What is Cowboys International's most successful song

Together with longtime lyricist and friend Bernie Taupin, Elton John wrote a lot of unforgettable songs. Choosing the 25 best from this seems almost impossible. The ROLLING STONE editorial team took the risk and put together their personal Elton John playlist. Also included are the greatest hits, indestructible classics and the most beautiful pearls from the "Rocket Man" discography.

Editor's recommendation

25. "Little Jeannie" from "21 At 33" (1980)

After the unsuccessful disco experiment “Victim Of Love” (1979), an adequate hit was needed to restore the good reputation of the Elton John brand. The collaboration with Bernie Taupin was still on sabbatical, so Gary Osborne was hired again, who had also written lyrics for "A Single Man" (1978). "Little Jeannie" stuck to the formula of "Daniel" (1973) with a charming Fender Rhodes piano and became the fifth number 1 for John in the USA - also his biggest hit there since "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Kiki Dee. The successful return was celebrated on September 13, 1980 with a free concert in New York's Central Park, which was attended by almost half a million people. As an encore, Elton appeared in a Donald Duck costume.Ina Simone Mautz

24. "Tower Of Babel" from "Captain Fantastic ..." (1975)

"Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" was created by John and Taupin as a concept album to recapitulate the period between 1967 and 1970, a difficult and unsuccessful phase for the songwriting duo, in which they mainly watched the London music scene as onlookers and hoped for the big breakthrough. “Tower Of Babel” depicts the Swinging Sixties as a gloomy painting of morals, Taupin creates images of a decadent, completely uninhibited party culture: “Sodom meet Gomorrah, Cain meet Abel / Have a ball, y'all / See the letches crawl / With the call girls under the table. “John turns it into a swan song, a melancholy, at the same time angry glam-pop ballad about drug abuse, sexual debauchery and a generation indulging in hedonism. Max Gösche

23. "Ticking" by "Caribou" (1974)

You wouldn't have thought it possible that “Caribou” would have even greater intensity than that of “Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, but the seven and a half minute finale proved the opposite - and became one of the most disturbing songs in Oeuvre Elton John. The fictional story of a young man wreaking havoc in a bar was inspired by the University of Texas massacre. On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman shot and killed 17 people - from the university clock tower. The corresponding ticking of the title explores the phenomenon of the human time bomb in an oppressive, almost journalistic way. The reduced piano arrangement artistically reproduces Taupin's lyrics, the variations seem almost improvised at the same time. Ina Simone Mautz

22. "Take Me To The Pilot" by "Elton John" (1970)

The B-side of "Your Song" and on the live record "11-17-70", the document of the first American tour - a rare example of a steamy blues-gospel song in Elton's work. Nobody ever understood the song. Bernie Taupin nonchalantly remarked that guys like Baudelaire and Rimbaud threw things together because it sounds good. “Take Me To The Pilot” has to do with fraud, the idea of ​​danger, freedom from fear, a glass eye, stuff like that. Elton recalls that Bernie was reading a lot of science fiction novels back then. Strangely enough, the piece was published again on the B-side of “Nikita” in 1992, and at the celebration of “Elton 60” the song was performed with a dedicated children's choir, brass section and guitar solo.Arne Willander

21. "Mellow" from "Honky Château" (1972)

Outside an icy wind sweeps through the streets and the rain lashes against the windows, inside the lovers warm themselves - "wrecking the sheets real fine" -, for a few precious days and hours they seem immune to the onset of the brutal world that they are surrounds. It is the moment of pure bliss that many songwriters do not even dare to approach because it can appear damn banal so quickly and is not as easy to sing about as a cool flirtation or a painful breakup. The team John / Taupin not only finds the right words ("Heaven knows what you sent me, Lord / But God, this is a mellow time"), but also the right sound. An ode to joy that sighs contentedly to itself, crowned by a blissfully rumbling Hammond organ. Max Gösche

20. "Song for Guy" from "A Single Man" (1978)

For a short period of weariness, Elton acted as a withdrawn country nobleman. “A Single Man” is better as an idea than as a record, but the last track is one of the most played by Elton John without it being always associated with him. One Sunday, he says, he wrote a song about death on the piano - he saw his body from space. The next day he learned that his 17-year-old country aristocracy messenger boy Guy was killed in a motorcycle accident. The instrumental piece that Elton recorded with a Mellotron and a Roland drum computer (and bass, rattles and “wind chimes”) is a requiem. And sounds like it too. At the end the sentence "Life - isn’t everything" is repeated, otherworldly as if whispered by a ghost. A sublime kitsch.

Arne Willander

19. "Honky Cat" from "Honky Château" (1972)

One of John's excursions into the musical heart of the USA with borrowings from ragtime, New Orleans jazz and the honky tone reflected in the title. John and Taupin negotiate the rivalry between rural and urban realities of life, culminating in the mocking verses: "You better get back, honky cat / Living in the city ain't where it's at / It's like trying to find gold in a silver mine / It's like trying to drink whiskey, oh, from a bottle of wine. ”Last but not least,“ Honky Cat ”is a road trip in search of self-realization and change, paved with disappointments. What price do you pay? And what about the feeling of constantly having to assert yourself against the grudges of others? A pleasure as nostalgic as it is self-deprecating, in love with rhythm and drunk with winds.Max Gösche

18. "Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding" from "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (1973)

A trace of the Electric Light Orchestra blows through the eleven-minute opening suite of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. Elton John composed the instrumental piece "Funeral For A Friend" for his own funeral. It starts with the sounds of an analog ARP synthesizer played by sound engineer David Hentschel. This is followed by the bitter break-up song “Love Lies Bleeding”, which with its glam riffs sounds like a close relative of the later hit “The Bitch Is Back”. "Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding" appeared on a maxi single five years after the release of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and was later covered by two metal bands, among others: Dream Theater and Redemption. But we prefer to stick with the original.

Maik Brüggemeyer

17. "The Greatest Discovery" by "Elton John" (1970)

The young composer and arranger Paul Buckmaster, who shortly before had David Bowie's “Space Oddity” take off and was soon to work with the Rolling Stones and Miles Davis, conjured up the atmosphere of “Eleanor Rigby” with his splendid orchestral arrangement and soloed on the cello, Terry Cox from the folk jazz band Pentangle can be heard on the drums for a few bars. With this evocation of a childhood paradise and an intruder, Bernie Taupin wrote one of his most poetic texts ("Peering out of tiny eyes / The grubby hands that gripped the rail / Wiped the window clean of frost / As the morning air laid on the latch"), and Elton John sings softly and lost in dreams. It never sounded as very British as it did on this early treasure.Maik Brüggemeyer

16. "Candle In The Wind" from "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (1973)

Taupin wanted to write a song about how celebrities become icons through their death, he chose Marilyn Monroe, who died in 1962, as an example. And John sings of her grace with so much compassion that the price that the treadmill of success demands is palpable at all times. He doesn't want to join the dull admirers: “Goodbye Norma Jean / From the young man in the twenty-second row / Who sees you as something more than sexual / More than just our Marilyn Monroe.” Great pathos, no kitsch - different as "Goodbye England's Rose", the updated version after the death of Lady Diana in 1997. How Elton John looked up for help again and again during his lecture at the funeral service: That was so much more touching than the clichéd text.Birgit Fuss

15. "Blue Eyes" from "Jump Up!" (1982)

Soul producer Thom Bell (with whom the EP "The Thom Bell Sessions" was released in 1979) had recommended Elton in 1977 to sing a little deeper - which he only took to heart a few years later, for the first time in 1982 on "Jump Up!" The pre-release single "Blue Eyes" was promptly nominated for a Grammy in the category "Best Pop Vocal Performance - Male". While the piece follows harmoniously winding paths (you have to go from the verse in B flat major to the chorus in D minor!), The text, written by Gary Osborne, relies on simple, yet poignant poetry: “Baby's got blue eyes / Like a deep blue sea / On a blue, blue day. “The melody is irresistible anyway. Allegedly the song celebrates the legendary blue eyes of Paul Newman.Ina Simone Mautz

14. "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" by "Caribou" (1974)

“Caribou” is a strangely torn and therefore often a bit underestimated album. The highlight is next to the damn pretty "Pinky" the majestic ballad "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me". The choir includes Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston from the Beach Boys. In 1985 George Michael, then still with Wham, sang the song at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium, and Elton John played the piano. Six years later they sang the song together in the same place, and the recording of this duet was more successful than the original version from 1974. Since then, "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" has been covered many times - from Garth Brooks to Miley Cyrus. Most touchingly, however, reduced, bluesified and powerfully voiced by the formidable Bettye LaVette.Maik Brüggemeyer

13. "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That" from "Reg Strikes Back" (1988)

A song from the troubled period of the late 80s, when Elton wore muted and definitely oversized suits, polka dot shirts, narrow ties and conservative hats, while the young people in his videos looked like young people in the late 80s who went through "Miami Vice" and jeans ads. Not Elton John's world. He didn't want to go on like this. At the end of the somewhat clumsy, sleazy produced, only half angry sounding song - which could be a mediocre Billy Joel song! - he then hits the keys, a fantastic improvisation, he gets really angry, he defends himself. "Oh-woah-woah, oh yeah!" Could go on like this for another five minutes. The 1988 album was called Reg Strikes Back, but it was quite a failure.

Arne Willander

12. "Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters" from "Honky Château" (1972)

The first lines of the song refer to the “Spanish Harlem” that Phil Spector and Jerry Leiber once wrote for Ben E. King. It's about a red rose that grows out of the pavement in the moonlight in the New York neighborhood north of 110th Street (of course, a young woman is actually meant). Bernie Taupin's experiences with the metropolis did not quite fit this romantic picture, because he heard gunshots near his Manhattan hotel on his first visit and wrote: “Now I know / 'Spanish Harlem' are not just pretty words to say / I thought I knew / But now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City. ”Elton John found one of his most beautiful melodies and put all his melancholy into this demythification.Maik Brüggemeyer

11. "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" from "Blue Moves" (1976)

For once, John wrote several lines of text himself while he was working on the melody. Taupin added and polished - and finally decided the title. "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word": a simple love song, but at the time it also served Elton John as a personal apology. When he announced his (temporary) retirement from touring at Wembley Stadium in 1977, he then played this song. "It's a sad, sad situation / And it's getting more and more absurd" just fit too well - the hopelessness, the exhaustion of the lonely musician is to be heard in the piece. Despite the not exactly happy news one of the most covered John / Taupin hits - by people as diverse as Joe Cocker, the
Boyband Blue and Mary J. Blige.Birgit Fuss

10. "Daniel" from "Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player" (1973)

The opening song of "Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player" is a classic piano ballad in which Elton John lays a lot of longing and sadness. So much so that it sounded like a requiem for a beloved friend, but the lyricist had something completely different in mind: It was an article about a Vietnam veteran that inspired Bernie Taupin. It was supposed to be about how difficult it is to come home and reconnect with the life you had before the war, but unfortunately nobody understood it - "'Daniel' is definitely the most misinterpreted song we have ever written" Taupin later commented laconically. It was a hit anyway - or maybe because of it. In the US, only Paul McCartney's “My Love” kept “Daniel” from reaching the top of the chart. Birgit Fuss

9. "Levon" from "Madman Across The Water" (1971)

There has been much speculation about the meaning of this song, such as whether Levon Helm was the inspiration, as John and Taupin were great admirers of The Band. Ultimately, however, “Levon” is far less intended to take the corner from quotations, but once again illustrates a classic John theme: the family as the guardian of convention, caught in the narrow corset of religion and tradition. It is also the American story of the upstart from a poor family who has made it to fortune, but has forgotten the question of a happy life. John dedicates a heavenly piano intro and hymn vocal harmonies to him, meanwhile ominous strings pull up, arching over the idyll, which sounds more like a cry for help with every movement of the veranda swing.Max Gösche

8. "Bennie And The Jets" from "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (1973)

This artwork of delay is also a masterpiece of ridicule: Oh, Bennie and the Jets, weird and wonderful, Bennie's so keen, and Bennie's got electric boots and a mohair suit! I read in a magazine. B-B-B-Bennie, a stutter with excitement. Electric music, "a solid wall of sound". Dude, if you haven't got it now, you must be deluded! Elton uses the fathom-sized pauses for a few eccentric piano swabs that might sound like jazz to people who don't know jazz. The song is so good that 40 years later Lady Gaga made no effort to hide that her “Hey Girl”, which she sang so beautifully with Florence Welch, is nothing more than “Bennie And The Jets”. Not as good as Elton's song. But good. Arne Willander

7. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" from "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" (1975)

Of the many majestic ballads that Elton John wrote, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” is perhaps the most beautiful, also the darkest. You don't have to know the autobiographical subtext to be touched by it - the suicidal tone resonates in every note. Here someone threatens to suffocate between glamor, relationship and identity crisis.The salvation reveals itself in the form of a love that was no longer thought possible, a friendship even - and in the music itself. The song was so important to John that he refused to have it cut down to single format. To cut out the desperate interlude or the unctuous chanting at the end was out of the question. Nevertheless, the 6:45 minutes did brilliantly in the chart jungle. Max Gösche

6. "I'm Still Standing" from "Too Low For Zero" (1983)

The lively melody and Elton's defiant singing make it clear from the start: Hurray, I'm still alive! Better than ever, "looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid". Yeah, yeah, yeah “, the choir calls out in chorus. A classic endurance hymn from a man who is really a stand-up man. For Elton John, “I'm Still Standing” was his “reaction to the fact that I was still relevant and successful in the early eighties, even after punk and while the New Romantics were arriving”. He wanted to show it to everyone, and he did: In many countries the catchy tune became a top ten hit, in the USA it made it to number 12. When shooting the video in Cannes, John met Duran Duran and got drunk with martinis until he was almost unable to stand.Birgit Fuss

5. "Your Song" by "Elton John" (1970)

It is the love song among many fantastic love songs - about a man who only has this song, nothing else. Can't offer a big house, a lot of money, no alchemy. So his gift is “Your Song” - and the best part of the serious devotion is the little laugh in the line “If I was a sculptor, but then again, no”. In addition to modesty, honesty comes in the end if he cannot remember the color of the eyes of the loved one - but they are definitely the cutest eyes he has ever seen! Actually, we should reprimand the inattentiveness, but of course we forgive him. Allegedly Elton wrote the melody in ten minutes, Bernie Taupin wrote the text at John's mother's dining table. Was a good breakfast.Birgit Fuss

4. "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" from "Too Low For Zero" (1983)

"Hey Toni, this one’s from me to you - Love, Bernie" could be read in the credits of "Too Low For Zero". During the album sessions in the AIR Studios branch founded by Sir George Martin on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, Taupin longed for his then wife, Toni Russo, and wrote a song text like a letter to her (“time on my hands could be time spent with you "). At the same time, he gives clever advice on how to de-dramatize, not just himself ("don't look at it like it's forever"). "I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues" became one of the most successful hits for Elton John in the eighties and was also the big comeback single after the collaboration break. A very special guest can be heard playing the harmonica: Stevie Wonder.

Ina Simone Mautz

3. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road from "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (1973)

The yellow paved road is of course the way to the Wizard of Oz from the children's book by Lyman Frank Baum, which Victor Fleming filmed unforgettable in 1939 with Judy Garland in the role of Dorothy. For Bernie Taupin, this street represents false promises of fame. "Oh, I've finally decided my future lies / Beyond the yellow brick road," he wrote and, like so many in the early 1970s, conjured up the promise of a simple life in the country. Elton John and arranger Del Newman, who also conducted the orchestra on Paul McCartney's James Bond song "Live And Let Die", took this ode to soft rock heaven with Beatles harmonies. Of course it became a hit as the second single from the album of the same name.

Maik Brüggemeyer

2. "Rocket Man" - "Honky Château" (1972)

Bernie Taupin's love for brackets, here in the subtitle "(I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)", endangered the success of this rather unstoppable single. Taupin denied the inspiration from David Bowie's “Space Oddity”, which cannot be denied, but admitted that he had used the folk hippies Pearls Before Swine (1970) for the song “Rocket Man”.

🛒 Order “Honky Chateau (Remastered)” by Elton John on vinyl now

Elton used everything he had and everything perfectly: the melancholy, the melody, the indulgence, the diction. And all on his already best album, “Honky Château”. But he knew that, of course we didn't know that yet. “Rocket Man” almost became a number 1 hit in England, namely a number 2 hit. In the USA: sixth place. Germany remained fragile: 18th place. Arne Willander

1. "Tiny Dancer" from "Madman Across The Water" (1971)

"Madman Across The Water" (1971) was born out of a decidedly unromantic situation: The record company requested a new album, but with the exception of one piece that was left over from the sessions for "Tumbleweed Connection" (1970) and which became the title track, the supply of pieces was used up. A loose concept idea seemed to be the solution to provide for a new song. So Bernie Taupin wrote about impressions he had gathered in America (“across the water”).

The Elton John Band's first trip to Los Angeles in the fall of 1970 stuck in his memory - not least because of this very special kind of women he met there: extraordinarily free-spirited, independent and self-confident ladies who enjoyed being appearing in the orbit of musicians to turn their heads. In the lyrics to “Tiny Dancer” one of these graces creeps in as a band tailor - a very clever preliminary step to the hoped-for getting in touch! "Blue jean baby, LA lady, seamstress for the band / Pretty-eyed, pirate smile / You'll marry a music man." Fragile ("Ballerina / You must have seen her / Dancing in the sand") - to hear the first, gently pearling notes of the piano arrangement very clearly, in whose nursery rhyme a touching innocence resonates, but also this seductive lightness that emerges In the course of the 6:17 minutes of "Tiny Dancer" a real pull developed.

Editor's recommendation

Taupin had fallen in love with one of these fascinating women (the tailor Maxine Feibelman), he married her - with Elton as best man - in the year of publication of "Madman Across The Water", which will be opened by "Tiny Dancer". In the second part of the first verse, a country-style pedal steel guitar rings in half melancholy, half boldly the moment when the smiling “pirate” captures the heart of the “music man” (or the seamstress cuts the seam of his heart for one) to bring in new filling). Of course, he believes that he has everything under control: "And now she’s in me / Always with me / Tiny dancer in my hand." At the point in the song where they face each other - he on stage ("Piano man / He makes his stand in the auditorium"), she in the audience ("She sings the songs / The words she knows / The tune she hums “) - begins a sublime choir, and this is followed by the most gorgeous strings in Elton John's work, arranged by the great Paul Buckmaster.

In America, "Tiny Dancer" only made it to number 41 in the singles charts, in England the piece was not even decoupled. It only came to its well-deserved fame in 2000: as a musical highlight in Cameron Crowe's film "Almost Famous". Ina Simone Mautz

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