Elton John celebrated birthday number 65 yesterday so I thought I’d put up a list of my top five Elton songs ever, which considering the depth of that back catalogue could be tough. But then off the top of my head, I realised my absolute favourites have been pretty much set in stone for the last 10 years of serious Elton John listening.
I’d first really discovered the back catalogue through a five record set Reader’s Digest put out back in 1980 which I picked up second hand for about $15 when I was in my early 20s. That was the first time I heard songs like I’ve Seen That Movie Too and learned that Elton John and Bernie Taupin were capable of album tracks just as good as the hits. So here is my top five:
4: Sacrifice (Sleeping With The Past – 1989)
3: I Feel Like A Bullet In The Gun Of Robert Ford (Rock Of The Westies – 1975)
2: The One (The One – 1991)
1: Levon (Madman Across The Water – 1971)
I’ve always felt I’ve Seen That Movie Too and Robert Ford were songs to be regarded together with them both being long, beautifully orchestrated, melodious ballads with words that make you want to open up the record to find the lyric sheet. And vocally, 1970s Elton John was about as good as any male tenor in pop history and both these songs showcase his stunning upper-range.
While the voice dropped from tenor to baritone as the years went by, Sacrifice and The One both easily make the top five. Sacrifice was a mammoth hit that nearly wasn’t, having initially stalled at 55 in the UK charts before re-emerging several months later based on radio play and eventually hitting number one. Which means it could’ve stayed as one of dozens of Elton album tracks that weren’t hits, but luckily that wasn’t the case.
As for The One, this just might be Bernie Taupin’s finest lyric (and that is a massive call). A song about finding “the one” could be cheesy, but this is anything but, with lines like “For each man in his time is Cain, until he walks along the beach, and sees his future in the water, a long-lost heart within his reach.” As great a song about the redemptive powers of love as I’ve ever heard. Which is enough to make it my all time favourite and maybe next week it would be, but this week it’s Levon.
From the opening piano notes, to the first line of, “Levon wears his war-wound like a crown, and calls his child Jesus,” you know you are listening to a building story and one you don’t want to miss. Production-wise, more and more elements are added as the song progresses and again, that voice Elton had in the early 70s is astounding, particularly on the chorus. Sounding like pure Americana with it’s links to both gospel and country, the fact two young English lads just out of their teens could write stuff like this makes it all the more remarkable.