Being 20: Spotlight on Elton John

Recent conversations in the previous thread about pop stars’ sins from the past (thanks for this link, GG!) reminded me that Elton John would make a fine candidate for my “Being 20” series.  While David has not specifically indicated Elton John as a direct influence on his music (or did he?), who will ever forget his cover of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” from his Final 2 showdown on American Idol?

So, what was Elton John up to when he was David’s age, before he laid down tracks in 1974 that David would slay 34 years later?  Why, he was signing to management, which hooked him up with songwriter Bernie Taupin, with whom he collaborated on over 30 albums.  Before that, Elton was breaking into music, having left school at 17 (um … sounds familiar?) to play piano at a local pub – with the encouragement of his dear old mum (again … sounds familiar?) – and formed a band with friends called Bluesology.  His band was doing back-up work to familiar R&B artists (the Isley Brothers and Patti LaBelle’s The LaBelles) and engaging in music sessions until Elton moved on to be his own front man.  Enter A&R management of Liberty Records and Bernie Taupin at age 20.

Together, they wrote their first song, “Scarecrow,” before they moved on, a year later, to DJM Records as staff songwriters, writing songs for other artists.  However, Elton produced his debut album Empty Sky in 1969, at the tender age of 22, and, in 1973, came out with his masterpiece album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which gave us songs like “Bennie and the Jets” and of course “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”  (Hmmm, something about a young man peaking at age 25 or 26 – both sexually and creatively. That’s all I will say about that! haha!)

Not that it’s all downhill from there.  Look how long Elton John has lasted!

I must say that Elton’s style as a “piano man” would work for David (consider him a more subdued Elton John), so here’s to patience and David’s potential to reach new levels with his talent.  His musical journey, like those before him, is really just beginning at age 20. 🙂

Posted on February 27, 2011, in Being 20 Series. Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. don’t think I have ever knew that EJ looked like when he was younger… wow. This is such a great series idea- to reflect on all the great ones and where they were in the early stages of their career.

  2. I have always considered Elton’s 11-17-70 (recorded Nov. 17, 1970) album as a model that I think work well for David. Just Elton, Dee Murray and Nigel Olsen in an A & R studio playing for a small studio audience. Being an A & R studio, the sound quality doesn’t suffer the usual “live” album syndromes. Even though it’s just a piano, bass and drums the performances are full, tight and my favorite way of listening to Elton. Plus he was in his early 20’s. Check out some Burn Down The Mission, to me it’s every bit as good as full orchestra, studio produced versions

    Burn Down Part 1

    Burn Down part 2

    • Had ato do a quick shutdown before I could explain that the reason David makes me think of this album is that David is a great live performer. He feeds off the audiance and I think signing songs straight through gives him a better connection to the music. And as 11/17/70 demonstrates, a full sound can be achieved without a lot of over production. Finally, Elton started this US tour with only Dee and Nigel because, that’s all he could afford to bring over at this time…but it worked out fine.

      • Thanks for all this extra info on Elton, and welcome to my blog, Skiffrower! 🙂

      • Thx, really great music, how ironic is it that when this was put on CD (1996) the producer made changes including adding sound effects? Love hearing what great musicians these guys were/are. Hadn’t realized that the ‘singing straight through’ is part of what’s missing (for me) on David’s CDs, blamed it all on over production.

        David live is part of his artistry, make a DVD of each concert he does, sell it immediately after, use the best of each performance for a release. I’d buy them all, each performance/audience/location is unique. A studio DVD with audience would be great also and solve the sound quality problem. Anything but recording one of his first meetings with the song in a booth with unlimited electronica added.

        Seldom say anything, not sure what David’s ear prefers, sure don’t know what other fans like and nobody knows what will sell. Great Elton clips-ty.

  3. Elton and Bernie, what a match! I like how they ended many of their songs w/catchy, repetitive lyrics and melodies that you can sing to (e.g., Rocket Man – “I think it’s gonna be a long, long time”). I’ve heard Elton say that he typically worked on melodies while Bernie wrote the lyrics. With David, I can’t figure out where his strength lies in the songwriting process.

    Re. Elton and Michael Jackson, I believe they both began to battle drug addiction soon after they peaked. Fortunately, Elton seems to have conquered his.

  4. Remember the guy who was “so not” going to see David at the Sacramento tree lighting? He just tweeted this:

    Last night was a blast. Heading to a friends house to hang with her new puppy….. I am filming an entire vid based on @DavidArchie 2moro 😛

    Also, from the previous thread, I agree w/Vermeer’s comment re. David OWNing his God given gift. He does appear to be moving in the direction he wants and that’s critical at this point in his career and in his life.

  5. Thank you desertrat! 🙂

    Interestingly, I read somewhere recently about Elton John dissing AI as Bette Midler had done also recently if I’m not mistaken. Their beef being people coming off of AI do not have to pay their dues the way they have and had to. If they had had the same opportunities back when they were starting out, it’d be hard to think they wouldn’t have jumped at them in the same way so many have including our David. I could be wrong but everybody is hungry for opportunities if your dream is to have a career in music. Though Bette M said she would have been too quirky to have been accepted. Not sure about that or even that she is all that quirky. I’m sorry if I got kinda OT!

    • Elton once served as a guest mentor on AI during Season 3, during which everyone blew Elton John Week, save for Jennifer Hudson, who tore up his “Circle of Life.” After she was prematurely voted off the show, Elton John publicly accused “America” of being “unbelievably racist.” So, to say that he has a “beef” with the show is an understatement. 🙂

      I think Elton is putting down shows like Idol because, even if, as a young dude, he tried out for a show like this, he probably thinks he wouldn’t have been “cookie cutter” enough to advance. And, whether Bette Midler is “quirky” or not, Simon would have already criticized her weight and wardrobe.

      These ’70s stars strived in an era when the culture wanted anything BUT cookie cutter, so I see why they would have issues with Idol.

      Unfortunately, “cookie cutter” is just a stereotype because David didn’t win, did he? And, to be honest, of the 9 winners Idol has spawned, other than Carrie Underwood, I wouldn’t exactly call them “cookie cutter” (not even Kelly Clarkson). So it boggles the mind that Idol is seen as churning out “cookie cutter” types when they rarely win.

      I will agree that Idol constantly LOOKS for cookie cutter stars, but “America” constantly undermines their efforts with their votes.

  6. I love these Being 20 spotlights. I had written a rant a while back and talked about a few artists and what they had done when they were 19 (this was when David was still 19). I’d love to see you include them in your spotlight series: Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Bob Dylan and yes, even the Beatles. The music critics just like to be negative and they don’t seem to understand “critique” doesn’t mean “find something bad to say” it means to “give a fair and even report” of something. Thanks for the spotlight articles!

  7. Thanks HG for this series. I am getting educated and revisiting some of the oldies.

    For some reason after hearing I Can’t Help It and those oh so smooth vocals, I have a craving for David’s lower range. Can’t understand that at all but now find I must go on this Youtube search for that.

    The wait for a tour (if there even is to be one) is a daily battle of inner dialogue consisting of “give him his space” and “waaah, I want more live performances”. 🙂 😦

  8. Understand the sentiment, Comolaflor! 🙂

    Bluebird, I was definitely thinking of those artists (save for John Mayer, who after his “white supremacist dick” statement, have zero interest in spotlighting him on my blog. I have a long memory.) Welcome to my blog! 😉

  9. I can understand celebs like Elton John critiquing the format of the show and the humiliation that contestants have been put through. However, to me it’s hypocritical to go after the contestants for seeking a quicker route to fame and fortune. Before AI, there was the Dick Clark machine w/his intersecting ties across American Bandstand, record labels, concert promoters and radio stations. Re. Elton, perhaps their seeking the same thing he was seeking (i.e., $$) when he played Sun City and more recently Rush Limbaugh’s wedding.

    • clarification & edit …

      Re. Elton, perhaps they’re (i.e., AI contestants) seeking the same thing he was seeking (i.e., $$) when he played Sun City and more recently Rush Limbaugh’s wedding.

      • Ouch, good point…and did he really play at Limbaugh’s wedding?!

      • therein lies the debate/struggle for all artists. When is t appropriate to make judgements for paid gigs? Does music/performance transcend? Do you look it some opportunutunies as going nto the wilderness to touch people and perhaps subtly change their perspective ( or be a positve influence- ie you gotto get dirty to make an impact?) Where is that line- since performers more these days are viewed or not viewed as role models. Tough business for them and I am sure many struggle with the lines.

      • “When is it appropriate to make judgments for paid gigs?”

        On a much smaller scale, there have been times when I’ve felt I compromised a core value or belief in the name of my paycheck. I don’t know what the answer is.

  10. meant to say they are “viewed” as role models be those good or bad- they probably have to make tough calls at times.

  11. In other news, TOSOD is #4 at Barnes & Noble, and #29 in vocal pop at Amazon. I don’t think that gifting campaign going on right now could account for all of it–maybe Melwitch ended up doing David a favor?

  12. Just wondering if HG saw this article:

    Nelly Furtado to Donate $1 Million from Gaddafi to Charity

    Monday February 28, 2011 05:50 PM ESTMariah Carey, Beyoncé Knowles and Usher are among the singers being pressured to give back money for performing for family members of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

    Nelly Furtado is the first to open her wallet.

    • Good for her! Of course, she has the benefit of not having her name called, so she can beat the press by returning $$ before her past caught up to her.

  13. It’s great seeing the positive news for TOSOD! 😀

    Good for Nelly F! I can hear Beyonce saying: “Aww shucks, now I have to give my $2 million to charity too.” 😉

  14. I think that Melinda might have done David a big favor. I think many people dislike jive. How interesting. Good for Nelly.

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