Elton John is a piano-playing, glamorous outfit wearing, lyric-belting icon to millions.
So many of us know his songs, from “Tiny Dancer” and “Rocket Man” to “Candle In The Wind” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
But all of this begs the question: while we all have our own favorite Elton John songs, what are Elton John’s favorite songs?
On October 10, 2019, John appeared on the BBC Radio 2 show, Tracks Of My Years, and provided a list of his top 10 tunes. And in doing so, he named some of the best tracks and artists of all time.
Among John’s favorites is “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley. “This record changed my life, and it changed the face of music,” John told BBC of the track. “Up till then, we’ve had Guy Mitchell, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Kay Starr, and all those lovely American acts.
“And this record my mum brought home, she bought a record every week, and she said, ‘I heard this record in the record store and I’ve never heard anything like it, so I had to buy it.’ She put it on, it was a 78,″ of course, it was on HMV, and it changed my life and propelled me into my love of rock ‘n’ roll … it changed the world socially and musically.”
John also picked out “We Can Work It Out” by the Beatles, saying, “I remember being at school, at Pinner County Grammar School, and my friend Michael Johnson came with a 45-inch and said, ‘I’ve just heard this band, they’re going to be the biggest band in the world’, and it was ‘Love Me Do’. I listened to it, and I thought, ‘It’s not bad, it’s not bad,’ but I couldn’t see that they were going to be the biggest band in the world … he turned out to be right. I think he was number four in that fan club, so he spotted them a mile off.
“And, of course, what the ’50s did with rock ‘n’ roll… The Beatles, were extraordinary,” John added, They revolutionized the way things were recorded, even though it was on quite simple equipment, they experimented, and they wrote fantastic songs. ‘We Can Work It Out’ is such a wonderful song.”
With all this as the backdrop, let’s dive into the complete list John gave the BBC of his favorite songs.
1. “Heartbreak Hotel”—Elvis Presley
Released by the King in 1956, this is one of the classic early American rock and roll songs. Elvis, as stated above, had a big influence on the young burgeoning artist, Elton John (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight). It was written by Mae Boren Axton and Tommy Durden.
2. “Great Balls of Fire”—Jerry Lee Lewis
Another classic early rock and roll song, this track performed by the late Jerry Lee Lewis was released a year after “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1957. It was written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer.
3. “Lucille”—Little Richard
One of the most underrated early rock and roll artists, Little Richard inspired many, from the Beatles to a young Elton. The song originally dropped in 1957 and later hit No. 1.
4. “We Can Work It Out”—The Beatles
Released in 1965, the song by the former Mop Tops was recorded during the sessions for the band’s Rubber Soul LP. The single was a No. 1 hit in Britain.
5. “Reach Out I’ll Be There”—The Four Tops
Released in 1966 by the quartet known as the Four Tops, this song was on the group’s fourth studio album, Reach Out. It was originally written and produced by Motown’s core production team, Holland–Dozier–Holland, which itself was comprised of Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland.
6. “A Song For You”—Leon Russell
Released on Leon Russell’s self-titled solo debut album in 1970, this song is billed as one asking for forgiveness and understanding from an estranged lover. Elton John is one of many artists to have covered the song, too.
7. “Think”—Aretha Franklin
Written by legendary singer Aretha Franklin and Ted White, the track was released as a single in 1968 and it remains as indelible now as it was then. “Think” asks the listener to think twice before doing something dumb. It hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles.
8. “The Weight”—The Band
Released as a single in 1968 on the Band’s debut album, Music from Big Pink, the track is still cherished today and sung on cover nights all around the world. It tells the story of a weary traveler.
9. “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night”—John Lennon
Released as a single in 1974, the song by the former Beatle peaked at No. 1 on all three record charts at the time: Billboard Hot 100, Cashbox, and Record World. It was the lead single from Lennon’s album, Walls and Bridges. It remains Lennon’s only solo No. 1 single in the U.S. during his lifetime.
10. “Don’t Give Up”—Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush
“Don’t Give Up” is a song from Kate Bush (“Running Up That Hill”) and fellow songwriter Peter Gabriel. This track was released on Gabriel’s fifth solo studio album, So, in 1986.
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images