Chart Watch

Chart Watch Extra: Elton’s 40th Anniversary

Chart Watch

This week is the 40th anniversary of Elton John's first appearance on the Hot 100 with "Border Song." The song wasn't much of a hit: It debuted at #93 and peaked at #92 the following week. But it kicked off one of the most hit-studded careers in pop music history. Elton has amassed 70 Hot 100 singles, including 56 that made the top 40. In the rock era, only Elvis Presley has had more top 40 hits (104). Along the way, Elton beat Elvis' old record for most consecutive years with a top 40 hit. Elton put at least one song in the top 40 every year for 30 years in a row (compared to 23 for Elvis).

Elton was the #1 artist of the 1970s on both the singles and albums charts, according to Joel Whitburn's series of books that chronicle the Billboard charts. The rest of the top five artists on the Hot 100: Paul McCartney, the Bee Gees, the Carpenters and Chicago. The rest of the top five artists on The Billboard 200 album chart: Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand and (again) Chicago.

Elton has had comparable success in his native England. He has had seven #1 singles and six #1 albums in the U.K., according to the Official Charts Co.

In 1973-1974, Elton released four consecutive albums that reached #1 in both the U.S. and the U.K. His 1974 Greatest Hits album is one of only four albums from the '70s to log 10 or more weeks on top in both countries. The others are Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and the soundtracks to Saturday Night Fever and Grease.

One of the keys to Elton's durability is his versatility. He excels at catchy, uptempo pop ("Crocodile Rock"), hard-charging rock ("Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting"), R&B-accented songs ("Bennie And The Jets") and pop ballads ("Daniel").

Another key has been his personality. Elton rose to stardom at the height of the "introspective" singer-songwriter period, typified by such artists as James Taylor and Carole King. People sometimes call it the "T-shirt and jeans era." Elton brought showmanship back. And if he sometimes went over-the-top in his stage costumes, that was part of the fun.

Elton released a four-disk box set in 1990 titled To Be Continued... Veteran artists often use forward-looking titles on career retrospectives. The optimism usually seems forced. But in Elton's case, his career really has continued. His post-1990 successes include the biggest single of his career ("Candle In The Wind 1997"), a blockbuster soundtrack (The Lion King) and enough awards to fill a museum. Among them: an Oscar, a Tony, four Grammys, a Grammy Legend Award, a Kennedy Center Honor and, oh yes, a knighthood.

Here are 40 milestones from Elton's amazing career. All of these milestones are for achievements in the U.S., unless otherwise noted.

Aug. 15, 1970-"Border Song" enters the Hot 100 at #93. It peaks at #92 the following week. (Hey, it's a start.) A cover version by Aretha Franklin cracks the top 40 four months later.

Jan. 23, 1971-"Your Song" becomes Elton's first top 10 hit. It logs four weeks at #8. It's a big hit, but it's no match for the #1 songs at the time: Dawn's "Knock Three Times" and the Osmonds' "One Bad Apple."

Jan. 30, 1971-Elton lands his first top 10 album with Elton John. Tumbleweed Connection hits the top 10 the following week. One or both albums are listed in the top 10 for 10 straight weeks.

July 15, 1972-Honky Chateau becomes Elton's first #1 album on The Billboard 200. It's also his first album to spawn two top 10 hits: "Rocket Man" and "Honky Cat."

Feb. 3, 1973-"Crocodile Rock" becomes Elton's first #1 single on the Hot 100.

Feb. 10, 1973-Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player becomes Elton's first #1 album in the U.K. It stays on top for six weeks. It also hits #1 in the U.S.

Dec. 15, 1973-Elton's "Step Into Christmas" hits #1 on the weekly Christmas singles chart. It dethrones the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling" and is knocked off the following week by Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas."

Dec. 29, 1973--The two-disk Goodbye Yellow Brick Road logs its eighth week at #1 on The Billboard 200. That's longer than any other album in 1973.

May 18, 1974-"Bennie And The Jets" cracks the top 15 on the Hot Soul Singles chart, a rarity for a hit by a white pop artist. It also tops the Hot 100.

Nov. 16, 1974-Elton helps John Lennon land his only #1 solo hit in his lifetime with "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night." Elton sings background vocals. Lennon returns the favor by playing guitar on Elton's remake of the Beatles' "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," which hits #1 seven weeks later.

Feb. 1, 1975-Elton John-Greatest Hits logs its 10th week at #1 on The Billboard 200. That's the longest run by a greatest hits set since a 1945 Glenn Miller album which had 16 weeks on top.

March 19, 1975-A movie version of The Who's rock opera Tommy opens. Elton sings "Pinball Wizard." Tina Turner and Eric Clapton are also featured. The soundtrack album reaches #2.

June 7, 1975-Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy becomes the first album ever to enter The Billboard 200 at #1.

July 7, 1975-Elton makes the cover of TIME. The cover line: "Rock's Captain Fantastic."

Aug. 30, 1975-Captain Fantastic logs its seventh week at #1. That's longer than any other album in 1975. It's Elton's third album to log seven or more weeks at #1. No other artist accomplishes that feat in the '70s.

Oct. 25, 1975-Neil Sedaka's "Bad Blood" (with Elton on backing vocals) spends its third week at #1, longer than any other single in Sedaka's long career. But the record is dispatched the following week. (See next item.)

Nov. 1, 1975-"Island Girl" shoots to #1 on the Hot 100 in just four weeks, faster than any other Elton single of the 1970s.

Nov. 8, 1975-Rock Of The Westies debuts at #1. It's Elton's second album in a row to debut in the top spot. No one else will open at #1 more than once until Michael Jackson scores with 1987's Bad and 1991's Dangerous. This is Elton's seventh #1 album in a row (discounting a belated U.S. release of his first album, 1969's Empty Sky.)

July 24, 1976-"Don't Go Breaking My Heart," an irresistible duet with Kiki Dee, hits #1 in the U.K. It is, remarkably, Elton's first #1 in his home country. It spends six weeks on top, which remains his longest run at #1 in the U.K.  The confection also becomes Elton's first single to log four weeks at #1 in the U.S.

Oct. 7, 1976-Elton comes out in Rolling Stone. Such disclosures are commonplace today, but were extremely rare back then.

Jan. 18, 1986-Dionne & Friends' "That's What Friends Are For" hits #1. Elton is featured on the Dionne Warwick hit, along with Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder. The song raises money and consciousness in the fight against AIDS.

Dec. 20, 1986-The nadir. Leather Jackets peaks at #91. It's Elton's lowest-charting studio album.

Aug. 27, 1988-The zesty "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That" hits #2. It's Elton's highest-charting hit of the 1980s. It's kept out of the top spot by George Michael's "Monkey." The younger pop star had backed Elton on his hits "Wrap Her Up" and "Nikita," and would team with him again. (See Feb. 1, 1992.)

Nov. 16, 1991-Two Rooms-Celebrating The Songs Of Elton John & Bernie Taupin cracks the top 20. It's the first multi-artist tribute album to reach the top 20. Rod Stewart's "Your Song" and Jon Bon Jovi's "Levon" become radio hits. The album also features such stars as Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and The Who.

Feb. 1, 1992-A live remake by George Michael and Elton of "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" hits #1. Elton's original version had peaked at #2 in July 1974. (It got stuck behind "Annie's Song" by John Denver, who was virtually as hot as Elton in 1974.)

Feb. 27, 1992-Elton and Bernie Taupin are inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at a ceremony in New York. Billy Joel is also among the inductees that year. In 1994, Elton and Joel team up for their first joint concert tour. The tours prove to be lucrative for both piano men.

Sept. 5, 1992-The One cracks the Top 10 on The Billboard 200. It's Elton's first top 10 album since Blue Moves in 1976. The title song also becomes a top 10 hit on the Hot 100.

April 3, 1993-"Simple Life" cracks the top 40, enabling Elton to surpass Elvis Presley's record for most consecutive years with at least one top 40 hit. It's the 24th consecutive year that Elton has placed a single in the top 40. Elvis scored for 23 years, from 1956 through 1978 (the year after his death). Elton keeps the string going through 1999.

Jan. 19, 1994-Elton is inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Axl Rose makes the induction. Also inducted that year: pals Rod Stewart and the late John Lennon.

July 16, 1994-The Lion King soundtrack hits #1. The album logs 10 weeks at #1, tying Elton John-Greatest Hits for the longest run on top by any Elton-related album. (The album includes only three Elton vocal tracks, so it's not considered an official Elton album.)

March 1, 1995-Elton finally wins his first Grammy as a solo performer. "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" wins for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. (Elton won two previous Grammys: as part of the foursome on "That's What Friends Are For" and for composing an instrumental on a album by classical flutist James Galway.)

March 27, 1995-Elton wins an Oscar for Best Song for "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" from The Lion King. Elton wrote the ballad with Tim Rice.

Oct. 11, 1997-"Candle In The Wind 1997" enters the Hot 100 at #1, a first for Elton. The song stays on top for 14 straight weeks. It's one of the five longest-running #1 hits of the 1990s. Elton and Bernie Taupin wrote the original version of the song in 1973. Taupin rewrote the lyric after the death of Princess Diana.

Feb. 24, 1998-Elton is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

March 13, 1999-"Written In The Stars," a duet with LeAnn Rimes, cracks the top 40 on the Hot 100. It's Elton's 56th top 40 hit. Elton and Tim Rice wrote the song for the musical Aida. Phil Collins produced the single.

Feb. 23, 2000-Elton receives a Grammy Legend Award. He performs "Philadelphia Freedom" on the show. No one mentions that the song wasn't even nominated when it was a smash in 1975. (And I'm certainly not going to bring it up now.)

Feb. 21, 2001-Elton plays a key role in one the most memorable performances in the history of the Grammy telecast. The gay icon and Eminem, the focus of much controversy for lyrics that were seen as anti-gay, collaborate on Em's "Stan."

June 4, 2000-Elton wins a Tony for Best Original Music Score for Aida. He collaborated on the musical with Tim Rice. Elton was nominated in the same category for 1998's The Lion King and 2009's Billy Elliot, The Musical.

December 2004-Elton receives a Kennedy Center Honor. He's the first British rocker to receive the honor. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who follow suit four years later.

April 1, 2007-Rocket Man-Number Ones debuts at #9. It's Elton's 16th top 10 album. The title is a nod to Elton's 1972 hit "Rocket Man." The song includes the refrain, "I think it's gonna be a long, long time." I'd say that prophesy has come true.

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