It’s time to put the spotlight on one of the biggest stars that popular music has ever seen. Since the 1960’s, Elton John has released hit after hit, and cemented his position as a global legend!
After growing up in a council house with his grandparents, John won himself a scholarship to the junior department of the Royal Academy of Music in London. Despite this enormous achievement, he says that he resented attending the school, and would sometimes spend the day riding the underground instead (his parents weren’t aware, of course!).
After Elton expressed that he’d like a career in music, his dad had tried to nudge him towards a more “stable” career choice, banking being his number one suggestion! It’s safe to say that John didn’t listen, and after spending many a night playing in his local pub, John formed a band called Bluesology in 1962. They were quite the success, doing supporting tours with big names like The Isley Brothers and Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles.
Soon after, John met a guy called Bernie Taupin, a poet and lyricist who had gone for a job that John had too! This sparked a collaboration which ended up spanning many decades. Taupin has written lyrics for John’s songs since 1967 and has collaborated on more than 30 albums. That’s what we call a match made in heaven!
Elton John’s debut album came in 1969 with Empty Sky, and we quickly got a second album in 1970 called Elton John. The first single from Elton John happened to be “Your Song” which was an absolute hit and became his first top 10 single in both the UK and the US.
And it’s since then that John’s career has gone from strength to strength, winning him no less than 5 Grammy Awards, 5 Brits (including one for Outstanding Contribution to Music!), 2 Academy Awards and 2 Golden Globes, amongst so many more. He has also sold over 30 million records, thus making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Oh, and he’s been knighted, of course!
And it’s for this reason and many more that we had to include Sir Elton John on the Rockschool Piano syllabus.
RSL and Elton!
In Grade 1, we’ve got one of Elton’s most popular releases, “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”. He was commissioned to write this one for the release of the 1994 musical version of The Lion King. The song was released a few weeks before the production began, as a marketing tool to encourage people to come and see the show, and it worked! When playing this simple, romantic ballad, be sure to keep a firm tempo, not taking it too fast or too slow. The sentiment of the song must be honoured and so this is hugely important! It might help to have a solid quarter-note pulse in your head all the way through this one.
We’ve also included an Elton John number in Grade 4 with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. Taken from his seventh studio album of the same name, this song was an immediate chart success, and is still regarded as some of John’s best and most recognisable work. It’s really important when learning this piece to have a good listen to the original song. As the piano version is without Taupin’s lyrics, we still want to make sure we capture that same magic in the instrumental version, which is no mean feat! Making sure the melody sings out over the accompaniment will help with this, as will emphasising the wonderful ups and downs in the dynamics. Also, be sure to familiarise yourself with both F major and Ab major scales so not to botch the beautiful key change!
And since it’s Pride Month, we can’t finish without talking about Elton John’s enormous achievements when it comes to representing the LGBTQ+ community. John announced he was bisexual back in 1976, and has been openly gay since 1988, eventually marrying his partner in 2014 when same sex marriage became legal in the England and Wales.
But since the 80’s, John has been heavily involved in the fight against AIDS, and he started up the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992. Since it began, the foundation has raised an unbelievable 300 million for the cause. It’s a truly incredible achievement.