E is for Elton – the early years

Monday 26th November

I mean from Empty Sky to Honky Chateau, when he was winning critical acclaim but not achieving huge hits or massive album sales.  In fact I bumped into Elton in 1970 or maybe ’71.  It was in a long-closed-now record shop that was little more than the size of a front room in Oxford Street, near Bauchamp Place.  There were a lot of pretty groovy record shops in Central London in those days, and you got to know the ones that stocked the best albums; the ones nobody else had heard of, by bands that would go on to be massive like Genesis, and those that would disappear and never emerge again like The Pink Fairies.  So, one Saturday afternoon I was in this tiny record shop when in walks Elton.  I had seen him on telly, but I don’t think it was Top of the Pops, maybe it was Old Grey Whistle Test, and I had already bought his first two records, ‘Empty Sky’ and  ‘Elton John’ and counted myself as a fan.  He looked exactly the way he did on telly, quite long hair, little green shaded glasses, an Afghan coat (I soon acquired one too) and white platform shoes.  He was polite and simply asked if many people had been in asking for his latest single, which could well have been ‘Your Song’.  Can you imagine any artist doing that today. He was out again in minutes and I never got the chance to tell him how much I liked his music.  The chance will never come again either.

Those first few records were all different, and yet each was recognizably Elton.  They were far less pop than what followed, and I treasure each one, especially ‘Tumbleweed Connection’ and ‘Madman across the Water’.   They had a special intangible something, almost an innocence, a sense that Elton and Bernie were making this music because they loved it, not because they loved the success and fame that would soon follow.  Of course Elton is quite unpopular now, and has turned almost into a parody of the super-rich old rock star, but when he still had his own hair, and wasn’t quite famous he was brilliant.