Bernie Taupin: The Other Half of Elton John

Elton John (“EJ”) is an artist that almost everyone recognizes. But there’s another side to the singer’s success, and that’s his long-time lyricist partner, Bernie Taupin, or the other half of Elton John. Taupin has been writing the lyrics for one of music’s greatest showmen for over half a century. Yet, to many, he is a virtual unknown.

The pair met in 1967, when each of them replied to an advertisement placed in the music magazine NME by Liberty Records searching for singer/songwriter artists. Taupin, who was a farmer’s son, was only 17 at the time, and EJ (who still went by the name Reg Dwight) was 20.

Though they were relatively close in age when they first met, 17-year-old Taupin was in awe of EJ. “I was the quintessential country bumpkin and he was sophisticated,” Taupin told the Daily Mail of their early years together. “He lived in London and played in clubs! So, he looked out for me. He was like a big brother.”

At that time, EJ was a working musician in London and had dreams of being a successful singer/songwriter. As someone who could play music by ear at the age of 3, the problem he had was that he could compose tunes but struggled with writing lyrics.

Taupin, on the other hand, was a writer of beautiful verses similar to poetry, but he could not write music. Taupin’s mother had studied French literature and his maternal grandfather Poppy was a classics teacher and graduate of the University of Cambridge. They taught him an appreciation for nature, literature and narrative poetry, all of which influenced his early lyrics.

On a whim, Liberty paired them, with EJ being sent away with a folder of Taupin’s lyrics in what would become a standard to how the duo would create, forming their long-lasting working relationship.

Their first album together was “Empty Sky” in 1969, which was received with tepid interest. Their second album was the self-titled “Elton John” (1970), which set their early musical focus as heartfelt ballads and chorded rock songs, including the hit single “Your Song.” The success of that song and the related album cemented what would become a very long-standing working relationship.

Taupin’s song credits include numerous other 70’s EJ songs such as “Rocket Man”, “Levon”, “Crocodile Rock”, “Honky Cat”, “Tiny Dancer”, “Candle in the Wind”, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, “Bennie and the Jets”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”, “The Bitch is Back”, and “Daniel”. A very impressive start, to say the least.

Their collaborations in the 1980s resulted in more numerous hits, such as “I’m Still Standing”, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”, “Sad Songs”, and “Nikita.” In the 1990s, Taupin and EJ continued their success together churning out songs including “The One”, “Simple Life”, “The Last Song”, “Club at the End of the Street” and “Believe.” In September 1997, Taupin rewrote the lyrics of “Candle in the Wind” for “Candle in the Wind 1997”, as a tribute to the late Diana, Princess of Wales. EJ would then perform this song at the funeral of the late Princess, which was viewed by millions worldwide.

This period of success, and the excesses that come with sudden fame and wealth wasn’t always comfortable for Taupin, who much preferred to remain behind the scenes publicly. “What’s interesting to remember about Bernie is that he was a rock star who didn’t appear on stage,” says author Tom Doyle. “He would go on the tours, but he really didn’t like the limelight. And he hated when Elton would bring him on stage to be introduced to the crowd. Offstage Bernie had more of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle than Elton did early on.”

However, Doyle goes on to say in a different article “They’re absolutely crucial to each other. For both of them, the other is a brother that they never had. It was such a twist of fate, the fact they met.”

In speaking of their somewhat unique collaborating relationship, Doyle said “They had written something like 20 songs before they had even met. And this put in place their writing relationship which was basically Elton putting Bernie’s lyrics in front of him and virtually auto-composing. From 1967 they developed this incredible remote working relationship where they would never sit in the same room and write together. They only really ever worked side by side once or twice. So, it’s not like a Lennon and McCartney where they are sitting knee to knee in the early days of The Beatles. Elton and Bernie were always writing separately. And there is something about that process that gave them a critical distance.”

That’s not to say that both haven’t met with success in working with others. EJ has worked with many other lyricists with great success, including the very well-known Tim Rice several times. Taupin has written lyrics for use by other composers, with notable successes including “We Built This City”, which was recorded by Jefferson Starship, and “These Dreams,” recorded by Heart (both of which were collaborations with English composer/musician Martin Page). In 1978, he co-wrote the album From the Inside with Alice Cooper. The above are just a few of the noteworthy songs that Taupin drafted with other artists.

EJ’s reflections sum it up very nicely, especially when speaking about the 1975 biographical album “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.” “Every lyric on that album was about Bernie and me, about our experiences of being able to make songs and make it big,” EJ said to Rolling Stone. “I cry when I sing this song, because I was in love with Bernie, not in a sexual way, but because he was the person, I was looking for my entire life, my little soul mate.” EJ regards the relationship as the most important in his life and how now, years later, they have ended up becoming their alter egos. “I ended up being Captain Fantastic and he ended up being the Brown Dirt Cowboy: Here, I’m living my fabulous lifestyle, collecting paintings, and Bernie is interested in horses and bull riding and shit like that. We became those characters. Who was to know?”

While they have had a few slightly acrimonious separations, EJ is very fond of Taupin, and vice versa. One constant throughout has been Taupin’s professional and personal bond with EJ, and their ability to interpret the other’s creative output thanks to a shared history forged by chance more than 50 years ago. And what a great chance meeting that was!

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected] 

I founded PopDaze to celebrate the music, entertainment, and pop culture of the 60’s through the 90’s. In doing so, I have found my passion to cr...