The British pianist and singer Elton John is one of the best selling musicians of all time and inspired a whole generation of bands with his work over the decades. His songs became the favorite ones from fans worlwide and in an interview with BBC Radio 2 show ‘Tracks Of My Years” back in 2019 (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage), he listed 10 songs that are some of his favorites of all time and explained why they are so important to him.
10 songs that Elton John listed as some of his favorites of all time
Elvis Presley “Heartbreak Hotel”
“This record changed my life and it changed the face of music. Up to then he had Guy Mitchell, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Kay Starr and all those lovely American acts.” Elton continued saying that his mother bought a record every week and was the one who presented the album to him, saying: “‘I heard this record in the record store and I never heard nothing like it, so I had to buy it’. She put it on, it was a 78, of course, it was on HMV and it propelled me into my love for Rock and Roll and it changed the world, socially and musically. We never heard it (something like that album), it was like ‘what’s that? It’s like something from Mars’,” Elton John said.
Called the “King of Rock and Roll”, Elvis Presley was born in January 8, 1935 and died August 16, 1977. He is recalled as one of the most important cultural icons of the 20th century. The singer inspired a whole generation of musicians that would become successfull in the following decades.
Jerry Lee Lewis “Great Balls Of Fire”
“Because I’m a piano player and I grew up watching Liberace, Russ Conway, Joe ‘Mr. Piano’ Henderson and people like that, listening to George Shearing, which my dad liked. When I first heard “Great Balls Of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis I was like ‘Wow, that’s different!’ I mean, he was using the piano in a different way. When I saw him and the way he stood on the piano and jumped on the piano I thought ‘That’s what I wanna do’ and ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ as much as Elvis Presley, being a piano player, this changed my life,” Elton John said.
Elton continued saying that the older people from that era hated acts like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis because of the way the looked and acted on stage, because they were breaking all the rules.
Born in Ferriday, Louisiana, United States back in 1935, Jerry Lee Lewis changed alongside his peers like Little Richard, the role of the piano in the Rock and Roll music, making it the central sound on the tracks. Some of his most famous songs besides the one listed by Elton, are: “Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On’, “Wild One” and “Middle Age Crazy”.
Little Richard “Lucille”
“Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis where from heaven to me. Because Little Richard stood up and played the piano and he played in a vamping style. (In) ‘Lucille’ that voice, that look and he was the first black artist that I had seen doing Rock and Roll. He was electrifying and I loved him so much. I’ve got to duet with him on my ‘Duets’ (1993) album, which was one of the highlights of my musical life because he is such an amazing singer. Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis I would bestow the Medal Of Honor up for both of them, because that kind of piano playing inspired me so much. Fats Domino too,” Elton John said.
During his childhood in Georgia, Little Richard grew up listening to rapturous gospel singers in black churches and this influenced his singing. He also learned to play the piano in his teens, an instrument that would help him to become a rockstar.
Two bands that opened Little Richard concerts in the beginning of their careers were The Beatles and Rolling Stones, in the early 60s. In the last years of his life he just participated in some recordings throughout the years and toured until 2013. Among his most famous songes are: “Lucille”, “Tutti Frutti”, “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly”.
The Beatles “We Can Work It Out”
“I remember being at school and my friend Michael Johnson came with a 45 and said ‘I’ve just heard this band, they’re gonna be the biggest band in the world and it was ‘Love Me Do’. I’ve listened to and said ‘It’s not bad, it’s not bad’. I couldn’t see that they would be the biggest band in the world and he turned out to be right. It think he was number 4 in the fan club. So he spotted them a mile off. Of course, what the 50s did with Rock and Roll, The Beatles were extraordinary. They revolutionized the way things were recorded, even though it was with quite simple equipment, they experimented and they wrote fantastic songs.”
“‘We Can Work It Out’ it’s such a wonderful song. Stevie Wonder did an amazing version of it. I can’t even begin to think of how many people covered Beatles songs. There is so much I could have chosen. I was amazed when I was at Sain-Tropez playing at the Papagayo Club with my band Bluesology, ‘Revolver’ (Beatles album) was out and it was a big part of my life. But I’ve chosen (this song) because I just love the song,” Elton John said.
The most successful Rock band of all time, The Beatles changed Rock and Roll in the 60s, bringing a swinging sound and inspiring other musicians to compose their own songs and write their own lyrics. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame back in 1988 by Mick Jagger, who said in his speech: “The original way they crafted their songs wasn’t lost on us.”
The Four Tops “Reach Out I’ll Be There”
“This was an incredible record. I’ve been a Motown fan anyway, but this was a different kind of Motown record. It’s just an incredible song and I think it was one of the greatest records of all time. It’s just full of energy, the way that Levi Stubbs sand the song and it was my song of that summer,” Elton John said.
Formed in Detroit, Michigan, United States, the group had singers Levi Stubbs (Lead singer), Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton. They remained together for four decades until Payton’s death in 1997.
Some of their most famous songs are: “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”, “Loco In Acapulco”, “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “It’s The Same Old Song”.
Leon Russell “A Song For You”
“When I first saw him, was with Delaney and Bonnie and then I saw him in Mad Dogs & Englishmen from Joe Cocker. Then when I first went to America he was in the audience of the second night of the Troubadour and I saw him, I’ve looked at this mane of silver hair and I thought ‘Oh my god, it’s Leon Russell!’ and I temporarily froze for about a nanosecond. He came back afterwards and was so sweet. He was beginning to become famous before me and he had written a song that I was just crazy about.”
“So he was my piano player idol at that time and probably still is. He asked me to come on tour with him and I thought that was an incredibly sweet thing to do considering that I was a piano player as well. We fell out of touch after a while and then we got together when I made the ‘Union’ album.”
“I wanted to make an album with him, because he’d been forgotten and I wanted to put his name back in the spotlight, I wanted him to be a member of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and Songwriters Hall Of Fame. I wanted him to get his recognition back and he did. There is plenty of songs that I wish have written but this song is up there,” Elton John said.
Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, United States back in 1942, Leon Russell was involved in many best-selling records from other artists during his career. He played on the early albums of The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Rolling Stones and Ike & Tina Turner.
Aretha Franklin “Think”
“I could have chosen any Aretha Franklin record. When Bernie (Taupin) and I wrote ‘Your Song’ we had a phone call from our publishers to say that Aretha had recorded the song and you can imagine how incredibly amazed we were. She was obviously one my great idols, not only as a singer but as a piano player. Whenever I used to run into Aretha I said ‘You should play more piano, Aretha” and she said ‘You think?’ and I said ‘You think? Absolutely, you’re incredible!'”
“The last performance she ever did was at our AIDS Foundation in New York where I’m standing there with Sheryl Crow, Rosanne Cash and she is playing the piano. I was there in front of the stage, watching her play the piano, crying our eyes out, thinking ‘You will never see the like of this again.”
“I chose this track because it just like takes off. Her piano playing, the whole thing. In those days did two takes to three takes. So this was live, there was no overdubbing, this is as it was and boy, if you don’t get excited by this kind of music then I fear for you,” Elton John said.
Aretha Franklin began her career as a child singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, where her father C. L. Franklin was a minister. At the age of 18, she embarked on a secular-music career as a recording artist for Columbia Records.
Hit songs such as “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, “Respect”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “Chain of Fools”, “Think” and “I Say a Little Prayer” propelled her past her musical peers.
The Band “The Weight”
“John Peel played ‘The Music From The Big Pink’ on his show. I was religious follow of John Peel in those days because he played all the great new music. Bernie and I freaked out when we heard it, we never heard anything like this before. It was Americana done in a very soulful funky kind of laid-back way. Next day we went up to Music Land in London and bought the import. It changed my life again, like Elvis Presley changed my life originally.”
“This music changed my life because the way the songs were written, the lyrics, the musicianship. It was a huge infleunce on things like ‘Tumblewee Connection’, ‘Mad Man (Across The Water)’ and they were amazing. When I first played Philadelphia, the Electric Factory I was playing, on stage we had a little grand piano with two legs by the keyboard but no leg at the other end, the other end was held by orange boxes.”
“Anyway, before I went on, The Band came into the dressing room without me knowing and they were there. It was one of the most touching things. I had some much to support when I started out. Neil Diamond introduced me at the Troubadour, The Band came to see me, Leon Russell took me on tour, George Harrison sent me a telegram.”
“Those kind of things for a young artist give you great ratification that what you are doing is ok. From those kind of people who were just amazing it gave you so much confidence and filled your heard with so much gratitude. So I will never forget The Band coming to see me. And of course, this song is a classic,” Elton John said.
Formed in Toronto, Canada back in 1967, The Band had Rick Danko (Bass), Garth Hudson (Keyboards, accordion, saxophone), Richard Manuel (Keyboards, drums, lap steel guitar), Robbie Robertson (Guitar and vocals) and Levon Helm (Drums, mandolin, guitar and vocals).
They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994 by Eric Clapton, who said in his speech: “A standard of craft that really didn’t bow down to any kind of commerciality”.
John Lennon “Whatever Gets You Thru’ The Night”
“Whatever Gets You Thru’ The Night” was something that John asked me to do in New York. He had already done the track, he asked me to play piano and sing on it. I said ‘Yes, of course. But if it gets to number 1, then you came to come on stage with me’. He said ‘Oh yeah, that’s fine’. (In) the session, I was so nervous playing on the track but it went really, really well. Then I had to sing as well, which was difficult, because when a singer sings, everyone has their own personal phraising.”
“So he has already done the track, you have to get it right. But it was such a great session and fun. Everything with John was fun. Subsequently the record did get up to number 1 and John came on stage at Madson Square Garden on Halloween night. One of the greatest memories of my life is when he came on stage and the ovation that he got was so memorable.”
“I think we all had tears in our eyes when he came on stage. I loved being his friend for the brief time that it happened until he died. It was a relationship that I could never have imagined, being that friendly with John Lennon. It was magical,” Elton John said.
Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush “Don’t Give Up”
“This song reminds me of when I was in the depths of despair during my addiction. I always used to put this on and I used to sit there and cry thinking ‘I won’t give up. I will be well one day.’ Peter Gabriel is just the most amazing artist, Kate Bush ditto.”
“The song is so beautiful. When people mention great British artists, sometimes people don’t mention Peter Gabriel, he is so up there. He was so innovative, not with just his recording with Genesis but solo. For me, he is a true British great and an innovator. A bit like Damon Albarn with Blur. He reminds me of young Peter Gabriel. This track still reminds of the dark days and the determination to not give up,” Elton John said.
Kate Bush, who sings with the ex-Genesis singer Peter Gabriel in the track listed by Elton John, was born in Bexleyheath, England back in 1958 and was the first British solo female artist to top the United Kingdom album charts and to enter the album chart at number 1. She has been nominated for three Grammy Awards and some of her most famous songs are “Wuthering Heights”, “Babooshka” and “Running Up That Hill”.