The singer and pianist Elton John started his musical career in 1962, right when the so called “British Invasion” was beginning to take shape in the United Kingdom, with bands from the country conquering the world with their music. But, during that decade he was part of many other groups and even worked a session musician, having the opportunity to start his solo career only in 1969 when he released his successful debut album “Empty Sky”.
Since then he became one of the most influential artists in the history of music and also one of the best-selling, with an estimated amount of more than 300 million records sold worldwide. Even though his career took off only in the 70s, the music from the 60s was a huge influence to him and he always praises bands from that era.
Once he even mentioned which were the three biggest bands from the UK in an interview for the “The Dave Clark Five and Beyond – Glad All Over“ released in 2014. Rock and Roll Garage selected what the musician said about those groups over the years and his connection with some of them.
The 3 biggest bands from the UK in the 60s according to Elton John
The Dave Clark Five
Formed in 1958 by the drummer Dave Clark, the group was active until 1970 and released 19 studio albums with many hits. Some of them are “Because”, “Over and Over”, “Bits and Pieces”, “Catch Us If You Can” and “Do You Love Me”. Besides being the group’s drummer, Clark was also the leader, producer, and co-songwriter.
Their 1963 hit “Glad All Over” even knocked The Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand” off the top of the United Kingdom Singles Chart at the time. In the interview for the band’s 2014 documentary, Elton John praised them as one of the three biggest bands that came out from the United Kingdom in the 60s.
“The Dave Clark Five were a big live band. Like great Rock and Roll songs and if you listen to the records they had a lot of raw power.”
“You had a residency at the …. and you played five times a week. When they were ready, when they broke, they did many more shows that The Beatles ever did. They were much more of a live band than The Beatles were. They did the Ed Sullivan show more times than any other British act. I think they did it 18 times.”
“They obviously got on together really well, they liked each other, they were having great fun, they were living the dream but once that’s gone, they had four years of doing that and then you don’t get it back. But those four years were just magical.”
He continued praising Dave Clark as musician and as a business man
“I think of him as one of the giants of the music business. He is an absolute stone cold genius. Dave Clark is the most extraordinary man in the music business. He owned all those early masters (tapes). He had complete control of his destiny.”
“To have that knowledge is unbelievable. We all went through our ups and downs, our lawsuits with people. The Rolling Stones with Allan Klein, The Beatles with Allan Klein, me with Dick James. Never happened to Dave Clark, because he didn’t have to. Bastard! (laughs),” Elton John said.
The Rolling Stones
Elton John said that The Rolling Stones was one of the “3 giants that came out of the United Kingdom in the 60s” and in 1986, when he was interviewed on the BBC radio “Desert Island Discs”, he chose the Stones song “Let It Rock” as one of the tracks he would like to take to a desert island.
“I really got to choose some up-tempo ones (songs) and I do love good Rock and Roll music. This is The Rolling Stones, they write great Rock and Roll songs, it’s called ‘Let It Rock’ and I put it on the beach, going crazy after getting up from ‘Nimrod’”, Elton John said.
Keith Richards once called Elton a poser
The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards is known for being quite sincere and always sharing his real opinion on his peers. He criticized Elton a few times over the decades, calling him in 1988 a “Lovely bloke, but posing”.
The tension got higher in 1997 when Keith insulted Elton’s version of “Candle In The Wind” made for Pricess Diana’s funeral. “Yeah it did jar a bit, Songs for Dead Blonds. But he was a personal friend, after all. I’d find it difficult to ride on the back of something like that myself. But Reg (Elton) is showbiz,” Keith Richards told Entertainment Weekly at the time.
Right after, Elton John replied that commentary in the press, saying: “I’m glad I’ve given up drugs and alcohol. It would be awful to be like Keith Richards. He’s pathetic, poor thing. It’s like a monkey with arthritis, trying to go onstage and look young. I have a great respect for the Stones. But they would have been better if they had thrown Keith out 15 years ago.”
He once said that The Stones should go back to their Blues roots
But even though he has praised the band many times he didn’t always had good things to say about them Also didn’t had a great relationship with members like Keith Richards.
According to the Mirror in 2016, Elton told a radio statation during an interview that the Stones were irrelevant at the moment on radio stations and they should return to their Blues roots.
“What I think the Rolling Stones should do is a great blues record, and go back to what they used to do – and do things like ‘Come On,’ the Chuck Berry song like they did in their early career. That is what they should do.”
“I think Mick wants to still be relevant on the radio. Well, they are not. I think Keith [Richards] would love to do a record like that. And that is what they should be doing,” Elton John said.
In 2021 after the passing of The Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts at the age of 80, Elton paid tribute to the late artist on his social networks. He said: “A very sad day. Charlie Watts was the ultimate drummer. The most stylish of men, and such brilliant company. My deepest condolences to Shirley, Seraphina and Charlotte. And of course, The Rolling Stones.”
The Beatles are undeniably one of the most important bands that came out of the United Kingdom in the 60s and it’s one of the groups that Elton John mentioned. He even had the chance to have a friendship with the late John Lennon in the 70s and he also covered their classic song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, with a guest appearance of Lennon. The song was released as a single in 1974 and went to number 1 on the American and Canadian charts.
Elton has always been a big fan of the group and he recalled in an interview with BBC Radio 2 show ‘Tracks Of My Years” back in 2019 (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage), how he first discovered them. He also mentioned “We Can Work It Out” released as single in 1965 by The Beatles as one of his favorite songs of them.
“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. He turned out to be right.”
Elton John continued:
“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.
In 1974, one month before Elton’s cover of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” featuring Lennon was released, the ex-Beatle had released the track “Whatever Gets You thru the Night” from his album “Walls and Bridges”. Elton played on that track after being invited by Lennon himself. He recalled that in the same interview with BBC Radio 2 show “Tracks Of My Years” in 2019 (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage). In the same conversation he recalled how he convinced John to play with him live on stage once.
“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’.”
Elton John continued:
“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.
Elton couldn’t believe his song was above George Harrison on the charts in the late 70s
Elton John’s first big hit track was “Your Song” featured on his 1970 self-titled album. Just like every artist in the early days, he couldn’t believe how successful the song became. He recalled in an interview LAD Bible TV in 2022 (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage), that he couldn’t believe he was above George Harrison on the charts at the time.
“I’d say ‘Your Song’ (is the song I’m most proud of) because is the first good song I wrote. My first hit and the I’ve got fed up with singing it and it’s lasted. So you look at the chart and your name is above people you’ve loved all your life and respected.”
“‘Your Song’ at the Elton John record was above George Harrison. I kept looking at Billboard and going ‘this can’t be right. (Because) I grew up with The Beatles, this can’t be right’. I mean, you never get over that,” Elton John said.