Elton John - Biography

Elton JohnSir 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 Baldry.

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.

1970s 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 time.

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 Stadium, London.

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, Bryan 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 mid-1990s.

Film work

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).

Personal life

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 promotional materials.

Musical style

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 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.

  • Another 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 "Rocket Man".

Quotations

  • "I've always had a body-image problem. No self-esteem. And that will never leave me."

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