – Steve Brown and Adrian Collee
Art Direction and Design – David Costa
Artwork – Andrew Christian
Photography – Gered Mankowitz
Management – John Reid

“Heartache All Over the World”  / “Highlander”
Released: September 1986

“Slow Rivers (with Cliff Richard)” / “Billy and the Kids” “Lord of the Flies” (12″)
Released: November 1986
Released: 1986
“Hoop of Fire”
Released: 1986
Released: February 1987

Elton performs “Leather Jackets” on Cliff from the Hip, a Cliff Richard music special at London’s Hippodrome with fellow guests Billy Ocean, Five Star, the Shadows, and Marti Webb.

Elton John Tour De Force Australian Tour 1986 (with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra)

  • Elton John – lead vocals, piano
  • Davey Johnstone – lead guitar, backing vocals
  • David Paton – bass guitar
  • Fred Mandel – keyboards, rhythm guitar
  • Charlie Morgan – drums
  • Ray Cooper – percussion
  • Jody Linscott – percussion
  • Alan Carvell – backing vocals
  • Helena Springs – backing vocals
  • Shirley Lewis – backing vocals
  • Onward International Horn Section
  • The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

November 5-7, 1986 Entertainment Centre, Brisbane, AUS November 10-13 & 15-18, 1986 Sports And Entertainment Centre, Melbourne, AUS November 21, 1986 Football Park, Adelaide, AUS November 25-26, 1986 Entertainment Centre, Perth, AUS December 1-4, 6-9 & 11-14, 1986 Entertainment Centre, Sydney, AUS

April 1, 1987 Wembley Arena, London, ENG (aids benefit show)

Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

On June 13, 1987, Elton John released Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. recorded at the Sydney Entertainment Centre on 14 December 1986 with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Track listing
All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
“Sixty Years On” – 5:41
“I Need You to Turn To” – 3:14
“The Greatest Discovery” – 4:09
“Tonight” – 5:58
“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” – 3:58
“The King Must Die” – 5:21
“Take Me to the Pilot” – 4:22
“Tiny Dancer” – 7:46
“Have Mercy on the Criminal” – 5:50
“Madman Across the Water” – 6:38
“Candle in the Wind” – 4:10
“Burn Down the Mission” – 5:49
“Your Song” – 4:04
“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” – 6:06
Six of the fourteen songs originally appeared on the 1970 studio album Elton John (tracks 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 & 13).

Laserdisc edition
Side 1 (Elton and His Band)
“Funeral for a Friend”
“One Horse Town”
“Rocket Man”
“The Bitch Is Back”
“Song For You”
“Blue Eyes”
“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”
“Bennie and the Jets”
“Sad Songs”
“I’m Still Standing”
Side 2 (Elton and Orchestra)
“Sixty Years On”
“I Need You to Turn To”
“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”
“Take Me to the Pilot”
“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”
“Candle in the Wind”
“Burn Down The Mission”
“Your Song”
“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”

Produced by Gus Dudgeon
Mastered by Greg Fulginiti US
Elton John – piano, vocals
Davey Johnstone – guitars
David Paton – bass guitar
Charlie Morgan – drums
Fred Mandel – keyboards, synthesizers
Ray Cooper – percussion
Jody Linscott – percussion
Alan Carvell – backing vocals
Gordon Neville – backing vocals
Shirley Lewis – backing vocals
James Newton Howard – orchestral arrangements, conductor
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

“Candle in the Wind [live]”
Released: 1987


Reg Strikes Back

Elton John released his twenty-first album, Reg Strikes Back, on June 24, 1988, on Geffen and Rocket.

1. “Town of Plenty” 3:40
2. “A Word in Spanish” 4:39
3. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (Part Two)” 4:12
4. “I Don’t Wanna Go On with You Like That” 4:33
5. “Japanese Hands” 4:40
1. “Goodbye Marlon Brando” 3:30
2. “The Camera Never Lies” 4:36
3. “Heavy Traffic” (John, Taupin, Davey Johnstone) 3:30
4. “Poor Cow” 3:50
5. “Since God Invented Girls” 4:54

Recorded 1987–88
Studio AIR, London.

Elton John – lead vocals, backing vocals, Roland RD-1000 digital piano (1, 3, 4, 10), synthesizers (2, 5, 6, 9), organ (2), acoustic piano (5, 7, 8)
Fred Mandel – synthesizers
Fred McFarlane – programming
Davey Johnstone – electric guitar (1, 2, 3, 5–9), acoustic guitar (2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10), backing vocals
Pete Townshend – acoustic guitar (1)
David Paton – bass
Charlie Morgan – drums
Ray Cooper – maracas (6-9), tambourine (6-9), timbales (6-9)
Freddie Hubbard – trumpet (3), flugelhorn (3)
Dee Murray – backing vocals
Nigel Olsson – backing vocals
Adrian Baker – additional backing vocals (10)
Bruce Johnston – additional backing vocals (10)
Carl Wilson – additional backing vocals (10)

Producer – Chris Thomas
Recorded and Engineered by Bill Price, Michael Mason and Paul Wertheimer.
Assistant Engineer – Karl Lever
Recorded at AIR Studios (London, England), Westside Studios (London, England), Circle Seven Recording and The Record Plant (Los Angeles, CA).
Mixed at AIR Studios (London)
Mastered by Tim Young at CBS, London.
All songs published by Happenstance Ltd.
Art Direction – David Costa
Photography – Gered Mankowitz
Wardrobe – Bob Stacey

“I Don’t Wanna Go On with You Like That”
Released: June 1988 backed with the non-album “Rope Around a Fool”

“Town of Plenty” / “Whipping Boy”
Released: September 1988 (UK)

“A Word in Spanish”
Released: September 1988
“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (Part Two)”
Released: 1988 (US)

Australian Albums (ARIA)[11] 13
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[12] 13
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[13] 6
Danish Album Charts[14] 13
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[15] 13
French Albums (SNEP)[16] 30
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[17] 18
Italian Albums (Musica e Dischi)[18] 3
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[19] 26
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[20] 8
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[21] 16
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[22] 5
UK Albums (OCC)[23] 18
US Billboard 200[24] 16

June 3, 1988 Sotheby’s, London, ENG (private party for reg strikes back album) June 5-6, 1988 Royal Albert Hall, London, ENG (Prince’s Trust concert) June 24, 1988 Axis Club, Boston, MA (private party – 30 minute set) July 8, 1988 Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles, CA (athletes & entertainers for kids benefit)

Elton John Reg Strikes Back Tour 1988

  • Roland RD-1000 digital piano and Lead Vocals: Elton John
  • Guitar: Davey Johnstone
  • Bass: Romeo Williams
  • Keyboards/Guitar: Fred Mandel
  • Keyboards: Guy Babylon
  • Drums: Jonathan Moffett
  • Backing vocals: Alex Brown
  • Backing vocals: Marlena Jeter
  • Backing vocals: Natalie Jackson

September 9-10, 1988 Miami Arena, Miami, FL September 11, 1988 USF Sun Dome, Tampa, FL September 13, 1988 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD September 14, 1988 Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH September 16-17, 1988 Poplar Creek Music Theatre, Hoffman Estates, IL September 18, 1988 Marcus Amphitheater, Milwaukee, WI September 20, 1988 Fiddlers Green Amphitheatre, Greenwood Village, CO September 23-25, 1988 Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA September 27, 1988 Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, CA September 30, 1988 Starplex Amphitheater, Dallas, TX October 1, 1988 Summit, Houston, TX October 4-5, 1988 Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA October 7, 1988 Civic Center, Hartford, CT October 8-10, 1988 Centrum, Worcester, MA October 12-15, 1988 Palace Of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, MI October 17-18 & 20-22, 1988 Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY October 31, 1988 Rainbow Hall, Nagoya, JPN (with Eric Clapton) November 2, 1988 Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, JPN (with Eric Clapton) November 4, 1988 Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, JPN (with Eric Clapton) November 5, 1988 Osaka Stadium, Osaka, JPN (with Eric Clapton)

Sleeping with the Past

Elton John released his twenty-second album, Sleeping with the Past, on August 29, 1989, on Geffen and Rocket.

1. “Durban Deep” 5:32
2. “Healing Hands” 4:23
3. “Whispers” 5:28
4. “Club at the End of the Street” 4:49
5. “Sleeping with the Past” 4:58
1. “Stone’s Throw from Hurtin'” 4:55
2. “Sacrifice” 5:07
3. “I Never Knew Her Name” 3:31
4. “Amazes Me” 4:39
5. “Blue Avenue” 4:21

Recorded November 1988 – March 1989
Studio Puk,[1] Randers, Denmark.

Elton John – Roland RD-1000 digital piano, lead and harmony vocals, backing vocals (1)
Guy Babylon – keyboards
Fred Mandel – keyboards (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10), organ (4), guitars (1, 4, 8), guitar solo (6)
Peter Iversen – Fairlight and Audiofile programming
Davey Johnstone – guitars, backing vocals (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10)
Romeo Williams – bass
Jonathan Moffett – drums
Vince Denham – saxophone (4)
Natalie Jackson – backing vocals (2, 5, 6, 8, 9)
Mortonette Jenkins – backing vocals (2, 5, 6, 8, 9)
Marlena Jeter – backing vocals (2, 5, 6, 8, 9)

Produced by Chris Thomas
Engineered by David Nicholas
Engineering assistance by Karl Lever
Mixed at Air Studios (London, England) and Puk Studios.
Mastered by Greg Fulginiti at Artisan Sound Recorders (Hollywood, California).
Album coordination – Steve Brown
Studio coordination – Adrian Collee and Dee Whelan
Technicians – Tom Pearce (keyboards), Rick Salazar (guitars) and Terry Wade (drums).
Design by Wherefore Art?
Photography by Herb Ritts

“Healing Hands”
Released: July 1989 backed with the non-album “Dancing in the End Zone”

Elton John Sleeping with the Past Tour

  • Elton John: Roland RD-1000 digital piano and Lead Vocals
  • Guitar: Davey Johnstone
  • Bass: Romeo Williams
  • Keyboards/Guitar: Fred Mandel
  • Keyboards: Guy Babylon
  • Drums: Jonathan Moffett (North American leg)
  • Drums: Charlie Morgan (Oceania and second North American leg)
  • Backing vocals: Mortonette Jenkins
  • Backing vocals: Marlena Jeter
  • Backing vocals: Natalie Jackson

July 28, 1989 Civic Center, Hartford, CT July 29, 1989 Civic Center, Providence, RI July 30, 1989 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY August 1-2, 1989 Great Woods Performing Arts Center, Mansfield, MA August 4 & 6-7, 1989 Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ August 8, 1989 Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA August 9, 1989 Lakefront Arena, New Orleans, LA August 10, 1989 Summit, Houston, TX August 11, 1989 Starplex Amphitheater, Dallas, TX August 12, 1989 Sandstone Amphitheater, Bonner Springs, KS August 15-16 & 18, 1989 Great Western Forum, Inglewood, CA August 19, 1989 Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, CA August 20, 1989 Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA August 22, 1989 Fiddlers Green Amphitheater, Greenwood Village, CO August 24, 1989 Universal Amphitheatre, Los Angeles, CA (“Tommy”, Elton performs “Pinball Wizard” during the The Who’s rock opera) August 26-27, 1989 Poplar Creek Music Theatre, Hoffman Estates, IL August 29, 1989 Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH August 30, 1989 Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN September 1-3, 1989 Pine Knob Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI September 12-13, 1989 Riverbend Music Center, Cincinnati, OH September 15, 1989 Starwood Amphitheater, Nashville, TN September 16-17, 1989 Lakewood Amphitheater, Atlanta, GA September 19, 1989 Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA September 23, 1989 Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC September 24, 1989 SkyDome, Toronto, ON September 25-26, 1989 Forum, Montreal, QC September 27, 1989 Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, ON October 1-2, 1989 Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA October 3-7, 1989 Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY October 13, 1989 Miami Arena, Miami, FL October 15, 1989 Orlando Arena, Orlando, FL October 16, 1989 Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC ? October 17, 1989 Capital Centre, Landover, MD October 18, 1989 Veterans Memorial Coliseum, New Haven, CT October 22, 1989 Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC ? October 31 & November 2, 1989 Royal Albert Hall, London, ENG (“Tommy”, Elton performs “Pinball Wizard” during the The Who’s rock opera)

Released: October 1989 backed with the non-album “Love Is a Cannibal”

“Club at the End of the Street”
Released: March 1990
Released: October 1990

Australian Albums (ARIA)[16] 2
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[17] 5
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[18] 23
Danish Albums Chart[19] 7
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[20] 5
French Albums (SNEP)[21] 2
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[22] 9
Hungarian Albums (MAHASZ)[23] 25
Italian Albums (Musica e Dischi)[24] 6
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[25] 1
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[26] 7
Spain (Spanish Albums Chart)[27] 3
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[28] 23
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[29] 1
UK Albums (OCC)[30] 1
US Billboard 200[31] 23 

Discography (1969–1989):



  1.  Elizabeth Rosenthal, His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John, Billboard Books, 2001.

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