The album is not only a definitive review of his unsurpassed back catalogue, but a celebration of the 50th anniversary of his unique songwriting partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin. In half a century, they’ve created scores of songs that have been part of all of our lives, and to mark the retrospective, we’re spotlighting some of the landmark recordings that make Diamonds sparkle – one for each of the five decades in which Elton has been a chart fixture.
‘Your Song’ (1970)
We could only begin with ‘Your Song’, the 1970 ballad with which Elton and Bernie’s writing stepped into the spotlight after early years of dues-paying to some critical, but little commercial, success. Taupin wrote the still-charming, romantically innocent lyric in the flat in which Elton’s mother and stepfather lived in Pinner, Middlesex.
“I took it into the living room and sat at the piano and read it through,” recalled Elton. “It’s a beautiful lyric; I thought I mustn’t mess it up, it’s so good. I was very inspired and I wrote it very quickly and called him in. I think when we both heard it, we knew we were really on our way.”
He was right. ‘Your Song’ reached No.7 in the UK chart in February 1971; in America, John had made a modest debut on the Hot 100 the year before with ‘Border Song’, which reached No.92, but ‘Your Song’ opened up his career, peaking at No.8 at the beginning of a love affair between the artist and the US which saw him make the Top 40 at least once every year until 1999’s ‘Written In The Stars’.
‘I’m Still Standing’ (1983)
The breakneck creativity of the 70s meant that as the 80s dawned, Elton was, incredibly, already on his 21st album, commemorated, along with his age of the time, in the 1980 album 21 At 33. As the decade commenced, John and Taupin were temporarily apart, not from any ill-feeling – Elton says that, to this day, they have never had a cross word – but chiefly through exhaustion, and a desire to explore other avenues for a spell.
Both writers knew they would work together again, and so they did to renewed effect – and impact – on 1983’s Too Low For Zero. It was Elton’s first album overseen by producer Chris Thomas, whom he had known since the age of 11 as a fellow-student at The Royal Academy Of Music, and it was a powerful return to form.
The album included hits such as ‘Kiss The Bride’, ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’ and our selection, the defiant ‘I’m Still Standing’. As ever, Taupin’s deft lyric fitted Elton’s pugnacious delivery, and the song remains a highlight of every one of his live performances to this day.
‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ (1991)
In 1990, Elton, at last, scored his first solo No.1 in his home country, 20 years after his chart debut – but he did so with a reissue of ‘Sacrifice’, first issued a few weeks before the end of the 80s as a single from Sleeping With The Past. So our 90s selection from Diamonds is the 1991 remake of a song from 1974 that was already a classic.
‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’, originally from the Caribou album, was one of many Elton John singles to perform much better in the US than back at home. Featuring backing vocals by Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys, it reached No.2 on the Hot 100, but only No.16 in the UK. But the live version, featuring vocals by Elton’s great friend George Michael, was an instant smash, entering the UK chart at the top spot in December 1991.
‘I Want Love’ (2001)
As the new century arrived, John and Taupin’s songwriting continued to mature – a constant in an ever-changing musical climate. 2001’s ‘I Want Love’, from the excellent Songs From The West Coast album, was a particular triumph, with a powerful Elton melody tied to an incisively personal Bernie lyric. “A man like me is dead in places other men feel liberated,” he proclaimed. The song went to No.9 in the UK and was a Top 10 hit on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart, winning a Grammy nomination.
‘Looking Up’ (2016)
In the 2010s, John and Taupin’s prolific creativity shows no signs of slowing down. After Elton’s joyous teaming with his sadly now-departed hero Leon Russell, for The Union, the two writers gave us 2013’s The Diving Board and the 2016 set Wonderful Crazy Night, yet another Top 10 album in the UK, US and many other countries.
From it, and from Diamonds, we have ‘Looking Up’, on which Elton’s rambunctious piano motif is perfectly complemented by Bernie’s buoyant words. John and Taupin may never have written a song in the same room, but they have produced 50 years’ worth of diamonds.