Elton John's 20 greatest songs, ranked

22 May 2019, 17:26

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

With Elton John's own movie Rocketman out now, what better reason to look back at his greatest ever songs?

20. '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.

19. 'Daniel'

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.

18. 'Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word'

The Story of... '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.

17. 'Bennie and the Jets'

Possibly the greatest intro to an Elton song?

The 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.

 

16. 'Are You Ready for Love'

This disco-inspired song 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.

15. 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart'

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.

14. 'Circle of Life'

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."

13. '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."

12. 'Candle in the Wind'

Read more: The Story of... 'Candle in the Wind'

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

11. 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight'

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'

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.

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

Read more: The Story of... '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.

8. '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.

7. '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.

6. '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."

5. 'Tiny Dancer'

Despite never being released as an official single in the UK, this song 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.

4. '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.

3. 'Rocket Man'

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 at 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.

2. '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 to his own life as his desire to "get back to [his] roots".

1. 'Your Song'

Read more: The Story of... 'Your Song'

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.