Elton John - Biography
Sir Elton Hercules John,
CBE, is a highly successful British pop singer, pianist, and
songwriter. He has created a long string of hit records and musical
projects over a career that is well into its fourth decade. His
flamboyant fashion sense, on-stage showmanship, and public struggles
with his private life have combined with his talent to make him a
popular music icon.
Early life and career
Elton John was born Reginald
Kenneth Dwight on March 25, 1947, in Pinner, Middlesex, England,
the son of a squadron leader in the Royal Air Force named Stanley
Dwight, and his wife Sheila Dwight. Reggie was raised primarily by
his mother, grandmother and aunt, as Stanley was away most of the
time. Stanley and Sheila divorced in 1962, when Reginald was 14.
Sheila would later marry a man named Fred Farebrother.
Reggie began playing piano when he
was four, and when he was 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, before leaving to
start a musical career.
In 1960, Reggie and some of his
friends, while still in school, formed a band called the Corvettes,
which became Bluesology, a more serious group. By the mid-1960s,
Bluesology was backing touring American soul and R&B musicians like
Major Lance, Doris Troy, and the
Bluebells. In 1966, two years after
Reggie 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,
Reggie left and started looking for other bands to join. After
failing lead vocalist auditions for both King Crimson and Gentle
Giant, Reggie answered an advertisement by Liberty Records. There he
was given a stack of lyrics by lyricist Bernie Taupin. Reggie then
wrote music for the lyrics, and got in touch with Bernie through the
mail. Thus began a partnership that continue to this day. When they
met six months later, Reggie had changed his name to Elton John, by
deed poll, in homage to Bluesology saxophonist
Elton Dean and Long John
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 summer 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
February 1971. 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,
the soundtrack to the obscure film Friends, and the album
Madman Across the Water, that same year. Madman Across the
Water reached the Top Ten, and produced the hit ďLevonĒ 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
produced the hit singles "Rocket Man" and "Honky Cat."
Honky Chateau was the first
in a series of American number one albums for Elton - 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 Ė
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). During
that period, Elton also had 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," "Donít Go
Breaking My Heart") and three that reached #2 ("Daniel," "Goodbye
Yellow Brick Road," "Donít Let the Sun Go Down on Me").
In 1973, Elton started his own
label, Rocket Records. That year, Elton released the pop album
Donít Shoot Me Iím 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 produced the hits "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and "Saturday
Night's Alright for Fighting."
In 1974, Elton engaged in a noted
collaboration with John Lennon, resulting in Elton covering "Lucy in
the Sky with Diamonds", Elton being featured on Lennon's "Whatever
Gets You Through the Night", and a surprise joint concert
performance of these two No. 1 hits along with the early Beatles
classic "I Saw Her Standing There". Elton also got Lennon to perform
at Madison Square Garden in what would his last public performance.
That year, he also became director of a professional soccer team,
the Watford Football Club, and released the albums Caribou
and Elton John Ė Greatest Hits.
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, 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, which caused 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.
1980s and on
His biggest 1980s hits included,
among others, "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues", "I'm
Still Standing", and a 1986 live recording of "Candle in the Wind"
which he recorded with the Melbourne
Symphony Orchestra. The song, which was a tribute to Marilyn
Monroe, was originally recorded in 1973 on his Goodbye Yellow
Brick Road album. In 1997, he updated the lyrics of "Candle in
the Wind" for a special version mourning the death of Diana,
Princess of Wales, and this became the fastest selling single of all
In 1992 he performed "Bohemian
Rhapsody" and "The Show Must Go On" with
Queen at the Freddie
Mercury Tribute concert, an AIDS charity event held at Wembley
In each of 30 consecutive years,
from 1970 through 1999, John appeared with at least one single on
the "Top 40" of Billboard magazine's pop record chart, the "Hot 100"
- a feat unmatched by any other recording artist.
In 2000, he recorded his One Night
Only album over a two-night concert recorded from Madison Square
Garden. His band included long-time members
Davey Johnstone and Nigel Olsson,
as well as the internationally renouned
John Jorgenson, Bob Birch,
John Mahon, and
Curt Bisquera. The concert also
featured duets with Mary J. Blige, Billy Joel, Ronan Keating,
Adams, Kiki Dee, and Anastacia.
In 2003, he reached number one in
the United Kingdom with a rerelease of the single "Are You Ready For
Love" which had been only a minor hit when first released in 1979.
In 2004, John expanded his musical theatre repertoire by composing
songs for the musical adaptation of Billy Elliot. Later in
December of that same year, John received the Kennedy Center Honor
for a lifetime of contribution to entertainment.
He continues to release new
material to commercial success, and tours extensively, despite being
fitted with a pacemaker. His face-to-face tours with fellow pianist
Billy Joel have been a fan favourite throughout the world since the
He has also done work both for and
in films. In 1971, he wrote original songs for the movie Friends.
In 1975, he appeared as the Pinball Wizard in the movie version of
the rock opera Tommy. Then, in 1994, he (along with Tim Rice)
wrote the songs for the Disney animated film The Lion King
(John and Rice subsequently won a Best Original Song Oscar for "Can
You Feel the Love Tonight"). Rice was reportedly stunned by the
rapidity with which John was able to set his words to music. 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).
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 Grammy awards for "Song of the Year"
and for "Best Pop Performance, by a Duo or Group".
John founded the
Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992
as a charity to fund programs 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.
Currently, John lives in the
Atlanta area, a fact that the city mentions freely in its
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, and the
results were unique for their time.
"Your Song", one of his earliest
and most popular hits, incorporates some features found in many of
It is in
Binary Form, with the verse repeated before the chorus begins.
accompaniment is prominent, though the song also features an
feature of John's style is the use of 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
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