In 1990, Elton John sat opposite Hugh Williams, his partner at the time, at a rehab center where Williams had gone for drug treatment. Williams’ counselor had asked each man to make a list of things they did not like about each other, and then had them read those lists aloud. In his memoirs from 2019, Me, John remembered that his list of complaints about Williams was short and small: he was cluttered, left his clothes everywhere and would not put his CDs away when he finished playing them. Then it was Williams’ turn to read his list of John.
“I noticed he was shaking,” John recalled. “He was more terrified than me.” You’re a drug addict, “he said. You’re an alcoholic. You are a food addict and bulimic. You are sex addicted. You are co-dependent. ‘”
John could not deny these things. He was a mess and a very public one. His years in the wilderness of cocaine and alcohol caused him to switch between manic episodes and unexplained rage, and the addition of bulimia’s binge-and-purge nature had a devastating effect on his body. You can see the result of his entire addiction in the film, where he appears with “Skyline Pigeon” at the funeral of teenage AIDS victim Ryan White: an inflated, pale, scary figure at the piano.
“When I saw the footage of the funeral,” John said Los Angeles Times, ‘I thought,’ my God. ‘ I was so fat, so old. “
Shortly after meeting with Williams and the counselor in July 1990, John checked into Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. (a suburb of Chicago), to treat his alcohol, drug and food addiction at once. “I did not want them treated continuously,” he wrote in Me“which would have meant spending something like four months going from one facility to another.”
The six weeks he spent at Lutheran General gave him education about himself, not just his addiction. For the first time in his adult life, John was forced to perform modest tasks such as making his bed and washing his clothes, and he refused as much confusion over how to take care of himself as embarrassment about being ordered to it.
“I tried to run away twice because of authorities who told me what to do,” he said. Los Angeles Times. “I did not like it, but it was one of the things I had to learn – to listen. I packed my suitcase the first two Saturdays and I sat on the sidewalk and cried. I asked myself where I should run : ‘Do you go back and take more drugs and kill yourself, or do you go to another center because you do not quite like the way someone spoke to you here?’ “In the end, I knew there really was no choice. I realized this was my last chance.” In the end, the posture adjustment and the physical detoxification turned out to be life-changing.
“I came out of rehab and you know it’s amazing when you think about the chain of events,” John said. Rolling stones. “Everything came alive again. The hope. Everything. Music never left my side.”
Listen to Elton John’s ‘The Simple Life’
Still, he was not ready to go back to work yet. “I flew back to London,” he remembered Me“where I called in at [the management] office and told everyone I kept something free. No concerts, no new songs, no recording sessions for at least a year, maybe 18 months. “
(He made an exception, which he mentions in his memoirs: “unexpectedly appeared on stage in full tow at one of Rod Stewart‘s Wembley Arena concerts and sat on his lap while trying to sing ‘You’re in My Heart’ … Pampering things for Rod has never felt like work, more of an entirely enjoyable hobby. “)
John lived alone for much of his time away; he got a dog and the two could be seen walking around London alone. He also attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings – sometimes three or four a day.
“It was wonderful, the way they just accepted me,” he told cinema Philip Norman in Rolling stones. “They did not care who I was. For the first time in 20 years, I could feel completely anonymous. The incredible thing about AA is that no matter what your addiction has made you do, there is never any guilt, only sympathy and love.”
While John spent recovery time outside the spotlight, he still meant importance to his fans. A career-exciting box set, To be continued… was released in the United States in November 1990, and a tribute album by him and collaborator Bernie Taupins work, Two Rooms: Celebration of the songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, was published 11 months later. More incredible, George Michael released a version of John’s 1974 hit “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”, recorded live at Wembley Arena in the spring of 1991, where John joined him as a special guest. The duet topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in February 1992.
Armed with a cache of new songs he had written with Taupin, a rejuvenated Elton John entered Paris’ Studio Guillaume Tell in November 1991, and almost immediately turned around and walked out.
“He had had a lot of fear of making the album because he had not made an album sober [in some time]John’s manager John Reid told Los Angeles Times. “We went to the studio the first day and he lasted about 20 minutes and he said he could not do it.”
“I was used to making records under the haze of alcohol or drugs,” John said Rolling stones, “and here I was 100 percent sober, so it was hard.” “He just wasn’t ready,” Reid remarked, “but we went back the next day, and in the end it was fine. The album just flowed.”
That album was One, released June 22, 1992 – Elton John’s first new studio album in three years and the centerpiece of a massive 13-month world tour that would find him playing more than 150 shows. The record starts with the middle tempo “Simple Life”. The sound of the song is completely contemporary – Olle Romo’s electronic percussion and Pino Palladino’s agile bandless bass work form the foundation, while atmospheric keyboards stick under a synthesizer with an accordion sample that establishes the melody. John’s voice is strong as he delivers Taupin’s defiant lyrics, especially in the chorus: “And I will not break and I will not bend / And with the last breath we ever take / We must return to the simple life again. “
“Simple Life” joins the title track, which also served as the album’s first single. A great, dramatic piano ballad, “The One” was a perfect complement to John’s duet with George Michael on “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” – perhaps a look at the life of the same character, 18 years after his first appearance on record. Taupin’s lyrics capture a moment of contemplation – a private moment given biblical magnitude and emotional weight: “For every man in his day is Cain / Until he walks along the beach / And sees its future in the water / A long, lost heart within his reach. “
Watch Elton John’s ‘The One’ video
Similar to “The One” in sound and tempo, “The North” presents a different kind of moment – a departure from home and people who have abused the character that John gives voice to. When he leaves the room, he leaves his pain (“North is my mother / but I no longer need her”).
When asked by Rolling stones to list 20 of his songs that described his life, John included the song that said, “‘North’ I love a lot; it’s my favorite song [on The One] without question. “
John’s friend Erik Clapton shares the microphone on “Runaway Train”, which became the album’s second single. Both singers are in fine voice, but their respective instrumental performances are what make the song special – especially Clapton’s guitar burns everything in its path and cuts through the bed of synthesizers that permeate the song. John’s organ accents and solos also provide an analogous antidote to the brilliance of production. “Understanding Women” features another guitar hero – Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour – adds something to the case. Taupin’s lyrics on this are, to be honest, little more than a long annoyed sigh (“Some men reach beyond the pain / of understanding women”), but Gilmour’s solo is worth sitting through the exhale to hear.
One ends with “The Last Song”, a fantastic ballad that presents a young man who dies of AIDS and who is reunited with his estranged father in his last moments. Taupins lyrics (“I can not believe you love me / I never thought you would come”) is heartbreaking and proved difficult for John to get through in the studio.
“Bernie’s lyrics … were beautiful, but I simply could not manage to sing them,” John wrote in Me. “It was right after Freddie [Mercuy]‘s death. Somewhere in Virginia, I knew it [former partner] Vance Buck was also dying. Every time I tried to get the vocals down, I started to cry. “
“The Last Song” was used in one assembly at the end of And the band continued to play, a docudrama about the early days of the AIDS crisis, based on the book by Randy Shilts. The sequence included photos and videos of prominent people who had died of AIDS. “Half of them were people I knew personally,” John wrote.
One launched Elton John back to the top tier of pop artists and became his first Top 10 album in the US since Blue movements in 1976. Within two years, he would help write and perform the soundtrack to the Disney movie Lions King and return to the top of the album and the singles charts and complete the comeback that started with his sobriety and the songs on One.
Elton John Albums Ranked
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