On Saturday, Elton John turns 70. Get back, Honky Cat! The musician, songwriter and performer marks the occasion with a fund raising gala featuring Lady Gaga and host Rob Lowe in Los Angeles to raise money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Hammer Museum at UCLA.
The colorful superstar will also celebrate another milestone: 50 years ago, in 1967, John and lyricist Bernie Taupin both saw the same ad in the British music magazine, New Musical Express. One wrote music (John), the other words (Taupin). The publishing company that placed the ad figured that if strangers with these individual talents were paired, perhaps some viable, commercial songs could come out of the union.
Brown Dirt Cowboy still green and growing, city slick Captain/
Fantastic the feedback, the honey the hive could be holding.
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Their first composition together in 1967, “Scarecrow,” didn’t exactly take them to the hallowed yellow brick road. Not yet.
As detailed on the landmark autobiographical 1975 Elton John LP “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” album (the first ever to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts when that feat really meant something), the John-Taupin songwriting partnership was fruitful. Taupin’s hopeful lyrics on the LP’s “Bitter Fingers” rang true:
And there's a chance that one day/You might write a standard lads
So churn them out quick and fast/And we'll still pat your backs.
John-Taupin’s string of hits include standards like “Your Song,” “Candle in the Wind” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” So many more, too. “Daniel,” Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny),” “I’m Still Standing,” and “The One.”
The pair have also enjoyed a creative renaissance on late period post-millennium albums like “Songs From the West Coast,” the “Captain Fantastic” sequel, “The Captain & the Kid,” in 2006 and “The Diving Board” in 2013.
Will the things we wrote today sound as good tomorrow?
Will we still be writing in approaching years?
Apparently, so. Of his career with Bernie Taupin, John said in a statement, “It’s the same excitement now as when we first started. That this year marks the 50th anniversary of my partnership with Bernie Taupin is mind boggling for me because it seems like only yesterday that I met him. It’s an amazing achievement to stay with one person for 50 years on a creative basis, in an industry where that doesn’t really happen very much.”
Taupin, who would also have hits outside of the partnership with Alice Cooper (“How You Gonna See Me Now”), Heart (“These Dreams”) and Starship (“We Built This City”), added, “It’s been an unconventional partnership and while we pretty much patented the two-rooms technique I’d venture to say you’d be hard pressed to find a couple of songwriters more in sync with each other and their craft.”
I also feel very happy to use my position to bring attention to injustice in the world, and to try to help where I can.
Elton John on turning 70.
For the flamboyant artist behind up-tempo material like the old teeth-grinding “Rock of the Westies” album and the locomotive “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” single, or mournful ballads like “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” and “Home Again,” turning 70 doesn’t mean retirement. The pair — the entertainer and the behind-the-scenes scribe — hinted as such more than 10 years ago in Taupin’s lyrics for the “The Captain & the Kid.”
We stuck around for the battle/Waiting for a plan
To turn you into the Brown Dirt Cowboy/And me into a rocket man
It pleases the people some of the time/Digging into our roots
But I got a brand new pair of shoes/And you're on a horse in old cowboy boots.
“I’m interested in moving forward all the time, with what I create, my collaborations, and also with discovering the work of other people,” John said. “I think age is immaterial, provided we keep our minds alive by being open to new things. I can be as excited by a new artist who plays me their demo as I am by a new record of one of my musical heroes. I can be excited by playing a new city I’ve never played before, or revisiting somewhere I know well and seeing how it's changed. Life is a constant state of flux for us all, and I like to embrace that.
“At this time in my life I'm the happiest I have ever been.”
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.
Elton’s most fantastic albums
1. “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” (1975)
2. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973)
3. “Caribou” (1974)
4. “Rock of the Westies” (1975)
5. “Too Low for Zero” (1983)
6. “Honky Château” (1972)
7. “Elton John” (1970)
8. “The Captain & the Kid” (2006)
9. “Jump Up!” (1982)
10. “The Diving Board” (2013)
Honorable mentions: “Tumbleweed Connection” (1970), “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” (1972), “Songs From the West Coast” (2001), “Greatest Hits, Volume II” (1977) and “Made in England” (1995).