Happy 66th birthday to the phenomenally talented, mythically successful, and almighty-gay-and-powerful Elton John! If his one-of-a-kind, larger-than-life personality isn’t enough to garner your eternal respect, surely his killer catalog of songs does the trick. Frankly, he has to be awesome, otherwise this website probably would’ve been given a different name like “AfterPetShopBoys,” “AfterWham!,” or — still my favorite — “BeforeLautner.” (Kidding.)
On this blessed day, I ask you: What’s Elton John’s most underrated moment? I’ve picked out three songs I rarely hear anyone discuss, and I truly believe each is a highpoint in his extremely varied career.
“Are You Ready For Love”
The first is an effervescent pop jam whose original version is over seven minutes long, but this clipped-down version clocks in under four. It’s 1979’s “Are You Ready For Love,” which I consider the perfect rollicking summer anthem. Connoisseurs of the Bravo Network’s earlier, less-Housewifey days may know this song from the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy soundtrack. It is a tasteful and lovely track, and I rarely use either of those words to describe literally anything.
The best Elton album, hands down, is Tumbleweed Connection. It’s from 1970 when you could release a “concept album” and not look like a total douchebag doing it. This countrified album contains a number of stunners — “My Father’s Gun” comes to mind most immediately — but “Amoreena” is the perfect blend of hazy nostalgia, summertime imagery, and an urgent vocal. It’s also my dad’s favorite Elton John song. Hi, Dad!
“This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore”
I loved Elton’s 2001 album Songs From the West Coast, and not just because it features a lovely ode to Matthew Shepard called “American Triangle” with Rufus Wainwright on backup vocals. The album’s three music videos — “I Want Love,” “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore,” and “Original Sin” — featured celebrities standing in for Elton and lip-syncing along with his vocal. While I enjoyed Robert Downey Jr.‘s work in “I Want Love” and Mandy Moore‘s in “Original Sin,” the most kickass video from the album has to be “This Train” featuring Justin Timberlake as Elton himself during his drug-fueled ’70s heyday. It’s better acting than you’d see in Friends With Benefits, that’s for sure. Love, love, love this song.
And for kicks, here’s 2009 UK X Factor winner Joe McElderry lending his gorgeous (yet adorable) voice to “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.” This kid came out of the closet mere days after he realized he was gay! He was open about his sexuality practically the second he was first able to be. Kind of stunning! For that, I will always love him.
Your turn. What’s Elton’s most underrated work? For the hell of it, I’m throwing a live performance of “Little Jeannie” down here too, because that and The Rolling Stones‘ “Emotional Rescue” are my favorite things about 1980.