Today in 1973 music lovers fell in love with Elton John and ‘GoodBye Yellow Brick Road’ so it seemed fitting to learn more about the man behind the lyrics of some of music histories most notable songs.
“My favorite thing is coming up with titles. The majority of the songs I’ve ever written. I’ve always thought of the title before I’ve written the song.”
Elton John’s long-time song writing partner Bernie Taupin was born in 1950 at Flatters Farmhouse in the southern part of Lincolnshire England. He was not a diligent student but showed an early flair for writing. His maternal grandfather a classics teacher and graduate of the University of Cambridge, his mother studied French Literature, his father a farmer. They taught him an appreciation for nature and for literature and narrative poetry, both of which influenced his early lyrics. At age 15, he left school and started work as a trainee in the print room of the local newspaper The Lincolnshire Standard with aspirations to be a journalist. He soon left and spent the rest of his teenage years hanging out with friends, hitchhiking the country roads to attend youth club dances in the surrounding villages, playing snooker in the Aston Arms Pub in Market Rasen and drinking. He had worked at several part-time, dead-end jobs when, at age 17, he answered the advertisement that eventually led to his collaboration with Elton John.
In 1967, Taupin answered an advertisement for talent placed in the New Musical Express by Liberty Records man Ray Williams who was searching for new talent. Elton John answered the same advert and although neither Bernie nor Elton passed the audition for Liberty Records, Ray Williams recognised their talents and put them in touch with each other. The pair have collaborated on more than 30 albums to date. The team took some time off from each other for a while between 1977 and 1979, while Taupin worked with other songwriters, and Rod Stewart, Cher, The Motels, John Waite, Starship and Alice Cooper all recorded Taupin’s songs.
Bernie’s unique blend of influences gave his early lyrics a nostalgic romanticism that fit perfectly with the hippie sensibilities of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Taupin sometimes wrote about specific places in Lincolnshire. For example, ‘Grimsby’ or ‘Caribou’ was a tongue-in-cheek tribute to a nearby port town often visited by Taupin and his friends. More famously,’Saturday’s Alright For Fighting’ was inspired by Taupin’s experiences in the dance halls and pubs of his youth. More often he wrote in more general autobiographical terms, as in his reference to hitching rides home in “Country Comfort.” These autobiographical references to his rural upbringing continued after his departure for London and a life in show business, with songs such as ‘Honky Cat’, ‘Tell Me When The Whistle Blows’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, in which he thinks about “going back to my plough.”
Taupin’s most important influence was his interest in America’s Old West, Tumbleweed Connection found in recent songs such as ‘This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore’. When Taupin and Elton decided to write an autobiographical album in 1975, Taupin dubbed himself “The Brown Dirt Cowboy”, in contrast to Elton’s “Captain Fantastic.”
“Basically it takes me very little time to write a song. If I find myself taking more than an hour to do it I usually forget it, and try something else. I like to work quickly; I never like to waste any time. I never write half a song and come back to it later at all. It all has to be done at once. I lose interest if it doesn’t.”
The 1991 film documentary Two Rooms described the John/Taupin writing style, which involves Taupin writing the lyrics on his own and John then putting them to music, with no further interaction between the two. The process is still fundamentally the same, with John composing to Taupin’s words, but the two interact on songs far more today, with Taupin joining John in the studio as the songs are written and occasionally during recording sessions.
It has been 49 years of music collaboration for Bernie Taupin and Elton John and the world would not be the same with out the beautiful music they have made together.