Elton John’s first album entitled Empty Sky was released in 1969. It was the same year Led Zeppelin released their debut album Led Zeppelin. In 1969, Jim Hendrix blew away crowds at Woodstock, and the Vietnam War continued to divide a nation. Since Elton John’s debut album in that historic year, the singer-songwriter has continued to release albums on an almost yearly basis with few exceptions. During his 1970’s period, the artist released two albums a year due to his MCA Records contract. In between albums, Elton John released hit singles in similar Beatles fashion.
As of this updated writing in 2018. Elton John has released thirty studio albums. This does not count the three collaboration albums he has also released. In addition, Elton John has also released nine soundtrack albums. On the live front, Elton John has only released four official live albums despite his incredible track record of live performances. His record companies have released many compilation greatest hits cds over the years including the stand out To Be Continued…. box set released in 1990.
10 Best Elton John albums.
# 10 – Songs from the West Coast. (2001)
Songs From The West Coast was a return to the original Elton John sound. It was Elton’s best record in twenty years! I was sitting in a doctor’s office when I heard the Elton John song “Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes.” I was at first very confused when hearing the song because it sounded like old Elton John from the Tumbleweed Connection period. (A period that Elton John said recently on the Howard Stern show was heavily influenced by The Band.) I had pretty much heard every Elton John song from the nineteen seventies so it was odd to hear what appeared to be a vintage Elton John classic song. Needless to say, it was quite thrilling to discover that the song was brand new and just issued on Elton John’s new album Songs From the West Coast. I instantly went back into time and raced to the mall to buy the new Elton John album. It had been a while since I so eagerly anticipated listening to a new Elton John record. Elton’s records since the late 1970’s were still great albums but they simply did not come close to the quality of his nineteen seventies records.
In interviews at around the time Songs From the West Coast was released, Elton John had been quoted as saying the album Songs From The West Coast was the best album he had released in twenty years. In a 2001 VH1 interview with Rebecca Rankin, Elton John also said that he was tired of technology because it slowed down the creative process. Elton said it was time to go back to what he did best which was playing and writing on the piano. The album Songs From the West Coast defined Elton’s renewed vision and clearly was a welcome return by the artist for long time Elton John fans.
# 9 – Tumbleweed Connection. (October 1970)
Elton John’s third album Tumbleweed Connection was released on October 30th, 1970. While the album should not be defined as a country album, the musical structure inherent in the melodic lines, chord changes and lyrical content really sounds like what we now call Americana. The album featured a long roster of musicians including some well-known vocalist such as Dusty Springfield who sang backup vocals. On drums for the LP was Roger Pope who would eventually lose his drumming seat to Nigel Olsson. Nigel would continue to contribute backing vocals and the drum sound that would play a major role in the great Elton John band.
Also on board for Tumbleweed Connection was the debut of Dee Murry on bass guitar. The Bass guitar duties were also shared by Caleb Quaye. The original issue of the Tumbleweed Connection LP featured a deluxe multi-page booklet bound between a very sturdy hard cardboard cover. Songs such as “Country Comfort, Come Down in Time,” and “Amoreena,” were especially well written and performed. Those songs stand as some of the finest pieces of music Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote together in their early period. Sting did a standout cover of Elton John’s “Come Down In Time.”
Tumbleweed Connection was one of the only early Elton John albums that featured a song not written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Lesley Duncan’s “Love Song,” appeared as the second song on side two of the album. While the song was not released as a single from Tumbleweed Connection, it was later issued as single in a new live version from the 1976 LP Here and There. Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection stands as one of Elton’s most enjoyable recordings that is too often ignored because of the lack of a big hit single from the record.
# 8 – Blue Moves
Elton John’s album Blue Moves was released on October 22, 1976. It was the second double album that Elton John had released in his career. His first double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road had only been released three years earlier. The fact that both albums were two record sets was the only real commonality apparent between both records. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a huge commercial success that yielded multiple hit singles. While Blue Moves still sold respectively well, the album only yielded one top 40 single. But commercial success and hit singles are not the only certifications to gauge artistic merit.
Elton John’s album Blue Moves was a brilliant artistic leap in the craft of popular music songwriting, arranging and production. The album’s opening side which featured the songs “One Horse Town,” and “Tonight,” stands as one of Elton’s finest LP sides. The production on the song “One Horse Town,” presented Elton fans with one of the best sounding recordings Elton has ever produced. The orchestrated opening of the song “Tonight,” performed by the London Symphony Orchestra was simply mesmerizing and is one of the most beautiful pieces of music Elton has ever written.
The rest of the album featured some of Elton’s best unknown songs. Side two’s “Crazy Water,” and “Cage the Songbird,” are songs that need to be heard. Side four’s “Idol,” is simply stunning. The albums instrumentals, “Theme from a Non-Existent TV Series,” “Out of the Blue,” and “Your Starter for…” were sonic joys and a great deal of fun to listen to. The album also featured an array of guest artists that contributed to the album’s background vocals and instrumentation. The Brecker Brothers, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Toni Tennile, Bruce Johnstone, and David Sanborn were among some of the well-known musicians to appear on the Blue Moves LP. Many critics panned the Blue Moves LP as a commercial failure that was inconsistent. I always pretty much laugh at critics that write negative reviews as if they could write anything close to the quality of music or lyrics that Elton John and Bernie Taupin have written. Blue Moves is a spectacular highlight among the many great albums Elton John has recorded. If you only know of “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” I highly recommend that you take a deep listen to the rest of the album.
Editor’s note: Check out our very interesting interview with Kenny Passarelli who was the bass player in the Elton John Band on the Blue Moves album.
# 7 – Honky Chateau (May 1972)
Elton John’s most important transitional album was released in 1972. The album was entitled Honky Château and was Elton’s fifth official album release. The album was both a critical and commercial success. The record yielded two major hits on the U.S and U.K pop charts. “Rocket Man,” was the album’s first single. The song “Rocket Man,” hit No. 6 on the U.S Billboard top forty charts. The second single from the album entitled “Honky Cat,” hit No. 8 on the U.S. Billboard charts. Songs like “Rocket Man,”( stop selling your songs for commercials Elton! Rauketeen) and “Honky Cat,” were written and produced in a much more pop oriented fashion than John’s previous work which had been more soft rock oriented. It marked the beginning of a huge succession of hit singles in a very short time period that has never been matched by any other single songwriter artist in history.
We have had singers like Elvis Presley and songwriters like Burt Bacharach who had long runs of singles, but no one with the exception of Paul McCartney has matched the number of hit songs released by a single singer-songwriter combination artist like Elton John. Elton’s Honky Château album marked the beginning of a glorious time period in pop music history. Thank You Elton and Bernie.
# 6 – Elton John 11-17-70 (March 1971)
Well if there ever was an Elton John album that left no doubt over its release date it was Elton John’s 11-17-70 record. However, all kidding aside, the album showed the world just how great a rock and roll piano player Elton John was. The album featured Elton John on piano, Dee Murry on bass, and Nigel Olson on drums. No other instrumentation was utilized on the album. The entire record was performed live in front of a studio audience. Well to quote Jerry Lee Lewis, the album 11-17-70 was “all killer, no filler.” Elton John, Dee Murray, and Nigel Olsson just lit it up that evening. If you ever have the need to inspire a young pianist, bassist, or drummer to practice, let them hear this record. BAM !
# 5 – Caribou. (June 1974)
The Caribou LP was the follow-up record to Elton John’s monster album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Elton John’s Caribou album was released on June 28 1974. The album contained two of Elton John’s biggest hits, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” and “The Bitch is Back.” However, the album also contained some of Elton John’s deepest album cuts. Songs like “Ticking,” “I’ve Seen the Saucers,” and “You’re So Static,” remain among some of Elton’s most loved songs by hardcore Elton John fans. The Caribou album was sandwiched between the two greatest Elton John albums Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Captain Fantastic, so it’s possible that at times the album can a be a bit overlooked in the overall perspective of the great Elton John years of the early to mid-1970s. Nonetheless, every Elton John album presented a slightly different sound from the previous work. The presence of the Tower of Power horn section on the album gave the Caribou LP a distinctively grittier and funkier feel than other Elton John albums. Songs like “The Bitch is Back,” and “You’re So Static,” benefited greatly from the mighty sounds of the Tower of Power.
It’s still hard to believe that only six month after Elton had released Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the artists was still able to turn out another album of incredible well written and original sounding pop songs. What’s even more astonishing is the LP he released just another six months later after Caribou was released. And in between records in true Beatles fashion, he had hit singles with songs such as “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Pinball Wizard,” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which were all non-album tracks. Simply amazing!
# 4 – Madman Across the Water. ( November 1971)
Two of the best Elton John songs were released on the Madman across the Water LP. Elton’s “Levon,” and “Tiny Dancer,” opened the great Madman across the Water LP, and easily stand as two of the singer’s most loved songs. The rest of the LP featured a more darker presentation of lyrical ideas through songs like” Indian Sunset,” that defined the Native American experience of the nineteenth century. “And the red sun sinks at last into the hills of gold, and peace to this young warrior comes from a bullet hole.” The album’s darker feel was even more fully expressed within the lyrics of the title track, “There’s a joke and I know it very well, it’s one of those that I told you long ago.” Take my word I’m a madman, don’t you know.”
Even the album cover with its lack of any imagery except the title pressed against a blue denim back drop exposed the coldness of the record. Nonetheless, the songs delivered powerful imagery through the immense combination of Bernie’s lyrics, and Elton’s melodies and chord changes. For many Elton fans, Madman across the Water stands as their favorite LP. It was a work of depth that delivered songs bound to stories of the past while attempting to bridge their meaning into the present. For some, that could be a maddening experience.
# 3 – Don’t Shoot Me I’m only the Piano Player. (January 1973)
Elton John’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player arrived in stores on January 23rd 1973 with a very impressive album packaging. Inside the gatefold cover was an immense multi-page booklet containing large very colorful photographs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. The pull out booklet also contained the lyrics and credits to the album’s musical selections. It was the third time an Elton John album had contained a large deluxe booklet, Both Tumbleweed Connection and Madman across the Water featured large booklets inside their gatefold covers. These booklets were only included in early pressings of the LPs and eventually were discontinued from the vinyl albums.
As beautiful and impressive was the packaging of Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, the music featured on the LP was even more outstanding. It was unbelievable the amount of songs Elton and Bernie had been composing and recording of such high quality at such an alarming rate. Just after releasing songs like “Rocket Man,” and “Honky Cat”, a mere six months later the LP Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player presented Elton fans with more soon to be classic songs such as “Daniel, Crocodile Rock, Teacher I need You, Elderberry Wine and Midnight Creeper.” These were amazing pieces of music that would define the entire careers of many artist. For Elton and Bernie, these songs simply defined just an average six month period of a 40 plus year career.
Elton’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, was a huge album that hit No. 1 on the Billboard top 200 album charts. The first single “Crocodile Rock,” also hit No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 pop songs charts. The second single from the album, Daniel, hit No. 2 on the Billboard Top 100 pop songs charts. And just as it seemed Elton John and Bernie Taupin were sitting on the top of the musical world with nowhere else to go, just six months later they released an even more epic album entitled Goodbye Yellow Brick Road that can easily be viewed as one of the greatest pop rock records ever made.
# 2 – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (October 1973)
Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s epic work Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was released on October 5th 1973. The album was a two record set that contained seventeen songs. The album hit No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 Album charts. The record also hit No.1 on the U.K Album Charts. Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road also finished the year in 1974 as the No. 1 album for the year on the Billboard Top 200 Album Charts. In 2014 the album was certified 8x platinum. It is easily the biggest selling album of Elton John’s career. It spawned four hit singles, “Bennie and the Jets, Candle in the Wind, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” and it would have continued to yield singles if it was not for the release of a new Elton John album entitled Caribou which was released six months after Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was released.
The album’s opening track “Funeral for a Friend/ Love Lies Bleeding,” was a progressive rock pop masterpiece that has become the classic opening number at Elton John shows over the course of the artist’s career. The second and third tracks entitled “Bennie and the Jets,” and “Candle in the Wind,” on the opening side became huge hit singles off the album. The reworked version of “Candle in the Wind,” that was rewritten in tribute to Princess Diana has become Elton John’s biggest selling single to date. Side two opened with what this writer believes is Elton greatest songs, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” Yellow Brick Road was followed by classic well written and performed Elton John deep album tracks like “This Song Has No Title,” and “I’ve seen that Movie Too.” Side two also contained “Grey Seal,” which was one of the most loved Elton John songs that was never released as a single. “Grey Seal,” was one of the most popular songs from the album that was played on FM rock radio.
The third side of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road also featured another FM radio staple called the “Ballad of Danny Bailey.” And while “Danny Bailey,” was one of the highlights of the third side, the side also features an acid sounding heavy rock tune called “All the Girls Love Alice,” which fit perfectly as the follow up to side three’s funk inspired song “Dirty Girl.”
The album’s closing side hosted the mega hit “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” which has always stood as one of Elton’s heaviest rock pop hits of his career. The song was constantly played on both AM and FM radio and probably was the favorite song off the album for most Elton fans at the time. It was a simply stunning and glorious rock and roll track that had one of the greatest opening guitar riffs ever written in popular music history. Closing the album was Elton beautiful ballad Harmony which had been poised to be released as the fifth single before time ran out as a new album was released. “Harmony,” had been a huge fan favorite and was picked as the No. 1 song of all time on New York’s radio station 99x in 1975.
Most Elton John fans would choose Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as their favorite Elton John album. It was easily Elton’s most successful record. The songs released on the album have stood the test of time as they are still constantly played on the radio. I have always compared Elton’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to the Beatles’ Revolver and Rubber Soul records. For many Beatles fans, Revolver and Rubber Soul were their favorite Beatles records. John Lennon had always said that Revolver and Rubber Soul were recorded at the same time and really count as one large artistic moment in time for The Beatles. The two records delivered so many hits for the Beatles in similar fashion to Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. However, as great a pair of records that Revolver and Rubber Soul were, The Beatles then went an released Sgt. Pepper, which has been analyzed by so many as the Beatles greatest album, and possibly the greatest record ever made.
And so only a year later after Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Caribou had been released, Elton John and Bernie Taupin delivered an album that has been viewed by many hardcore Elton John fans as Elton’s greatest album. As Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was Elton’s Revolver and Rubber Soul, his next album Captain Fantastic, would be Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Sgt. Pepper.
# 1 – Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. (Released: May 1975)
Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Captain Fantastic was their crowning moment and greatest musical achievement. I reviewed this album in-depth in a separate article. For a complete review of the Captain Fantastic album please click on the highlighted Captain Fantastic review link just below.
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Updated Nov 26, 2020
Elton John article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2020
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