Even though that him lyricist Bernie Taupin has collaborated with other musicians, it should come as no surprise that his top 10 lyrics all come from Elton John songs.
The John/Taupin partnership has been going strong for more than 50 years (with a brief pause), since each man responded to an advertisement in the NME for aspiring musicians and lyricists. As the man responsible for the words Sir Elton sings, Taupin has drawn on all manner of lyrical inspiration, from his rural upbringing and romantic relationships to his association with him as a songwriter and events in Elton’s life.
On rock radio, we celebrate Bernie Taupin’s 72nd birthday with his 10 best lyrics from Elton John’s classics…
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
“Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true / You stand at the edge, while people run you through”
Taupin wrote this Elton John classic after his first visit to New York City. It depicts the fickle city through contrasts: late-night revelers and lonely entertainers, rich men and doomed drifters, “Spanish Harlem” (the song) and Spanish Harlem (the real place). There is beauty in it all, even for a country boy like Bernie. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” from “Honky Chateau” has been called one of Taupin’s most direct compositions. That’s true, but his language is never so basic that it can’t continue to grow in the listener’s imagination. These are magic words, specific enough to take you to the spot, fun enough to let you decide what happens.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
“You know you can’t hold me forever / I didn’t sign up with you / I’m not a present for your friends to open / This boy’s too young to be singing the blues”
The story goes that The Wizard of Oz was the first movie Taupin saw. So, on this soaring ballad, he pitted childhood memories — the Hollywood movie yellow brick road and the farm he grew up on — against each other in a repudiation of the opulence of the superstar lifestyle. The irony is that this song (along with the LP that shares its name) made John and Taupin even bigger stars; it remains Elton’s best-selling studio album.
“Blue-jean baby, LA lady / Seamstress for the band / Pretty-eyed, pirate smile / You’ll marry a music man»
This little hit has often been misdescribed as being about Taupin’s first wife just because it was dedicated to her on the Elton John album. However, The Wordsmith has gone on record that “Tiny Dancer” is about her (and Elton John’s) first trip to Los Angeles and the free-spirited “ethereal” women who were looking to be a part of the music scene in any way possible. . (No wonder she was such a perfect fit for ‘Almost Famous’ and Miss Penny Lane.) The song is a perfect example of Taupin’s ability to create these golden snapshots with an economy of language.
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
“I can’t light no more of your darkness / All my pictures seem to fade to black and white / I’m growing tired and time stands still before me / Frozen here on the ladder of my life”
Elton John and Bernie Taupin planned something epic, their inspiration being the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, for this “Caribou” highlight. Although Taupin has said that he’s not sure if his plans caused him to change his lyrical approach, it seems that he pushed the prose to imbue a song about love and loss with the stakes of life and death. That is not bad. Anything less would have been swallowed by the ample accompaniment. As with all of Bernie Taupin’s Top 10 lyrics entries, his words stand firm.
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
«A slip noose hanging in my darkest dreams / I’m strangled by your haunted social scene / Just a pawn out-played by a dominating queen»
For this masterpiece, Bernie Taupin told a story that really happened to his friend Elton John. In 1969, the musician was being cajoled by a woman into marrying a marriage that was destined to be a mistake (for reasons we now fully understand), and he nearly killed himself. He was determined to stay alive, get out of the engagement and focus on his Long John Baldry music, and Elton lived to sing the tale, as Taupin wrote it. The lyricist manages to treat the incidents with the decorum they deserve while also creating vivid, image-filled scenes that are nothing short of, um, fantastical.
The Greatest Discovery
«In those silent happy seconds / That surround the sound of this event / A parent smile is made in moments / They have made for you a friend»
Taupin drew on his own life in this oft-overlooked gem of an Elton John album. However, he did not use his own memories for “The Greatest Discovery”; instead, he imagined what it would be like for his older brother Tony when Bernie was born. It’s one of those warm, fuzzy songs that never goes overboard into cloying territory. That’s because of how well it captures the sense of wonder of childhood, as well as how all these little details in your brain add up to memories of the biggest moments in your life.
«Oh you danced in death like a marionette on the vengeance of the law»
This song was written when mass shootings were a rare phenomenon in the United States. And not some media event that seems to happen several times a year. In the chilling “Ticking,” Taupin creates a fictional scene of 14 dead in a Queens bar at the hands of an unstable gunman. It’s probably tempting to write a song like this as a parable, but this seven-minute ballad offers us no easy answers, just a human look at tragedy. The most descriptive line is also the most disturbing, in which Taupin summons a puppet to describe the assassin’s bullet-riddled death.
Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)
“A couple of the sounds that I really like / Are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike / I’m a juvenile product of the working class / Whose best friend floats in the bottom of a glass”
Writing the rockiest of Elton John’s hits, Bernie Taupin drew on his teenage days hanging out in music clubs with rude and violent characters. His intention was to take the “going out on the town” concept of 1950s American rock songs and transport it to an English setting. Apparently that meant a lot more booze, including the famous euphemism, “being as oiled as a diesel train.” The rhythm of Bernie’s words perfectly matches the fast-paced energy of Elton’s music.
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
«For we were spinning out our lines walking on the wire / Hand in hand went music and the rhyme / The Captain and the Kid stepping in the ring»
Taupin and John created “Captain Fantastic” as a concept album to tell stories of their pre-fame struggles in the late 1960s. As such, Bernie Taupin wrote the songs in the order they appear on the record, beginning with the title track, which is an origin story for the comic book characters of these two musical heroes. The language is weird and wonderful and the story sets the stage for two halves of a whole, hoping to conquer the entire world.
This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore
«I used to be the main express / All steam and whistles heading west / Picking up my pain from door to door / Riding on the Storyline / Furnace burning overtime / But this train don’t stop there anymore»
Taupin sometimes writes from his perspective and sometimes channels Elton’s opinion, which seems to be the case in this song. The lyricist uses a train metaphor to allow his worn out and tired superstar partner to reminisce about their holidays and his overly romanticized music. The minor hit is a wistful masterpiece sung by a rocker who, yes, is still on his feet, but hardly feels like a little kid anymore.
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Bernie Taupin: his 10 best lyrics in the Elton John catalog, according to Future
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