Elton John and the Holy Grail

On most of EJ’s albums, there is what I call a “showcase song” – that is, a song which (you got it!) showcases Elton’s vocals and piano – and often just that.  The holy grail to an Elton fan like me!

These gems sometimes have a “big” message and are often some of Bernie’s most heartfelt and poetic lyrics. (I prefer to think they specifically chose to orchestrate them with Elton’s emotive voice and evocative piano accompaniment as a “showcase” for the lyrics).

The Elton Showcase

Without further adieu, here are, imho, Elton’s “showcase songs”:

  • Empty Sky (1969) – Skyline Pigeon: OK, so that’s a harpsichord, not piano, that Elton is playing here, but it’s still an Elton showcase piece.
  • Elton John (1970) – Sixty Years On, First Episode at Hienton (and arguably even The Greatest Discovery).  Wow, 3 on a single album!
  • Tumbleweed Connection (1970) – Talking Old Soldiers: The epitome of a signature song.
  • Madman Across the Water (1971) – I bet you thought I’d pick Tiny Dancer, but I’m going with Goodbye here…mostly because it fits my criteria of only Elton’s vocals and piano (oh, yes, and some strings).  Is that sarcasm in his voice?  I love the obtuse lyrics, too.
  • Honky Chateau (1972) – No question, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.  How could it not be a showcase song since it’s my all-time favorite?
  • Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player (1973) – There’s not a clear front runner on this album, so I’ll call it a draw between Blues for Baby and Me and  High Flying Bird.
  • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) – Although there are so many great songs to choose from on GBYBR, the showcase song (to me, anyway) is This Song Has No Title.  Elton plays all of the instruments for this tune.
  • Caribou (1974) – Ticking: Amazing, amazing piano accompaniment – it takes a voice of its own (and I love that Elton does his own background vocals and harmonies in this song).
  • Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975) – We All Fall in Love Sometimes.  An Elton ballad at its best.
  • Rock of the Westies (1975) – This was an outtake from RotW, but I’d nominate Planes as the showcase song from this album.   I had not heard it until a few years ago – what a beautiful song!
  • Blue Moves (1976) – Idol: I love the heavy sigh and the haunting sax in this song that’s supposedly about Elvis, but could also be about Elton.
  • A Single Man (1978) – A Song for Guy:  Perhaps I chose this song (an instrumental) because none of the songs on this album are written by Bernie.  Not that I’m biased.
  • Victim of Love (1979) – OK, so there are no showcase songs on this album! (One I bet even Elton would like to forget).
  • 21 at 33 (1980) – Sartorial Eloquence.  Gotta love it when he brings in the background singers.
  • The Fox (1981) – Carla-Etude-Fanfare and Chloe.  Big, classical orchestration gets me every time.  It lends a grandness and maturity to his music that most “pop” singers can’t even come close to, then or now.
  • Jump Up! (1982) – Giving us his best Sinatra with Blue Eyes.  (A close second to All Quiet on the Western Front).
  • Too Low for Zero (1983) – One More Arrow.
  • Breaking Hearts (1984) – Breaking Hearts (Ain’t What it Used to Be).  Elton, you crooner, you can break my heart any day.
  • Ice on Fire (1985) –  Shoot Down the Moon (not a big fan, but it does showcase his voice and piano).
  • Leather Jackets (1986) – Paris.
  • Reg Strikes Back (1988) – Japanese Hands.
  • Sleeping with the Past (1989) – Amazes Me.  I love it when he goes R&B/Gospel and brings in the backup singers.
  • To Be Continued (1990) – Although this is a compilation album (actually 4 CDs), I thought The Retreat was worthy of being included.  It was the B-side to I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.  It’s got that Civil War feel to it, reminiscent of Tumbleweed Connection.
  • The One (1992)- The showcase song from this album is written in memory of Ryan White and the first single to benefit EJAF.  Called The Last Song, I just saw the official music video for the first time and I have tears running down my face (no lie).  I guess I have the subject for my next blog post.
  • Made in England (1995) – Belfast.  Big orchestration at the start, and Elton’s somber vocals perfectly match the mood.
  • The Big Picture (1997) – Live Like Horses (or you may prefer the duet with Pavarotti, but then I guess that violates my criteria for a showcase song).
  • Songs from the West Coast (2001 ) – It has to be American Triangle, for so many reasons.
  • Peachtree Road (2004) – My Elusive Drug.  You know, I’m not a big fan of this song (mostly from a musicality standpoint), but it is a very personal one, and I think it deserves a spot in the showcase.
  • The Captain and the Kid (2006) – Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way (NYC).  I guess if Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters is a showcase song, it’s only fitting that this song is one, too.
  • The Union (2010) –  When Love is Dying.  Big EJ ballad, need I say more?

And there you have ’em.  I’ve blogged about several of these songs already, because they’re some of my favorites, and they’re also ones that I point people to who want to hear what I’d call the “real” Elton John (vs. the pop Elton John).  And I’m sure I’ll blog about the others at some point (can’t wait, can you)?

I highly recommend listening to at least some of them if you aren’t familiar.  I think you’ll understand why they’re on the list.

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