I remember talking to a friend about Elton John when I was at school. We liked Bob Dylan, David Bowie, The Who, and of course, Elton John. We were convinced that artists like Dylan were for the ages. But Elton John? “Do you think he will last?” I asked. “Of course” was the reply.
My friend was right. The reason for my doubts were ill-founded; the verbal mystique of Dylan seemed to touch the soul, whereas Elton John seemed to be all pop. If you were a serious progressive music fan there was a trace of guilt in enjoying Elton John and his gift for melody.
Time has shown such distinctions to be artificial. There is equal artistry in easy melody.
As for Elton John, his musical talent is amazing and merits the genius word. The rumour is that he worked quickly, writing melodies for Bernie Taupin’s lyrics in short sessions at the piano. Back in the seventies the music poured out of him:
Madman across the water
Don’t Shoot me I’m only the piano player
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Double)
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
Rock of the Westies
I find myself still listening to these albums. Elton is a great performer; he plays with extraordinary fluidity, he sings with passion, and Taupin’s lyrics are at times intense and bold, sometimes dark.
Although Yellow Brick Road is magnificent, the albums I play these days are more likely to be Madman or Honky Chateau. Songs like Madman Across the Water and Rocket Man that speak of outsiders who see the world in a different way resonate with me.
I enjoy many of his later albums too though he has never matched that early burst of creativity. His voice is not as strong as it was. He is one of the greats though and has nothing to prove now.