Pride Month Spotlight: Elton John

Lisa Marino, Radio General Manager

[Eds Note: This article has been published in partnership with Spinnaker Radio to feature LGBTQ+ music artists and celebrate Pride Month.]

Bringing an end to his touring career, Elton John is currently headlining in Farewell Yellow Brick Road The Final Tour. In each show of the tour, John exudes his thanks to his fans in between performances of his hit songs including Rocket Man, Crocodile Rock, and Tiny Dancer.

Born in England, John showed a talent for music when he quickly learned how to play the piano. At 11 years old, he earned a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music and attended the school for five years.

After obtaining a songwriting job for Liberty Records, John met and started collaborating with Bernie Taupin in 1967. By 1970, the duo wrote songs that became hits in America including Your Song, from John’s first album Elton John, and Island Girl. While John wrote the melodies, Bernie was responsible for the lyrics of most of John’s songs.

Performing around America in the 1970s, John became one of the most popular acts in the country. He became notorious for dressing up in exotic costumes for his shows.

Elton John performs during his "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour
FILE – Elton John performs during his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in New Orleans. Despite being vaccinated and boosted, John has contracted COVID-19 and is postponing two farewell concert dates in Dallas. John “is experiencing only mild symptoms,” according to a statement. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle, File)

“I wasn’t a sex symbol like Bowie, Marc Bolan, or Freddie Mercury, so I dressed more on the humorous side, because if I was going to be stuck at the piano for two hours, I was going to make people look at me,” John said in an interview with W magazine, according to Biography.

Drawing inspiration from pop and R&B music, John released the album Blue Moves in 1976. The album includes the ballad, Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.

John became the first male pop star to publicily come out as gay in 1990. Society accepted his sexuality and John continued to be a musical luminary, according to Britannica.  

Released in 1994, John collaborated with Tim Rice in writing the music for The Lion King. He and Rice went on to win the Academy Award for “Best Original Song,” along with a Golden Globe award in 1995 for the song, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, from the film.

His partnership with Taupin led John to accumulate over 250 million worldwide record sales along with an abundance of Gold and Platinum albums. In 1992, the pair was named in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, according to Song Hall.

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, John contributed writing the music of films and musicals including Billy Elliot the Musical, which became a Broadway show in 2008. John also had a hand in the music composition and production of Gnomeo & Juliet, an animated film, released in 2011.

A film documentary of John’s life including his childhood, musical career, and drug addiction/recovery, was released in 2019, titled Rocketman. In 2020, John and Taupin won the Academy Award for “Best Original Song” for (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again, a single they wrote for the film.

Elton John performs during his "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour
FILE – Elton John performs during his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in New Orleans. Disney Original Documentary and Disney+ have landed the rights to the Elton John documentary “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: The Final Elton John Performances and the Years that Made his Legend,” the companies said Wednesday, May 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle, File)

Rocket Man is only one of many iconic songs by John, released in 1972.

Grand piano elegantly progresses through a sequence of minor and dominant chords for John to begin the first verse of Rocket Man.

Major harmony emerges just before John raises the vocal range of the melody, gliding to his falsetto. A bass guitar ornaments the chords and a hi-hat teases the soon-to-come drumset. A slow ascent in the bass guitar is followed by a descending arpeggiation to the dominant. The hi-hat emphasizes the downbeats.

A snare drum sets the chorus in motion along with the strums of multiple guitars. Background (BG) vocals richen the instrumental chord progression until they unite with John on the title lyric. A guitar glissando is emanated with a sliding ring until a roll of the dominant harmony prolongs the chorus. The repeating guitar glissando resolves itself with a descending slide into the second verse.

 John sings with only the grand piano and bass guitar again. Synth richens the texture of the chord progression. John persists with a belt in his higher register, singing the celestial hook of the song.

The succession of tonic to dominant harmony persists in the chorus with the supporting harmonious BG vocals. John’s vocal melody is doubled in the continuation of melodic sequence. The piano dances in a higher octave. John’s vocals reverberate, fading slowly.

Elton John’s music can be found on Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music.


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