It would seem quite the challenge to select the 25 best songs from legendary entertainer Elton John, and his longtime lyrical collaborator Bernie Taupin. But, we went ahead anyway.
Here's our ranking of the 25 must-haves to complete any Elton John playlist.
Sometimes when we're in a funk or feeling down following the end of a relationship, perhaps. it can be therapeutic to listen to some classic sad songs. Some deep blues or even a breakup song. That's what Elton John and Bernie Taupin did with "Sad Songs," one of the duo's most recognizable tunes from the 1980s. The track, from 1984's Breaking Hearts, reached No. 5 on Billboard's Hot 100 and received regular play on MTV.
A truly sad, relationship-shattered ballad from 1976's Blue Moves album. Yet, one of the more underrated soft-rock classics of the decade, most definitely in Elton John's legendary catalog. John's vocal performance was long been lauded, packed with the level of emotion that makes it easy to appreciate, even if it's far from a cheery tune. The song reached No. 6 on Billboard's Hot 100.
If Elton John enjoyed a comeback in the 1980s, the 1990s proved that he truly had staying power. John composed the music for this memorable number from the beloved animated smash The Lion King (1994) film, with Tim Rice supplying the lyrics. In addition to hitting No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and John took home a Grammy for Best Pop Male Vocal Performance.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin kept their success going into the 1980s. His Too Low for Zero (1983) album was considered a moment of professional resurgence for Elton John, whose first three records of the 1980s were viewed as subpar. However, this ballad, which featured Stevie Wonder on harmonica, was an MTV and radio hit -- spanning various formats -- and reached No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100.
Another top-15 hit for John off the Too Low for Zero album, and a favorite on MTV in the early 1980s. There's certainly a 1970s pop feel to this track, but its up-tempo nature was able to earn mass appeal in rock and adult contemporary areas, as well. Something that Elton John was unable to consistently accomplish with his previous releases from the 1980s. The song was an unabashed signal that Elton John was back and still among the biggest stars on the planet.
This popular ballad kicks off John's No. 1-smash album Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, the first of two he put out in 1973. One of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's more controversial song, about a young man returning home from fighting in the Vietnam War, looking only for a quiet, normal life. According to Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin, it was misconstrued as possibly unpatriotic. "Daniel," however, peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100.
Now, the first two songs off Elton John's fourth studio album from 1971's Madman Across the Water are two of his biggest all-time hits (we'll get to that later). So, it's understandable that this title track tends to get lost within the album, which was a top-10 performer in the United States. There's an almost theatrical, orchestral vibe to the piece, but not in an over-the-top way as others in John's catalog.
Elton John has done his fair share of performance collaboration, but his 1976 duet with Motown-based, British soul/pop singer Kiki Dee has enjoyed a rather successful shelf life for decades. This undisputedly poppy track still remains a staple on adult contemporary radio stations -- as welcomed in doctor and dentist offices. John and Bernie Taupin wrote the song under the assumed names of "Ann Orson" and "Carte Blanche."
Elton John's second release in 1973, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, was initially put out as a double album and widely considered the best studio project of his career. It hit No. 1 in four countries, including the United States, with "Bennie and the Jets" concluding a legendary three-song Side One -- and reaching No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100. The tale of a fictional band in John and Bernie Taupin's universe remains one of the singer's most popular and recognizable works.
Highlighted by Elton's work on the Farfisa organ, "Crocodile Rock" was his first single to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. Off Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, one of Elton John's most beloved tracks, it's an ode to those early rock and roll numbers from the 1950s. It was also one of John's more pop-tinged tracks, and fit his over-the-top flamboyance as a fun, musical romp.
John's 1975 Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is an autobiographical journey of the famed entertainer and collaborator Bernie Taupin. "Some Saved My Life Tonight" is the highlight of the album, and by far its most personal track, referring to John's suıcide attempt from the late 1960s. Clocking in at 6 minutes, 45 seconds, the track hit No. 4 on the Hot 100 and has long been a memorable moment during his live sets.
There's a lot going on within this special moment from 1972's Honky Château. It can be argued that this is Bernie Taupin's lyrical masterpiece. Legend has it that the lyrics, and overall composition of the track, were inspired by the early 1960s' classic "Spanish Harlem." The song has been frequently covered and used in such films as Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous and the television series finale of Brothers and Sisters.
If there's one song that tends to define Elton John, it is "Rocket Man." He's often described by that moniker and is even seen sitting on one of the supermarket child-ride rockets in a commercial for Uber Eats. The lead single from Honky Château, "Rocket Man" reached No. 6 on Billboard's Hot 100 and is certainly one of John's most popular and recognizable songs. Another in a long line of iconic moments in the famed entertainer's career.
Released in 1975, "Philadelphia Freedom" first appeared in album form on Elton John's Greatest Hits Volume II from 1977. It was another No. 1 single in America for John, was quite popular with his soul music lovers. Apparently tennis legend Billie Jean King was also a big fan of the track, which featured a complete orchestral arrangement. John and King have enjoyed a long-time friendship, joining forces to promote various causes, such as equal rights and HIV/AIDs awareness and research.
Both "Island Girl" and the Rock of the Westies (1975) album, in which the song resides, reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard charts in the middle of the 1970s. The tune, with an obvious Caribbean-sounding flair and vibe, is about a Jamaican-born prostıtute living in America, and a man who comes to fancy her. The aforementioned Kiki Dee provides back vocals on a track.
The title track to Elton John and Bernie Taupin's 1973 masterpiece kicks off Side Two of the album. Critics have gone back and forth as to whether it's their best piece. The word "beautiful" gets thrown around a lot when talking about this song, and it certainly fits the moment. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and has twice gone platinum.
In 1974, when "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" was released off the No. 1-charting Caribou album, it was a hit for Elton John, climbing to the second spot on Billboard's Hot 100. When he teamed up with George Michael for a performance of the song in 1985 at Live Aid in Wembley, the tune enjoyed a serious rebirth. In 1991, the pair revisited that moment to record a live version of the track that went to No. 1 in several countries, including the U.S. and remains the most popular of all the takes.
One of Elton John's greatest "rock" songs, and a full-blown celebration of his over-the-top stage persona -- and, of course, various happenings off stage. The first song off Caribou, "The Bıtch Is Back," reached No. 4 on the Hot 100, and remains a track that receives steady airplay on classic rock outlets. While this is Elton John at his overindulgent best, Lenny Pickett's sax solo is one of the better moments on the track.
Another classic from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, "Candle in the Wind" is Elton John's tribute to the Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe. Fast forward to 1997, John and Taupin reworked this beloved tune as another special tribute, following the death of Princess Diana. He performed the song at Diana's funeral. John's live version of the original version, back in 1986, was nominated for the Best Pop Vocal Performance -- Male at the Grammy Awards.
The opening number(s) from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road truly set the stage for one of the great rock/pop albums of all time -- and stellar Side One's with "Candle in the Wind" and "Bennie and the Jets." "Funeral for a Friend" is John's instrumental, rather bombastic approach, to the music he would like to be played at his own funeral. When it comes time for Bernie Taupin's lyrics to arrive a little past the halfway mark of the 11-plus-minute track, in the form of "Love Lies Bleeding," the listener is already primed for a rollicking ride that does not disappoint.
The closing number to 1970's Tumbleweed Connection album. Complete with some of Elton John's greatest piano work, he and Bernie Taupin weave a musical tale of poor folk seeking out redemption on those rich and mighty neighborhood policymakers and bureaucrats. While it seems nearly impossible to choose the best among Taupin's vastly creative and poetic lyrics, none seem more descriptive, emotional, and powerful than these.
Let the fury begin. Music critics and publications have long considered "Tiny Dancer" one of the great songs of all time. It's the perfect blend of John's poignant musical composition with Taupin's original and picture-painting lyrics. It's become almost iconic, thanks in part to a new generation's acceptance of the song through an appearance in Almost Famous. The Madman Across the Water opener is no doubt special, but John and Taupin have actually produced better.
The undisputed highlight of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road's fourth and final side, and the first single from the album. It reached No. 12 on Billboard's Hot 100. This was Elton John's ode to the glam rock movement, one which he certainly had a hand in influencing without diving completely into the scene. The track also showcases the brilliant work of Davey Johnstone, John's longtime guitarist, who along with bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson made up one of the best backing bands of all time.
A simply beautiful ballad with subtle and conversational lyrics from Bernie Taupin. The opening track from Elton John's self-titled second studio album in 1970, "Your Song" was a top-five Billboard hit in America and one of the defining moments of the John/Taupin collaborative legacy. The four-minute track has produced countless covers over the decades, most recently, and successfully down, by popular English songstress Ellie Goulding.
To many, "Levon," the second track on Madman Across the Water, might be a reach to classify as Elton John's best song. Still, it's one of the great "story songs," regardless of whom you listen to in regards to the true meaning and inspiration of the piece. Levon, who "sells cartoons balloons in town," like "his money." Meanwhile, his child, Jesus," "wants to go to Venus." None of it really makes sense, but there is a certain grandiose and emotion that goes into this creatively bombastic track.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.