Listening to this Elton John collection is similar to the experience I had when I saw the singer/songwriter in concert. For folks like me, raised on AM radio in the ‘70s, Elton John songs bring out strong nostalgic feelings. For instance, I cannot hear “Crocodile Rock” and not think back to those morning junior high bus trips with KHJ crackling over the sounds of hyperactive kids. John was the soundtrack to a significant period in my life. To its credit, Rocket Man: Number Ones sticks to all the best John stuff. So there’s no “I’m Still Standing”, for instance, to spoil the experience.
John is at his best with the ballads. Some of his more noteworthy slow ones include: “Daniel”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”, “Your Song”, “Tiny Dancer”, and “Candle in the Wind”, all included in this set. Even though “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is associated with a kid’s Disney movie, it’s still good enough to hang out here with all the other John milestones. Although ballads are his bread and butter, John could (and still can) rock with the best of ‘em. The aforementioned “Crocodile Rock” nicely replicates ‘50s style rock & roll. This CD closes with “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”, which is still a great beer guzzling track.
It is criminal to discuss Elton John music without also mentioning Bernie Taupin’s name. John is an expressive singer, and a fine piano player to boot. But primary lyricist Taupin nailed the downside of dating services with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and filled “Daniel” with tangible longing. My dad, a Baptist church deacon, even liked “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” because it preaches the Biblical principle of seeking forgiveness before nightfall.
It’s a little strange that the label chose “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long Long Time)” to name this collection. I will always associate this song with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. It was, after all, a time when the world was fascinated with space travel, such as the American moon landing. But John is not exactly a NASA poster child, and little of his music has touched upon space travel since then. John might have taken off like a rocket when he first hit the scene, but let’s face it: he’s mostly orbiting on his past laurels these days. The song ”Rocket Man” is also linked to John’s glam roots. With all his big, sparkling costumes, it’s amazing he stayed in the closet as long as he did. It’s also fascinating how many pop hits he had during a period when man-to-man love songs weren’t exactly an acceptable thing. But then again, “Bennie and the Jets”, a cover of the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, and “Crocodile Rock” can hardly be considered romantic tunes.
The case of “Candle in the Wind” is a special one. This song was originally aimed at Marilyn Monroe, yet has taken on a whole new life of its own because John sang it at Princess Diana’s funeral. Similarly, when the cast of Almost Famous sang “Tiny Dancer” in that film, another song was granted second life.
Maybe you’re not old enough to get all nostalgic over Elton John songs like I do. But classic rock is a big seller on the iTunes circuit these days — even among the too-young-to-remember set. Elton John, along with Bernie Taupin’s lyrical help, wrote songs — such as “Candle in the Wind” and “Tiny Dancer” — that are sturdy enough to entertain and enlighten succeeding generations. These songs were also number one chart successes, making them both sales and artistic winners. Without a doubt, Elton John is a rocket man who is still in ship shape.