Elton John’s career has been colored in by two separate personas.
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On one hand, he’s a stratospheric pop idol, an outrageous trendsetter, and a world-touring artist. Elsewhere though, John likes to keep things firmly planted in his humble singer/songwriter roots—the guy who idolized Levon Helm and Leon Russell.
While the latter way of thinking may not have resulted in record-shattering singles like “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” or “Rocket Man (I Think Its Gonna Be a Long, Long Time),” his lesser-known catalog is chock full of funky productions, unique lyrics, and heartfelt ballads. Let’s take a look at 5 of those deep-cut tracks from Elton John below.
1. “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)” (From Rock of the Westies)
Lyricist Bernie Taupin’s pastiche for the Wild, Wild West remains firmly intact in this lesser-known single from Rock of the Westies. The story follows Robert Ford, who assassinated his fellow outlaw Jessie James. John’s gentle melody and vocals perfectly capture the regret expressed in the lyrics: I’m low as a paid assassin is/You know I’m cold as a hired sword. I’m so ashamed/Can’t we patch it up.
2. “Curtains” (From Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy)
Another song on Captain Fantastic, “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” is a clear-cut ode to Taupin while its predecessor “Curtains” expresses the same sentiment, albeit far more cryptically.
There are references to earlier songs the duo wrote together, including their first “Scarecrow” but the title suggests the end of something. Maybe Elton and Bernie had come to terms with the fact they were at the height of their 20th-century fame, or that their partnership was in the fray. Either way, the song closes out with a thunderous burst of drums, bass, and guitar bringing the curtain down with a euphoric end.
3. “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself” (From Honky Chateau)
Though the title might seem a little grim, this track is John at his cheekiest and most spirited.
In a roundabout fashion, this Honky Chateau track captures the flippant detachment that can come along with the “teenage blues.” With a jumping New Orleans-flavored piano and actual tap dancing on the recording, it’s hard to not groove along to this left-field number.
4. “Elton’s Song” (From The Fox)
John has thousands of songs but only one is deemed “Elton’s Song.” This heartbreaking piano ballad features lyrics from punk rocker Tom Robinson, which describe unrequited and unrecognized love: They think I’m mad, they say it isn’t real/ But I know what I feel.
The song was particularly notable for its Elton-less music video, which instead followed a gay romance between a schoolboy and an older male classmate. Daring for the era, the song and the video are worthy of their lofty title and remains one of his best works to come from John’s time away from Taupin.
5. “Bad Side of the Moon” (Live at the Royal Festival Hall / Here and There’ Expanded Reissue)
A leaner and meaner B-side to John’s gospel-steeped “Border Song,” this three-minute rarity really reached its potential when it was stretched out live—as captured on the ’90s double-disc version of his ’70s Here and There set.
When playing “Bad Side of the Moon” live, John gave it room to break down and build back up again. Not only a showcase of John’s enduring talent, but guitarist David Johnstone also gets a star turn on this rendition—who lets it rip like he was rarely set free in the studio.
Photo credit: Ed Caraeff / Iconic Images