Sir Elton John revolutionized soft rock and pop rock starting in the 1970s. In fact, he has had so many great hits that it is difficult to name them all. Nevertheless, we’ve collected 55 of the Rocket Man’s most influential and beloved songs (many written with legendary lyricist Bernie Taupin), spanning from the mid-1960s up until the present day.
1. Rocket Man
John’s 1972 hit Rocket Man is undoubtedly one of the most iconic of his career, and the title was used for the 2019 musical biopic about his life. It was one of the singer’s earliest hits, breaking records for its sales numbers and topping charts on both sides of the Atlantic. The song tells the story of a reluctant astronaut, drawing inspiration from a short story by Ray Bradbury and David Bowie’s Space Oddity.
2. Come Back Baby
Even Elton John fans might not be familiar with the song Come Back Baby. It was released in 1965 while John was still a part of the blues group known as Bluesology, his first musical venture. The group (which was formed when the singer was only 13 years old) had some moderate success throughout the decade, though they split by 1967 to pursue other ventures. Come Back Baby is one of the few surviving songs of their time together.
3. Someone Saved My Life Tonight
John’s 1975 album, Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy, was unusual in its intimacy; each song was based on a real experience in his life. Someone Saved My Life Tonight is one of the most striking, as it tells the story of his suicide attempt in 1975. At the time, he had been struggling in his career and was living with his fiancée in the East End. Feeling trapped and unhappy, John attempted to gas himself in the oven before being found by his roommate.
The 1985 song, Nikita, might fool native English speakers, as it seems to refer to a woman. However, the song tells the story of a person who is in love with a Russian border guard named Nikita. In Russia, Nikita is a male name, something that Elton John said he was well aware of when he composed the song. The 1985 song was a top hit in many countries across the world.
5. Tiny Dancer
Ask someone to name their favorite Elton John song, and it’s not unlikely that they’ll say Tiny Dancer. The 1971 hit is one of John’s most enduring and iconic songs and has been called one of the best songs of all time. The song was partially inspired by lyricist Bernie Taupin’s wife and partly based on the women Taupin met in California, who struck a startling contrast to those in his native England.
6. Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding is technically a medley, made up of two songs but always performed as a single. The medley is the opening track on John’s 1973 album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Funeral For a Friend is an instrumental track, fusing classical piano with a moving rock ballad. Love Lies Bleeding is a breakup song that contrasts the end of a relationship with the death of a loved one.
7. Are You Ready For Love
Elton John first recorded Are You Ready For Love in 1979, but at the time, it was largely overshadowed by his other major hits of the era. It came to widespread attention in 2003, when it was remixed. The new version proved to be a massive success, climbing to the top of the UK charts. Though it isn’t as well-remembered as his most iconic songs, Are You Ready For Love remains a classic of John’s discography.
Next: Top 1970s songs list
8. Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)
Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny) was released in 1982, just over a year after John Lennon’s assassination. The song was a tribute to the late musician, with whom John had performed in Madison Square Garden in Lennon’s final performance. The empty garden of the title refers to this venue, which seemed bare after the death of his friend. John and Lennon had collaborated on many songs in the past, including Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.
9. Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Elton John has publicly acknowledged his habit of composing sad songs, and in this 1984 track, he embraces that legacy. The lyrics explain how it can be therapeutic to listen to sad songs while you are suffering, finding a companionship and an outlet in the emotions of the music. The song became a staple of John’s live performances until the turn of the century.
10. Your Song
Your Song is one of the legends of John’s career, having been covered countless times by other artists since its release in 1970. The song has been credited with launching John to superstardom, becoming his first major hit. The simple love song is narrated by a shy and fumbling protagonist, which only adds to its charm. Your Song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
11. Dan Dare
Dan Dare might not be as well-known as some of John’s major hits, but it has a charm of its own that is impossible to forget. The 1975 track is about a “pilot of the future,” a theme which seems to refer back to Rocket Man, which was released three years earlier. Lyricist Bernie Taupin was fascinated by the idea of a world where astronauts were considered ordinary; Dan Dare was the next chapter in the story.
12. The Ballad Of Blind Tom
The Ballad Of Blind Tom is a tribute to Tom Wiggins, a blind musical prodigy born into slavery in the southern US. Wiggins was also believed to be autistic, which John references in his opening lyrics. The song also has some scathing words for the American segregationists who enjoyed hearing Wiggins perform but refused to allow him his natural rights due to the color of his skin.
13. This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore
This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore was the final track on the 2001 album, Songs From The West Coast. The lyrics show John’s shift in focus as he grows older, reflecting on his fame ending and trying to tour in his twilight years. The song is a throwback to many of the singer’s earlier styles, particularly from the 1970s.
14. Song For Guy
Song for Guy is one of John’s mostly instrumental pieces, released on his 1978 album, A Single Man. Though John usually collaborated with other composers and lyricists, Song For Guy is one of his most famous solo-written pieces. It was dedicated to a 17-year-old with whom John was acquainted, who was killed in a motorcycle accident.
15. I’m Still Standing
I’m Still Standing showed John exploring the world of synth-pop in the early 1980s. The exploration was a successful one, resulting in a major hit in both the US and Europe. Part of this was due to heavy airing of the music video on MTV, which had launched two years earlier. The upbeat, poppy song proved to be a success, despite its departure from his usual slow piano ballads.
16. Step Into Christmas
Step Into Christmas was one of John’s few forays into holiday music. Released in 1974, it was intended to evoke the styles of older Christmas songs such as those performed by the Ronettes. The song was a hit, particularly in the UK, where it was later voted as one of the most-played holiday songs of the 2000s.
17. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, released on the 1972 album, Honky Château, share an Englishman’s first impressions of life in New York City. Lyricist Bernie Taupin was inspired to write the song after a gun went off near his hotel window. Elton John has been quoted as saying the song is one of his favorites; it has become a standard of his concerts.
18. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
John’s eponymous ballad for his 1973 album is often cited as one of the best songs of his career—and even one of the greatest songs of all time. The song’s title was inspired by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum, carrying the theme of finding one’s way home throughout the entire album.
19. Madman Across The Water
Madman Across The Water is the titular song of John’s 1971 album, released during a time when he was rising to international fame. Though the song didn’t do well in his native UK, it was a hit in North America; there was even a popular rumor at the time that the title referred to US President Richard Nixon.
20. Can You Feel The Love Tonight?
One of John’s most famous songs was Can You Feel The Love Tonight? composed for the 1994 film, The Lion King. The song was a massive hit and was included in the film in two versions, the main version sung by the characters and a version sung by John over the ending credits. Can You Feel The Love Tonight? won an Academy Award and a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
21. Blue Eyes
Blue Eyes was released as the lead single on John’s 1982 album Jump Up! The song was a major success, particularly in the UK and the US. It was said to be inspired by actress Elizabeth Taylor, to whom the song and music video were dedicated. “Blue Eyes” was nominated for a Grammy Award the following year.
Elton John continued to be a prolific composer and performing for decades after his initial breakthrough; Made In England was his 24th studio album, released in 1995. The album included the track Please, an emotional ballad about begging someone to spend their life with you. The singer points out that they have weathered countless hardships together, and it’s only made their love stronger.
23. Elderberry Wine
Elderberry Wine was released on John’s 1973 album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player. The retro rock-inspired track tells the story of a man whose wife has left him. He recalls the good times that they had together and realizes that he misses the elderberry wine she used to make for them more than anything. It just goes to illustrate that after we lose someone, we tend to miss things we never expected to.
24. The Bitch Is Back
Elton John is best known for his powerful ballads, so the 1974 hit, The Bitch Is Back, was out of character for him. This didn’t affect the song’s success; it was a top 10 hit in both the US and Canada. The lyrics are a parody of John’s celebrity lifestyle, but the title was said to be inspired by lyricist Bernie Taupin’s wife at the time.
25. Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word was released as a single on the 1976 album Blue Moves. The mournful ballad tells the story of a relationship coming apart at the seams. Lyricist Bernie Taupin described it as a heartbreaking song about trying to save something that has already died. Critics called it one of the most sincere performances of John’s career.
Ego was a standalone single released in 1978. The song is a reflection of the silliness of life as a celebrity. The music video in particular emphasizes the stupidity of stardom and the grotesque side of living in the spotlight, particularly poignant after the singer’s meteoric rise to fame throughout the 1970s. John was quoted as saying he thought it was one of the most honest songs he ever released.
27. Mama Can’t Buy You Love
Toward the end of the 1970s, John’s career was slowing down, particularly in the US. Mama Can’t Buy You Love, released in 1979, was his first hit to reach the Top 10 in three years. It marked a revitalization in his career which would continue throughout the following decade. Some critics remarked on the similarity between Mama Can’t Buy You Love and One Man Band (Plays All Alone) by Ronnie Dyson, which had the same producer.
28. Bennie & The Jets
Bennie & The Jets first appeared on 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and has been one of John’s most popular and enduring songs ever since. The song was an immediate hit in North America and has been named on Rolling Stone’s list: 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. It is styled as an homage to a fictional band.
29. I Want Love
I Want Love is a 2001 hit that was released on John’s album, Songs From The West Coast. Though the track did well on the charts, it is perhaps best remembered for its music video, which stars actor Robert Downey Jr. walking through a mansion in Beverly Hills as he lip-syncs the words to the song. I Want Love was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
30. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart
This 1976 duet between Elton John and Kiki Dee was a pastiche of the Motown style, drawing inspiration from Marvin Gaye and other stars of the 1960s. It was originally intended for Dusty Springfield, who turned it down. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart was a hit thanks to John’s and Dee’s chemistry and stunning harmonies.
31. Grey Seal
Grey Seal was initially recorded in 1970 but wasn’t released until Goodbye Yellow Brick Road three years later. The song’s lyrics have notoriously stumped fans with their obscure meaning, which both John and lyricist Bernie Taupin have said was intentional. John has likened the confusing lyrics to a Dali painting which is meant to be interpreted, not understood.
32. When Love Is Dying
John’s 2010 song, When Love Is Dying, seems to reflect the singer’s thoughts as he grows older. The song is about lost love and how, no matter how the loved one is lost, it seems like it comes too soon. Ultimately, the singer realizes that he played a part in losing the person that he loved and can’t get them back.
33. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me was first released on John’s album, Caribou, in 1974 and featured backing vocals from several members of the Beach Boys. It was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, climbing to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1991, John rereleased the song as a duet with pop star George Michael.
34. Crocodile Rock
Crocodile Rock debuted in 1972 as a pre-release single for Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player. The song was a hit in North America, topping the charts in the US for three weeks. It has been most noted for using a Farfisa organ, which suits the song’s topic: looking nostalgically back at the days of early rock and roll.
35. Circle Of Life
Circle of Life was written for the 1994 film, The Lion King. John said that he wrote the song in less than an hour; the lyrics were added by Tim Rice, with whom he collaborated on much of the film’s music. John later sang a pop version of the song with the London Community Gospel Choir, which was added to the film soundtrack. Circle Of Life was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song.
Levon debuted on Elton John’s 1971 album, Madman Across the Water. The song has long been considered one of John’s quintessential parts of his discography. The singer even gave his son, Zachary, “Levon” as a middle name. This was perhaps in reference to the character in the song being born on Christmas Day; John’s son was born on Christmas Day 2010. The song, backed by a complex and grand orchestral arrangement, was a hit in the US, climbing to No. 24 on the charts.
Elton John released Sacrifice with his 22nd studio album, Sleeping with the Past, in 1989. It was particularly popular in the UK and France, topping the charts in both nations. The song lyrics ponder the dynamics of remaining faithful in marriage and how the core of a successful marriage is sacrifice. It is written from the perspective of someone experiencing temptation.
38. Part Time Love
Elton John’s Part Time Love debuted as the sixth track for his 1978 album, A Single Man. The song was a moderate success on the charts but generated some controversy due to lyrics that were rumored to be about an adulterous relationship. The song was banned in the Soviet Union on these grounds, but they didn’t stop it from charting high in both the US and the UK.
Written for the 1973 album, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, Daniel topped the charts in both the UK and the US. The song was based on a newspaper article about a Vietnam War veteran who had returned home only to find himself suffocated by the attention and adoration he received after being wounded. “Daniel” received praise from critics, particularly because of the unique lyrics.
40. Candle In The Wind
Candle In The Wind was written as a song of mourning in honor of actress Marilyn Monroe; however, it was not released until 1973, 11 years after the actress’ death. John famously performed the song in 1997 in honor of Princess Diana after her death. Candle In The Wind has been called one of the greatest songs of all time; it is a favorite for tribute, memorial services, and funerals all over the world.
41. All The Girls Love Alice
John has never shied away from singing about gay characters, even during a time when this was considered unacceptable. The 1973 track, All The Girls Love Alice, which is featured on the album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, was an exploration of the then-underground gay culture of London in the 1970s, told through the story of a teenage lesbian prostitute, who eventually ends in tragedy.
42. Home Again
Home Again, released in 2013 on John’s album The Diving Board, was written in honor of the late Liberace. John drew much of his musical influence from the late singer, who passed away in 1987. The song was inspired by the feeling of wanting to return to the place where you feel most yourself, even if that isn’t your literal birthplace. It reflects the kind of meditations John has turned to as he grows older.
43. Skyline Pigeon
Elton John composed the ballad, Skyline Pigeon, with Bernie Taupin in 1968, first released as a single that year and later included on his album, Empty Sky. The song, styled as a traditional hymnody, follows a pigeon that has been set free from human captivity and flies high above civilization. Largely overlooked in light of his later hits Skyline Pigeon remains one of the best songs of John’s early career.
44. Rotten Peaches
Rotten Peaches debuted on Elton John’s fourth studio album, Madman Across the Water, in 1971. The song seems to be a nod to spirituals and folk songs, written from the perspective of a man in an American prison. As the prisoner is forced to work, picking rotten peaches in a grove, he reflects on how his life is like the fruit because of his own wasted potential and remembers how he ruined himself through his own poor choices.
45. I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
Elton John’s I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues debuted as the single for his 17th album Too Low for Zero. It was one of his biggest hits in the 1980s throughout the US, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was immediately recognized for its long-term potential, being hailed as an “instant standard” by some critics.
46. Philadelphia Freedom
The early to mid-1970s saw John release one No. 1 hit after another in the US. One of these was Philadelphia Freedom, released in 1975. The orchestra-backed track was written in honor of tennis star Billie Jean King, with whom John was friends. Ironically, the song (composed by UK-born John) was interpreted as an American patriotic and enthusiastically embraced by American audiences.
47. Take Me To The Pilot
Take Me To The Pilot was released on John’s second album in 1970. Popular with disc jockeys, it received frequent airplay and became the singer’s first major hit in the US and Europe. It is famous for its strange, cryptic lyrics, which even John himself has publicly wondered about. Nevertheless, Take Me To The Pilot has become a staple on John’s live performances for many decades.
48. Honky Cat
The 1972 song, Honky Cat, has not received the attention of some of John’s other major hits, leading some critics to call it an underrated gem. But it’s also worth mentioning that it was a success at the time of its release, climbing to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. Since its first release, John has performed the song live many times and even rerecorded it in different variations.
Released on John’s 1975 album Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy, Curtains tells the story of a childhood spent on a farm. It is widely believed to have been inspired by lyricist Bernie Taupin’s experiences growing up in the Lincolnshire country. Ironically, John himself has been quoted as saying Curtains was crap—but its long-term popularity may have proved him wrong.
50. Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)
Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) was a hit single from the 1973 album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The upbeat song was inspired by teens going out drinking and the glam rock culture of American rock bands that were prominent in the early 1970s. It was noted for its catchiness and upbeat rhythm, contrasting with John’s usual ballads.
51. Little Jeannie
Little Jeannie was released as a single from John’s 1980 album, 21 at 33. It reached No. 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and it became one of the singer’s biggest hits up until that point. Strangely, however, John has rarely performed the song live, stopping performances after his 2000 tour. The soft rock song has been praised for its unique instrumentation, which includes Latin-inspired percussion and heavy brass.
Elton John released Believe as the first single on Made in England, his 24th album. In some ways, the track was overshadowed by the other major hits on the album, which included Circle Of Life and Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word. Nevertheless, “Believe” stands on its own two legs, receiving praise from critics for its power and unabashed emotion.
53. Border Song
Border Song was composed in 1970 for John’s album of that same year. The track marked the singer’s popularity rising in North America and became his first hit in Canada. Musically, it draws inspiration from old spirituals, with John being backed by a chorus of voices. The song describes the loneliness and isolation of being in a new place and begs for compassion for the displaced people of the world.
54. Easier To Walk Away
Easier To Walk Away was released in 1990 as part of the compilation album, The Very Best Of Elton John. The song explores the story of a man whose wife has been unfaithful as he grapples with his emotions. He eventually concludes that the best thing he can do is walk away so he can work through his grief with time and space.
Elton John’s 1984 single, Passengers, debuted on the album, Breaking Hearts. Though not widely known in the US, the song was a hit in many other countries around the world. Passengers is based on the South African folk song, Isonto Lezayoni, with some fans suggesting if it was intended as a protest song against apartheid. The track incorporates aspects of folk rock and world beat music.
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