Supposedly, Elton John was responsible for 2% of all music sold on Earth in the mid '70s. That claim doesn’t seem that too far-fetched given the absurdly large and consistently great body of work John had accumulated up to that point. In 1975, he played two sold-out shows at Dodger Stadium, for 55,000 people per night, at a then-outrageous $10 per ticket (my uncle had to save up to see Deep Purple for $4.50, and the opening act was some up-and-coming band from England called Fleetwood Mac).
Elton John is scheduled to make not one, but THREE local appearances in 2022, with two of those coming up at the end of January with back-to-back performances at the American Airlines Center on Jan. 25 and 26 and a massive show planned at Globe Life Field in September. So it feels like the right time to celebrate once again Elton's, and his ever-present lyricist Bernie Taupin’s, glorious musical creations.
Here are our choices for Elton John’s 10 essential deep cuts:
10. “Thank You for All Your Loving” from Jewel Box
Previously hidden from the world until Taron Egerton performed it for the soundtrack of the Elton John biopic Rocketman, Elton John finally released this early Traffic-esque rocker on his Jewel Box collection in 2020. It’s a shocker it never made it on to any of his early albums in any form. 9. “Dixie Lily” from Caribou
Inspired by The Band’s roots-rock manifesto Music From Big Pink, Taupin developed a proclivity to write about the American South early on in his and John's musical partnership. From the all-out country-rock opus Tumbleweed Connection to occasional tracks in the midst of John’s more mainstream glam-rock albums, Taupin and John couldn’t help but throw in a country song here and there. Much like “Social Disease” on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, “Dixie Lily” brings out John’s melodic sensibility while his band has an opportunity to really go wild like the riders on the showboat that bares the song’s title. 8. “All the Girls Love Alice” from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Let’s face it, nearly every song on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road could fill this list up, so it’s hard not to return to Elton John’s magnum opus nearly 50 years after its release. On the album’s hardest rocking song, Taupin describes a 16-year-old girl with an uptight upbringing who turned to lesbian prostitution with deadly results. Rumor has it that John selected the name Alice after seeing the original Alice Cooper band’s raucous performance at the Hollywood Bowl in 1972. 7. “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” from Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy
As the penultimate track on Elton John’s Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy album, “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” essentially lays out the foundation for what would eventually become the power ballad. As opposed to the fare that would dominate the radio in the '80s and '90s, Taupin and John emphasize love’s ephemeral nature. “Did we, didn't we, should we couldn't we? I'm not sure 'cause sometimes we're so blind, ” he sang. Both Jeff Buckley and Coldplay committed the song to recording at one point of another, further cementing its place as a song for those whose emotions run intimately and stadium-sized alike.
6. “Social Disease” from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
While Goodbye Yellow Brick Road may be preoccupied with the illusion of Hollywood glitz and glamour, its portraits of those in the margins are where the album truly shines. Carrying over Taupin’s infatuation with Americana from Tumbleweed Connection and Honky Chateau, with “Social Disease” he sets his lyrics of drunken Southern revelry to one of John’s most singable melodies. Throw in Davey Johnstone on banjo and Santa Esmeralda vocalist Leroy Gomez on saxophone, and you get one of the most carefree songs in Elton John’s entire discography, a firsthand account of a socially questionable gentleman who “gets bombed for breakfast every morning,” “dresses in rags” and “smells a lot” but also seems to get away with paying his rent “in human kindness.” And boy does Elton make it feel like a party. 5. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” from Honky Chateau
New York City has been called “the greatest city in the world” by some, “an adult portion” by others, and a “concrete jungle” by others still, but as far as we know, only Bernie Taupin has called NYC a “trash can dream come true.” Instead of focusing on New York’s imposing skyline or its intimidating urban explosion, Taupin chooses to focus on the people that call the Big Apple home: “While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, sons of bankers, sons of lawyers, turn around and say good morning to the night, for unless they see the sky, but they can't and that is why, they know not if it's dark outside or light.” 4. “Amoreena” from Tumbleweed Connection
While many might know the song for backdropping the opening scene of Sindey Lumet’s masterful film Dog Day Afternoon, those who are less cinematically inclined may never be graced with hearing one of Elton John’s sweetest love songs, on which he sings: “Lately, I've been thinking, how much I miss my lady, Amoreena's in the cornfield, brightening the daybreak.” On an album that fully immerses itself in the throes, trials and tribulations of the American West, “Amoreena” is such a beautiful depiction of a carefree woman far away from her lover’s touch that it’s hard not to want to know her yourself. 3. “Sweet Painted Lady” from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
There are a lot of instances in which Taupin’s lyrics evoke a place in time cinematically, but “Sweet Painted Lady” feels like a place that always was, and a moment that never ends. “Opportunity awaits me like a rat in a drain,” John sings from the perspective of the newly land-bound sailors with little to look forward to as they find fleeting solace in a seaside brothel. “Just forget we ever slept in your rooms, but we’ll leave the smell of the sea in your beds.” 2. “Madman Across the Water” from Madman Across the Water
The title track to Elton John’s fourth album remains singular in its mood. Davey Johnstone and Chris Spedding’s respective acoustic and electric guitar playing evoke Taupin’s impressionistic portrait of someone wrestling with mental illness and the skewed outside opinion painting him as a madman. The musicians never budge on the piece’s oceanlike ebb and flow, creating a hypnotic sense of repetition that emphasizes the narrator’s sense of frustration , as he said: “Is the nightmare really black or are the windows painted? Will they come again next week? Can my mind really take it?”
1. “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Elton John has a jillion great songs, and half of them are on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, but it’s the album’s towering 12-minute opener that marks the zenith of his artistic output and commercial dominance. The grandiosity of “Funeral for a Friend” would come off as over-the-top in the hands of a lesser artist, but for Elton John in 1973, it is the only way he could make an entrance. John composed the instrumental after pondering what music he would like to have played at his own funeral. For Taupin, “Love Lies Bleeding” marks a high point of his musical relationship with John, as his tortured lyrics are given the massive sonic agony that only another song like “Layla” can exceed. The song’s opening two lines could be Shakespearean on their own: “The roses in the window box have tilted to one side; everything about this house was born to grow and die.” What better thing to compare heartbreak to than DEATH? “And love lies bleeding in my hand, oh it kills me to think of you with another man.” You can even locate the exact moment when Elton John peaks artistically; it’s at 9:46 when he lets out a wordless yell that says more than he ever could with his compositions and Taupin could ever say with his words.