John Lewis’ 2018 Christmas advert inspired me to review all of Elton’s 30 albums and list the 10 best ones including my reasons why.
Elton’s career began in the late 60’s. In the 70’s, he released an astounding 12 albums, 6 of which made it into my 10 Favourites list. In 1971, Elton John amazingly released 4 albums, 2 of which are so good they made it onto this list.
1. Elton John (self titled) – 1970
The album that produced ‘Your Song’ has many other gems on it, including ‘Sixty Years On’.
2. Tumbleweed Connection 1971
This album has an Americana feel, with possible the best ever ballad Elton and Bernie Taupin ever wrote, “Come down in time”, it’s unbelievable this song never become a hit.
3. Madman Across the Water – 1971
This record has many lesser known songs such as ‘Madman Across the Water’, ‘Tiny Dancer’, ‘Levon’ and ‘Indian Sunset’. Though Tiny Dancer has since become a well known EJ tune, this album was not noticed hugely at the time. It only became a legendary part of the early “folk styled” Elton John discography much after it’s release.
Niche music fans will love this album as much as ‘Tumbleweed Connection’. New listeners may not even immediately recognise the songs as Elton John’s, since the music from this early part of his career is often overlooked and has its own distinctive style.
4. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – 1973
Seen as the Masterpiece of his career, this 70 minute+ album from the heart of the 70’s starts with a long, large instrumental rock epic ‘Funeral for a friend – Love Lies Bleeding’. It’s Elton John’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ moment.
The record has lots of variation with massive hits such as ‘Candle in the Wind’, ‘Bennie and the Jets’, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ as well as some overlooked gems including ‘Harmony’ and ‘Grey Seal’.
It’s the album that keeps giving and, apparently, it was written and recorded in just one week.
5. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy – 1975
The huge influence of Bernie Taupin can be felt on this record.
The album has an autobiographical theme without being self indulgent. ‘Someone saved my life tonight’ is the track that defines the record.
Die hard Elton fans will often say this record and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, are the two major highlights of his career. They are certainly the highlights from his 70’s discography.
6. Blue Moves – 1976
Vastly underrated, this very unique album is certainly in his top 5 best. Elton himself considers this one his best ever album.
Released at the height of his 70’s career, this album had no commercial aims. It was produced as a long double record featuring a collection of long instrumental pieces such as ‘One Horse Town’ & ‘Out of the Blue’ and soaring orchestral ballads including ‘Tonight’. Other highlights include ‘Cage the songbird’ a tribute song about the late Edith Piaf; and the jazz oriented ‘Idol’ a song about the demise of Elvis. Many of the tunes combine glam rock elements with quite sombre lyrics.
Although it’s highly un-commercial in format and length, it’s a must for any true Elton fan.
In the early 80’s, Elton was in retreat, only writing occasional songs with Bernie Taupin. He also entered into some new songwriting partnerships with lyricists such as Gary Osbourne and Tim Rice.
Although Elton produced a very steady stream of hits during the 80’s, it seems to me that these are best enjoyed on a “Best of” album. The individual albums have many more disposable songs and have not made it onto my ’10 Favourites’ list for that reason.
The 80’s was a difficult decade for Elton John, as he was fighting his drug addictions. You can hear how this affected his prolific songwriting, and despite writing many great tracks during this period, he did not release many great albums. Only 2 made it into my list:
7. The Fox – 1981
The Fox was not a commercially successful album, but one that has aged well, despite it’s early 80’s, European sound. Tracks such as ‘Carla Etude’, ‘Chloe’ and ‘Nobody Wins’ are highlights and stand up with some of his more famous work.
It’s a niche record from a niche time in popular music history when many changes were taking place in the music world.
8. Sleeping with the Past – 1989
“Sleeping with the Past” was a comeback album heralding the quality and commercial success of his 70’s work, as well as entering a more contemporary adult pop genre.
This album is highly inspired and flows with many great tracks, “Sacrifice” was a huge success reaching number one on the UK charts, and other tracks such as “Blue Avenue”, “Healing Hands” and “Durban Deep” reflect diverse influences.
It’s also a return to the highly charged energetic songwriting partnership of Elton and Bernie, with the album being dedicated to Bernie Taupin.
9. Made in England – 1995
Compared to Elton’s outrageous performance costumes and elaborate album designs from the 70’s, this album has a more sophisticated, serious and minimalistic feel.
Consisting of many one word titles, the songs are some of the best of his modern era, although the album achieved limited commercial success. He also wrote and released the Lion King soundtrack in 1995, which may well have been a distraction for his many fans who overlooked ‘Made in England’.
Songs like ‘Believe’, ‘Belfast’, ‘Latitude’, which includes a great ‘Beatlesque’ horn arrangement by George Martin and ‘Blessed’ are fantastic highlights.
‘The One’ album released in 1992 came close to making it on this list.
In the first decade of the 2000’s, Elton released 3 studio albums. ‘Songs from the West Coast’, ‘Peachtree Road’ and ‘The Captain and the Kid’. These all sound very similar, like a trio of albums on the same theme.
10. Songs from the West Coast – 2001
‘Songs from the West Coast’ is the strongest out of the three in my opinion, in terms of it’s overall flow as an album. Radio tracks like ‘I Want Love’ and ‘Dark Diamonds’ prove that almost 40 years on, Elton is still relevant and producing great songs with Bernie Taupin.
His latest record ‘Wonderful Crazy Night’ was released in 2016. I wonder how many albums he has left?