Famous Like Me > Composer > J > Elton John
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Profile of Elton John
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||25th March 1947
|Place of Birth:
||Pinner, Greater London, England, UK
Sir Elton Hercules John, CBE (born March 25, 1947) is a rock music singer, songwriter, and pianist, is one of the most successful solo artists in music history. He has recorded a long string of records and participated in a number of musical projects over a career that is approaching its fifth decade. His flamboyant fashion sense, on-stage showmanship, and public struggles with his private life have combined with his talent to make him a legend to his many fans around the world.
John was the dominant commercial force in the rock world in the 1970s, as evidenced by seven consecutive #1 records on the U.S. album charts and 15 hit singles, including six #1's and three #2's. His piano-based sound has helped keep that instrument relevant in a guitar-oriented genre. He has maintained a strong public presence in the fight against AIDS, and has had renewed moments of commercial triumph, such as his defiant hit "I'm Still Standing" and his award-winning work on the immensely popular animated film The Lion King.
Early life and career
Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in Pinner, England, the son of Royal Air Force squadron leader, Stanley Dwight, and his wife, Sheila Dwight. Reginald was raised primarily by his mother, grandmother and aunt, and saw little of his father during his childhood. Stanley and Sheila divorced in 1962, when Reginald was 14.
Reginald began playing piano when he was four. Somewhat of a child prodigy, he was able to play on piano any melody he heard on radio or phonograph. At age 11, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. He previously attended Pinner County Grammar School. He stayed at the Academy for six years, leaving before graduation to start a musical career.
In 1960, Reginald and some of his friends, while still in school, formed a band called the Corvettes, which evolved into Bluesology. By the mid-1960s, Bluesology was backing touring American soul and R&B musicians like the Isley Brothers, Major Lance, Doris Troy, and Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. In 1966, two years after Reginald left school, the band became musician Long John Baldry's supporting band and began touring cabarets with him throughout England. When Baldry's control over the band greatly increased, Reginald left and started looking for other bands to join. After failing lead vocalist auditions for both King Crimson and Gentle Giant, Reginald answered an advertisement by Liberty Records. There he was given a stack of lyrics by lyricist Bernie Taupin. Reginald then wrote music for the lyrics, and got in touch with Bernie through the mail. Thus began a partnership that continues to this day. When they met six months later, Reginald had changed his name to Elton John, by deed poll, in homage to Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and Long John Baldry. In 1967 the first Elton John/Bernie Taupin song, Scarecrow, was recorded.
Elton and Bernie, now working together, joined Dick James's DJM Records as staff songwriters in 1968, and over the next two years, wrote songs for pop singers like Roger Cook and Lulu, while also recording their own songs. In June 1969, Elton released his first album Empty Sky for DJM, without any success.
Elton's self-titled second album was released in the spring of 1970, and started to sell well in the U.S., where it was released on the MCA's Uni subsidiary. "Your Song", a single from the album, helped the album greatly by reaching the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100, and it reached the Top Ten on the Billboard 200. Elton performed his first American concert at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, California, around that time, and got mostly positive reviews.
Elton John was followed quickly with the concept album Tumbleweed Connection in October 1970. It reached the Top Ten on the Billboard 200 like its predecessor, and got heavy airplay on album-oriented radio stations in the U.S., which most likely played a part in its success. Tumbleweed Connection was followed by the live album 11-17-70, an ambitious and largely underrated album showcasing Elton's considerable talent as a rock pianist, with great interaction between Elton and bassist Dee Murray. Extended versions of his early compositions clearly illustrate the gospel and boogie-woogie influences on Elton's piano playing, as the lead instrument in a successful, yet unusual (for Rock) trio format. The live album was followed by the soundtrack to the obscure film Friends and the album Madman Across the Water, both that same year. Madman Across the Water reached the Top Ten, and produced the hit â€œLevonâ€ while the soundtrack album produced the hit "Friends". In 1972, Elton released Honky Chateau, which became his first American number one album, spending five weeks at the top of the charts, and spawned the hit singles "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)" and "Honky Cat".
In 1973, Elton started his own label, Rocket Records. That year, Elton released the pop album Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player which produced the hits "Crocodile Rock" and "Daniel", and the more thoughtful, album-oriented double LP Goodbye Yellow Brick Road which gained instant critical acclaim. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road topped the charts and is considered by many, including John himself, to be his best album. It contains the number 1 hit "Bennie and the Jets", along with the popular title song, "Candle in the Wind" (which went on to become the best selling song of all time), and the FM radio favourite "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)." It also contained gems such as the track "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" and "Grey Seal".
In 1974, Elton engaged in a noted collaboration with John Lennon, resulting in Elton covering The Beatles's "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", Elton being featured on Lennon's "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night", and a surprise joint concert performance of these two No. 1 hits along with the Beatles classic "I Saw Her Standing There". Elton got Lennon to perform these songs at Madison Square Garden in what would be his last public performance. The concert was recorded and released two years later with another live concert recording on the album Here & There. That year, he also became director of a professional soccer team, the Watford Football Club, and released the albums Caribou and Elton John's Greatest Hits, both #1 hits, like their predecessors. Caribou was widely considered a lesser quality album but demonstrated John's rocking ability with "The Bitch Is Back" and his versatility in orchestral songs with "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me". Also in 1974, Elton John was asked to play a character called the "Pinball Wizard" and perform a song of the same name by the British band the Who for their rock opera Tommy. Drawing on power chords, Elton's version was recorded and used for the movie release in 1975 and the single came out in 1976. The song charted #7 in England. Many still recognize Elton John's rocker version more easily than The Who's original version
With the release of the 1975 autobiographical album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy Elton John revealed his previously ambiguous personality. In the album, Taupin and John describe their early days as struggling songwriters and musicians in London and its environs. The lyrics and accompanying photo booklet are infused with a specific sense of place and time that would otherwise be rare in John's music. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" was the hit single from this album and captured an early turning point in John's life. His next album, the rock-oriented Rock of the Westies, entered the Billboard 200 chart at #1 like Captain Fantastic, a previously unattained feat.
Elton, in a way, owes his success at that time to his concert performances. His flamboyant stage wardrobe that included ostrich feathers, $5,000 spectacles that spelled his name in lights, a Statue of Liberty costume and more, and his dressing up like Donald Duck or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart among others at his concerts made them a success and created interest for his music.
Elton's career slowed down somewhat after 1976. That year he stated in a interview with Rolling Stone that he was bisexual. This revelation contributed to a drop in record sales the following years. The decline in his record sales was also probably due to his exhaustion. He cut his performance schedule after that year, and retired from live performances in 1977 and started recording only one album per year.
Nevertheless, Elton John completely dominated the rock world in the 1970s, as evident by his seven consecutive albums that topped the US album charts: Honky ChÃ¢teau (1972, #1 for five weeks), Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player (1973, #1 for two weeks), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973, #1 for eight weeks), Caribou (1974, #1 for four weeks), Elton John's Greatest Hits (1974, #1 for ten weeks), Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975, #1 for seven weeks) and Rock of the Westies (1975, #1 for three weeks), and 15 hit singles, including six that went to #1 ("Crocodile Rock," "Bennie and the Jets," "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," "Philadelphia Freedom," "Island Girl," "Donâ€™t Go Breaking My Heart") and three that reached #2 ("Daniel," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Donâ€™t Let the Sun Go Down on Me"), during that period.
On 13 September 1980 Elton John played a free concert to a huge audience on The Great Lawn in Central Park in New York City, within hearing distance of his friend John Lennon's apartment building. A few months later Lennon would be murdered; Elton would mourn the loss in his 1982 hit "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)".
Elton John's biggest 1980s hits included, among others, "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues", "I'm Still Standing", "Nikita" and a 1986 live recording of "Candle in the Wind" which he recorded during a concert with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra although the orchestra did not take part in the song. The song, which was a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, was originally recorded in 1973 on his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album.
The 1991 film documentary Two Rooms described the unusual writing style that John and Bernie Taupin use, which involves Taupin writing the lyrics on his own, and John then putting them to music, with the two never in the same room during the process.
In 1991 John's "Basque" won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition.
In 1992 John performed "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "The Show Must Go On" with Queen at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert, an AIDS charity event held at Wembley Stadium, London.
Elton John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. He and Bernie Taupin had previously been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992.
Elton John was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1995.
In September 1997, Taupin altered the lyrics of "Candle in the Wind" for a special version mourning the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and John performed it at her funeral in Westminster Abbey. A recorded version, "Candle in the Wind 1997", then became the fastest selling single of all time, eventually going on to sell over 30 million copies worldwide, with the proceeds going to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. John would later win the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for the single.
Elton John was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II on 24 February 1998.
He continues to release new material to commercial success, and tours extensively, despite being fitted with a pacemaker in July 1999. His face-to-face tours with fellow pianist Billy Joel have been a fan favourite throughout the world since the mid-1990s. Elton also has a multi-year contract to perform at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. The show, entitled The Red Piano, is a multimedia concert featuring massive props and video montages created by David LaChappelle.
John's dueted with Eminem on the rapper's "Stan" at the Grammy Awards of 2001. This went a long way towards absolving Eminem of charges of homophobia and thus paving the way for Eminem's greater mainstream acceptance.
He achieved yet another #1 single in the UK, being featured on 2Pac's posthumous song "Ghetto Gospel" in 2005, from the rapper's album, Loyal to the Game. The song sampled "Indian Sunset" from John's 1971 album, Madman Across the Water.
On 2 July 2005, John performed at the Live 8 concert at Hyde Park in London.
In July of 2005, Madame Tussauds made a 227 lb. statue of Elton John, to his measurements. It took more than 1,000 hours to complete. John is currently sandwiching a two-year world tour, reaching places he has never performed in before, with his regular appearances at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.
He has also done work both for and in films. In 1971, he wrote the soundtrack for the movie Friends.In 1972 he appeared in the Marc Bolan's musical film 'Born to Boogie' In 1975, he appeared as the Pinball Wizard in Ken Russell's over-the-top movie version of the rock opera Tommy.
In 1994, along with Tim Rice, he wrote the songs for the Disney animated film The Lion King. (Rice was reportedly stunned by the rapidity with which John was able to set his words to music.) The Lion King went on to become the best-grossing traditionally-animated feature of all time, with the songs playing a key part. Three of the five songs nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song that year were John and Rice songs from The Lion King, with "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" winning. In versions sung by John, both that and "Circle of Life" became big hits, while the other songs such as "Hakuna Matata" achieved popularity with all ages as well. "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" would also win John the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
Five years later, John wrote the score for The Muse, and a year later composed songs for another animated film, DreamWorks' The Road to El Dorado. In 2001, his 1970s hit, "Tiny Dancer" was featured on the Almost Famous soundtrack, and his most recent movie song was "The Heart of Every Girl" (the end title song from 2003's Mona Lisa Smile).
In addition to a 1998 adaptation of The Lion King for Broadway, John has also composed music for a Disney production of Aida (2000) with lyricist Tim Rice, for which they received the Tony Award for Best Original Score and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.
John also composed music for a West End production of Billy Elliot (2005) with Lee Hall, and The Vampire Lestat with Bernie Taupin, based on the Anne Rice vampire novels.
John has had a complicated personal history. Coming out first as bisexual in 1976, he married (1984) and quickly divorced (1988) Renate Blauel. He subsequently stated that he was gay and has lived with his partner David Furnish for a number of years. He plans to marry Furnish after the British civil partnership law comes into effect in December 2005. He has occasionally battled addictions to cocaine and financial difficulties caused by his profligate spending.
In 1976 Elton John became involved in Watford Football Club and fulfilled a childhood dream by becoming chairman and director. He resigned in 2002 when the club needed a full-time chairman. He remains lifelong president.
John has long been associated with AIDS charities after the death of his friends Ryan White and Freddie Mercury, raising large amounts of money and using his public profile to raise awareness of the disease. For example, in 1986 he joined with Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder to record the single "That's What Friends Are For", with all profits being donated to the American Foundation for AIDS Research. The song won Elton and the others the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (as well as Song of the Year for its writers, Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager).
John founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992 as a charity to fund programmes for HIV/AIDS prevention, for the elimination of prejudice and discrimination against HIV/AIDS-affected individuals, and for providing services to people living with or at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Aside from his main home in Windsor, England, John splits his time in his various residences in Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Nice, France; London, England; and Venice, Italy.
He is a noted art collector, and is believed to have one of the largest private photography collections in the world.
Musical style and voice
In the 1970s, Elton John's sound was immediately set apart from others by being piano-based in a rock world dominated by guitars. Another early characteristic was a set of dynamic string arrangements by Paul Buckmaster. Coupled with Taupin's often opaque but emotionally resonant lyrics, the results were unique for their time. Songs in this style included "Sixty Years On", "Burn Down the Mission", "Take Me to the Pilot", "Levon", "Madman Across the Water", and the best-known of these, "Tiny Dancer".
"Your Song", one of his earliest and most popular hits, incorporates some other features found in many of his songs:
- It is in binary form, with the verse repeated before the chorus begins;
- The piano accompaniment is prominent, though the song also features an orchestra;
- It uses a slowly building crescendo that brings the song to a tutti climax. Other songs that follow this pattern include "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me" and "Rocket Man".
John also has a distinctive vocal style. In particular, his phrasing is often a bit metronomic and sometimes has a curiously off-kilter, "rushed" quality especially at the end of lines (example: the phrase "like a puppy child" in the song Amoreena). He also, at least in his classic period in the 1970s, would sometimes sweep up from his normal tenor into a Four Seasons-like falsetto.
Elton John underwent throat surgery to remove potentially cancerous nodules from his vocal chords in January 1987 whilst on tour, a necessity he originally said was due to an infection, but later said was the result of excessive drug abuse. The problems with his voice can clearly be heard in his raspy singing on the Live In Australia album (released 1987). He made a full recovery but continued to engage in drugs for a few years yet. The surgery in 1987 also had a dramatic affect on John's voice, and he found that he could no longer sing in falsetto as well as he previously could and that he now sang in a lower range.
The change in Elton John's voice has been one that he has largely played down, with Elton commenting fifteen years after the surgery that he was "singing better than ever." The use of studio effects were evidently added to his voice on his first UK #1 Hit "Sacrifice" (1990). The release of Songs From The West Coast, his 2001 album showed very clearly how different his voice is to his prime. It is a matter of opinion which singing style is better but few would deny that Elton John remains an excellent and operatic singer.
- "You can call me a fat, balding, talentless, old queen who can't sing--but you can't tell lies about me. (After successfully winning a libel case against the London 'Sun' in 1987 for alleged underage sex.
- "I haven't made a good album in a long while. Not since 1976 and Blue Moves."
- "If there is a better singer in England than Craig David, then I am Margaret Thatcher."
- (After being asked about his sexuality in the 1970s) "I think people should be free to engage in any sexual practices they choose; they should draw the line at goats, though."
- "Nowadays, record companies want the quick buck from the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Travis Miscia, S Club Seven, Steps. They've always been around, I'm not knocking the music perhaps, but it's like packets of cereal. There are too many of them, too many of them are just mediocre. And I think it damages real people's chance, real talent, of getting airplay. It's just fodder."
- "There's so much you're expected to do and you follow a pattern. You make a record, you do a video. I like to break the rules a little bit more and I did in the 70s, I should try a little bit more now."
- "Anyone who lip-synchs in public on stage when you pay Â£75 to see them should be shot. That's me off her Christmas card list. But do I give a toss? No." (about Madonna)
- "If I had one finger left, I'd play for you." (After breaking his fingernails by playing too hard)
- "I thought it was a bit of an anti-climax, to be honest. The thought behind it was fantastic, but Hyde Park is a charisma-free zone. There was no sense of occasion and from a musical point, I didn't think there were too many highlights. I was very pleased to be a part of it, but I didn't think it was anywhere near as good as the first one. How could it be?" (about Live 8)
For a complete discography, see Elton John discography.
- Elton John - piano, lead vocals
- Guy Babylon - keyboards
- Bob Birch - bass guitar, vocals
- Davey Johnstone - guitar, musical director, vocals
- John Mahon - percussion, vocals
- Nigel Olsson - drums, percussion, vocals
Previous band members
- Curt Bisquera - drums
- Jack Bruno - touring drums
- Ray Cooper - percussion
- John Jorgenson - guitar, saxophone, mandolin, pedal steel, vocals
- Jody Linscott - percussion
- Jonathan Moffett - drums
- Charlie Morgan - drums
- Dee Murray - bass guitar, vocals
- James Newton Howard - conductor
- Pino Palladino - bass guitar
- Kenny Passarelli - bass guitar, vocals
- David Patton - bass guitar, vocals
- Roger Pope - drums
- Caleb Quaye - guitar
- Tim Renwick - guitar, vocals
- Ken Stacey - additional guitar, vocals
- Mark Taylor - keyboards
- Billy Trudel - vocals
- Romeo Williams- bass guitar, vocals
- Ritchie Zito - drums
- Gentry Pruett - keyboards
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