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Elton John Albums Ranked: Crossing the Yellow Brick Road

Elton John Albums Ranked

Elton John is a skillful singer-songwriter and piano player who fashioned himself as a pop superstar. His 1970s releases are ranked as some of the best albums of that decade. John’s later work was a fine display of his maturing talent. And his work has had a surprising amount of influence across multiple genres.

While it may have seemed unlikely at the time, Elton John possessed most of the elements required for success even as he was making his folk-rock debut. A warm singing voice a la Cat Stevens, and a fruitful songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin, eventually allowed him to capitalize on the early 70s singer-songwriter boom.

What is the best Elton John album?

“Honky Château” is the best Elton John album. It manages to present John and Taupin’s collective vision the best. However, “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” do not lag far behind.

What is the worst Elton John album? It’s a toss-up between “Victim of Love” and “Leather Jackets.” Both were made when the artist was trying to reinvent his music.

In my view, Elton John albums can be ranked in the following way:

31. “Leather Jackets” (1986)

30. “A Single Man” (1978)

29. “Empty Sky” (1969)

28. “The Fox” (1981)

27. “Reg Strikes Back” (1988)

26. “Sleeping with the Past” (1989)

25. “Regimental Sgt. Zippo” (2021)

24. “Ice on Fire” (1985)

23. “Breaking Hearts” (1984)

22. “Jump Up!” (1982)

21. “21 at 33” (1980)

20. “The One” (1992)

19. “The Lockdown Sessions” (2021)

18. “Wonderful Crazy Night” (2016)

17. “The Diving Board” (2013)

16. “The Big Picture” (1997)

15. “Rock of the Westies” (1975)

14. “Peachtree Road” (2004)

13. “Songs from the West Coast” (2001)

12. “Made in England” (1995)

11. “Blue Moves” (1976)

10. “The Captain & The Kid” (2006)

9. “Too Low for Zero” (1983)

8. “Caribou” (1974)

7. “Elton John” (1970)

6. “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” (1973)

5. “Madman Across the Water” (1971)

4. “Tumbleweed Connection” (1970)

3. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973)

2. “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” (1975)

1. “Honky Château” (1972)

I’ve always felt distrustful of people that hate Elton John. How can you trust them to appreciate good music? In an era of AI music and an army of songwriters required to make a hit, it’s impressive to witness a singer-songwriter who can turn on his musical talent at will.

That’s why today I’m digging up my Donald the Duck costume and my star-shaped glasses and ranking Elton John’s discography in order of greatness, from worst to best.

Elton John Albums Ranked

32. “Victim of Love” (1979)

Elton John was far from the only star making disco records at the turn of the 1970s. “Victim of Love” is, however, one of the poorest efforts even judged by those standards.

Still, one can’t entirely blame an artist that had released so much material at a steady pace over the past decade.

“Victim of Love,” unfortunately, not only feels like the singer is jumping on the disco wagon. Worse still, the collaboration with Pete Bellotte had no hits in it. Still, “Born Bad” can be a fun listen.

31. “Leather Jackets” (1986)

Elton John must’ve felt immune to large-scale criticism when he released “Leather Jackets.” It didn’t turn his loyal public away, but it failed to light them up, either.

The myth about “Leather Jackets” is that it was created to fulfill a recording contract. While there might be truth to this, it should be remembered that Elton John had released, with minor exceptions, at least one album per year since making his debut.

“Don’t Trust That Woman” is a duet with Cher that will make some smile. But, otherwise, “Leather Jackets” is one of the poorest Elton John records.

30. “A Single Man” (1978)

“A Single Man” finds Elton John testing the waters to see if he can work without Bernie Taupin. The answer is a resounding “no.”

This is not to say that the record does not have its moments. On songs like “Song for Guy” or “Part-Time Love,” the singer feels energized.

But “A Single Man” simply doesn’t have the staying power to ensure a new career trajectory for Elton John.

29. “Empty Sky” (1969)

Before Elton John had managed to fashion himself as a pop star, he was a competent musician. “Empty Sky” finds him soaking up 1960s psychedelic rock and slowly finding his way.

John (real name Reginald Kenneth Dwight) had made recordings before. However, “Empty Sky” marks the beginning of his legendary, lifelong partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin.

While it’s not a great record, songs like “Lady Samantha” and “Skyline Pigeon” suggest that there’s a wealth of potential here.

28. “The Fox” (1981)

Elton John continues to struggle to adjust to the 1980s pop landscape. “The Fox” works on the songwriter’s soft-rock sounds, but there’s little here to put him top of the pack.

The songs are once again split between collaborations with Bernie Taupin as well as other writers. “Heart in the Right Place” and “Chloe” are fine numbers. But, overall, it feels that the artist is going through the motions here rather than forging a new path.

27. “Reg Strikes Back” (1988)

Elton John returns with a brand new record deal but delivers “Reg Strikes Back,” an album where he treads water.

Interestingly enough, Elton had taken whole two years between releases. It was quite a feat for one of pop rock’s hardest workers.

“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters Pt. 2” may suggest that John and Taupin are back to claim their throne. But it’s all false hope in the end.

26. “Sleeping with the Past” (1989)

Dedicated Elton John fans were required to create a special folder for all of the artist’s releases by 1989. “Sleeping with the Past” helps deliver some comforting, romantic sounds to the old believers.

The album is best remembered for the song “Sacrifice.” The power ballad proved that Elton John could still enjoy pop hits. His success remained relatively unaffected by his lack of consistency when it came to full-length albums.

25. “Regimental Sgt. Zippo” (2021)

Those who best remember Elton John as one of the greatest singer-songwriters to come out of the post-psych-rock boom will be pleased with “Regimental Sgt. Zippo.”

This is, of course, not a new album. It was recorded in 1968. Its role is to give a glimpse into the developing craftsmanship of an artist looking for his big break.

The psychedelically-tinged “A Dandelion in the Wind” and “Tartan Coloured Lady” suggest that the musician’s career might have taken a completely different path had his passion for The Beatles‘ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” led him to success. The Beatles’ influence has been confirmed by John’s songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin.

24. “Ice on Fire” (1985)

All pop formulas are bound to get old at some point, and Elton John seems to exhaust his ideas for soft-pop on his record “Ice on Fire.”

Once again, the songwriter’s motto seems to be “More is more.” Elton John had released a record a year since 1978. This had happened in spite of the public acting cooly toward many of those.

“Nikita” became a global hit. “Cry to Heaven” was bittersweet. And “Wrap Her Up” allowed Elton John to work with modern popstar George Michael.

“Ice on Fire” did well but is not necessarily a significant entry in the artist’s catalog.

23. “Breaking Hearts” (1984)

“Breaking Hearts” allowed Elton John, ever the workaholic, to consolidate his new role as spokesperson for adult contemporary pop.

The songs on “Breaking Hearts” feature a similarly high-energy vibe as on “Too Low for Zero.”

Tunes like “Slow Down Georgie (She’s Poison)” or “In Neon” allow the songwriter to test radio-friendly material in several styles. “Breaking Hearts” is not remarkable, but a nice addition to the Elton John discography nonetheless.

22. “Jump Up!” (1982)

Elton John certainly worked steadily in the studio during his 80s period of commercial decline. “Jump Up!” is a slightly better adult contemporary record than its immediate predecessors.

The most moving moment from “Jump Up!” are the tracks “Dear John” and “Empty Garden (Hey, Hey Johny),” written for former collaborator, The Beatles’ John Lennon, who had tragically lost his life in 1980.

The rest of “Jump Up!” sets a clearer formula of pop and ballads that Elton John would be following for the rest of the 1980s.

21. “21 at 33” (1980)

On “21 at 33,” Elton John mixes trendy dance hooks with road-tested musicianship. It’s a fine affair but a bit dated by today’s standards.

Songs like “Little Jeannie” and “Two Rooms at the End of the World” are great. The latter seems Elton returning to work with Bernie Taupin.

But the disco meets soft-rock direction makes the record feel a bit like the artist is desperately chasing a hit. It’s not bad, just predictable.

20. “The One” (1992)

“The One” found Elton John as a mature, and recently sobered-up artist. It helps the artist deliver some of his classiest material.

Songs like “Runaway Train” or “The Last Song” find the songwriter settling into his role as an older pop spokesperson.

“The One” isn’t flawless, but its appeal is the atmosphere that the artist comfortably creates here.

19. “The Lockdown Sessions” (2021)

“The Lockdown Sessions” helped keep Elton John busy while staying off the road. More surprisingly, however, one of the duets provided him with a colossal global hit.

That’s not to say that the song in question is entirely new. “Cold Heart [Pnau Remix]” is a reworking of “Sacrifice” sung with Dua Lipa. He’d use a similar trick to similarly commercially pleasing effect in 2022 for “Hold Me Closer,” sung in a duet with Britney Spears.

The straight-ahead rock duet with Pearl Jam‘s Eddie Vedder on “E-Ticket” is one of the finest moments on here.

And while “The Lockdown Sessions” is mostly a playlist of remixes and oddities, it certainly proves that Elton John can maintain a successful career even after his live retirement.

18. “Wonderful Crazy Night” (2016)

Elton John promises his most fun album in years and delivers it with “Wonderful Crazy Night.”

The title and style of the songs suggest that Elton has satisfied his 2000s quest for his folk-rock roots. “Wonderful Crazy Night” is a pleasant party album.

No, it doesn’t recall disco and cocaine binges. Instead, there’s an air of melancholy to this, as if meeting an old friend.

The title track, “Claw Hammer” and In the Name of You,” are good songs, but “Guilty Pleasure” may be the title that sums this up the best.

17. “The Diving Board” (2013)

Having regained the respect of his peers, Elton John continued on his search for his musical past on “The Diving Board,” an album that approximates his 1970s sound better than most of his recent releases.

There are two prime reasons why this still is a novel approach. Firstly, the record is produced by T-Bone Burnett, a man famous for delivering classic Americana and roots music to new audiences.

Secondly, Elton had largely avoided this kind of songwriting for over two decades. It was only in the 2000s that he’d acknowledged the greatness of his 70s golden AOR.

“Oscar Wilde Gets Out,” “Can’t Stay Alone Tonight,” and “Oceans Away” are highlights, songs that play into the artist’s strengths.

16. “The Big Picture” (1997)

Elton John has never stopped believing he can have new hit singles. On “The Big Picture,” he keeps searching for success with a warm sound favoring ballads and pop tunes.

The result, however, is that “The Big Picture” ends up pleasing, especially dedicated fans. The title track and “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” announced to fans that John had firmly gotten over his late 1980s slump. But it’s unlikely that it made many new converts.

15. “Rock of the Westies” (1975)

“Rock of the Westies” carries on with the mix of hard-rock and pop that Elton John had explored on “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” but the songs and playing aren’t quite as exciting.

The relative step backward might be due to a change in band personnel or simply a result of the artist’s insistence on releasing a gigantic amount of material. This is his second album of 1975. In the era before Spotify playlists, the songwriter had used the year to put out 25 songs.

“Rock of the Westies” was also the first commercial disappointment following a stellar run of albums. “Island Girl” was still a moderate hit. Still, it’s an album fans ought to check out for nothing, if not the hard boogie of “Grow Some Funk of Your Own.”

14. “Peachtree Road” (2004)

Part of the appeal of Elton John is that he has never abandoned his muse. On “Peachtree Road,” he returns to the album-oriented approach of his golden years.

Longtime fans were especially pleased. Meanwhile, casual listeners hoping for a pop ballad largely stayed away.

But songs like “Answer in the Sky” or “Weight of the World” prove that his commercial success hadn’t made John or Bernie Taupin lose their love for creating complex, deep musical edifices.

13. “Songs from the West Coast” (2001)

Not content to live merely off of the colossal collection of greatest hits, but delivers an ambitious new collection with “Songs from the West Coast.”

Whereas the 80s and 90s Elton John records were firmly set to imitate the pop trends of the time, here he looks back at his own work for inspiration.

“The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Original Sin,” and the exceptional “I Want Love” shimmer with the psychedelic warmth of Elton John’s 1970s folk-pop albums.

12. “Made in England” (1995)

On “Made in England,” Elton John comfortably picks up the role of an adult contemporary champion with ballads and lite blues-rock meant to please core fans.

“Made in England” was released on the heels of the exceptionally successful soundtrack to “Lion King.” This had boasted the chart-topping ballad, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”

“Believe” treads on similar territory, while “Made In England” delivers patriotic pop for the folks back home.

11. “Blue Moves” (1976)

On “Blue Moves,” Elton John buries himself back into work, delivering a double album. There are fantastic moments here, but the creative juices are just not flowing like they used to.

If “Blue Moves” says anything, Elton John and Bernie Taupin were immensely hard workers. Since “Rock of the Westies” had tanked, they just delivered an 18-song set one year later.

There are some exciting highlights such as “Crazy Water,” “Tonight,” or the memorable “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” But compared to his other great records of the 1970s, this one just doesn’t have the same consistency.

10. “The Captain & The Kid” (2006)

Having taken a sabbatical from trying to write hit ballads, Elton John continues to revise his past on “The Captain & The Kid,” and the results are often moving.

This is because the tone of “The Captain & The Kid” is generally a somber one. Taupin and John are focused not only on the victories of the past but the hardships too.

The title track, “Just Like Noah’s Ark” or “Wouldn’t Have You Any Other Way (NYC),” are great additions to an already spectacular body of work.

Most remarkable is the fact that when Elton John and Taupin are giving their best, they rarely put a foot wrong.

9. “Too Low for Zero” (1983)

Elton John’s tireless work ethic paid off with “Too Low for Zero,” delivering the pop comeback that longtime fans had been hoping to get for years.

Part of the change of fortunes can be attributed to the reunion in earnest with Bernie Taupin. Certainly, Elton John’s voice has a higher level of energy than it had in years.

“I’m Still Standing” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” put the artist back in the running for the top of the charts with some of the decade’s biggest groups. It also introduced Elton John to the MTV generation.

“Too Low for Zero” was, without a doubt, a shift in the right direction. But this had been the result of trial and error from an artist that was used to delivering one album per year even during his poorest creative periods.

8. “Caribou” (1974)

“Caribou” solidified Elton John’s appeal with soft-rock and pop audiences. But its lack of risk-taking makes me view it as a step backward.

In John’s defense, his technical prowess had been well-documented by 1974. Plus, by this stage, any new release must’ve felt like a permit to print money.

“Caribou” includes two notable hits, “The Bitch is Back” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” as well as the lite country-pop of “Dixie Lily.” From New York to London and anywhere where pop music could be played, Elton John’s music was well-known. Still, “Caribou” is just less remarkable than its predecessors.

7. “Elton John” (1970)

The songwriter never thought of himself as a would-be underground musician. “Elton John” with his first taste of success.

This is because the record includes “Your Song,” one of the most famous of his entire catalog, and for good reason. “Take Me to the Pilot” is also excellent and would find fans in people like Jack Black in the subsequent years.

“Elton John” is a bright mix of pop and psychedelia and the start of a great run of form before any of the glitters had come into play.

6. “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” (1973)

Elton John was a songwriter’s songwriter. But he also wanted to be a pop star and planted his flag with “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player,” his most accessible album to date.

It’s clear that John is fishing for hits here. This makes it a less consistent affair than “Honky Château.”

The songs are either cartoonish or melodramatic but still very well crafted.

“Daniel” is a moving ballad. “Elderberry Wine” is indicative of the new direction. And the insanely catchy “Crocodile Rock” became one of the tunes with which Elton John’s 70’s pop career is most often identified.

5. “Madman Across the Water” (1971)

With his third album in less than two years, Elton John delivers some of his most ambitious compositions on “Madman Across the Water.”

The album primarily helps to confirm John’s excellent musicianship. The arrangements echo prog-rock. Meanwhile, the lyrics contain great observations about everyday life and the characters flying in John and Taupin’s orbit.

Of course, the opening track “Tiny Dancer” is also one of the best tunes of Elton John’s early career. The striking melodies and lyrics offered the artist his biggest hit since “Your Song.”

Other tunes like “Levon” or “Madman Across the Water” confirmed John and Taupin’s suspicion that they’d be able to trade songcraft for bonafide hits.

4. “Tumbleweed Connection” (1970)

“Tumbleweed Connection” might not have given Elton John a hit as big as “Your Song,” but it is nonetheless one of the great folk-rock albums of the era.

To oversimplify, “Tumbleweed Connection” is John and Taupin’s love record for old America. Soundwise, it takes plenty of inspiration from gospel and the blues.

“My Father’s Gun” or “Amoreena” could’ve easily belonged to either Bob Dylan or The Band.

“Tumbleweed Connection” did not manage to retain the commercial appeal of its predecessor. However, it confirmed Elton John’s terrific standing with music critics.

3. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973)

In less than half a decade, Elton John released seven records. The 1973 album, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” manages to distill the best out of each and deliver the results in bite-size pieces.

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is arguably Elton John’s best and most famous album. Containing 17 songs within a double-LP format, the record shifts seamlessly between ballads, hard rockers, and pop songs.

“Bennie and the Jets,” “All the Young Girls Love Alice,” and the title track are memorable psychedelic pop. “Candle in the Wind” is a moving piano ballad dedicated to Marilyn Monroe. And “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” delivers John’s prog-rock ambitions to a crowd brought in by his pop hits.

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is an excellently crafted record and a very focused affair. As far as Bernie Taupin and Elton John albums go, this is just about as good as it gets.

How successful was the album? Here are a few bits of trivia that may answer this.

What is Elton John’s biggest-selling album?

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is the biggest seller of Elton John’s discography, with over 31 million sales worldwide.

Who has sold more records than Elton John?

Only The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson have sold more records worldwide than Elton John.

2. “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” (1975)

“Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” is one of Elton John’s last great artistic statements of the 1970s and one of the best albums in his discography.

The album answers critics who were not convinced by his switch to light pop. “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” is a concept record. It’s also rarely boring and has Taupin and John working on some of the best songs of their career.

The title track, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” and “Tower of Babel,” manage to find the sweet spot between art-rock and pop.

“Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” is a success and, arguably, the last of its kind in Elton’s discography. No matter your opinion of the performer, his prodigious and varied early 70s work cannot be ignored.

1. “Honky Château” (1972)

On “Honky Château,” Elton John distances himself from the intricacies of his early work but earns a new audience in the process. It’s one of the artist’s most easy-to-appreciate works.

Songs like “Rocket Man” or “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” aren’t just brilliant over repeated listens. It’s easy to recognize either as great instantly.

This brings us to an interesting piece of trivia:

What was Elton John’s first number one?

“Honky Château” was Elton’s first number-one album in America. It spent five weeks at the top of the charts, with “Rocket Man” and “Honky Cat” being big hits. Meanwhile, in 1976, John scored his first number-one single in the U.K. with the Kiki Dee duet “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”

Meanwhile, “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself” and “Honky Cat” show that both Elton and Bernie Taupin had become comfortable with supplying radio programmers with soft-rock hits. It’s my favorite Elton John album.

How many #1 songs did Elton John have?

Sir Elton John is one of the most successful solo artists of all time, with 10 singles reaching number one in the U.K. and nine reaching the top spot in the U.S.

About author

Eduard Banulescu is a writer, blogger, and musician. As a content writer, Eduard has contributed to numerous websites and publications, including FootballCoin, Play2Earn, BeIN Crypto, Business2Community, NapoliSerieA, Extra Time Talk, Nitrogen Sports, Bavarian FootballWorks, etc. He has written a book about Nirvana, hosts a music podcasts, and writes weekly content about some of the best, new and old, alternative musicians. Eduard also runs and acts as editor-in-chief of the alternative rock music website www.alt77.com. Mr. Banulescu is also a musician, having played and recorded in various bands and as a solo artist.
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