Elton John's 20 greatest ever songs, ranked

23 June 2023, 14:59

Elton John's best songs
Elton John's best songs. Picture: YouTube/Elton John

By Tom Eames

If we were handed the awesome task of handpicking a one-off gig from Sir Elton John, these are the songs we'd definitely want on the list.

With Elton John's own movie Rocketman a big hit and now back to being a chart regular into his 70s and headlining Glastonbury, what better reason to look back at his greatest ever songs?

  1. Sad Songs (Say So Much)

    Elton John - Sad Songs (Say So Much)

    This song closed Elton's 1984 album Breaking Hearts, and was also released as a single.

    The lyrics describe how it sometimes helps for someone who is feeling blue, to listen to old radio blues tunes.

  2. Daniel

    Elton John - Daniel 1973

    Bernie Taupin wrote this song after reading an article about a Vietnam War veteran who had been wounded, and wanted to get away from the attention he was getting back home.

    It was a top five hit in both the UK and US in 1973.

  3. Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

    Elton John - Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

    This song is a rather mournful ballad about a relationship which is sadly falling apart. So sad, you might say.

    Elton took it to number one in 2002 when he released a new version with boyband Blue.

  4. Bennie and the Jets

    Elton John - Bennie And The Jets (Official Music Video)

    Possibly the greatest intro to an Elton song?

    Bennie and the Jets song tells of a fictional band, of whom the singer is a fan. In interviews, Bernie Taupin has said that the song is a satire on the music industry of the 1970s.

  5. Are You Ready for Love

    Elton John - Are You Ready For Love

    This disco-inspired song 'Are You Ready For Love' was recorded with producer Thom Bell back in 1977, as part of a one-off EP.

    In 2003, it found a new lease of life after a remix was featured in a Sky Sports advert, and it became a surprise number one single.

  6. Don't Go Breaking My Heart

    Elton John - Don't Go Breaking My Heart (with Kiki Dee)

    This duet with Kiki Dee reached number one in the UK, and was intended as an affectionate parody of the Motown style of duets in the 1960s.

    The song was originally intended as a duet with Dusty Springfield, but she became ill at the time, and so singer Kiki Dee stepped in.

  7. Circle of Life

    Elton John - Circle of Life (From "The Lion King"/Official Video)

    Written by Elton with Sir Tim Rice for The Lion King, it was recorded by Carmen Twillie for the film but Elton also released a single version.

    Rice said he was amazed at the speed with which Elton composed the music: "I gave him the lyrics at the beginning of the session at about two in the afternoon. By half-past three, he'd finished writing and recording a stunning demo."

  8. Candle in the Wind

    Elton John - Candle In The Wind

    Elton penned this song as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, who died 11 years before.

    Bernie Taupin later said that the song is about "the idea of fame or youth or somebody being cut short in the prime of their life. The song could have been about James Dean, it could have been about Montgomery Clift, it could have been about Jim Morrison... how we glamorise death, how we immortalise people."

    Elton famously reworked the song in 1997, following the death of his friend Princess Diana, and performed an emotional rendition at her funeral. It became the world's best-selling single of all time.

  9. Can You Feel the Love Tonight

    Elton John - Can You Feel the Love Tonight (From "The Lion King"/Official Video)

    Written with Tim Rice for The Lion King, this song won Elton an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.

    It appeared in the classic Disney movie in a love scene between Simba and Nala. It also appears in the hugely successful stage production on Broadway and the West End.

  10. Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting

    Elton John - Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) (Central Park, NYC 1980)

    This rocker is a throwback to early rock and roll songs with a glam touch. The song follows a debaucherous night out in town.

    It was inspired by Taupin's naughty teenage days, and various fist fights at his local pub. It has been covered by The Who, Queen and even Nickelback.

  11. I Want Love

    Elton John - I Want Love

    This Grammy-nominated song saw Elton return to his piano-based musical roots, and featured on his Songs from the West Coast album.

    The music video was directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, and featured a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr lip-synching to the song. The entire video is one long shot, following Downey Dr from room to room of a large empty house.

  12. Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me

    Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me

    This song sees Elton sing to a friend he has helped, but is now experiencing rejection. It features backing vocals by Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys.

    In 1991, George Michael performed a live version with Elton as a surprise guest, and it became a number one single.

  13. Something About the Way You Look Tonight

    Elton John - Something About The Way You Look Tonight

    This song was packaged as a double-A side single with Elton's tribute to Princess Diana, 'Candle in the Wind 1997', which became the best-selling single of all time worldwide.

    The video features actors from the UK TV drama This Life, as well as supermodels Kate Moss and Sophie Dahl.

  14. I'm Still Standing

    Elton John - I'm Still Standing

    If you watch carefully, you can see a young Strictly judge Bruno Tonioli in this music video as one of the dancers.

    During the shoot, Elton bumped into Duran Duran. He complained he was exhausted due to having been up since four in the morning. Simon Le Bon suggested he have a martini. "So I did," Elton later said, "I had six."

  15. Sacrifice

    Elton John - Sacrifice

    This was amazingly Elton's first solo number one single in the UK. It has been described by Elton and Taupin as a 'bookend' to 'Your Song'.

    Taupin also described it as the "best song" he had ever written, and is about a breakup of a marriage where the loss of the relationship is "no sacrifice."

    It found a new lease of life when it was sampled and covered in Elton's 2021 song 'Cold Heart' with Dua Lipa, which went to number one that year.

  16. Tiny Dancer

    Elton John - Tiny Dancer (Live On Old Grey Whistle Test)

    Despite never being released as an official single in the UK, 'Tiny Dancer' has become one of Elton's most-loved tracks.

    The piano ballad's lyrics were written by Taupin as an attempt to capture the mood of California in 1970, and was dedicated to Maxine Feibelman, his first wife.

  17. I Guess That's Why they Call it the Blues

    Elton John - I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues

    This was one of Elton's biggest hits of the 1980s, and features none other than Stevie Wonder on harmonica.

    It has since been covered by the likes of James Blunt, and as a duet with Elton and Mary J Blige.

  18. Rocket Man

    Elton John - Rocket Man (Official Music Video)

    This song was inspired by the short story 'The Rocket Man' by Ray Bradbury, as well as Taupin's sighting of either a shooting star or a far-away aeroplane.

    It describes a Mars-bound astronaut's mixed feelings about leaving his family for a long amount of time. It has been used numerous times to wake up real-life NASA astronauts, and was played during the 40th and 45th anniversaries of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing.

  19. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

    Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

    From his seminal album of the same name, this song was inspired by the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, which was the first movie both Elton and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin had seen.

    Elton used the imagery of the film and Dorothy's journey to relate to his own life as his desire to "get back to [his] roots".

  20. Your Song

    Elton John - Your Song (Top Of The Pops 1971)

    Taken from Elton's second, self-titled album, this ballad was actually recorded by Three Dog Night first, after he allowed them to record it.

    Bernie Taupin wrote the song's lyrics after breakfast on the roof of 20 Denmark Street, London, where Elton worked for a music publishing firm as an office boy, inspiring the line: "I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss".

    Rod Stewart and Ellie Goulding are among the many artists who have covered it since.