The chances of another quintessentially English yet globally popular; effortlessly camp and permanent favourite of mums the world over; cracking pianist, footie lover and spot-on liberal emerging in the near future – in the same cutely funky package are unlikely to say the least. Therefore there is all the more reason to celebrate Elton John in every which way possible.
Ahead of the release of the Rocketman biopic, here are selected pages and photos from 1975 and Paul Gambaccini’s published conversations with the musician and his long-time lyricist, Bernie Taupin. Rolling Stone magazine published some of this and you can see why when looking back over his life as instanced in these pages published here.
Aside from him being an undisputed star on both sides of the Atlantic ocean at this point, having just released the ‘Caribou’ album and ‘Bennie and the Jets’ No. 1 single. Elton always gave great interviews. Every time. Mischievous and candid; bawdy and then vulnerable; unafraid to stick up for friends and colleagues whilst chucking V signs at record companies he thought needed to be called out. In other words, he was fun and original.
[All images are scans from my copy of the original Star Books paperback. I’ve deliberately not cropped the photos as I like the smooth grey contrast. Please ignore the ends of joss sticks in some of the photos. They were page markers…]
Before the wacky outfits, tabloid hints over sexuality and harassment over his receding hair, Reg Dwight aka Elt was a piano man, backing visiting American stars such as Cadet recording star and Northern Soul luminary Major Lance and those based over here like Doris Troy. Soul, jazz but rhythm and blues in the main.
The Bag O’Nails was a star hang-out in Soho, London in the 60s. Cindy Birdsong, formerly of The Supremes, and Long John Baldry, English R’n’B icon, are dotted moments in Elt’s recollection of his suicide attempts. At the bottom of the right-hand page is the first of several mentions of Liberace, another seemingly unflappable piano-playing showman.
At the time of publication, Elton was working towards debuting his next album and – below – ran the rule over his new songs, including ‘Candle In The Wind’.
It seems that any anti-semitic claims over the lovely ‘Border Song‘ have long receded, but I do like Elton’s willingness to engage in the issue of homosexuality regarding ‘Daniel’ (and, of course, the use of the ‘homo’ term instead of ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ – and how it instantly seems to render any conversation featuring it as very old and archaic indeed). [The ‘Levon’ referred to here is the song from the ‘Madman Across The Water’ album.]
An obligatory reference to the fact that like Messi, Napoleon and Prince, Elt is a tad on the short side thus he was pre-disposed to the platforms… which led him to the Donald Duck outfits and the rest of his classy carny attire.
It’s well-known that Elton was – hopefully still is – an insatiable music addict, poring over charts and snapping up every new release each week. I like his subtle diss at the musicality of Lou Reed; his astute reading of Dusty Springfield‘s then situation; and, of course, his happy self-comparison of himself to a small, prickly animal [Davey, Dee, and Nigel were the then members of his band].
And to finish this peek into a brief snapshot of a 1975 Elt, a convivial but clearly complex man, whose admirable candour and steely strength is matched by his self-deprecation in print and in front of the camera: a shot of him tweaking the nipple of a cut-out of his hairy self.
Perhaps only Freddie Mercury has ever really matched Elton John in achieving critical and commercial success on his own flamboyant and evolving terms whilst living a life almost permanently in the public eye; a life that certainly had its difficult moments.
Cocaine blizzards, slagging off all and sundry whilst allowing un-brushed images of yourself to fly around the world are over by all accounts. That’s a shame, lovers of scandal and character might say, but this piano player has earned enough plaudits and respect and need not justify himself to anyone any more.
‘Rocketman’ is released in the UK and the USA on the 22nd of May.