After over 40 years of astonishing, peerless success, it might seem odd to be discussing what Elton John has not accomplished, but as passionate fan I feel compelled to devote this edition of the popular Stargayzing feature to 15 songs that could have (and should have) found their place among Sir Elton’s 27 top-ten hits. Of course chart data is in many ways meaningless—but one frequently flawed or manipulated barometer to measure success—and, in the end, much less important than what stands the test of time and endures. But by any measure, Elton John’s contribution to pop music history places him in a truly elite group. For myself, most Stargayzing readers, and literally for millions of people around the world, Elton’s music has simply always been there like a treasured old friend; punctuating milestones in our lives and enriching our understanding of ourselves and the world we share.
Here is my list of 15 Elton John songs that I think are exceedingly under-appreciated. I know you’re bound to find some songs you already know but haven’t heard in a while and, I hope, discover something new among the hundreds of Elton John jewels I’ve curated. With such a prolific and profound discography, there is certainly enough for several more volumes devoted exclusively to Elton. So you tell me, what songs did I leave out?
The unprecedented success of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album in 1982 changed the paradigm for how record labels approached pop radio with potential hit singles. Prior to that watershed moment, even the most commercially successful LPs would spawn two or, very occasionally, three hit singles. Prior to the 1980s, albums were recorded more quickly and big artists were generally expected to release new work every year. Of course there were exceptions like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours—another game changer—which spawned hit singles and presaged the changes which Thriller would make the industry norm a few years later.
As a result of the accelerated album cycles in the 1970s, there were many songs which were most assuredly “hits” but were denied the opportunity because it would have delayed the release of the first single from the next album. “Harmony” is a persuasive case in point: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was—and still remains—Elton John’s most commercially successful album, having sold over 31 million units worldwide since its release in 1973. The album spawned three hit singles: “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting”) (U.S. #12, U.K. #7); “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (U.S. #2, U.K. #6); and “Bennie and the Jets” (U.S. #1, U.K. ). Apparently “Harmony” was considered as a fourth single, but would have disrupted the release pattern of John’s forthcoming release, 1974′s Caribou (whose first single, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” peaked at #2 in May of 1974). I suppose this is what you might call a wonderful problem to have. I love “Harmony” more than ever, maybe because the very thing it celebrates—harmony—has essentially been eviscerated in popular music; pushed over a cliff to its death by “the beat.”