The Elton John song that John Lennon called “a step forward” for English vocals

Some of the best songs are the ones that don’t require that much effort. While many artists may invest time refining every word of a song, there are moments when a perfect melody appears as if by magic: at least, this was the case with The Beatles and ‘Yesterday’. Elton John, meanwhile, experienced this same level of ease with ‘Your Song’, which was so profound that it caught the attention of John Lennon.

As most of us know now, Lennon was a difficult man to please. He disliked a lot of The Beatles’ material and would often agonise over recordings or lyrics until, by his standards, they were perfect. Even after The Beatles parted ways, Lennon remained dubious about music, at least that is until Elton John came along. ‘Your Song’ was John’s first track with Bernie Taupin, who put the lyrics together over breakfast at John’s parents’ house. John then wrote the music in about 20 minutes, and it became the first single to reach the charts.

Although Taupin would admit that the lyrics were cliché, he commends its simplicity as a reason for its endurance, stating: “[It] has got to be one of the most naïve and childish lyrics in the entire repertoire of music, but I think the reason it still stands up is because it was real at the time. I was 17 years old, and it was coming from someone whose outlook on love or experience with love was new and naïve.”

Simplicity can be captivating, however, as evidenced by the success of many straightforward songs. The Beatles, for example, are renowned for their chart-topping hits that often featured only a handful of chords. This simplicity may have been one of the reasons why Lennon was especially intrigued when he first listened to ‘Your Song’.

During an interview in 1975, Lennon recalled: “I remember hearing Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, heard it in America — it was one of Elton’s first big hits — and remember thinking, ‘Great, that’s the first new thing that’s happened since [The Beatles] happened.’ It was a step forward. There was something about his vocal that was an improvement on all of the English vocals until then. I was pleased with it.”

Lennon likely heard the song when it was first released, which would have been around seven months after Elton’s second album arrived. During this time, he was opening for Three Dog Night, who included the song on their 1970 album It Ain’t Easy. However, Elton John’s growing popularity led to the song’s success as a standalone hit, partly thanks to his remarkable performance at the Troubadour in Los Angeles in August 1970. Recognising his burgeoning fame, Three Dog Night decided not to release it as a single, allowing John to shine.

As John Lennon reflects, ‘Your Song’ significantly reshaped the British music scene of the 1970s, it laid the foundation for a resurgence of emotionally charged ballads on the airwaves. Taupin later reflected on the song’s impact, saying: “I think ‘Your Song’ is a gem. Our classic, I’m not sure. I’ll let others decide that. But it’s like an old friend, it means so many things on equally as many levels. It’s certainly proved its worth, and I’ve heard it sung a million times. It’s like a good dog, it’s always there.”

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