Elton John’s ‘Yellow Brick Road’ Journey in Billboard’s Back Pages: From ‘Silly’ Upstart to Undeniable Icon

Sir Elton John, who recently performed at Dodger Stadium for the final U.S. show of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road trek, is now within striking distance of the Billboard Boxscore record for highest-grossing tour. He says it’s his last. Billboard has charted the Rocket Man’s ascent and journey through the pop culture firmament since his first Hot 100 top 10, “Your Song,” to his latest, “Hold Me Closer” with Britney Spears.

It’s a Little Bit Funny…

Before “Border Song” crossed over to the Hot 100, Billboard took in John’s career-making U.S. debut at the Los Angeles Troubadour for the Sept. 5, 1970, issue and remarked on his “Southern Comfort style” vocals. By the Nov. 28 issue, “Your Song” was climbing the Hot 100, but Billboard wasn’t fully on board. “Elton John faces a major decision in his short career. Does he abandon his valid musical skills in favor of being a ‘stage freak?’ ” sniped one writer, who sniffed at “cheap, silly” antics like “banging the keyboard with his boot.” We hope you don’t mind that we put this down in words, Sir Elton.


Bennie and the Jet Set

By the time the rocker appeared at the Hollywood Bowl in 1973 with “a torrent of homing pigeons” and “none other than Linda Lovelace of Deep Throat fame,” the Oct. 6 issue was more supportive of his “unusually flamboyant” and “high-energy piano-vocal stylings.” In the next issue, an MCA Records executive reported that the double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was enjoying the label’s “biggest initial orders to date.”

Captain Fantastic

By 1976, John was omnipresent. “’Pinball Wizard’ by Elton John I can play once an hour, and half an hour later get four or five phone requests for it,” marveled a Philadelphia DJ in the June 12 issue. In the Aug. 7 issue, a survey of radio listeners who regularly bought records revealed John was “a clear favorite with 27.8% of the respondents.” In the July 31 Billboard, his name was used as shorthand for rock n’ roll itself: “Steve Ford, son of President Ford, is showing up at more rock shows than Elton John these days.”

Still Standing — And Thriving

By the mid-1990s, John had been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and won an Academy Award. And as reported in the Oct. 11, 1997, issue, John’s tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, “Candle in the Wind 1997,” “blew away the previous record for largest SoundScan week” by selling “nearly 3.5 million singles its first week.” The following year, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Can You Feel the Love Tonight?

In 1992, John started a pioneering HIV/ AIDS nonprofit. Sharing the Oct. 24, 2015, Billboard cover with his friend Lady Gaga, John wrote, “I believe with all my heart that in my lifetime I will have seen the very first day, and also the very last day, of the AIDS epidemic.” Gaga was inspired. “When I’m with him,” she told Billboard, “I just want to be a part of his genius plan to save the world.”

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 17, 2022, issue of Billboard.

Joe Lynch