In a career spanning five decades, Sir Elton John has notched more than 50 Top 40 hits and sold more than 250 million records, making him one of the most popular and successful singer-songwriter-performers of all time. He remains best known for his output during the 1970s, a decade he started as a sincere, somewhat somber piano-playing singer-songwriter and ended as an arena-packing Pop star, and during which he had a phenomenally prolific streak of No. 1 albums and hit songs.
Elton was born Reginald Dwight in Middlesex, England. He was picking out songs on the piano at age three; at 11, he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. While learning Classical piano, John also got hooked on Rock and Roll, when his mother brought home records by Elvis Presley and Bill Haley. At 15 he was playing weekends in a neighborhood pub, and at age 17 he left school to pursue music full time, playing in pubs by night and working as an errand boy for a music publishing company by day.
In 1966 John answered a "talent wanted" ad placed by Liberty Records’ Ray Williams. Williams connected John with lyricist Bernie Taupin and a songwriting partnership was begun that continues to this day. Typically Taupin wrote full sets of lyrics and mailed them to John, who quickly set them to music, sometimes in as little as a few minutes. For the next few years the pair worked as staff writers at Dick James Music; as the quality of their songs improved, John was encouraged to record them himself. John’s first LP, Empty Sky, was released in 1969 and was a critical success but not a hit.
Recorded with producer Gus Dudgeon, 1970’s Elton John put the pianist on the map, reaching No. 4 on the U.S. album chart. A jaw-droppingly productive period followed: John released nine albums between 1970 and 1975, seven of which reached No. 1. During this period John’s singles — “Your Song," "Rocket Man," "Crocodile Rock," “Daniel,” "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Bennie and the Jets," "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," "The Bitch Is Back," Philadelphia Freedom," "Island Girl" — were radio staples, not to mention a showcase of his musical versatility, revealing influences that included Soul, Disco, Country, Funk, Pop balladry, even a hint of Classical.
Now a superstar, John became known for his outrageous stage wardrobe, which included capes, platform boots, outlandish eyewear, even Donald Duck and Mozart costumes. His musical output slowed in the latter half of the 70s, though he still managed to release an album a year and score several No. 1 singles. In the 1980’s Elton’s hit production slowed considerably, as he became mired in a life of excess and dependence on drugs and alcohol. John finally sought treatment in 1990, emerging reenergized. Several years later he became known to a new generation of fans when wrote he wrote, with lyricist Tim Rice, the songs for the 1994 Disney film The Lion King. The soundtrack sold over 15 million copies and became the basis for a successful Broadway show.
In 1997, after John’s close friend Diana, Princess of Wales, died, he asked Taupin to revise the lyrics of their 1973 song "Candle in the Wind,” and performed the updated song at Diana’s funeral. It became the biggest selling single in U.S. and U.K. chart history, selling over 33 million copies worldwide.
In the 2000’s John has continued to tour, with long residences in Las Vegas, and to showcase his versatility in the recording studio and as a Broadway composer. His 30th solo album, The Diving Board, was released in 2013.