10 Underrated Elton John Songs


Ever since I saw Rocketman earlier this summer, I haven't stopped thinking about the movie. It truly hit my heart like no other film has in years. Even though Elton John's music was the soundtrack of my childhood and teen years (the '70s and '80s, respectively) I'm a little ashamed to admit that there were a lot of songs in his vast catalog that I had never heard before. I've truly enjoyed making up for lost time and discovering so many brilliant compositions that never charted or were minor hits when compared to his mega chart-toppers such as "Your Song", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "Bennie and the Jets", "Honky Cat", "I'm Still Standing", and countless others. Well, better late than never.

Rocketman really did rock me to my core—I hope to write a proper review before the movie is released to Blu-Ray and DVD on August 27 (you can download it digitally next week on August 6.) I just had no clue that the cool dude with the splashy duds whose music videos and performances I grew up watching struggled with so much personally. And at the heart of this movie is his enduring relationship with Bernie Taupin, who's been his lyricist for over 50 years. The mutual respect and kindness these two men have had for each other from the get-go is conveyed beautifully in this movie. #FriendshipGoals for sure.

In the meantime, immersing myself in all things Elton has inspired me to come out of blogger hiatus (I haven't updated this site since January!) and list ten of what I believe are his most underrated songs. When pulling these lists together I always try to make them about songs that never charted or ones that didn't chart very high, but should have. And I'm not embarrassed to admit I have a huge crush on the man who used to go by Reginald (Reggie) Kenneth Dwight (I even drew a portrait of him)...besides being absolutely adorable, his personality and sense of humor in so many interviews I've been watching is enchanting! Elton also recently announced his 29th anniversary of sobriety—congratulations, Elton, and thank you for sharing your story and letting us know that it's never impossible to overcome deep-settled insecurities and change your life around.

Here are ten underrated Elton John songs that I adore.

1. Skyline Pigeon (1969)
Originally released on Elton's debut 1969 album Empty Sky, this particular version features Elton playing a harpsichord instead of a piano. If you saw the movie The Favourite, you'll recognize this one from the closing credits.

Elton told Rolling Stone magazine in 2013 that Skyline Pigeon "was the first good song Bernie and I ever wrote." He's the only musician on this track, taking full credit for the vocals and playing harpsichord and an overdubbed organ.

A beautiful and melancholy tune about yearning for freedom, the song was performed by Elton at Ryan White's funeral. He was the Indiana teenager who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion in the '80s and was mercilessly shunned and teased by his classmates, school officials, and townspeople until his mother moved him and the family to another town.

Elton became very close to Ryan and his mother, even taking him to Disneyland and pushing his wheelchair around himself for the entire day. He later said that Ryan's passing is what inspired him to go to rehab and conquer his addictions.



2. "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself" (1972) 
Can a song about a teen who wants to commit suicide because he's not getting enough attention be funny? Maybe I just have a dark sense of humor. "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself", from the Honky Chateau album, is sung by the point of view of a moody teenager who is "getting bored being part of mankind." It's so upbeat it's impossible to resist...to the point that it did actually stop one person who commented on the video on YouTube that hearing it put them in a good mood and they forgot about killing themselves (they also add, "I am now the world's newest Elton John fan.")

The irony here is that Elton tried to kill himself at least twice (sticking his head in an oven because he was engaged to a girl to cover up his sexuality...an incident that inspired "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" and his swimming pool incident which is depicted in the movie. Elton says that second episode was more a cry for help, as he knew the pills he took weren't really going to kill him. Thank goodness both attempts failed.)

And the thing is, "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself" is all the more relevant today, with our society's rampant social media and internet addiction.


3. "All the Young Girls Love Alice" (1973)
There's two theories about what inspired this track from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. One is that it has to do with Alice Cooper and his legion of young female groupies in the '70s. But the more likely explanation is that it's about a lesbian sharing her cookies with other women. Either way, "All the Young Girls Love Alice" is a rocker in the same vein as "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting"—and pretty heavy subject matter to cover musically in the early '70s.


4. "Part-Time Love" (1978)
This track from A Single Man climbed only to number 21 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 (and to number 13 on the Cash Box Top 100) and should have been much higher. Just a catchy tune about people having other partners on the side...too controversial, it seems, for the Soviets at the time—they banned the song when the album was released there. The following year, Elton would do a historic tour in the U.S.S.R. Gary Osbourne wrote the lyrics for this one.


5. "Victim of Love" (1979)
You knew that Elton John released a disco album, didn't you? You didn't? Well, Victim of Love—which is Elton's shortest album—is widely considered by many fans to also be one of his worst. It was released just as disco's spinning ball was slowing down (but so what? That didn't stop Queen from releasing their funk/dance/New Wave album Hot Space a few years later in 1982.) It received no promotion and is one of his worst selling records. But does that mean it's truly awful?

This album and the title track gets a lot of hate from many Elton fans. I personally think it's a very enjoyable record, even though Bernie had nothing to do with it (and neither did Elton other than providing his vocals.) Elton defended the project in one of the many books written about him, saying he simply wanted to make a record that people could dance to the whole way through. And the song "Victim of Love" is getting a lot of attention from newer fans because a snippet of it was used in the movie.

Elton has never played any of the tracks from Victim of Love live, and he did very little to promote it, but I still think the title song is contagious—I can easily listen to it over and over again, and it seems he even changed his voice to fit the tone.


6. "Blue Eyes" (1982) 
OK, this gorgeous ballad from the Jump Up LP was a hit in the U.S. and UK, but oddly enough, I never heard it before in my life until recently. Don't ask me how I missed this gem, which was dedicated to Elton's friend Elizabeth Taylor (whose eyes are really violet.) I just ignore that factoid...as I have blue eyes, I like to pretend it's for me. Ha ha!

Although the official video that was filmed on the Australian coast is beautiful, I'm more partial to the second video below which was filmed when Elton performed the song on Top of the Pops. Look at how long and lush his eyelashes are...and those sexy looks he keeps giving to the camera. His voice was as smooth as dark chocolate here. Oh, Elton...



7. "Who Wears These Shoes" (1984)
This track from Breaking Hearts reached number 16 in the States, not fairing quite as well as "Sad Songs (Say So Much)". The song is just contagious to me, and the extended version I'm including below is just as good if not better!

The music video gets a lot of criticism for some reason...this was the '80s, kiddos. And we loved it!



8. "Act of War" (1985)
This song from Elton's 1985 album Ice on Fire—which gave us the hit "Nikita"—was ignored in the U.S. (and only reached number 32 on the UK charts) despite being a rock-filled duet with Millie Jackson. Tina Turner was originally approached to partner with Elton but for reasons unknown, turned it down. That's OK, because Jackson certainly has the powerful singing chops to pull this one off, as she and Elton argue back and forth using Taupin's battle-inspired lyrics as the metaphor for a rocky relationship.

Don't forget the '80s was towards the end of the Cold War, when nuclear threat was still seen as a possibility by the Russians. I love everything about the music video for the song—including, of course, Elton's hat and jacket—although it's disconcerting to me that President Ronald Reagan wanted to "get them" (Elton and Millie) in 60 seconds.


9. "Wrap Her Up" (1986)
Another overlooked track from the same album, "Wrap Her Up" features George Michael singing falsetto throughout most of the song, so much so he later told Smash Hits magazine that he sounded like "I had my willy in a garotte."

Most of the female viewers who comment on this video are all over the fact that George Michael is briefly in it, which seems a little unfair to Elton. I'm not a fan of Elton's mullet in this one (proof that everyone in the '80s had one at one point) but I do like how they made it look like he was inserted into vintage film and press clips featuring notable female Hollywood legends.



10. "Original Sin" (2001)
A young Mandy Moore plays out my fantasy in the music video for "Original Sin", a lovely song from Elton's Songs From the West Coast album as Glinda the Good Witch transports her to a 1970s' Elton concert where she's welcomes by celebrities such as Cher, Sonny Bono, Liza Minelli, and Bette Midler.

The only kind of weird thing to get past is that Elton is playing her father in the video (albeit he's supposed to be an American married to Elizabeth Taylor) so essentially it's like she has a crush on her dad.


Of course we're talking about Elton here which means there are dozens more songs that could be added to this list, but these are just my personal top ten underrated compositions. Which ones by the one and only Rocketman would you add?

2 comments:

  1. Unfortunately most, if not all, music outlets (radio and streaming) play only the standard have dozen or so songs from a particular artist. Even their hits get missed if the count goes over six. You go all your life never realizing how many songs artists like Elton CHARTERED let alone produced.

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  2. I always loved "Sacrifice." It's slow and haunting and melodic and just sticks in my head. Just like "Blue Eyes." It's about living with the regrets that come with monogamy, I think.
    The lyrics are simple, but they really get me:
    "Cold cold heart
    Hard done by you
    Some things look better baby
    Just passing through"

    M.P.

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