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Opinion | I Remember When Rock Was Young

Mr. Taupin’s lyrics amplify that uncertainty; in “Your Song,” Elton’s first big hit, you can feel it in the line “Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean .…”

That tension between shyness and flamboyance was the thing that most struck me, too, when I first heard Elton’s music. As a closeted queer teenager in 1970, I found something in that voice that gave me hope. It told me I was not alone, that the fear of my secret self need not paralyze me forever.

You could be a shy person, this music said, and still make a very big noise.

Credit…Brad Elterman/FilmMagic, via Getty Images

As a piano player, I found the music liberating for me, too. One of Elton’s particular strokes of genius was the use of unusual voicings — playing one chord with the right hand and an unexpected octave with the left. Right after the line “Count the headlights on the highway” in “Tiny Dancer,” for instance, you hear a G chord on the right hand paired with an A octave on the left. Elton didn’t invent these kinds of voicings, obviously, but he was one of the first pianists to bring this kind of tonal complexity to rock ’n’ roll.

The combination is weird, joyful and gorgeous.

If Young Elton was eventually eclipsed by Glam Elton, that Elton, in turn, has been superseded by Sir Elton — an elder statesman of rock ’n’ roll who has landed happily, in his 70s, in fatherhood and philanthropy. (His AIDS Foundation has raised $450 million worldwide and saved an estimated five million lives.)

He’s still making great music, too. The album “Wonderful Crazy Night” came out in 2016. And just last week he released “Jewel Box,” a career-spanning anthology of rarities, B-sides and deep cuts.

But Linda Ronstadt says Young Elton is not that far away. “Recently he called me up just out of the clear blue sky,” she said. “I hadn’t heard from him in probably 30 years. He wanted to say he liked my singing and how much he’s listened to my records over the years. It was during Covid — a lot of people reached out during Covid to tell people things they hadn’t told them before.”


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