Elton John is without a doubt one of the most influential artists in the history of pop and rock music. Having landed his first number 1 single in 1970, the famous Your Song, the Rocket Man singer seems to be more popular than ever after landing his latest #1 hit in the shape of Cold Heart with Dua Lipa. Sir Elton is currently about to finish his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour in Europe to spend more time with his family. His final UK appearance will be a headline show at this year’s Glastonbury Festival.
Indie Is Not A Genre has taken the opportunity to give you 10 facts you didn’t know about Elton John.
1. Elton John is not his real name
Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in 1947, the rocket man crooner changed his name in the 1960s to something more showbizzy. The first name came from the sax player, Elton Dean, in his then band Bluesology while the surname was inspired by the band’s lead singer, Long John Baldry. The biopic Rocketman*, an autobiographical musical film about John’s life and career, tells a slightly different story. Here, we see him eying a picture of The Beatles while coming up with his stage name.
In 1972, he legally changed his name to Elton Hercules John. Hercules is also a song from the 1972 album Honkey Château*, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and is about a woman dating a “cat named Hercules”, a cat being a name for a cool guy in the 70s.
2. He does not write the lyrics
And you can tell everybodyElton John – Your Song
This is your song
It may be quite simple, but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind
That I put down in the words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world
Few people know that Elton John didn’t write any of those words. In fact, he’s been working with lyricist Bernie Taupin, who has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on May 3rd 2023, since 1967. The two of them were partnered up as songwriters after answering the same ad in the NME and have been working together, with minor breaks, ever since. Over the decades, the process has remained the same. Taupin would pen a bunch of lyrics and mail them to John who would then sit down and write the music.
In the late 1960s, John and Taupin lived with John’s mother and grandmother in Greater London. Taupin recalls that he wrote the lyrics to Your Song over breakfast and that there was some egg yolk stuck on the lyrics sheet when he handed it to Elton. This scene is also depicted in the biopic Rocketman.
3. He can write songs on the fly about anything
While not a great lyricist, Elton John is a musical genius. Give the man a lyrics and he will instantly turn it into a song. In fact, most of his songs were written in not much more than the actual length of the finished recordings. If you want a demonstration of that, here is a video from a talkshow aired in 1997, in which an audience member gives John a lyrics sheet to compose a melody to; the manual for an oven.
4. Cold Heart was his 2nd number one duet and 10th number one single
As of 2021, Elton John became the first solo artist with UK Top 10 singles across six decades (which beats Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley). His most recent one, Cold Heart, is a collaboration with Dua Lipa and Australian producer duo PNAU, who remixed parts of earlier singles Sacrifice (which is where the line cold, cold heart comes from), Rocket Man and the lesser known Where’s the Shura? from the album Blue Moves (1976). PNAU have previously re-worked a bunch of his classic tracks for the album Good Morning To The Night*.
By the way, John’s first number 1 duet was Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, a one off single he recorded with singer-songwriter Kiki Dee in 1976.
5. He was a “Bitch” before it was cool
Elton John is known for his temper. To this day, the man can throw a tantrum like no other. That’s what the 1974 single The Bitch Is Back is all about. The phrase itself came from Maxine Feibelman, then-wife of his lyricist Bernie Taupin, who would say it when John would be in one of his infamous moods. Unsurprisingly, some radio stations in the US refused to play the song due its use of the word “bitch”.
The song was also covered by Miley Cyrus in 2018 for the covers album Restoration: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
6. He sang about male suicide as early as the 1970s
The autobiographical 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy tells the story of Elton John’s, Captain Fantastic, rise to fame (the Brown Dirty Cowboy being his lyricist Bernie Taupin). The album’s only single, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, is about John’s (albeit half-hearted) suicide attempt in 1968, before his rise to stardom. Back then, he was engaged to a woman and faced with the prospect of giving up his musical career for marriage. It was his friend Long John Baldry, lead singer of the band Bluesology in which John played keyboard at the time, who convinced him to break off the engagement and come to terms with his sexuality (although he did not come out as gay publicly until the early 90s).
A scene about Taupin finding him in the kitchen with his head in the gas oven was filmed for and then deleted from the biopic Rocketman.
7. He has recorded 31 studio albums
Elton John has released 31 studio albums in the span of his career. His debut album, Empty Sky, was released in 1969 with moderate success. His breakthrough album was his 1970 self-titled record that spawned the breakout hit Your Song. His most recent studio album, The Lockdown Sessions, was released in 2021 and recorded over the covid pandemic with different artists, including Dua Lipa.
12 of those 31 albums were released in the 1970s. In the early 70s, he released as many as two albums per year, including 1972’s Honky Château (Rocket Man), as well as 1973’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player (Daniel) and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Candle in The Wind, Benny and The Jets), which many consider to be his master piece and inspired the name of his farewell tour.
8. The AIDS pandemic changed his life
By the end of the 80s, the Candle In The Wind hitmaker had hit rock bottom and had nearly succumbed to addiction. In his autobiography, “Me”*, as well as in his book “Love Is the Cure: On Life, Loss, and the End of AIDS”* Elton John details how his friendship with Ryan White, a young man who was infected with HIV by a blood transfusion and died in 1990, made him turn his life around. Following White’s death, he went into rehab and managed to kick his numerous habits (alcohol and cocaine being a few of them). After the death of Freddie Mercury, whom he was also close friends with, in 1991, John founded the Elton John Aids Foundation – a nonprofit organisation that supports HIV prevention, direct care and education programs.
9. Before marrying his husband, David Furnish, he had a wife
It’s safe to say that Sir Elton is a gay icon. However, that wasn’t always the case. While he did come out as bisexual in an interview with The Rolling Stones in 1976, he did not come out as gay until the early 1990s. Before marrying his husband David Furnish in 2014, he was briefly married to Renate Blauel, a German sound engineer working at his record company while he recorded the album Too Low For Zero which included the hit single I’m Still Standing. He and Blauel tied the knot on Valentine’s Day 1984 in Australia. The couple eventually divorced in 1988.
Many years ago, I chose Australia for my wedding to a wonderful woman for whom I have so much love and admiration. I wanted more than anything to be a good husband, but I denied who I really was, which caused my wife sadness, and caused me huge guilt and regret.Elton John (September 21st 2017, Instagram)
In 2020, Blauel sued John over parts of his autobiography as well as the movie Rocketman. Apparently, the two of them made a legal agreement not to discuss their marriage publicly when they got divorced in 1988. In the published version of the book, relevant passages have been removed.
10. He doesn’t own a Smartphone
Despite having a very active social media presence, John has said on numerous occasions that he doesn’t own a smartphone. He does, however, have an iPad which he uses to facetime with his sons, Zachary and Elijah as well as his husband, David Furnish, when he is away from home. With his touring days coming to an end, it seems like he won’t be needing it for much longer.