Elton John’s Derivative Rock

British-born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, better known by his stage name, Elton John, hit #1 on the singles and album charts in the U.S. prior to doing so in his home country.

His first #1 album stateside was Honky Château, which topped the chart in 1972, thanks to hit singles “Rocket Man” (#6) and “Honky Cat” (#8).

The first single off his follow-up album was inspired by a song Elton discovered while touring Australia the year Château was released. A local band named Daddy Cool had a million-selling smash in that country called “Eagle Rock,” which remained at #1 on their singles chart for ten weeks. The song told of a popular American dance from the 1920s.

Bernie Taupin, Elton’s lyricist in those days, wrote of a fictional American dance from the early days of rock and roll. Taking Bill Haley & His Comets’ “See You Later Alligator” as inspiration for this dance, Taupin called it the “Crocodile Rock.” Another Haley classic is referenced in the song, as Elton sings “while the other kids were rockin’ ‘round the clock.”

Other early rock-and-roll tunes inspired the writers (Elton composed the music) as well. Buddy Kaye, writer of “Speedy Gonzales,” a 1962 hit for homophobic shitbag Pat Boone, accused Elton of copying that tune for “Crocodile Rock”’s “la la la la la” refrain. Elton’s response to Kaye’s claim was that “Crocodile Rock” was “a really blatant homage to ‘Speedy Gonzales’ and all the great ’50s and ’60s records that we used to love.” So there!

“Crocodile Rock,” which, by the way, contains eighty “la’s,” was released as a single in the U.S. in November of 1972, the first single released by MCA Records. It became the first of eight #1 singles for Elton John. In the U.K. the single peaked at #3. The long-player from which it was taken, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, became the second of seven #1 Elton John albums in the U.S. and his first #1 album in the U.K.

(Elton’s first solo single to top the charts in the U.K. was 1990’s “Sacrifice.” He previously topped the U.K. chart with “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” a duet with Kiki Dee, in 1976.)

Of Elton’s first U.S. #1, Bernie Taupin said “I don’t want people to remember me for ‘Crocodile Rock.’ … But there are things like ‘Crocodile Rock’ which was fun at the time, but it was pop fluff. It was like, ‘Okay, that was fun for now, throw it away, and here’s the next one’” and called the song “a strange dichotomy because I don’t mind having created it, but it’s not something I would listen to.”

Elton’s retort to critics who called the song derivative was “it’s derivative in every sense of the word.”

Today Elton John turns 68 years old. Here are twenty tracks from when he and his rock were young.

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