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Containing six decades worth of hits, Farewell Yellow Brick Road is set to be one of the most iconic tours to ever reach New Zealand. To celebrate, express reveals the eye-opening back stories behind some of the biggest hits that Elton John will perform in his final farewell to Aotearoa.  

Farewell Yellow Brick Road will celebrate the pivotal moments of Elton John’s career, including meeting songwriter partner Bernie Taupin. The two developed a unique songwriting strategy where Bernie would complete his lyrics first and then Elton would put the melody to them. The British press compared this method to doing dishes, labelling their unique style: ‘you wash, I’ll dry.’

A throat surgery in 1987, took Elton from a tenor to a baritone, leading the Rocket Man to reimagine his high-pitched hits from the seventies, which added a richer emotional depth to classics like ‘Daniel’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’.

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Bennie and the Jets

Expect the concert to start with one of the most iconic piano riffs the world has ever known. ‘Bennie and the Jets’ tells the story of a fictional female-fronted punk band that feast on ‘fatted calf’ before delivering ‘solid walls of sound,’ clad in a ‘mohair suit’. The song was instantly a huge hit in North America, but served only as a b-side to ‘Candle In the Wind’ in most of the world! Crazy but true, ‘you read it in a magazine!’

Elton John.
Photo | BEN GIBSON.

Philadelphia Freedom

 

Dedicated to groundbreaking tennis-player, Elton’s friend, Billie Jean King. At the time of writing the song, King had just been voted Female Tennis Player of the Year, after defeating male-tennis player Bobby Riggs in the heavily-hyped Battle of the Sexes. The exhibition match, which drew millions of viewers from all around the world, led to greater equality in pay for female tennis players and inspired the likes of the Williams sisters. King would go on to come out publicly as a lesbian in 1981.

Tiny Dancer

The opening track to Elton’s 1971 album, Madman Across the Water. Lyricist Bernie Taupin says the song was intended to capture the spirit of California, but many American radio stations automatically banned it, due to the line: “Jesus freaks out in the Streets”. 51 years later, it was remade by Elton with Britney Spears, blended with verses of Elton’s 90’s hit ‘The One’ to create his latest chart-topping duet, ‘Hold Me Closer’.

Rocket Man

The song that would become the soundtrack to Elton’s life. Co-writer Bernie Taupin is said to have been inspired by seeing a shooting star and reflecting on the perception of astronauts, who had once been considered national heroes and household names. As public excitement for moon landings waned, Taupin theorised it was just another job, writing the song from the perspective of a ‘Rocket Man’ resentfully leaving Earth for a typical day at the office.

Someone Saved My Life Tonight

“Butterflies are free to fly, fly away,” is the heartbreaking lyric Bernie used to narrate Elton’s suicide attempt that was prevented from completion by friend, ‘Sugar Bear’, when living in London in 1968. That same friend then convinced Elton to abandon his plans to marry, a source of sadness as the wedding was purely an attempt to make him more palatable for the mainstream music industry. It would be eight years later that he would come out as bisexual in an interview with Rolling Stone, before defining himself as gay in further RS interview in 1992.

Candle in the Wind
It was actually bisexual music mogul Clive Davis (Whitney Houston, Barry Manilow) who coined the phrase ‘candle in the wind’ when paying tribute to Janis Joplin. Bernie Taupin used it as a metaphor for fame and dying young, in tribute to Marilyn Monroe in 1973, and Princess Diana in a remake in 1997. The remake would go on to be the best-selling single in UK Chart History. Taupin told Rolling Stone the song could apply to “anybody, any writer, actor, actress, or musician who died young and became this iconic picture of Dorian Gray, that thing where they simply stopped aging. It’s a beauty frozen in time.”

Elton John by Ben Gibson.


Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Bernie Taupin is widely quoted as saying the song is about the “idealistic feeling people get when they want to save something from dying when they basically know, deep down inside, that it’s already dead. It’s that heartbreaking, sickening part of love that you wouldn’t wish on anyone, if you didn’t know that it’s inevitable that they’re going to experience it one day.” The song is one of a few that Elton wrote first with the melody and immortal opening line, “What have I got to do to make you love me.” Taupin then followed with the rest of the song’s lyrics.


Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me

Originally recorded in 1974, this tribute to a dying man features an all-star cast of backing singers including Cat Stevens, Dusty Springfield, members of the Beach Boys, America and Three Dog Night. When a live version was recorded in 1991 as a duet between Elton and George Michael, Elton’s ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ partner, Kiki Dee, and George’s Wham partner, Andrew Ridgeley, took over the backing vocals.


The Bitch Is Back

As documented in husband David Furnish’s 1997 film Tantrums and Tiaras, Elton did not hold back if he was unhappy about something. ‘The bitch is back,’ is a phrase coined by Bernie’s ex-wife to let people know that Elton was in a bad mood. While Elton would embrace it as a ‘theme song’, most US radio stations refused to play the word ‘bitch’, stunting the song’s success.


Crocodile Rock

While Farewell Yellow Brick Road will be Elton’s final tour, the singer has suggested he will still perform from time to time, presumably on special occasions. ‘Crocodile Rock’, however, is one song he has vowed to never play again once the tour completes. It remains on this tour’s setlist because ‘fans love it’ and will be an amazing experience to hear 40,000 people sing the ‘Laa, la-la-la-la-laa’ post-chorus in unison.


Cold Heart

Elton’s first UK Number One in 16 years mashes up his songs ‘Rocket Man’, ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Kiss The Bride’, and ‘Where’s The Shoorah?’ ‘Cold Heart’ (a duet with Dua Lipa) was first hyped on Instagram when, tongue in cheek, Elton tagged Dua and stated he was ‘not excited’ about a collaboration they would be revealing the following week. Dua replied, confirming she was ‘not excited’ either.


It is likely that after this world tour completes in July, Elton will become a less public figure, but his dedication to the queer community and charitable causes will remain unwavering. While promoting his biopic Rocketman and memoir Me in an interview with Variety in 2019, Elton announced, “I love being gay… And I think I wouldn’t have had the life I’ve had if I hadn’t been gay. And I’m very proud of that.”

In a follow-up question Variety asked if he had any advice for struggling LGBTQ+ young people, to which he replied: “If you’re unhappy at home, leave. Don’t let anybody torture you for being gay or for your sexuality. Be proud of who you are. There are so many wonderful diverse people in the world — straight people, gay people [and] transgender people. We’re all God’s kids. People who should know better in places of responsibility attack gay people, transgender people … they claim to be close to God, [but] they couldn’t be further away from God if they tried.” 

Final tickets remaining for Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour are available from oznz.eltonjohn.com and selling fast!

Article | Oliver Hall.

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