Leon Russell’s early work as a session musician would morph into a career as a songwriter and recording artist. In the 1960s, Leon Russell was responsible for penning the Gary Lewis and the Playboys hits “Everybody Loves a Clown,” and “She’s Just My Style.” In 1968, Leon Russell released his first album entitled Look Inside the Asylum Choir. It was a collaborative effort with Marc Benno. For the next two years in 1969 and 1979, Leon Russell became a member of the group Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. It was a group that would help Leon Russell forge relationships with some of rock and roll’s most important artists including The Beatles’ George Harrison.
In 1970, Leon Russell released his first solo album entitled Leon Russell. The album would contain the two songs “Delta Lady,” and “A Song For You,” that would become two of the most covered songs in classic rock history. While Leon Russell had already established himself as a sought after pianist, he had now graduated to the status of a brilliant songwriter and an artist to be reckoned with. Elton John stated that Leon Russell had been his biggest influence as a pianist, singer and songwriter.
Starting with his 1970 solo album Leon Russell until his final studio album released in 2017 On A Distant Shore, Leon Russell released over fifty albums including live records and compilations. That is not including the countless albums Leon Russell appeared on as a studio musician or guest artist.
Our Top 10 Leon Russell songs is just a very small attempt to highlight 10 of the most important songs Leon Russell released during his spectacular career. We hope that listening to these great Leon Russell songs will inspire you to check out the rest of Leon Russell’s catalog if you are unfamiliar with his work.
# 10 – The Ballad Of Mad Dogs & Englishmen
We wanted to open this top 10 Leon Russell songs list with a big one. While most classic rock fans associate the title “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” with Joe Cocker, it was indeed Leon Russell that penned this classic song. “The Ballad Of Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” was released on Leon Russell’s second solo album entitled Leon Russell and the Shelter People. The album was released in 1971.
# 9 – On A Distant Shore
When Leon Russell sings “bad news is knocking at my door,” it’s a little tough to listen to knowing that he would pass away soon from his health problems. The beautiful song “On A Distant Shore,” was released on Leon Russell’s final album entitled On A Distant Shore. The album was released in 2017 a year after Leon Russell had passed away. It’s a beautiful album that defines the brilliance of Leon Russell one last time.
# 8 – Love Is A Battlefield
While this might not have been one of the most popular Leon Russell albums ever released, there were still many great tracks on the record that showcased the soulful blues musician that fueled so much of Leon Russell’s playing. The album entitled Face In The Crowd was released in 1999. All the songs on the record were written by Leon Russell with the exception of two tracks co-written with bassist Jackie Wessel.
The album’s opening track “Love is a Battlefield,” is a tear it up blues number bathed in Leon Russell’s Tulsa sound. It’s one of our favorite Leon Russell vocals of all time. And no, its has nothing to do with Pat Benatar’s hit “Love is a Battlefield.” Two completely different songs.
# 7 – Anything Can Happen
Continuing our Top 10 Leon Russell songs list we turn to the great Anything Can Happen album. The album was released in 1992. The album was a collaboration between Leon Russell and Bruce Hornsby. Most of the songs on the album were co-written between Leon Russell and Bruce Hornsby. Edgar Winter also appears on the record.
The album’s great opening track and title track “Anything Can Happen,” is a fantastic song that features Bruce Hornsby on piano and Leon Russell on guitar and vocals.
# 6 – Hummingbird
While the previous three Leon Russell songs on this list may not have been the most familiar Leon Russell songs, the next six are all classics including the great track featured here entitled “Hummingbird.” The song “Hummingbird,” was released on Leon Russell’s 1970 album Leon Russell. The album featured an all-star cast of guest musicians performing on the album. Classic artists such as Mick Jagger,George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Charlie Watts, and Joe Cocker all appeared on the album.
# 5 – Tightrope
How could you not love the great groove in this classic Leon Russell song? The spectacular song “Tightrope,” was released on the Carney album. The album was issued in 1972. Every song on the album was written by Leon Russell. “Tightrope,” was the album’s opening track. The song “Tightrope,” was released as a single. The song was a commercial success. Leon Russell’s “Tightrope,” reached the number 11 position on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972.
# 4 – Delta Lady
The last four Leon Russell songs on this list were not only classic Leon Russell songs, they were also four of his most popular covered songs. Once again we go back to his 1970 album Leon Russell for the great track “Delta Lady.” This classic song was covered by a wide variety of artists over a 40-year period. The song was first recorded in 1969 by Joe Cocker. That version was released before Leon Russell released his own version on his 1970 album Leon Russell. Over the years, “Delta Lady” has been covered by artists such as David Cassidy, Bobbie Gentry, Mickey Thomas, Pat Travers, and Gary Puckett.
# 3 – Lady Blue
“Lady Blue,” has to be one of the all-time great titles in classic rock history. You almost know it’s going to be a great song just by the title before you even hear a note. “Lady Blue,” was released on Leon Russell’s album entitled Will O’ the Wisp. The song was written by Leon Russell. The album was released in 1975. “Lady Blue,” was a top 20 hit for Leon Russell. The song peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975. George Benson also did a great cover version of the song.
# 2 – A Song For You
If you ever wondered where Elton John found inspiration for the music he composed to “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” look no further than Leon Russell’s classic recording “A Song For You.” This incredible piece of music that Leon Russell composed and released on his debut album in 1970 became the artist’s signature song. It also became his most covered composition.
“A Song For You.” was not just covered by many artists, it was covered by some of the most legendary artists in classic rock history. Leon Russell’s “A Song For You.” was covered by the legendary Aretha Franklin, Cher, Donna Summer, Carpenters, Natalie Cole, Peggy Lee, Donna Hathaway, Neil Diamond, The Temptations and Ray Charles. Those are just some of the big time artists that covered the classic “A Song For You.” There are so many more cover versions too numerous to mention here in this article.
It should be noted that some of these artists released albums utilizing “A Song For You.” as the album title. Both The Temptations and the Carpenters released albums titled A Song For You. Furthermore, legendary Ray Charles won a Grammy award for his cover version of “A Song For You.” The classic “A Song For You,” was released on Leon Russell’s 1970 album Leon Russell. It is by far his most famous song. However, there is one more song that we believe was the most beautiful and brilliant song that Leon Russell had ever written.
# 1 – This Masquerade
Most Classic Rock Fans music fans, in general, know this song from the great George Benson cover version. George Benson had a monster hit with the song “This Masquerade.” It was one of the biggest hits of his career. George Bensonn’s version hit number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976. However, Helen Reddy also recorded a beautiful version of “This Masquerade,” on her 1972 album I Am Woman. Once again, The Carpenters also recorded a wonderful version of Leon Russell’s song.
When so many artists cover a song, it speaks volumes of the substance of the song itself. When a song is so brilliantly written the artist covering the song basically just has to not screw it up. When brilliant artists like George Benson cover a great song like “This Masquerade,” you usually wind up with a top 10 hit.
It’s fascinating that the song “This Masquerade,” was never even released as a single by Leon Russell. In fact, the song was originally released as the B-side to the hit “Tightrope,” in 1972. Benson’s version was such a big hit in the 1970s, most people don’t realize it was Leon Russell who wrote the song. In the end for us, there was no question about it. Leon Russell’s song “This Masquerade,” stands as our choice for the number one position on our top 10 Leon Russell songs list.
Top 10 Leon Russell Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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