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Music

Elton John's 10 favourite songs of all time

Elton John is an absolute icon. A singer, pianist, showman and composer, he’s penned some of the most emotionally arresting songs of all time and starting at the dawn of the 1970s, he cultivated a trademark style that many have tried and failed to replicate.

John possesses a booming vocal technique that is remarkable for a somewhat diminutive man and has created a sound that has inspired many. Commonly hailed as ‘The Rocket Man’ after his 1972 megahit of the same name, he has led a consistently successful career, releasing a total of 31 studio albums since 1969, a clear indicator of his skill. 

Famously, John has collaborated with the lyricist Bernie Taupin since 1967 and rightly, Taupin is credited with being the man who truly gave Elton John the artistic leg up he needed, matching his music with some celestial lyrical pieces that immersed listeners in a glitter embellished dreamworld. Understandably, John’s best work came during the ’70s, and the effects of his work then we still see ubiquitous in music, TV and film.  

Raised in London, John learnt the piano at a young age, and by 1962, he formed and played in Bluesology, the legendary blues band he cut his teeth in until 1967. That same year he met Taupin when they both answered an advert for songwriters. Things moved fast, and in 1969, he released his debut opus Empty Sky, bolstered by the work of his new partner.

In 1970, John made the colossal decision to form the Elton John Band, and they released their first hit single, ‘Your Song’, that year, which remains one of the most enduring ballads of all time, traversing different generations and cultures. He released a string of successful albums in the ’70s, which included 1972’s Honkey Châteu and 1975’s Rock of the Westies. Then, over the 1980s and ’90s, he carried on on his stratospheric run and has been a regular feature in the media ever since, lending his support to numerous charitable causes. 

Given that he is so well respected, fans have long been intrigued by the music that Elton John loves, as it’s clearly an eclectic mix when you note just how colourful and varied his extensive back catalogue is.

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Well, luckily for us, on October 10th 2019, he appeared on the BBC Radio 2 programme Tracks Of My Years, and the list he provided was nothing short of stellar. Picking his ten favourite songs of all time, he name-checked some of the greats.

Unsurprisingly, his first choice was ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ by Elvis Presley. Of Elvis’ 1956 classic, he said: “This record changed my life, and it changed the face of music. Up till then, we’ve had Guy Mitchell, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Kay Starr and all those lovely American acts.”

On the discovery of Elvis, John explained: “And this record my mum brought home, she bought a record every week, and she said, ‘I heard this record in the record store and I’ve never heard anything like it, so I had to buy it’. She put it on, it was a 78″, of course, it was on HMV, and it changed my life and propelled me into my love of rock ‘n’ roll… it changed the world socially and musically”.

Another timeless classic Elton John picked was The Beatles effort ‘We Can Work It Out’. Discussing his selection, the singer recalled: “I remember being at school, at Pinner County Grammar School, and my friend Michael Johnson came with a 45″ and said, ‘I’ve just heard this band, they’re going to be the biggest band in the world’, and it was ‘Love Me Do’. I listened to it, and I thought, ‘it’s not bad, it’s not bad’, but I couldn’t see that they were going to be the biggest band in the world… he turned out to be right. I think he was number four in that fan club, so he spotted them a mile off.”

Detailing further, he described: “And, of course, what the ’50s did with rock ‘n’ roll… The Beatles, were extraordinary. They revolutionised the way things were recorded, even though it was on quite simple equipment, they experimented, and they wrote fantastic songs. ‘We Can Work It Out’ is such a wonderful song.”

One of the other standouts that John picked was ‘The Weight’ by Canadian-American heroes The Band and when discussing the track, he said: “John Peel played the Music from Big Pink on his show, and I was a religious follower of John Peel in those days. He played all the great new music, and Bernie and I freaked out when we heard it. We’d never heard anything like this before. It was Americana done in a very soulful, funky, kind of laid back way.”

John remembered the transformative effect ‘The Weight’ had on him, explaining: “(The) next day we went up to Music Land in London and bought the import, and it changed my life again, like Elvis Presley changed my life originally. This music changed my life because of the way the songs were written, the lyrics, the musicianship, was a huge influence on things like Tumbleweed Connection and Madman.” 

Elton John’s 10 favourite songs:

  • Elvis Presley – ‘Heartbreak Hotel’
  • Jerry Lee Lewis – ‘Great Balls of Fire’
  • Little Richard – ‘Lucille’
  • The Beatles – ‘We Can Work It Out’
  • The Four Tops – ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’
  • Leon Russell – ‘A Song For You’
  • Aretha Franklin – ‘Think’
  • The Band – ‘The Weight’
  • John Lennon – ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’
  • Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush – ‘Don’t Give Up’

A brilliant insight into the inner workings of one of the most important songwriters of all time, check out the full list below and prepare to be blown away by the quality of the playlist.