By Lily Doolin
Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25th, 1947, Sir Elton John cemented his legacy as one of the best singer/songwriters on the planet in a time of sexual liberation and music revolution. From his evolution as a gay icon, to the impact his songwriting and lyricism influenced music history, John has become a staple of culture all over the world. The ’70s saw the uprising of some of music history’s most influential artists. However, very few bridge the generational gap as well as John does. Few know about the early days of his career and the instant rush of fame he expereinced. As the most successful solo male artist in the history of the American charts, the world’s favorite “Rocket Man” has enjoyed a career of unparalleled success. In honor of his farewell tour, we’re taking a look back at the highlights of Sir Elton’s incredible life as an artist.
“Liberty Wants Talent”
In 1967, a simple ad appeared in the New Musical Express, a popular British weekly. The ad called for aspiring artists, musicians, and songwriters, and was placed by Liberty Records. The call was answered by none other than Reginal Dwight—the soon-to-be Elton John—and his partner-in-crime Bernie Taupin. The two were united under Liberty Records, and from that point on, their lives were forever intertwined.
Later that same year, Elton John’s debut single, “I’ve Been Loving You,” was released. While the lyrics were originally credited to Taupin, John later admitted it was he who wrote the song. Regardless of who actually wrote the song, this single would be the jumpstart to a prolific partnership between the two.
The Song to Start it All
Though he released his debut album Empty Sky earlier in 1969, the album wouldn’t reach the states until 1975. Two years into his songwriting career, John wrote and recorded the song that would catapult him into the spotlight and bring him worldwide attention. In October of ’69, John and Taupin went into the recording studio. They came out having written the lyrics to “Your Song,” John’s first mega-hit.
The song received incredible airplay in both the US and the UK, putting John on the map. Many compared his upshot of success to that of The Beatles. Critics called his music “the first new thing” since the UK band came onto the scene. “Your Song” would go on to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Toward the end of the ’60s, it was clear that Taupin and John were at the tipping point of their career. Little did anyone know that these two powerhouses would combine for an explosive, “out-of-this-world” decade.
The ’70s: Liftoff
On a drive to visit his parents, Taupin suddenly came up with the opening lyrics to John’s next great hit, “Rocket Man.” In a bid to keep from forgetting the infamous lines, Taupin repeated, “She packed my bags last night, pre-flight/Zero hour, 9 a.m./and I’m gonna be high as a kite by then,” to himself throughout the entire drive. Once Taupin shared the lyrics with John, the two went on to craft “Rocket Man,” which has been named one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of all time.
It’s crazy to think that Honky Chateau, the album “Rocket Man” appeared on, was John’s fifth studio album of the ’70s. It was only 1972 when Chateau came out, and John already released several albums in ’70 and ’71 prior to the release of “Rocket Man”. Long story short, Sir John was cranking out classic after classic in the ’70s with Taupin by his side. Songs like “Tiny Dancer,” “Bennie and the Jets,” and “Candle in the Wind” also came out during this prolific decade.
The ’70s also marked the true creation of the persona of Elton John. Previously, he had just been known as a songwriter. Now, John was the one onstage—and he refused to be anything less than a standout. John sauntered onstage in high-heel boots, feathers, ornate jumpsuits, and a whole lot of glitter.
So. Much. Glitter.
Trailblazing: Elton as a Queer Icon
In 1976, John openly admitted to being bisexual, and later came out as gay. While the ’70s was riding the wave of free love from the ’60s, it was still rare for people—especially those of such social caliber—to speak freely about their sexuality.
John, however, felt a certain duty to speak out about his identity to normalize such conversation. He also wasn’t afraid of breaking gender norms and dressing in ways that shattered the image of what a male performer should look like. He embraced elements of drag into his costuming, and was vocal about advocating for AIDS research.
Though John’s sexuality is only one facet of his image as an artist, it’s an important part. He’s influenced culture in a way that normalizes discussions about sexuality, and supported other artists in telling their own truth through music.
In 1974, Elton John lent his vocals to John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.” The two struck a deal during the recording process: If the song topped the Billboard Charts, Lennon would join Elton on stage.
Lennon never thought the song would make it to #1. Boy, was he wrong.
When Lennon stepped onto the stage at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving Night, the air was electric. Two of the absolute greats had not only collaborated but now they were performing live together. This would end up being Lennon’s last ever concert appearance before his death.
John also collaborated with vocalist Kiki Dee in ’76 for the pop hit “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” The song was a dive into the genre of pop for John, breaking him out of the rock genre. John would also go on in 2010 to release an album with his idol Leon Russel. The two created the album The Union, which showcases the serious piano skills of these two legends.
John's list of collaborations also includes more recent artists such as Lady Gaga, Eminem, Fall Out Boy, and more.
While John's career catapulted in the '70s, he continued and continues to experience tremendous success. In the '80s, he remained at the top of the charts with hits like, "I'm Still Standing" and "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues."
In 1994, John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Just one year later, he received an Academy Award for the soundtrack of The Lion King. To cap off another wild decade, he was knighted by the Queen in 1998.
Even in the past decade, John continues to release and produce music. His most recent album, released in 2016, continues to reflect his wild, light-hearted spirit as an artist. While Sir Elton John may be hanging up his jumpsuit, he will still hold an important place in every music lover's heart. And who knows... perhaps this isn't the last we've seen of the Rocket Man.