Elton John Biography

Review The Artist (36)

Elton John-photo
BORN: March 25, 1947, Pinner, Middlesex, England

In terms of sales and lasting popularity, Elton John was the biggest pop superstar of the early '70s. Initially marketed as a singer/songwriter, John soon revealed he could craft Beatlesque pop and pound out rockers with equal aplomb. He could dip into soul, disco and country, as well as classic pop balladry and even progressive rock. His versatility, combined with his effortless melodic skills, dynamic charisma and flamboyant stage shows made him the most popular recording artist of the '70s. Unlike many pop stars, John was able to sustain his popularity, charting a Top 40 single every single year from 1970 to 1996.

During that time, he had temporary slumps in creativity and sales, as he fell out of favor with critics, had fights with his lyricist Bernie Taupin, and battled various addictions and public scandals. But through it all, John remained a remarkably popular artist and many of his songs -- including "Your Song," "Rocket Man," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me" -- became contemporary pop standards.

The son of a former Royal Air Force trumpeter, Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in 1947. Dwight began playing piano at the age of four, and when he was 11, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. After studying for six years, he left school with the intention of breaking into the music business. In 1961, he joined his first band, Bluesology, and divided his time between playing with the group, giving solo concerts at a local hotel, and running errands for a London publishing house. By 1965, Bluesology were backing touring American soul and R&B musicians like Major Lance, Doris Troy and the Bluebells.

In 1966, Bluesology became Long John Baldry's supporting band, and began touring cabarets throughout England. Dwight became frustrated with Baldry's control of the band and began searching for other groups to join. He failed his lead vocalist auditions both King Crimson and Gentle Giant before responding to an advertisement by Liberty Records. Though he failed his Liberty audition, he was given a stack of lyrics Bernie Taupin, who had also replied to the ad, had left with the label. Dwight wrote music for Taupin's lyrics and began corresponding with him through mail. By the time the two met six months later, Dwight had changed his name to Elton John, taking his first name from Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and his last from John Baldry.

John and Taupin were hired by Dick James to become staff songwriters at his fledgling DJM in 1968. The pair collaborated at a rapid rate, with Taupin submitting batches of lyrics -- he often wrote a song an hour -- every few weeks. John would then write music without changing the words, sometimes completing the songs in under a half hour. Over the next two years, the duo wrote songs for pop singers like Roger Cook and Lulu. In the meantime, John recorded cover versions of current hits for budget labels to be sold in supermarkets.

By the summer of 1968, he had begun recording singles for release under his own name. Usually, these songs were more rock and radio-oriented than the tunes he and Taupin were giving to other vocalists, yet neither of his early singles for Phillips, "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and "Lady Samantha," sold well. In June of 1969, he released his debut album for DJM, Empty Sky, which received fair reviews, but no sales.

For his second album, John and Taupin hired producer Gus Dudgeon and arranger Paul Buckmaster, who contributed grandiose string charts to Elton John. Released in the summer of 1970, Elton John began to make inroads in America, where it was appeared on MCA's Uni subsidiary. In August, he gave his first American concert at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, which received enthusiastic reviews, as well as praise from Quincy Jones and Leon Russell. Throughout the fall, Elton John continued to climb the charts on the strength of the Top 10 single, "Your Song."

John followed it quickly in February 1971 with the concept album Tumbleweed Connection, which received heavy airplay on album-oriented radio in the US, helping it climb into the Top 10. The rapid release of Tumbleweed Connection established a pattern of frequent releases that John maintained throughout his career. In 1971, he released the live 11-17-70 and the Friends soundtrack, before releasing Madman Across the Water late in the year. Madman Across the Water was successful, but John achieved stardom with the followup, 1972's Honky Chateau. Recorded with his touring band -- bassist Dee Murray, drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone -- and featuring the hit singles "Rocket Man" and "Honky Cat," Honky Chateau became his first American number one album, spending five weeks at the top of the charts.

Between 1972 and 1976, Elton John and Bernie Taupin's hit-making machine was virtually unstoppable. "Rocket Man" began a four-year streak of 16 Top 20 hits in a row; out of those 16 -- including "Crocodile Rock," "Daniel," "Bennie and the Jets," "The Bitch Is Back" and "Philadelphia Freedom" -- only one, the FM hit "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," failed to reach the Top Ten. Honky Chateau began a streak of seven consecutive number one albums -- Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player (1973), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973), Caribou (1974), Greatest Hits (1974), Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975), Rock of the Westies (1975) -- that all went platinum. John founded Rocket, a record label distributed by MCA, in 1973 in order to sign and produce acts like Neil Sedaka and Kiki Dee.

John didn't become a Rocket recording artist himself, choosing to stay with MCA for a record-breaking eight million dollar contract in 1974. Later in 1974, he co-wrote John Lennon's number one comeback single, "Whatever Gets You Through the Night," and he persuaded Lennon to join him onstage at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving Day 1974; it would prove to be Lennon's last live performance. The following year, Captain Fantastic became the first album to enter the American charts at number one. After its release, he revamped his band, which now featured Johnstone, Quaye, Roger Pope, Ray Cooper and bassist Kenny Passarelli; Rock of the Westies was the first album to feature this lineup.

Throughout the mid-'70s, John's concerts were enormously popular, as were his singles and albums, and he continued to record and perform at a rapid pace until 1976. That year, he revealed in an interview in Rolling Stone that he was bisexual; he would later admit that the confession was a compromise, since he was afraid to reveal that he was homosexual. Many fans reacted negatively to John's bisexuality, and his audience began to shrink somewhat in the late '70s. The decline in his record sales was also due to his exhaustion. After 1976, John cut his performance schedule drastically, announcing that he was retiring from live performances in 1977 and started recording only one album a year.

His relationship with Taupin became strained following the release of 1976's double-album Blue Moves, and the lyricist began working with other musicians. John returned in 1978 with A Single Man, which was written with Gary Osborne; the record produced no Top 20 singles. That year, he returned to live performances, first by jamming at the Live Stiffs package tour, then by launching a comeback tour in 1979 accompanied only by percussionist Ray Cooper. "Mama Can't Buy You Love," a song he recorded with Phillie soul producer Thom Bell in 1977, returned him to the Top Ten in 1979, but that year's Victim of Love was a commercial disappointment.

John reunited with Taupin for 1980's 21 at 33, which featured the Top 10 single "Little Jeannie." Over the next three years, John remained a popular concert artist, but his singles failed to break the Top 10, even if they reached the Top 40. In 1981, he signed with Geffen Records and his second album, Jump Up! became a gold album on the strength of "Blue Eyes" and "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)," his tribute to John Lennon. But it was 1983's Too Low for Zero that began his last great streak of hit singles, with the MTV hit "I'm Still Standing" and the Top Ten single "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues."

Throughout the rest of the '80s, John's albums would consistently go gold, and they always generated at least one Top 40 single; frequently, they featured Top 10 singles like "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" (1984), "Nikita" (1986), "Candle in the Wind" (1987), and " I Don't Want To Go On With You Like That" (1988). While his career continued to be successful, his personal life was in turmoil. Since the mid-'70s, he had been addicted to cocaine and alcohol, and the situation only worsened during the '80s. In a surprise move, he married engineer Renate Blauel in 1984; the couple stayed married for four years, although John later admitted he realized he was homosexual before his marriage. In 1986, he underwent throat surgery while on tour in 1986, but even after he successfully recovered, he continued to abuse cocaine and alocohol.

Following a record-breaking five-date stint at Madison Square Garden in 1988, John auctioned off all of his theatrical costumes, thousands of pieces of memorabilia and his extensive record collection through Sotheby's. The audction was a symbolic turning point. Over the next two years, John battled both his drug addiction and bullimia, undergoing hair replacement surgery at the same time. By 1991, he was sober and the following year, he established the Elton John AIDS Foundation; he also announced that he would donate all royalties from his single sales to AIDS research.

In 1992, John returned to active recording with The One. Peaking at number eight on the US charts and going double platinum, the album became his most successful record since Blue Moves, and sparked a career renaissance for John. He and Taupin signed a record-breaking publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music in 1992 for an estimated $39 million. In 1994, John collaborated with lyricist Tim Rice on songs for Disney's animated feature The Lion King. One of their collaborations, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, as well as the Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. John's 1995 album Made In England continued his comeback, peaking at number 3 on the UK charts and number 13 in the US; in America, the album went platinum.

Biography by 10-year-old Laura Chase (saintjohnbarbie@hotmail.com)

Elton John was the single most successful pop artist of the '70s, and he continued to score hits for decades after his initial reign of popularity. Born Reginald Dwight in Pinner, England, he showed an early aptitude for the piano and received classical training, winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music at the age of 11. But after six years he turned to pop music, and struggled as a songwriter, sideman, and member of unsuccessful groups for the rest of the '60s. During this period, he hooked up with lyricist Bernie Taupin through a newspaper advertisement, and the two were signed as songwriters to publisher Dick James, who was to have a tremendous impact on John's early career. A debut album sponsored by James, Empty Sky, flopped in 1969, but in 1970, with the album Elton John and the single "Your Song," Elton John took off, scoring especially well in America. For the next five years, his output -- and the sales that material racked up -- was enormous. John always had an ability to hit with ballads like the wistful "Daniel," then turn around and rock as hard as The Rolling Stones on a song like "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." There hardly seemed a day from 1972, when "Rocket Man" began a streak of 16 straight Top 20 hits (15 of which went Top Ten), to 1976, when John took a breather, that his songs were not dominating the airwaves and the record charts. The late '70s seem to have been a period of recovery and indecision for the singer, but by 1980 he had settled into making one well-crafted album a year, and many of them tossed off hits, if not with such consistency as before. "Little Jeannie" (1980), "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" and "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" (both 1984), and "Nikita" (1986) all showed John could still hit the upper reaches of the charts, especially with his trademark ballads. The late '80s again saw a slowing in John's record success, but by the start of the '90s he had gone public about drug and alcohol problems he said were behind him, and he looked poised for a new start. After several more years of adult contemporary hits in the early '90s, John moved into film, writing the music for Walt Disney's 1994 film The Lion King. The soundtrack was an enormous success and John's version of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" was his biggest hit in years.

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He is my favorite | Reviewer: Anonymous | 12/21/11

I love his music so much. I think he is a true star to be able to fight drugs and alcohol. Abuse. He has inspired me to continue to play the piano. If it wern't for him I wouldn' be what I am today. Thank you so much.

a thank you would have been nice | Reviewer: alan taylor | 10/21/11

it was in the early 70s,at the time when he was playing gigs,if it wasn't for me he might not have been going at all,i am very careful of what i am saying because if any 1 wants my real story i will give it to them,and after all these years all i ever wanted was a thank you be for i die surly its not to much to ask yours Alan Taylor

Elton John's amazing! | Reviewer: Girl | 6/19/11

I agree completely with Caitlyn. Elton John's amazing! I'm 13 and also play the piano. I went to an Elton John concert the other day and it was definitely the best concert I've been to! Even though I've only been to three! One of which I only stayed for about 20 minutes and the other was JLS who were rubbish! Since the concert I've had the best songs in my head all the time. I really want to be a musician now too like Elton John. I don't really like "cool" music either (although Lady GaGa's good). Nothing can ever beat Queen, Elton John or ABBA (who I also love)!

Amazing | Reviewer: Shannon | 5/12/11

elton John is one of the most amazing musicians of all time. He is an inspiration to people ever, not just by his music but by admitting he was gay and dealing with all of the crap that must've been thrown his way because of it. But he did what made him happy and I admire him for it. Him and Bernie Taupin are one of the greatest duo's ever! He is absolutely amazing.

The real deal about Elton's talent | Reviewer: tray117 | 4/15/11

Look, from Empty Sky to Caribou the man was GOD! Very few artists/bands could rival the genius and creativity of John/Taupin. Then came the greatest hits. Eeeuuuwww. Granted by today's standards these kids have a greatest hits album for their SECOND album, however. . .Then came
Captain Fantastic and, unfortunately, EVERY song wasn't amazing. Broke this Elton fanatic's heart! I couldn't imagine the man/duo slowing down or losing it bcz the hits had kept coming for SOOOOOOOO long. But he/they changed, dried up, ran out of good ideas, fought, seperated and tried writing on their own. BAD idea. Regardless, Elton has parodied himself and his good sh*t. He steals from his old stuff TOTALLY. You can definitely hear riffs/pieces of older sh*t in his newer, GODAWFUL cr*p. Lion King? Please. Dreadful. And so is any pop cr*p since Blue Moves. I would beg him to quit but he's gone WAY beyond maintaining dignity. RIP Elton & Bernie.

no legal rights for samesexmanyaks | Reviewer: halis y─▒lmaz | 1/22/11

how can they legalise samesex relations while they have nuns and monks not havimg sex at all.gay has been prist of the bible that bans gayship.is that mevement agaist relions.me says yes it is agaist us.it is satanic.we have to work on that.and we promise them hell.soon they will know the truth painfully.

To you, crazy anonymous | Reviewer: Caitlyn | 12/25/10

Elton John, is the singer to remember forever and ever in our minds and hearts and not the one who raped you. You make me sick.I'm only 12, but I love 70's and 80's music because they have spirit not like the new songs today. Nobody understands the beautiful music I hear of Elton John because all they hear is Britney Spears,Ne-YO, or whatever. I am also a pianist and my inspiration is to be like Elton John someday so that I can change the world. John always reminds me of myself, as I thought ever since I was 7. I love his style and we shall thank him forever for bringing into the world the art of his songs!!!

Forgotten Music | Reviewer: Pippin | 10/17/10

Elton John actually began playing piano at age 3 not 4. Also, you never mention his album released in 1971 titled "Friends" A soundtrack made specifically for the movie of the same title. Why? The album is by far one of the best collaborations between him and Bernie Taupin. It didn't sell much but enjoyed a lot more critical acclaim then Empyty Sky.

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC | Reviewer: Ami Jon | 5/29/10

Elton John is BY FAR the most incredible singer I have ever heard in my life. If every damn song that he sings someone says, "oh, thats the best" how in the world can he not be?! He has also overcome drug and alcohol abuse, and in my book that makes him another star. I was born in 77, and was named Ami Jon, Jon being named after him, spelling different because im a girl. I truly love that man, and his music, and anyone that has anything negative to say about him is either music deaf, or homophobic.You cant help being music deaf, but a homophob is so immature that i wont even give those people the pleasure of reading how stupid I think they are. I love you Elton, you are and always will be #1!!!! Ami Jon

Someone Saved My Life tonight | Reviewer: Sue Mazzone | 4/26/10

I was a suicidal teenager and locking myself in my room and listening to my albums and 45's and singing along helped me get through the worst times of my life. I always felt I did not fit in and loved to fantasize about singing with the greatest artists on earth. Elton thank-you for helping save my life. I love you.

he is agreatest among the great | review: kaggwe k | 8/2/2010 | Reviewer: kaggwekenneth | 2/7/10

whelton he is good and greatest among the great, before i got to know helton i first listened to his songs then i got intrested in it and i could not spend a day without listening to his music, i dont care whether he is a gay. coz every one in the world has which makes he or she happy, he can do his staff, and he cant change me but he can change me with his music only.

A great musician | Reviewer: Janet | 11/22/09

I have always admired Elton John and Bernie Taupin.They together have put out some of the most remarkable songs,ones that a true lover of music and talent will always remember.As for his personal life it should not change anybody's thoughts of his talent with music.Some of the best musicians have been gay like Freddie mercury(Queen) or Liberace.This man is happy and what brings him that, is his business.His music makes the people happy.This wonderful man has given more to charity and aids research then most are aware of.He wrote a song for his good friend the late Princess Diana and stayed with Ryan White until his last breathe.He also gave the boys family support and sang at his funeral.That is just a few of the many kind and wonderful things this wonderful man has done.God bless you Elton John.You are admired for so much on top of being the greatest piano player and singer around.Keep up the good work.

It's not a defining characteristic. | Reviewer: Anonymous | 10/13/08

Elton John is an incredible artist and should be admired for his perserverance and success throughout many years. The fact that he is gay is not a defining characteristic, people should be able to look past such. His music is amazing,and that's what he's here to do. So, I don't think we should judge him on anything but his music. And hey, what's there to judge?

Fabulous!i!i | Reviewer: Debi Lee | 9/14/08

I had the honor of seeing Elton John in concert in Calgary last night. He is one of the most incredible musicians I have ever seen. He can rock far better than any new band. He has class, wit, character and endless talent. o fabo

Long live Elton! Goodbye Creighton.. | Reviewer: craytoon | 9/6/08

I'm a singer/songwriter, and it's a beautiful but hard world.
Elton John has made more history, love, smiles, music and stories that keep the candle burning than anyone of your bitterness! I'm sure he's been called worse things by better people than you Creighton. (What kinda name is that anyway??) You, Creighton, appear very alone, sad and blood hungry. You poor thing. I do sympathise for you - you must have had a poor family life without a solid nourishing upbringing. Maybe a horrible childhood experience? Seek help and heal your mind and heart. You'll go to sleep alone, wake up alone, die alone. We're all entitled to an opinion, but not all ripping out throats for your satisfaction. bye bye :)

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