List Headline Image
Updated by Christian Sellers on Jun 01, 2023
10 items   4 followers   1 votes   290 views

Top Ten Most Underrated Elton John Songs


When John entered the studio in April 1969 to record his third single It's Me That You Need, his debut album had yet to be released. The twenty-two-year-old had succeded in attracting the attention of Three Dog Night, a rock group from California who had included a cover of John's second single, Lady Samantha, on their album Suitable for Framing. Working once again with producer Steve Brown, It's Me That You Need was John's first release for the newly-formed DJM Records but failed to find an audience. It was later released on the 1992 compilation Rare Masters, along with the subsequent re-release of Empty Sky.


John had set the bar so high during the early 1970s with the masterpieces Honky Château and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road that eventually critics would find his later work underwhelming in comparison. 1974's Caribou had felt uninspired to some fans but his next offering, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, had once again captured the perfect balance between commercial appeal and artistic freedom. Life on the road and in the spotlight were starting to take their toll, and while its lead single Island Girl performed well in the charts, the album is often overlooked by fans in favour of his earlier output. Street Kids, the first track of side two, was the record's standout moment, infusing a Lynyrd Skynyrd-style country vibe with a memorable guitar solo from Davey Johnstone.


Four years had passed since The Captain and the Kid when John released The Union, an album recorded in collaboration with Leon Russell, an early influence on John. 'He said he’d been listening to some of my records, and he’d just started crying, 'cause I’d meant so much to him and hadn’t never done enough for me,' Russell told the Telegraph. 'I said, 'Well, you’ve been busy.’ He said, 'Not that busy. Would you like to make a record?’ So that was it.' Unanimously acclaimed and often hailed as John's finest work in decades, the album featured contributions from Neil Young and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, but the highlight was Jimmie Rodgers Dream, a laid-back country ballad written by John and Taupin with guitarist T Bone Burnett.


Bernie Taupin had served John well. Together over the course of a decade they had collaborated together on eleven studio albums, all but two of which had been certified Platinum in the United States. But for 1978's A Single Man, John composed an album for the first time in his career without the help of Taupin who, around that time, was working with Alice Cooper on his semi-autobiographical concept album From the Inside. His second release under Rocket, the label he had founded with Taupin and producer Gus Dudgeon, his new writing partner, A Single Man is perhaps most remembered for the mostly-instrumental tribute Song for Guy, but perhaps John's biggest mistake was not releasing the sing-a-long ballad Georgia as a single.


By 1975 John was one of the biggest stars in America, having climbed to the top of the Billboard charts with Crocodile Rock and Bennie and the Jets, and while it may have been tempting to revel in his superstar status, he instead decided to return to his roots with Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. The concept behind the album was his humble beginnings, charting the early years of John and Taupin's collaboration through their hustling on the local music scene to the release of his debut album Empty Sky. The record is perhaps most known for the haunting ballad Someone Saved My Life Tonight but its closing number, the beautiful Curtains, was later used by Australian duo Pnau as the basis for the track Sad, one of several dance tunes included on the 2012 album Good Morning to the Night.


John was on a creative roll after The Union and decided to follow up that successfully collaboration with a stripped-down album of ballads that were far-removed from the type of music he had been making a decade earlier. The Diving Board was hailed by many as a true return to form, but the first taster came in the form of 5th Avenue, a track released for free via Amazon. Eventually not included on the album, the song featured Taupin's most poignant lyrics in years: 'All my crimes come back to haunt me, every building seems to judge. Standing tall and looking down like fingers pointing from above.'


It would take two albums before the public began to take notice of Elton John, unfortunately resulting in his debut album Empty Sky being overlooked upon release. Incorporating a more psychedelic and less polished approach than his later offerings, the title track, which would open the album, remains an unsung classic. 'The title track rocks so hard,' John later admitted. 'The guitar sound is unlike anything I've heard since. We got it by putting Caleb Quaye out on the fire escape at the top of the stood with a microphone at the bottom to get that incredible echo. That was how things are done then - a wing and a prayer and a lot of invention.'


A little over thirty years after the success of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, John and Taupin decided to return to the story for a sequel-of-sorts, 2006's The Captain and the Kid. 'I've always thought that Captain Fantastic was probably my finest album because it wasn't commercial in any way,' he told filmmaker Cameron Crowe soon after the release of The Captain and the Kid, in which he explained that the new album was about 'coming to terms with success.' Despite relatively poor sales the album was an artistic achievement, including such memorable tunes as the nostalgic title track and I Must Have Lost It on the Wind, but the most tongue-in-cheek moment was And the House Fell Down. 'With a rolled up note I'm hovering on that line. Three days on a diet of cocaine and wine,' he sang in reference to the evils of fame.


John had struggled through drug addiction and disco during the early 1970s, only occasionally working with his former writing partner Bernie Taupin, but in 1983 the two finally teamed up once again for their most successful album in years. Having finally regained his focus, Too Low for Zero marked both John's critical and commercial comeback, spearheaded by the hit single I'm Still Standing. Among the tracks included on the album was Whipping Boy, a tongue-in-cheek song that explored his dominance at the hands of a younger person he describes as 'sly' and 'dirty.'


Often hailed as his crowning achievement, 1974's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was loaded with some of John's most memorable songs, from the classic ballad Candle in the Wind to the epic opening number Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding). Hidden among the seventeen tracks was This Song Has No Title, an upbeat two-and-a-half-minute piano track in which John croons 'If I was an artist who paints with his eyes. I'd study my subject and silently cry. Cry for the darkness to come down on me. For confusion to carry on turning the wheel.'