Four Corners of an Elton John Square

Matthew Restall, author of Elton John’s Blue Moves, on the nuances of a beloved pop icon.

 “I’ve probably had the greatest year of my career, at 72 years of age. I’m thrilled!” So declared Sir Elton John as 2019 drew to a close. He may have been right. At that moment, his 3-year, 330-gig sold-out farewell tour (since suspended by the pandemic but sure to return and grow) racked up its two millionth attendee. His autobiography, Me, sat comfortably atop best-seller lists. The biopic Rocketman proved to be a global smash. And Brits used the Royal Mail’s new Elton John postage stamps to send holiday cards.

Add to that John’s most recent hits compilation, Diamonds, which has yet to leave the charts since its release in 2017, and consumers surely have more than enough Elton-related product to consider in 2020. Does that leave room for a 33 1/3 book on a John album, especially on Blue Moves, the double-LP that was neither his best-selling nor his best (its average position by critics ranking all 35 studio albums is 13)?

Yes, I think it does. Consider John’s career history. At the height of their concert and album sales success in the mid-1970s, John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin worried that the public were becoming over-saturated with them. But, as the Blue Moves book explores, it was the opposite—lack of new music and concerts—that caused consumers to lose interest in the late-1970s. Now, as then, demand for John-related product to read, watch, and listen to is apparently limitless.

At the risk of indulging in hubris, I also suggest that Me, Rocketman, Diamonds (or the John album catalog), and my 33 1/3 Blue Moves serve as four corners of a square. They connect and overlap, but never repeat, together completing the picture of an extraordinary career rollercoaster.

You can begin at any corner and move around the square in any order. But my Blue Moves book acts as both an introduction to John’s entire career and a foray into one pivotal album, its moment of conception and birth, and the mystery of its fate.

Next might come the music itself—either the 3-CD version of Diamonds or the playlists offered by streaming services. Better yet, dive into the 35-album catalog, beginning with the two doubles, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Blue Moves, then move on to the extraordinary trio released in just 18 months in 1970-71—Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, & Madman Across the Water—before sampling one fine album from each of John’s five decades (from the 1970s to the 2010s): Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, Too Low For Zero, Made in England, Songs from the West Coast, and The Diving Board.

The more one listens to the albums, the more one realizes how much of a “fantasy”—rather than bio-pic—Rocketman is. And therein lies its strength. The movie does not pretend to be historically accurate, and so the inaccuracies do not grate (as they do in Bohemian Rhapsody). Instead they amuse, entertain, and illuminate in metaphorical ways. Some of those ways are obvious, such as the elaborate multi-scene choreography of “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting),” while others benefit from familiarity with the music—such as the scene culminating in “I Want Love,” a Taupin post-divorce number put to music by John in 2001, but in the film sung by Reg’s parents and grandmother four decades earlier, when Reg was still a boy and yet to morph into Elton.

Finally, there is Me, the 2019 John autobiography that justifies its rave reviews. The wry, smart, self-deprecating humor that runs through John’s decades of interviews (revealed in the brief quotes that pepper my Blue Moves book) is not only delivered in spades in Me; it acts as its very foundation. Every chapter brings tears to the eyes, either from laughing out loud or from the poignancy of the moment or—and this is where the book truly triumphs—both at the same time.

Can’t get enough of Elton? Order your copy of Elton John’s Blue Moves today!

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