Perhaps more than any other singer songwriter Elton John has been the soundtrack of my life.
I remember driving with my mother in our old 1966 Chevrolet Impala to pick up my father from work. “Daniel” would come on the radio and we would sing and appreciate the melodies, the music and the words. It always brought a sense of sadness when he sung, “Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won’t heal? Your eyes have died, but you see more than I.” Even as a 7 or 8 year old kid I empathized with those “scars that wont heal.”
“Your Song” is, to me, one of the perfect songs written across all musical genres. Its a simple love song with an opening piano that basically introduced him to the world and became “his song,” forever.
He owned the 1970’s; the decade where I went from being 4 years old to 14. Any time you turned on the radio his songs would be on one station or simultaneously on multiple stations.
This is the time when music was not as accessible as it is today. You couldnt google “The new elton john song” and listen to it instantly. (side note: the google founders were born in the same year that Elton release two of his best albums; “Dont Shoot me, I am only the Piano Player” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” his 8th and 9th albums)
I remember changing stations on my radio; from KTU (92.3), WPLJ (95.5), 99x (98.7), to WNEW (102.7). I remember getting so excited whenever I would hear an Elton John song I had never heard before. The first time I heard, “Empty Garden,” the song Elton and Bernie Taupin wrote for John Lennon, was on the same station where I heard that John Lennon had been shot, 102.7. Scott Muni introduced the song and was emotional when it was over.
The first time I saw Elton in concert was at the Palladium in New York City, I believe it was in October 1979. Unbelievably I happened upon a video taken from the concert (not sure if its the one I was at).
My brother, Carlos, took me to see him and it was mind boggling to see the man who’s music I had listened to, closed my eyes to and fell in love to; alive, live and on stage 4 rows in front of me! I was 13 years old at the time – there were no videos produced for mass distribution or music television stations. Thinking back on it – it reminds me how a person felt in the 1930’s or 40’s going to their first baseball game and being in awe of the colors and the sounds of the game. To put an exclamation point to the night Elton threw roses into the crowd and I caught one – in my memories I can see his gap toothed smile looking at me as if he knew who I was.
In 1980 he played a free concert in Central Park. I could not make it there, unfortunately, but over 100,000 people did.
21 at 33 was the first album I purchased myself. I loved it – it was a return to Bernie and his writing together again, I think there were four songs they collaborated on. The main one being a semi-autobiographical song, “Two rooms, at the end of the world.”
In August of 1982, my mother took me to see Elton at Madison Square Garden. He opened with “Funeral for a friend” wearing a Captain outfit. It was Elton’s first show in New York since the death of John Lennon. Out of nowhere, Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, her son with John, came on stage to greet Elton.
I saw him five or six more times in my life – the last time (for now) being in Las Vegas during his Red Piano stay. I found the performance amazing but the video behind him distracting. Some performers need that extra entertainment – Elton just needs himself and the piano.
His albums in the late 70’s to around 1990 were a mixture of terrible to very good. There were albums released and I would go through the radio stations and read through Billboard magazine for any news, updates or pictures.
Here are my “Greatest Hits” from that era – albums in parenthesis
- Sartorial Eloquence (21 at 33)
- Nobody Wins (the Fox)
- Ball and Chain (Jump up!)
- Legal Boys (Jump up!)
- Empty Garden (Jump up!)
- Where have all the Good times gone (Jump up!)
- Cold as Christmas (Too Low for Zero)
- I’m Still Standing (Too Low for Zero)
- I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues (Too Low for Zero)
- Breaking Hearts (Breaking Hearts)
- Burning Buildings (Breaking Hearts)
- In Neon (Breaking Hearts)
- Sad Songs Say So Much (Breaking Hearts)
- Soul Glove (Ice on Fire)
- Nikita (Ice on Fire)
- I don’t Want to go on with you like that (Reg Strikes Back)
- Healing Hands (Sleeping with the Past)
- Whispers (Sleeping with the Past)
- Club at the End of the Street (Sleeping with the Past)
- Sleeping with the Past (Sleeping with the Past)
In 1992 he released his first “Sober” album, “The One.” A great set of songs that were the precursor to his “Lion King” comeback. From then on, Elton was everywhere and back on top of the world.
His songs continue to be the soundtrack of my life; “Something about the way you look tonight” was my wedding song and his “Songs from the West Coast” remains as one of my favorite and most listened to albums.
His “The Captain and the Kid” album was the sequel to “Captain Fantastic” album from 31 years earlier -I loved it and feel it was not given the attention it deserved.
But as time passes he continues to work with Bernie and create beautiful songs that for better or worse still have poignancy in my life. His album, “The Diving Board,” contains beautiful songs reminiscent of the 1970’s albums, “Tumbleweed Connection,” and “Madman Across the Water.” One song in particular struck me as a great Elton and Bernie collaboration – “My Quicksand.” Elton’s piano and his vocals interpret the lyrics perfectly. Especially during this verse.
His latest album seemed to be a forced “Happy album.” I feel like they tried too hard on it – but there are some gems there and it shows that Elton is still not only standing, but dancing and having a great time while at it.
He recently said he may stop making new albums – I hope that is not the case. I need some Elton to play in the background as I find my way through the second chapter of my life – 50 years on.