Elton John, the fancy showman, the consummate artist, has remained one of the greatest voices in music since he began his career in the late 1960s. From then until now, he has never stopped producing hit music of the highest caliber, from studio albums to soundtracks for major motion pictures to scores for theatre productions. His style has been equally far ranging, with tracks and albums echoing the sounds of country, rock and roll, love song, ballad, and many more. Ten albums in particular highlight the the versatility of John’s musical ability, beginning with Tumbleweed Connection, released in 1970 and ending with John’s second autobiographical album entitled The Captain and the Kid, released in 2006.
Tumbleweed Connection, John’s third studio album, is striking in that it feels more like a country album than one produced by a rock and roll artist. A faint trace of sadness pervades the entire album, concluding with the hauntingly beautiful “Madman Across the Water.” Although it is not one of his most famous albums, it nevertheless deserves recognition for its beautiful, but also infinitely sad, music.
Equally sad is Madman Across the Water, released a year after Tumbleweed. From “Levon,” the comically tragic tale of a war veteran with delusions of religious grandeur, to “Indian Sunset,” a ballad about the downfall of the Native American way of life, this album continues John’s romance with melancholy. There are also some very touching and even optimistic tracks, most notably “Tiny Dancer,” which show just how versatile John was becoming with the music he produced.
John’s most commercially successful studio album (it went 7X Platinum,) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, shows him at his musical finest. The first track on the album, “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” exhibits some of the finest piano playing in all of John’s career. The rest of the album fluctuates between emotional extremes, from jazzed-up hits like “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” to tragic stories such as “All the Young Girls Love Alice,” indicating John’s flourishing ability to write music of all persuasions.
John’s first openly autobiographical album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy has a much lighter feel than its predecessors, though it does have its occasional moments of darkness. Take “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” which chronicles John’s thoughts of suicide as a result of an impending marriage. The entire album is a chronicle of his songwriting life with his lyricist Bernie Taupin (with whom John would collaborate on most of his musical projects.) As such, it offers a unique glimpse into John’s early personal life, and the music has a lighter tone than most of his preceding work.
Although the 1980s were not as successful for John as the 1970s, one remarkable album was Too Low for Zero, which produced such remarkable hits as “I’m Still Standing,” and “That’s Why They Call It the Blues.” In many ways, the album represents John’s emergence from addiction and other problems that had plagued him after his initial success in the 1970s.
The 1990s saw a remarkable array of projects for John, all of which were successful. In 1994, he collaborated with Tim Rice to produce the soundtrack to Disney’s blockbuster powerhouse The Lion King. Although the music was for an animated film, it nevertheless features some of his finest compositions. The ’90s also saw the production of The Big Picture. While it only went Platinum, it nevertheless features some exemplary music, showcasing Elton’s now-familiar deeper and more musical voice (one will also notice this on several of his albums from the late 1980s onward.)
The late 1990s and early 2000s saw the production of three of Elton’s most musically nuanced albums since the 1970s. Songs from the West Coast, Peachtree Road, and The Captain and the Kid show a more mature, more musically talented John, one who has struggled and overcome problems with addiction, bulimia, and his own sexuality (he has been an ardent supporter of the LGBT Movement for many years.) Each has its own particular triumphs. Songs has “American Triangle,” a tribute to Matthew Shepard, Peachtree Road has the Elvis homage Porchswing in Tupelo, and The Captain and the Kid has the title song, which brings the musical story of Taupin and John to the present.
The evolution of Elton John is a continuing process. Even up to this point, however, John has shown the versatility he can achieve with his music. He constantly reinvents himself for his contemporary audiences, while also maintaining the flair that made him the sweetheart of a rock-loving generation. His concerts, while not as flashy as before, nevertheless show him at a mature, more musical level than he has before attained. Even after he passed his sixtieth year, John continued (and continues) to tour and produce music. There’s no doubt that he will continue to be one of rock and roll’s enduring icons.
*Note: All data regarding certification status, year of release, etc. can be found in the Wikipedia article “Elton John Discography.”