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Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on 25 March, 1947 in Pinner, Middlesex, England. Dwight began playing piano at the age of four, and when he was 11, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. After studying for six years, he left school with the intention of breaking into the music business. He joined his first group, Bluesology in 1961. In 1965, Dwight changed his name to Elton John, taking his first name from Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and his last from John Baldry. The same year he teamed up with Bernie Taupin. Bernie would write the lyrics and Elton would write the music. Over the next two years, the duo wrote songs for pop singers like Roger Cook and Lulu. By the summer of 1968, he had begun recording singles for release under his own name. By 1970, Elton was beginning to become popular in the States and produced the Top 10 single, "Your Song." 1971 saw the release of the album Tumbleweed Connection, which climbed into the USA Top 10 and was the first Elton John album I personally bought. The early 70's demonstrated Elton's versatility, combining his melodic skills, charisma and flamboyant stage shows to make him the most popular recording artist of the decade. Unlike many pop stars, John was able to sustain his popularity, charting a Top 40 single every single year from 1970 to 1996. Many of his songs, including "Your Song," "Rocket Man," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me", became contemporary pop standards. Throughout the '80s, John's albums would consistently go gold, and they always generated at least one Top 40 single; frequently, they featured Top 10 singles like "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" (1984), "Nikita" (1986), "Candle in the Wind" (1987), and " I Don't Want To Go On With You Like That" (1988). For me, 1987's album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road marked the point where Elton began to gather more attention, as it topped the American charts for eight straight weeks. In many ways, the double album was a recap of all the styles and sounds that made John a star. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is all over the map, beginning with the prog-rock epic "Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)" and immediately careening into the balladry of "Candle in the Wind", a beautiful song dedicated to Marilyn Monroe and which in 1998 was reworked as "Goodbye English Rose", a tribute to Princess Diana, who Elton Knew well. For the rest of the album, Elton leaps between pop, "Bennie and the Jets", ballads ("Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"), hard rock ("Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"), novelties ("Jamaica Jerk-Off"), Taupin's literary pretensions ("The Ballad of Danny Bailey"), and everything in between. While his career continued to be successful, his personal life was in turmoil. Since the mid-'70s, he had been addicted to cocaine and alcohol. Following a record-breaking five-date stint at Madison Square Garden in 1988, John auctioned off all of his theatrical costumes, thousands of pieces of memorabilia and his extensive record collection through Sotheby's. The auction was a symbolic turning point. Over the next two years, John battled both his drug addiction and bullimia, undergoing hair replacement surgery at the same time. By 1991, he was sober and the following year, he established the Elton John AIDS Foundation; he also announced that he would donate all royalties from his single sales to AIDS research. In 1992, John returned to active recording with 'The One'. Peaking at number eight on the US charts and going double platinum, the album became his most successful record since Blue Moves, and sparked a career renaissance for John. He and Taupin signed a record-breaking publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music in 1992 for an estimated $39 million. In 1994, John collaborated with lyricist Tim Rice on songs for Disney's animated feature The Lion King. One of their collaborations, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, as well as the Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. John's 1995 album Made In England continued his comeback, peaking at number 3 on the UK charts and number 13 in the US; in America, the album went platinum. Made in England could almost have been the follow-up to Elton John's self-titled 1970 album. It was his first recording since the success of his songs for The Lion King soundtrack. Elton brought back some of his old associates, percussionist Ray Cooper, guitarist Davey Johnstone, and, orchestrator Paul Buckmaster, who gave the Elton John album its distinctive sound 25 years earlier. John remained a musical jukebox: "Please" had a twangy guitar riff that sounds like the 1965's Searchers. Guest organist Paul Carrack brought a soulful Booker T.-like feel to "Man." "Believe", the album's first single, displays the influence of Elton's friend John Lennon. Lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote mostly in short, simple, declarative sentences and gave his songs one-word titles ("House," "Cold," "Pain," etc.). His overall theme develops a positive conclusion with "Blessed" eventually triumphing over adversity ("Lies"). Elton's versatility, combined with his undoubted melodic skills, charisma, and flamboyant stage shows made him the most popular recording artist of the '70s. Unlike many pop stars of the time, Elton John was able to sustain his popularity, producing a Top 40 single every single year from 1970 to 1996. Success didn't stop there though. In his next album 'The Road to El Dorado', Elton John hinted at his classic sound of the early '70s, and returned to that sound on his 2001 album, 'Songs From the West Coast'. This was an album that flowed easily and naturally, setting the mood with the story sketch "The Emperor's New Clothes" and then heading in a number of scenic directions. Of these, "American Triangle," his elegy for Matthew Shepard, deserved attention, but the most interesting were songs like the bluesy "The Wasteland" and "Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes" both of which recalled the Tumbleweed epics. Neo-Captain Fantastic tune "Dark Diamond," the soulful closer "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore," and "Birds," a terrific, spare, rolling country-rocker completed the collection. Songs From the West Coast won't make you forget Tumbleweed Connection, but it often reminded you of it.