As he retires from touring, here’s what Elton John and his music have meant to me over the years

Here's what Elton John and his music have meant to me over the years
The legend that is Sir Elton John. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

After much speculation, Sir Elton John has finally announced that he is turning his back on the stage.

Well, not completely. But the news that he’ll be embarking on a gigantic global tour – entitled Farewell Yellow Brick Road – seems like the end of an era.

It’s a day we knew would come eventually, even if it is going to take three years to actually come to fruition.

But it seems appropriate to mark it.

20 Essential Elton John songs

Elton’s touched millions of people worldwide with his music, but if you’re a musician yourself, he’s just that little bit more special.

To many pianists, Elton was – and is – an inspiration. He taught us that you didn’t have to be a brilliant classical player to make the piano sing like a nightingale. (Famously, Elton abandoned classical pieces because of his fingers, which he describes as being ‘like cocktail sausages’.

Yes, his dress style was as flamboyant and unpredictable as his backstage manner, and some of his tantrums were legendary. But it was always the music that counted, above all else.

If you were a singer, he taught you that the human voice had an incredible range. And if you were a songwriter, encountering his songs for the first time opened your mind to musical styles and chord changes you didn’t know existed.

Elton knows what he’s good at, and from the early years he’s always been happy to leave the lyric writing to Bernie Taupin. It was a curious way to work – Bernie would send a completed lyric to Elton, who would then set it to music – but it resulted in some absolute classics.

Theirs was a marriage that worked wonders, just as it does today. The songs they churned out were by turns clever and catchy – sometimes unpredictable, sometimes downright baffling, but usually memorable, and always brilliantly produced.

Elton’s songs were the soundtrack to my youth – he and Bernie taught me that while ‘Sorry’ seemed to be the hardest word, there were any number of ways to say ‘I love you’.

I remember being twelve years old and singing along to Sacrifice at a youth club disco, miserable that there was no one to dance with me.

I had a ‘potter’s wheel’ moment at the family piano with a highly unsuitable woman who was the source of a nine-month infatuation, as I guided her hands to play through Your Song (very badly).

I remember learning all the words and complicated chord progressions to Elton’s 1992 hit The One, which talks of an imaginary encounter on a beach – ‘I saw you dancing out the ocean / Running fast along the sand’.

I sang that song for years before I finally got to sing it to the right girl. But when she finally came along, we courted (do people still do that?) to Tiny Dancer and suffered the pains of long distance relationships with I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.

Curiously, she always thought the line ‘Rolling like thunder under the covers’ referred to farting, but let’s not go there just now.

I still recall the Sunday morning I sat in her room in a shared house in Cambridge, belting out Someone Saved My Life Tonight (which was hideously inappropriate, given that we’d recently got engaged.)

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And years later, I wandered into a casino in Atlantic City where they were playing Something About The Way You Look Tonight over the PA, and immediately wandered out to the boardwalk, suddenly desperately homesick.

These stories are mine, but if you’ve been as touched by Elton’s music as we have, you will have your own narratives, and I urge you to share them with someone.

Sadly I’ve never got to see him live, and even though there’s one more tour in the works I probably never will. It’s a shame, because when he’s on form, his songs are infused with a kind of magic.

Still, it’s probably the right time to step back. He has a family to think about. You can’t help but respect a man who puts his children first.

It’s better that he retires now, at the top of his game, rather than sliding down the path to embarrassing mediocrity, like some other big artists we could name (but won’t).

And I’m sure we’re not done with the music. Elton says he has no plans to stop recording.

There will be more greatness to come. Still, fifty-three years of touring deserves a nod, surely?

Elton: we salute you. When’s the next album?

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