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(Credit: Alamy)


Listen to Elton John's isolated vocals on 'Tiny Dancer'

Elton John wasn’t a singer, at least he wasn’t at first. The young Reginald Dwight was famously a piano prodigy who traded in his classical compositions for blues and R&B throughout the 1960s. Mainly working as a touring and sessions player, John had no need to sing when on stage.

When he first hooked up with lyricist Bernie Taupin, John now had another preoccupation: songwriting. Sat at his piano with a stack of Taupin’s lyrics, John would write chords, arrangements, and vocal melodies for other artists. By this point, his only real singing experience came from singing in the school choir. But when his record company, Dick James Music, offered him the opportunity to record his own album, John suddenly had to find his voice.

What he stumbled upon was a surprisingly versatile tenor. Capable of singing ballads, pop songs, and hard rock tunes, John was eclectic and confident enough in his voice to explore multiple genres. He was a piano man through and through, but soon his voice would become equally as iconic as his dexterous piano skills and his flamboyant stage garb.

Before those outrageous outfits, John and Taupin cooked up ‘Tiny Dancer’ for 1971’s Madman Across the Water. It was the latest in a string of ballads that the two writers found hits with, including ‘Your Song’ and ‘Levon’ immediately prior and ‘Rocket Man’ immediately afterwards. ‘Tiny Dancer’ was more lengthy and dense than any of those tracks, requiring John to vocalise for nearly six minutes straight in order to do Taupin’s tale justice.

The arrangement of the vocals on ‘Tiny Dancer’ is deceptively simple. For the first two verses, it’s just John singing into a live mic. Apart from some room echo, there doesn’t appear to be anything treating his melodies. When it comes time to burst into the song’s anthemic chorus, John’s voice gets double-tracked without making them an exact reproduction of each other. The slightly out-of-phase vocals are what really makes the chorus of ‘Tiny Dancer’ sound absolutely huge.

The only thing that this particular video doesn’t show off is the impressive backing harmonies sung by John’s band. This was still a time when drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray weren’t allowed to record full albums with John. John still insisted that his bandmates contribute intricate backing vocals, and here they’re backed up by an assortment of talent that also includes singer Tony Burrows, songwriter Roger Cook, and vocal duo Sue and Sunny.

Check out John’s isolated vocals for ‘Tiny Dancer’ down below.