In looking back at a career that spans half a century, there’s a lot of ground to cover. You could say that Elton John began his career overview in 2017 with the release of Diamonds, a greatest hits box set whose deluxe edition ran to 51 tracks. Then came Rocketman, a musical biopic about his life, released in 2019, which went on to gross $195 million worldwide. That same year saw the publication of Me, John’s no-holds-barred autobiography that received great reviews; it’s a highly entertaining story recommended for anyone interested in John and his work.
Now comes Elton: Jewel Box, a set that delves deep into his archives, with much previously unreleased material from John’s formative years — before he had his first hit, before he was even known as Elton John. The eight CDs are divided into four categories: two CDs of “Deep Cuts,” three CDs of “Rarities: 1965-1971,” two CDs of “B-Sides 1976-2005,” and one CD titled “And This Is Me,” featuring songs that were all written about in his autobiography. The set comes with a lavishly illustrated book featuring much information about the songs. There are also vinyl editions: a four-LP set of Deep Cuts, a three-LP set of highlights from the Rarities and BSides discs, and a double-LP set of “And This Is Me.”
The commentary in the liner notes is revealing. “I never thought of myself as a singles artist,” he’s quoted as saying, something of a surprise from an artist who had a run of 19 Billboard Top 40 hits in a row from 1972-78. “I wanted to make albums, and I never saw the albums I made as a few hit singles padded out with filler songs.” Hence the “Deep Cuts” selections, with John hoping they’ll “get the spotlight that my best-known tracks have thus far hogged,” making the case that however many hits he’s had, there are songs of his he still feels are undiscovered.
He also talks about the numerous artists who have had an influence on him, such as Laura Nyro, whose songs, he says, taught him that you didn’t have to adhere to a verse-chorus-verse-bridge standard in writing a song: “You can do all sorts of different things with the structure, you could do whatever you want.” It makes it clear that John is not just a musician, but a music fan, and he’s put Elton: Jewel Box together with the kind of care a fan would appreciate. He describes “(Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket,” from Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, as a fond look back at the days when he and his primary songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, were “scuffling along in the late ’60s, before we’d worked out what we wanted to do.” And when John says he still finds it hard to listen to this autobiographical album because he becomes “too emotional,” you know he fully appreciates how far he’s come from his early days.
John talked more about Elton: Jewel Box with Goldmine, also sharing a few things about his record collecting habits:
GOLDMINE: The last few years have seen the release of the greatest hits set Diamonds, the autobiography Me, the movie Rocketman and now Elton: Jewel Box. What started this period of self-reflection for you?
ELTON JOHN: The past few years have undeniably been a time of self-reflection for me, but also very much a time of celebration. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to continue doing what I love so much for the last 50 years. But looking at my life now, it is without a doubt one of the very best times of my life and really, it all changed when (my husband) David and I had our boys. With children, you can’t help but look retrospectively at how we got here today and the beauty of where my life is now. They have helped me focus on the present and surely makes me appreciate my past. Having a family that I adore and cherish so much, just makes me realize that this is exactly where I want to be for the rest of my life, with them.
Jewel Box in particular allowed me to rediscover all of this music that I created and haven’t heard in ages. It brought me back to so many wonderful memories and only solidifies just how blessed and proud I am to have my career, my memories and my family. And now, I get to have all those things together. I just feel so blessed.
GM: How were these tracks archived over the years; how were they stored? How extensive are your recording archives?
EJ: You can imagine that having a 52-year career would result in a massive catalog, and preserving a life’s worth of work is not a modest task. I was quite frankly amazed at how much there was! I knew I was busy back then, but when did we sleep? But that said, I have a great archivist and a wonderful team behind me who have an extensive and systematized approach to collating and storing my work. The “Rarities” tracks, which go all the way back to the mid-to-late ’60s, were primarily archived at my record company, Universal, in the U.K. They had been digitized piecemeal over the years. It’s an art in itself, really!
GM: The set features 148 songs. How did you whittle down the songs in the archive to that number? What determined if a song made the final cut?
EJ: It was difficult, because so many of those songs in my vault have special meanings to me, and I am eager to share them with my fans — I want to give so many of them recognition. But I have made a lot of records over the last 52 years, so selecting 148 songs was no easy feat; truthfully, there easily could have been another 30 or 40 songs on Jewel Box!
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