FEATURE: Bernie’s Jets, a Tiny Dancer and the Mona Lisa’s Smile: The Five Essential Elton John Albums




Bernie’s Jets, a Tiny Dancer and the Mona Lisa’s Smile


IN THIS PHOTO: Elton John (circa 1970)/PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images  

The Five Essential Elton John Albums


I have yet to see the Elton John fantasy musical, Rocketman

 IN THIS PHOTO: Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin and Taron Egerton as Elton John in a publicity shot for the Elton John fantasy musical, Rocketman/PHOTO CREDIT: New Republic Pictures/Marv Films/Rocket Pictures

but those who I know who have seen it report the same thing: it is breathtaking and well worth seeing! I am a fan of John’s music and had some reservations regarding the concept of the film and how it would be approached. It seems that lead Taron Egerton has tackled playing the iconic musician with aplomb and nuance – one expects a few awards to go his way pretty soon! In any case, it has made me think of all the classic Elton John albums that have been part of our/our parents’ lives for many years. Many people just rattle off the hits but we forget what an incredible artist Elton John is and how many great records have been put out there. Make sure you snap up as many Elton John records as you can and marvel at the man’s genius. I have been considering his best albums and, whilst it is unfair to limit them, I have selected what I think are his finest five. If you are an Elton John fan or someone approaching his music for the first time, here are the albums that need to…


 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

BE in your vinyl collection.



 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Release Date: 5th October, 1973

Producer: Gus Dugeon

Labels: MCA (U.S.)/DJM (U.K.)

Standout Cuts: Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding; Candle in the Wind; Bernie and the Jets


This was truly the debut of Elton John the entertainer, the pro who knows how to satisfy every segment of his audience, and this eagerness to please means the record is giddy but also overwhelming, a rush of too much muchness. Still, taken a side at a time, or even a song a time, it is a thing of wonder, serving up such perfectly sculpted pop songs as "Grey Seal," full-bore rockers as "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" and "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock & Roll)," cinematic ballads like "I've Seen That Movie Too," throwbacks to the dusty conceptual sweep of Tumbleweed Connection in the form of "The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-34)," and preposterous glam novelties, like "Jamaica Jerk-Off." This touched on everything John did before, and suggested ways he'd move in the near-future, and that sprawl is always messy but usually delightful, a testament to Elton's '70s power as a star and a musician” – AllMusic

Buy: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Goodbye-Yellow-Brick-Road-Elton/dp/B00I480SGG/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3QIRGRJ79ZCSF&keywords=elton+john+goodbye+yellow+brick+road&qid=1558803376&s=music&sprefix=elton+john+goodbye%2Cpopular%2C157&sr=1-1

Key Cut: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

Release Date: 19th May, 1975

Producer: Gus Dugeon

Labels: MCA (U.S.)/DJM (U.K.)

Standout Cuts: Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy; Tower of Babel; We All Fall in Love Sometimes


The narrative guides us through the rise to fame of Captain Fantastic (John, obviously) and his pen-bothering, Western-fixated sidekick as they fight to pay the rent in London in the late 60s. Taupin focuses on reality here and, while hugely narcissistic, draws his most acute, affecting creations. John, for his part, knocked out the music while on a cruise, but his chords are at their most intimate and moving, particularly on the closing double-whammy of We All Fall in Love Sometimes and Curtains. They echo the portentous mood of Someone Saved My Life Tonight, which reveals how Long John Baldry talked Elton out of an ill-advised engagement to Linda Woodrow (who is spared no acrimony by Taupin, in astonishingly vicious couplets), and touches on John’s 1969 suicide attempt.

There are sparkling pop songs here too – Bitter Fingers, Better Off Dead, the sugar-coated country of Writing. But the overriding feeling one takes from the colourful, theatrical, Captain Fantastic is that this is the big artistic statement that Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was touted as. It’s extraordinary that a pop star then on top of the world found the wherewithal to carve out such candour. And it’s ironic that the John-Taupin pair then descended into blandness and self-parody for years. They revisited these themes with a kind of sequel in 2006’s The Captain and the Kid, but by then they’d long since lost it on the wind” – BBC

Buy: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Goodbye-Yellow-Brick-Road-Elton/dp/B00I480SGG/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3QIRGRJ79ZCSF&keywords=elton+john+goodbye+yellow+brick+road&qid=1558803376&s=music&sprefix=elton+john+goodbye%2Cpopular%2C157&sr=1-1

Key Cut: Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Madman Across the Water

Release Date: 5th November, 1971

Producer: Gus Dugeon

Labels: Uni/DJM

Standout Cuts: Levon; Madman Across the Water; Indian Sunset


Trading the cinematic aspirations of Tumbleweed Connection for a tentative stab at prog rock, Elton John and Bernie Taupin delivered another excellent collection of songs with Madman Across the Water. Like its two predecessors, Madman Across the Water is driven by the sweeping string arrangements of Paul Buckmaster, who gives the songs here a richly dark and haunting edge. And these are songs that benefit from grandiose treatments. With most songs clocking in around five minutes, the record feels like a major work, and in many ways it is. While it's not as adventurous as Tumbleweed Connection, the overall quality of the record is very high, particularly on character sketches "Levon" and "Razor Face," as well as the melodramatic "Tiny Dancer" and the paranoid title track. Madman Across the Water begins to fall apart toward the end, but the record remains an ambitious and rewarding work, and John never attained its darkly introspective atmosphere again” – AllMusic

Buy: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Madman-Across-Water-Elton-John/dp/B000001EGC/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2AYN2F11S46JE&keywords=madman+across+the+water&qid=1558803933&s=music&sprefix=madman+across+%2Cpopular%2C140&sr=1-1

Key Cut: Tiny Dancer

Honky Château

Release Date: 19th May, 1972

Producer: Gus Dugeon

Labels: Uni/DJM

Standout Cuts: Honky Cat; I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself; Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters


Let's not forget "I Think I'm Gonna Kill Myself," a surprisingly happy song with a great bass melody. Self mocking at times, this humorous song is another stand-out on the album, with some great slower melodies. I've always considered "Mellow" to be the worst song on the album, but that's not saying that much as that is still a pretty good song. I just don't like some of the key changes, but the chorus is great, and the regular verse parts are slower, just what you would expect from the title.

"Salvation" is one of my favorites, a moving gospel piece with great vocals. The instrumentations work just right, and the little bass riffs really add a nice touch. "Slave" is a country/ folk piece, and it has a nice, moving chorus. The bongos are a great touch, and Elton uses falsetto at just the right places. It may be a bit boring to some, but not to me. There are some nice guitar riffs too, this song is mostly guitar.

"Susie (Dramas)" is a nice, upbeat rocker with a very catchy chorus. The guitar riffs is are awesome, the only bad thing is that the song isn't exactly memorable. "Amy" is another fast rocker with a great groove to it. It does suffer the same thing as "Susie," it's not exactly memorable, but it is a great song. The most memorable part (in my opinion) is near the end, and it only appears twice.

"Hercules" is an acoustic guitar-inflicted boogie song, and it has the same upbeat feeling as you get on so many other songs on this album, and this one is polished perfectly. It also has some great doo-wop and Beach Boy back-up vocals. A very memorable and great way to end a great album” – Sputnik Music

Buy: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Honky-Chateau-Elton-John/dp/B000001EGE/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2CTI6O4BZWIET&keywords=honky+chateau&qid=1558804405&s=music&sprefix=honky+chat%2Cpopular%2C148&sr=1-1-catcorr

Key Cut: Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time)

Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player

Release Date: October 1972

Producer: Gus Dugeon

Labels: Uni/DJM

Standout Cuts: Daniel; Elderberry Wine; Have Mercy on the Criminal


Don’t Shoot Me has its share of swipes, too—the album’s second cut, "Teacher I Need You," features an unexpected Phil Spectoresque vocal bed under the chorus, and of course the perennial wedding favorite "Crocodile Rock" is an homage to every throwaway dance platter that ever spun. There’s muscle here, too, in the Stax-flavored horn arrangements from "Midnight Creeper" and "Elderberry Wine."

The album is anchored by two of John’s most underrated ballads. "Blues for Baby and Me" is a story of two young lovers hitting the road to the west, one of them of course looking back with (here it comes) nostalgia for the trip. Paul Buckmaster’s string arrangement swirls and twists around the melody.

Don’t Shoot Me closes with "High Flying Bird," which John would later claim echoed Van Morrison’s sound. Stately and elegiac, the song brings a record full of stylistic gyrations and aching for the past to an appropriate close” – Ultimate Classic Rock

Buy: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dont-Shoot-Only-Piano-Player/dp/B000001EG2/ref=sr_1_2?crid=33VLONH3SV8M8&keywords=dont+shoot+me+im+only+the+piano+player&qid=1558805893&s=music&sprefix=don%27t+shoot+%2Cpopular%2C153&sr=1-2-catcorr

Key Cut: Crocodile Rock