There Would Be No ‘Elton John’ Without Lyricist Bernie Taupin

Elton Jon and Bernie Taupin, then and now. Source: Daily Mail.

With the release of the movie ‘Rocketman,’ we honor a unique and uber-successful songwriting partnership.

Due to be released tomorrow (5/22) in London and in the US the following week, Rocketman is being tagged a “musical fantasy” rather than your typical biopic…which can only mean a bit more flexibility on the story-telling end.

The movie has been “in development” for two decades, as scores of studios, directors and actors have paraded through the lenses of the film subject’s oversized sunglasses.

Elton John reportedly wanted Justin Timberlake to portray him, but settled for Taron Egerton, who himself sings those great songs under the tutelage of Giles Martin, the son of course of the legendary Beatles producer.

The director chosen for Rocketman was Dexter Fletcher, who finished up Bohemian Rhapsody after credited director Bryan Singer fled the set to face sexual misconduct charges.

It’s been whispered that Rocketman is the first major Hollywood production to show gay male sex on the big screen.

Here’s the one-minute official trailer to Rocketman, produced by ONE Media via YouTube:

A Simple Twist of Fate

And just how did the most successful songwriting duo not named Lennon/McCartney get together? (Talk about longevity: John and Taupin in 2016 released their 32nd studio album, Wonderful Crazy Night…right on the heels of their 31st, Diving Board, in 2013.)

In 1967, the two, both 17, answered an advertisement in the London music tabloid NME seeking singer-songwriters on behalf of Liberty Records. Bernie Taupin was a farmer’s son from Lincolnshire, England, while John, still using his birth name Reg Dwight, was a piano prodigy already working London clubs.

Auditions were set and both failed. It seemed John could compose tunes on the piano but struggled with lyrics. Taupin, on the other hand, was a talented poet who could not compose music.

As the two disappointed young men departed, Liberty Records A&R man Ray Williams called then-Reg Dwight aside, perhaps impressed with his piano chops. Legend has it that Williams handed Elton John a folder full of Taupin’s lyrical poetry, which John read on the train home.

A songwriting team was born. The following video, published by Elton John via YouTube, is John’s second appearance on Top of the Pops, January 14, 1971. The song, “Your Song,” was Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s first entry on the song charts:

The Method to Their Madness

There is a stereotype of songwriting partnerships: Facing each other, knee-to-knee, guitars in hand, a la Lennon and McCartney…or dueling piano playing and note-taking in the bowels of the Brill Building.

It turns out that Elton’s solitary reading of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics on that first train home would create the scheme of their collaboration.

“When I first started working with Bernie, it was exactly the same as it is now,” John remarked in 2016. “I would get a lyric, I would go away and write the melody and play it to him. That’s never changed.”

Elton John in his element. Source: Target Center.

When Elton wanted to make a record, he would give Taupin the overall mood he was seeking…referencing other musicians such as ‘I want a very Ray Charles feel to this.’

John: “I’ll visit him on the road and we’ll have frequent phone calls. It’s just that both of us prefer to work in a solitary manner.”

Taupin, who lives on a ranch in Northern California with his fourth wife and two children, claims there’s rarely any conflict because, in the early days, “He lived in London and played in clubs. So, he looked out for me. He was like a big brother.

“…I’ve never argued with his melodic stylings, because the guy is a genius as far as I’m concerned.”

Andrew Goutman

Andrew Goutman is the editor of The Record.

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