How to listen to Elton John’s Greatest Hits, in ten easy steps

Elton_John_-_Greatest_Hits_1970-2002_album_cover

1. You might want to start with Your Song, or you might not. Your Song is as much Elton John as he is pudding-basin haircuts and insane eyewear; it is the only Elton you learned to play and you sing it in your mother’s voice and Your Song is in your veins. If you do start here, it’s quite normal to slide nicely into Tiny Dancer, which you do not understand. You imagine Tinkerbell, which is an abomination.

2. What the Sam Hill is Honky Cat. Skip. You are ambivalent about Rocket Man, and this life is too short for ambivalence. Skip. Crocodile Rock sounds like it was made for a toddler’s dance party. You have often used it for this purpose. It’s not a casual listening song. Skip.

3. Ah, here we are at Daniel, which is where you start if you don’t fancy starting with Your Song. You sing ‘Daaaaaniel you’re a staaaaaar’ in a pleasant lilt. You imagine Seventies Elton, sky-rocketing to the top of the music business so quickly he’s burning, all glam and glitter and concealed gayness, thinking that catching a flight to Spain is exotic. I mean. The seventies, right?

Elton_john_rock_music_awards_1975

All birds were afraid in the seventies.

4. Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting gives you a headache. Skip. DO NOT EVER SKIP Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, because you skipped it for years until you realised how brilliant it was, and you have made an oath never to make this mistake again. There’s a line about hunting a horny back toad. You do not really think Elton has ever hunted any kind of amphibian in his spare time, but you give him some dramatic licence.

5. Sometimes you bypass Candle in the Wind, because – sorry – you feel it has been forever candy-flossed by association with Princess Di. When you don’t skip it, imagine teenage Elton wanting to love Marilyn Monroe as a real person, and feel some feelings. Then shut those feelings down. Benny and the Jets is next. Repeat. BENNY AND THE JETS IS NEXT. You have a special dance for this one, and you don’t know whether the dance or the stuttering consonants or the mohair boots make it, but you are as cool as ICE when you sing this song.

6. You prefer the version of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me with George Michael, as all right-thinking people do. Skip. Then keep on skipping till Someone Saved My Life Tonight. It’s a slow-burner, this one, and you start with low-key piano mime to the octave chords and end with air-drums, butterfly actions and anguished faces. This is living. Do not forget it.

Elton_John_in_1980s

7. Island Girl is meh. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart is peppy. You watched the video for Don’t Go Breaking My Heart once, and all you can remember is their frantic, peppy faces and so much brown flared trouser you could have used Elton’s leg as a sleeping bag. You think for a minute about using Elton’s leg as a sleeping bag, and then feel weird. Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word is only to be left on if you have ice cream to hand and the death of a pet to mourn. (EDIT: this was later cannibalised by Blue, I find. Of course it was.) 

8. This point exists only to remind you that we are still only six years after Your Song. SIX YEARS. Damn.

9. Disc Two is patchy. The eighties, a place of both shoulder pads and Thatcherism: highs and lows came with the territory. Stop quickly in countryville with Blue Eyes, then hop onto I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues. You are only allowed to sing this song if you do the line ‘rollllin’ like thunderrrr/ under the coooovers’ with special growly voice and slightly salacious face. One time you will catch a glimpse of this face in the mirror, and realise it’s the same face you use when presented with a really good, sharp cheese. The rest of the songs are optional till you get to Something About the Way You Look Tonight. In an ideal world this song would be played at your funeral, and all the mourners would cast themselves down and pound the flagstones in memory of your radiance. Then be served crackers and a good sharp cheese. You have left instructions to this effect.

Skagerak Arena June 2009

10.  The best is here, at the end, with the late songs. This is older Elton, weary Elton, ready-to-cut-the-crap-and-say-it-like-it-is Elton. Never forget that the video for I Want Love stars Robert Downey Jr before he was supernova-famous, lip syncing these poignant things all biceps and hollow cheeks, and it is hotter than the sun’s core. This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore is your favourite, and you love it for his exhaustion and his brutal honesty. You wish for nothing more in life than to sing the heck out of this song on a car journey and time it so the last notes play just as you pull in to your drive. Because this means you can ignore Song for Guy, all weird instrumentals and Elton creepily whispering ‘life’ over and over.

You find out it was written for a dead boy. Feel guilty. Skip.

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16 thoughts on “How to listen to Elton John’s Greatest Hits, in ten easy steps

  1. reverend61 says:

    Did I ever tell you about the Elton jukebox musical I was working on a few years ago? It was a prodigal son tale about a small-town songwriter with delusions and aspirations, who goes to New York (‘Honky Cat’) where he initially misses his girlfriend (‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’) but is then seduced by a beautiful (but icy) media mogul who exploits him. They have a slightly antagonistic romance (‘Part Time Love’) and the first half was going to finish with an ironic ‘Tiny Dancer’ (which, incidentally, Bernie Taupin wrote for his first wife).

    In act II he falls deeper into despair before realising that he’s been used (‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’) and trudges home (‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’) where he reconciles with his father. The whole thing ends with a concert in the town hall which is gatecrashed by the mogul, whom he runs out of town (I’m Still Standing’). Woven into this is a subplot involving an accidental gangland shooting (‘Saturday Night’s Alright’) and a well-meaning thug’s final redemption through the power of song.

    I CANNOT find a way to make ‘Benny and the Jets’ fit. Nada one.

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  2. How could you skip Honky Cat? It reminds me of being pregnant so maybe I have an unnecessary attachment to it?

    And when I saw the I Want Love video, as a much younger woman, I felt at once that living the rest of my life would be futile because I was never going to meet RDJr and so what really was the point of going on?

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    • Confession: I have never actually listened to Honky Cat. The title and opening chords have always been enough to make me reach for the switch button. I will have a listen, now you’ve recommended it!

      I know what you mean about I Want Love. I had serious RDJ love from Ally McBeal, and it was the first time I’d seen him onscreen since. What’s the point of it all?!

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  3. My husband is a huge Elton John fan! Every one of the songs on your list has been played (sometimes not so well) on our piano at home! Each of these songs is also great for a “gather round the piano” round of singing at a party, once everyone has had enough to drink they don’t care how many wrong notes I hit (I can’t understand how someone with such stubby fingers like Elton’s can play such difficult piano melodies!)

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    • Mega-impressed that you can get through them! Lots of huge intervals – I don’t have especially small hands, and find the octaves in Someone Saved My Life Tonight just impossible.

      Easily the best thing about writing this post has been getting so many responses from closet Elton fans 🙂

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  4. Reblogged this on Easy Being Mom and commented:
    Anyone who knows me knows that I love to play piano, and Elton John writes some of the most beautiful and difficult melodies I’ve encountered. My boys love to play along on the drums and I’m sure will grow up to be Elton John fans just like their parents.

    I wanted to share this post with you because, while I don’t necessarily agree with all the recommended “skips” I think the commentary is fabulous and funny!

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  5. Elton! I’m switching to this on Spotify now, thanks for the inspiration. Your Song was the song that was playing when I held newly born E for the first time, so it makes me feel ever-so-slightly emotional when I hear it. Which was probably quite lucky as the radio in the delivery room was playing Magic FM, so it could have been pretty much anything x.

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