You don’t often stumble upon a musician that had such a huge impact on the 20th-century music like Elton John did. A total of 30 studio albums and over 120 singles between 1969 and today, all crowned with countless awards and nominations over the years, including Grammys, Brit Awards, and even Academy Awards – he is one of the most respected and influential artists in modern history. And, another great honor that should be mentioned in any talks about Elton John – he was knighted in 1998 by Queen Elizabeth II for his tireless charity work.
But one might ask a question: “What are the best Elton John songs?” Well, the list would be a hard one to come up with as he’s written some of the biggest hits in the last few decades or so. However, we did try to tackle this difficult task and bring you the top 15 songs by Sir Elton John.
Coming from his 1985 record “Ice on Fire”, the song “Nikita” is a reflection of the times when it was written. The lyrics tell a sad story of a protagonist who is not able to meet his crush named Nikita, who is a border guard in Eastern Germany.
What makes the song special is the fact that it features Nik Kershaw and none other than George Michael on the backing vocals.
I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
Just a couple of years before that one, John released “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”. Once again, the song features a legend taking a guest spot and this time it was Stevie Wonder playing the harmonica.
It’s a classic love song, telling a story of two lovers who are currently separated but are patiently waiting to be reunited once again. The album on which it was released, “Too Low for Zero”, saw Bernie Taupin coming back as the main writer of the lyrics, first time since 1976.
Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word
This next song is from the 1976 album “Blue Moves” and features a bit more of a depressing mood. The melancholic story of a failing relationship is complemented by Elton John’s great songwriting. In this particular tune, he used both harmonic and melodic minor elements to paint the whole picture.
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart
“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” saw John collaborating with Pauline Matthews, popularly known as Kiki Dee. Again written together with Taupin, the whole idea here was to have somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek take on the Motown songs of the era. Funnily enough, the song ended up being one of his best-known pieces.
Candle in the Wind
“Candle in the Wind” is of great importance to many, and it carries some weight with it. The song, released on “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album, is a tribute to the legendary actress Marilyn Monroe, celebrating her life.
The lyrics were reworked by Taupin in 1997 after the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Elton John then performed the song at her funeral on September 6 that year. Definitely one of John’s saddest songs.
I’m Still Standing
The lyrics are an essential part of all of John’s songs, and in “I’m Still Standing” they send a message of how an individual should remain strong even after the demise of a deep and long love relationship. But, of course, the lyrics would mean nothing without great music to go along with it, which this song certainly has. It became one of the most recognizable pieces from his discography.
This song not only goes back to 1972 when it was released but also honors the old school rock ‘n’ roll music that was a huge inspiration to Elton John and his work. It’s a simple and cheerful sounding tune that definitely takes inspiration from the early times of rock, wrapped up in the singer’s signature style.
Although a happy little song musically-wise, the lyrics are a bit depressing. Either way, an essential track for anyone who wants to get into Elton John’s music.
Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)
Back in the mid-1970s, Elton John performed live together with John Lennon over at the Madison Square Garden. But after the unfortunate events and the death of The Beatles legend in 1980, the Garden stands empty as the world has lost one of the most innovative musicians of modern times.
Just like “Candle in the Wind”, “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)” carries a stronger message compared to most of John’s songs as it serves to preserve John Lennon’s legacy.
We all felt the need for an escape, and “Levon” is about that. It features a peculiar story, showing how creative Taupin can get with his lyrics writing. The story is enhanced by a slightly more “epic” sounding songwriting and arrangement.
Bennie and the Jets
“Bennie and the Jets” is somewhat of a tribute to the glam rock movement that began emerging in the 1970s. The story here is “narrated” by a fan of the fictional band, fronted by a female singer Bennie. Taupin’s idea here was to have a strong sci-fi vibe of the song, something that David Bowie was famous for in the era.
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
Another track from John’s famous 1973 record “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” is a straight-up rock ‘n’ roll (some would even say hard rock) song, both lyrically and musically. Well, it does feature some amazing work by Davey Johnstone, the singer’s long-running guitar player.
Now, while the title seems like something out of a typical thrash metal band discography, “Sacrifice” is, in fact, a mellow low-tempo ballad from the very end of the 1980s. At the same time, it bears more maturity compared to some other of his love songs, telling a story of a long-lasting marriage falling apart. It’s often described as a “divorce song”.
Although the song’s performance was kind of disappointing when it first came out, “Sacrifice” eventually managed to top the charts in the UK in the summer of 1990.
Altnough not exactly doing well on the charts right after its release, “Tiny Dancer” eventually became one of Elton John’s biggest hits. It’s a bit of a longer song, lasting more than six minutes in total, and it doesn’t have a “hook” as some other catchier songs might have. It took time to win people’s hearts, but the song eventually went triple platinum decades after its release.
The lyrics were, once again, written by Taupin, who was inspired by his first ever visit to the United States in 1970. You can just imagine how different the US and the UK were back in those times. Definitely an interesting song both musically and lyrically.
“Tiny Dancer” had its video back in the day, but it finally got a proper one in 2017, which was done in honor of the 50th anniversary of Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s songwriting collaboration.
Now going way, way back, to the very beginning of the 1970s, “Your Song” was Elton John’s first single to make a breakthrough on the charts. Coming from his second, and self-titled, album, he originally wrote it for a band called Three Dog Night who he used to open for at live shows at the time.
Thankfully, John decided to record the song himself, and Three Dog Night were okay with it and didn’t release a single version of their own so they would let him get more attention. Elton John eventually grew bigger than them and this song was the first in the endless streak of success he had over the years.
As the early 1970s were the time of space exploration, it was only a logical thing to have a song or two of your own inspired by this new field humanity was getting into. The lyricist Bernie Taupin found inspiration in a story by Ray Bradbury, titled “The Rocket Man”.
Coming from his fourth album “Honky Château”, the full title of this song is “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)”. This combination of Taupin’s imaginative lyric writing and John’s amazing composing skills made it into one of the most important songs of the 20th century.
Knowing how big the song became, it’s no wonder that the 2019 Elton John biopic is titled “Rocketman”.
Listen to all of the songs on Spotify below: