My overall enjoyment of the movie Rocketman sent me down a bit of an Elton John rabbit hole.
I created a playlist of his most notable albums (particularly those released between 1970 and 1975 plus a couple of entries from the 80s) and listened to them all in order. I wanted to see what I’d been missing, as I’m primarily a fan only through his best-known songs.
After spending a few weeks on the exercise, the simple verdict is that John is primarily a greatest hits artist for me. But not entirely.
My method was to play each album and then delete the songs from the playlist that didn’t capture me the first time through. The goal was to end up with my ultimate Elton John playlist, hits and obscure tracks alike. As it turns out, that list skews heavily toward the hits.
Contrast that to an artist like Billy Joel or Elvis Costello (or many others), who have released entire albums I consider essential. John just doesn’t have that kind of appeal for me. Some albums delivered more winners than others, and I’ll get to which ones, but no album felt like required listening start to finish.
Might that be a different story if I’d heard these albums in full years ago? Maybe. But I also believe that Elton John is an artist who has reached some incredible highs but with a lot of “just ok” in between.
Now set aside those incredible highs — the songs beloved by everybody, the ones making up the soundtrack to Rocketman and populating his greatest hits collections. Over the next two weeks I’m going to feature ten songs I didn’t really know before that wound up making the cut on my final Elton John playlist.
I’ll present them in order, and nod to the other keepers on the albums on which they appear.
First up is Elton John, the 1970 album that marked his United States debut (1969’s forgettable debut Empty Sky didn’t come out in the U.S. until years later). This album gave the world the classics ‘Your Song,’ ‘Take Me to the Pilot’ and ‘Border Song.’
The other song that grabbed me was ‘The Cage.’ It’s much more rollicking than those three, rocking out on a bed of bass, drums and piano before cooling down for a nice synth break and picking back up again. The chorus plays at the beginning and end of the song but each verse is punctuated with a sweet “ah-oo-oo” call-out.
I don’t know if ‘The Cage’ is a fan favorite, a concert staple, or none of the above. But I really dig it.
Have you ever lived in a cage
Where you live to be whipped and be tamed
For I’ve never loved in a cage
Or talked to a friend or just waved
Well I walk while they talk about virtue
Just raised on my back legs and snarled
Watched you kiss your old daddy with passion
And tell dirty jokes as he died
But I’m damned when I really care there
For the cellar’s the room in your lives
Where you lace yourself with bad whiskey
And close the cage doors on your life
Well I pray while you bathe in bad water
Sing songs that I learnt as a boy
Then breaks all the bones in my body
On the bars you can never destroy