This year’s Glastonbury festival culminated on the Sunday night with a headline performance from industry legend Elton John.
It was a remarkable show for several reasons. It was the star’s first ever Glastonbury performance after more than 50 years in the business.
It might just be his last too, as the star has retired from performing now that the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour has ended.
To mark Elton John’s UK swan song, we thought it would be apt to run through some of the singer-songwriter’s best ever hits. Be sure to vote for your favourite.
10 Best Elton John songs
1. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)Listen now at Amazon
The title track from Elton John’s biggest and arguably defining album reflects lyricist Bernie Taupin’s desire to go back to his roots after several years of extraordinary success – something the singer could obviously relate to.
There’s an obvious Wizard of Oz reference at work here, of course, which is in keeping with the source album’s cinematic leanings. Combined with John’s melancholic melody and trademark rich orchestration, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road stands as one of the towering achievements within the singer’s oeuvre.
2. Tiny Dancer (1971)Listen now at Amazon
The opening track of John’s 1971 album Madman Across the Water has a distinct West Coast vibe, with its bright piano melody, pedal steel guitar licks, and remarkably unhurried pacing. It takes until a third of the way into its six-minute runtime to hit the first chorus.
Taupin’s lyrics, since confirmed to be an ode to his first wife (who was literally the seamstress to John’s band), also paint a distinctly Californian scene. With Paul Buckmaster supplying his customary warm orchestration, Tiny Dancer is a sun-dappled treat of a track.
3. Your Song (1970)Listen now at Amazon
Perhaps John and Taupin’s most nakedly sweet song, Your Song successfully treads the finest of lines between sappy and heartfelt. You can probably attribute such successful pathfinding to the self-aware nature of the track’s clumsy lyrics (essentially a love note from an inexperienced protagonist), as well as the timeless quality of the song’s melody.
As evidence of Your Song’s universal appeal, it has been covered countless times by a wide variety of artists, from Rod Stewart to Ewan McGregor. And to think, it was originally intended as a B-side.
4. Benny and the Jets (1973)Listen now at Amazon
Few songs can hit that fuzzy nostalgia sweet spot as well as Benny and the Jets – or Bennie (with an ‘ie’) and the Jets, depending on which side of the Atlantic you hail from. Bernie Taupin’s lyrics tell the unlikely story of a fictional sci-fi band, but really it’s the languid stomp of John’s piano work that makes this song.
Indeed, you can hear those wistful notes echoing throughout the music of the ’90s and beyond, from Mary J. Blige’s Deep Inside to Frank Ocean’s Super Rich Kids.
5. Rocket Man (1972)Listen now at Amazon
If any Elton John song has come to represent the man himself, it’s surely Rocket Man. There’s a reason it’s the name of the excellent 2019 biopic starring Taron Egerton.
The song itself perfectly captures the chaotic ride that John was on in the ’70s, from the thrill of his runaway success through the perils of addiction and a man losing touch with reality. It’s also directly responsible for a legendary spoken-word William Shatner cover version, without which the world would be an immeasurably darker place.
6. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me (1974)Listen now at Amazon
Whether you’re talking about the original recording taken from Elton’s 1974 album Caribou, or the version recorded as a duet with George Michael 17 years later, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me is a simply phenomenal song.
The latter version has the benefit of a second UK star adding their vocals to the mix, while the original features two of the Beach Boys (Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston) laying on backing vocals. There’s really no surprise that the big names were so attracted to this stunning ballad.
7. I’m Still Standing (1983)Listen now at Amazon
John undoubtedly enjoyed his peak years in the ’70s, but this 1983 hit signalled the singer-songwriter’s enviable staying power. He was still standing, after all this time, and he wouldn’t be shuffling into the background just because the stuffy old rock scene was changing.
I’m Still Standing steams into life on the back of urgent ’80s synths and a twanging bass line, with John all but spitting out Taupin’s defiant lyrics. The accompanying beachside video proved a hit with the young MTV crowd, but it’s the song that has stood the test of time.
8. Crocodile Rock (1972)Listen now at Amazon
This is John on bouncy, silly, up-tempo form as he emulates and celebrates the old school rock and roll that helped form his sound. It was the singer’s first US number one single in February 1973, a crucial step on his path to stardom.
Facts and figures aside, if you can sit through that ‘na, na-na-na-na na’ chorus without breaking into a smile, if not a full rendition, you might just be dead inside.
9. Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting (1973)Listen now at Amazon
For all the explicitly stated influence of classic rock and roll on Elton John’s songwriting, it’s surprising how few of his songs genuinely rock. Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting is one of those exceptions, and it makes you wish he’d done it more.
From Davey Johnstone’s fuzzed up glam guitar though to John’s wild vocal delivery of Bernie Taupin’s aggressive lyrics, it’s a thrilling ode to weekend revelry. As hard-driving rock songs go, it comfortably stands up to contemporary efforts from The Rolling Stones and The Who.
10. Can You Feel the Love Tonight? (1994)Listen now at Amazon
John traditionalists might well balk at Can You Feel the Love Tonight’s inclusion on this list. No Bernie Taupin lyrics? Heresy! But for a whole generation of millennials not raised on his peak-era hits, the great man’s contributions to Disney’s The Lion King soundtrack define his legacy.
While Circle of Life might have received top billing in the film and its surrounding promotional efforts, it’s the impassioned balladry of Can You Feel the Love Tonight? that will swell the heartstrings of anyone in their 30s or early 40s come karaoke time.