Elton John’s career has been colored by two distinct characters.
On the one hand, he’s a stratospheric pop idol, outrageous trendsetter, and world-touring artist. Elsewhere though, John likes to keep things firmly grounded in his humble singer/songwriter roots – the guy who idolized Levon Helm and Leon Russell.
While the latter way of thinking may not have resulted in record singles like “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” or “Rocket Man (I Think Its Gonna Be a Long, Long Time)”, his catalog less known is shocking. full of funky productions, unique lyrics and heartfelt ballads. Let’s take a look at 5 of these deep Elton John tracks below.
1. “I feel like a bullet (in Robert Ford’s gun)” (from rock of the westies)
Lyricist Bernie Taupin’s pastiche of the Wild, Wild West remains firmly intact in this lesser-known single from rock of the westies. The story follows Robert Ford, who murdered fellow outlaw Jessie James. John’s sweet melody and vocals perfectly capture the regret expressed in the lyrics: I’m as low as a hitman / You know I’m as cold as a mercenary. I’m so ashamed/We can’t fix this.
2. “Curtains” (From Captain Fantastic and the Cowboy from Brown Dirt)
Another song on Captain Fantastic‘We all fall in love sometimes’ is a clear ode to Taupin while its predecessor ‘Curtains’ expresses the same sentiment, albeit in a much more cryptic way.
There are references to earlier songs the duo wrote together, including their debut “Scarecrow,” but the title suggests the end of something. Maybe Elton and Bernie had come to terms with the fact that they were at the height of their fame in the 20th century, or that their partnership was in the fray. Either way, the song ends with a thunderous explosion of drums, bass, and guitar that brings the curtain down with a euphoric ending.
3. “I think I’m going to kill myself” (from Honky Castle)
Although the title might sound a little dark, this track is John’s most cheeky and fiery.
In a roundabout way, this Honky Castle the track captures the flippant detachment that can accompany ‘teenage blues’. With a hopping New Orleans-flavored piano and real tap dancing on the recording, it’s hard not to follow this number from left field.
4. “Elton’s Song” (From Fox)
John has thousands of songs, but only one is considered “Elton’s song”. This heartbreaking piano ballad features lyrics by punk rocker Tom Robinson, which describe an unrequited and unacknowledged love: They think I’m crazy, they say it’s not real / But I know how I feel.
The song was particularly notable for its music video without Elton, which instead followed a gay romance between a schoolboy and an older classmate. Bold for its time, the song and video are worthy of their lofty title and remain one of his best works to come from John’s time away from Taupin.
5. “Bad Side of the Moon” (Live at the Royal Festival Hall / Here and There’ Extended Reissue)
A leaner, meaner B-side to “Border Song,” infused with John’s gospel, this three-minute rarity really reached its potential when extended live, as captured on the ’90s double-disc version of his 70s Here and there Position.
By performing “Bad Side of the Moon” live, John gave it room to break down and rebuild again. Not only a showcase of John’s enduring talent, but guitarist David Johnstone also gets a starring performance on this rendition – which leaves it ripping like it’s rarely released in the studio.
Photo credit: Ed Caraeff / Iconic Images