Playboy Interview Elton John
Playboy Africa|December 2020
A candid conversation with the unlikeliest, flashiest pop star of them all
Eugenie Ross-Leming, David Standish

Five years ago, Elton John was just another schlub like the rest of us. He was broke half the time, he was shorter even than Robert Redford, his hair was already beginning to thin, he was usually more plump than he liked and he wore glasses as thick as Cokebottle bottoms. Hardly what you’d call a head start in the Rock Star Derby; he would have stumped any To Tell the Truth panel asked to make the real next Mick Jagger please stand up.

Last year he made $7,000,000—and did the impossible: released an album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, that entered the charts at number one and shipped platinum—music-biz jargon for $1,000,000 worth of sales—overnight. Nobody had ever done both before—not the Beatles, the Stones, Sinatra, John Denver. Then, a couple of months ago, he promptly topped himself with Rock of the Westies, which shipped $1,400,000 and again entered the charts at number one.

Elton has become the biggest thing ever to hit the music business, partly because he seems to appeal to—or at least not alienate—all sorts of different people. Teenyboppers adore him; people who would be moved to murder by Led Zeppelin don’t go for their shotguns when they hear him; and even Rolling Stone sometimes likes what he does—according to its lights, anyway. That’s why his string of singles lighting up the charts stretched uninterrupted for nearly four years, broken only briefly last fall, a record topped only by—can you guess?—Pat Boone. Converting that into plastic, it means nearly 35,000,000 singles have sold world-wide; and his 13 albums are somewhere in the 40,000,000 range, which makes it easy to understand the vinyl shortage. All that vinyl in turn converts, along with touring and little asides like being the platformed Pinball Wizard in the film version of Tommy, into $7,000,000 annually, which in turn converts into a $1,000,000 house in Beverly Hills, another outside London, 200 pairs of shoes, eyeglasses of every shade and outrageous configuration, his own record company, a budding art collection of elegant ceramic deco ladies, more singles and albums than he can count, jukeboxes, pinball machines—whatever gleams next in his eye.

But in August of 1970 he was another unknown here. That changed in a week. On his first trip to America, he played the Troubadour in Los Angeles to audiences consisting mostly of the rock press and assorted music-biz types—a group of people who generally strive mightily to be as jaded and blasé as they are sun-tanned and lean. This time they all went berserk. In a famous review that launched Rocket Man into the skies, Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times began: m“Rejoice. Rock music, which has been going through a rather uneventful period lately, has a new star. He’s Elton John, a 23-year-old Englishman whose United States debut…was, in almost every way, magnificent.” Back here in colder regions, we thought at first that all of them had been out in the sun too long. His first American album, Elton John, was all gloomy and doomy, with a brooding, poetic portrait of him on the front and strings to boot—not bad, but not our idea of rock m‘n’ roll. What were those people hollering?

We found out when first we saw him live, Mr. Hyde incarnate, pounding the piano like Little Richard possessed, jumping around on top of it wearing a sequined something or other and a feather boa and flashing neon sunglasses and God knows what else, manic and sweating, forcing the energy to levels higher and higher…and, yes, that was rock p‘n’ roll.

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