With piano rock legend Elton John launching a farewell tour that boasts an October stop in Grand Rapids — and SpeakEZ hosting an Elton John tribute show to close out August — we showcase 20 underplayed EJ gems.
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Elton John’s catalog of music rivals any artist in the rock era.
He’s released 30 albums (not counting soundtracks and collaborations) and 150 singles, selling more than 300 million albums worldwide.
Next month, he kicks off a much-ballyhooed farewell tour that will include a sold-out Oct. 15 stop at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena.
And on Wednesday night (Aug. 29), Grand Rapids’ SpeakEZ Lounge hosts its first-ever Elton John Tribute Night starring singer Chris Andrus and keyboard whiz Steve Talaga, part of the Local Spins Wednesday series. (The music starts at 8 p.m.; get more details here.)
To commemorate all this Elton hoopla, I’ve rounded up a Top 20 playlist of lesser-known EJ album tracks that deserve attention – especially if you’ve never explored his discography outside of those well-known hit singles. (Many of them also serve as a tribute of sorts to longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin.) You’ll hear a few of these at tonight’s Elton John tribute show, along with many of those popular chart-toppers.
I’ve chosen a few live videos to accompany some of these tracks; listen to the entire playlist on Spotify below.
THE LOCAL SPINS ELTON JOHN PLAYLIST: ALBUM TRACKS
1. “All The Girls Love Alice,” from “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973) – Elton’s best hard rock tune, bar none, with a killer guitar riff, too.
2. “Talking Old Soldiers,” from “Tumbleweed Connection” (1970) – Incredible piano composition paired with touching Bernie Taupin lyrics. For those who like Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” this is 10 times better.
3. “Have Mercy on the Criminal,” from “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” (1972) – A dark gem and one of many Elton tunes pairing his piano genius with Davey Johnstone’s guitar prowess.
4. “I’ve Seen That Movie Too,” from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973) – Another masterful piano piece and see No. 3 above.
5. “Hey Ahab,” from “The Union” with Leon Russell (2010) – Of course, everyone knew when Elton paired up with one of his piano heroes, musical sparks would fly.
6. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” from “Honky Chateau” (1971) – There are some songs that just stick with you forever, painting images in your brain that never disappear. This is one of those songs.
7. “Ticking,” from “Caribou” (1974) – This piano-driven ballad about a shooter affected me the first time I heard it and the message/imagery are even more relevant today.
8. “(Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket,” from “Capt. Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy” (1975) – This autobiographical tale from an autobiographical album just plain rocks.
9. “Madman Across the Water” from “Madman Across the Water” (1971) – Epic, great songs like “All the Nasties” and “Razorface” could have popped up here, too, but the title track from an album that really showed off Paul Buckmaster’s orchestral and choral touches is a true, dynamic masterpiece.
10. “The Wasteland” from “Songs from the West Coast” (2002) – A gritty piano romp.
11. “Chasing the Crown” from “21 at 33” (1980) – A catchy, uptempo track that led off an underrated album which signaled yet another new chapter in Elton’s various musical personalities.
12. “Elderberry Wine” from “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” (1972) – Every time I hear this rabble-rousing ditty, it makes me smile.
13. “Ego,” from “A Single Man” (1978) – Ok, technically, I guess, this robust song was actually released as a single, but few people remember it. Except me. A rapid-fire keyboard jaunt.
14. “Harmony,” from “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973) – So many songs from this iconic double-album could have ended on this list, but it’s hard to ignore this record-ending pop morsel at a time when Elton’s voice was peaking.
15. “Ballad of a Well-Known Gun,” from “Tumbleweed Connection” (1970) – Pretty much every track on this album holds up almost a half-century later, but the piano intro on this song alone is worth Top 20 placement.
16. “Sixty Years On” from “Elton John” (1970) – The impact that classical music had on much of Elton’s early work, especially “Elton John,” cannot be understated. And this is a gorgeous, poignant example. This take on getting old was written by Bernie and Elton when they were in their early 20s. Elton’s now 71.
17. “Grey Seal” from “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973) – See No. 14 above. This song was actually written earlier in Elton’s career, but this version on GYBR is a keeper.
18. “Heart in the Right Place” from “The Fox” (1981) – Elton gets splendidly bluesy on this standout track.
19. “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” from “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973) – Yup, I’ve requested that this classic gets played at my funeral. I remember excitedly taking the first of two records from that double-album out of the sleeve to play it for the first time; this haunting, opening track literally gave me goosebumps. Same goes for the first time I heard Elton play it live in concert.
20. “Goodbye” from “Madman Across the Water (1971) – What else to close out this list but an incredibly well-written, short and touching ballad with exquisite lyrics by Bernie and brilliant vocals/music by Elton to match?
ELTON JOHN PLAYLIST: LOCAL SPINS’ DEEP CUTS ON SPOTIFY
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