(Credits: Far Out / Raph Pour-Hashemi)
Elton John grew up in a household filled with music. His mother shared his fervour for all things musical, fostering an atmosphere where sonic artistry thrived. The pivotal moment for the singer occurred when his mother introduced him to the sounds of Elvis Presley — a transformative experience that would forever alter the course of his life.
As a child, John’s mother would arrive home from the record store every Friday, tightly holding the newest releases which would then become the latest family listening experience. Even now, Fridays remain dedicated to discovering new music for John, as he carves out precious time from his busy schedule every week to immerse himself in the latest sounds.
“It’s always exciting when vinyl comes around every week,” he told BBC 6 Music in 2020. “I mean, I buy my vinyl from Rough Trade in Ladbroke Grove and they send me the lists every week and I mark off the ones I want and I get them from there.”
John’s arrangement with Rough Trade reflects the benefits stemming from his towering status and identity. Even today, he relentlessly pursues the same euphoric thrill he experienced as a child when discovering Presley — an enduring passion that remains among the few indulgences he permits himself. When discussing songs in particular that resonated with him during his discovery phase, he points to ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, Presley’s 1956 hit allegedly inspired by a lonely man who jumped from a window.
“This record changed my life, and it changed the face of music,” John said. “My mum bought a record every week, and she said: ‘I heard this record in the store, and I’ve never heard anything like it, so I had to buy it.’ She put it on, and it changed my life and propelled me into my love of rock and roll. It was like, ‘Wow, what’s this?’ Like something from Mars… It changed the world, socially and musically.”
John continued: “It was weird because, about ten days before, I’d had my hair cut in the local barbers, where I went as a little boy, and I’d noticed a Life magazine. I was reading this article on a man who looked like an alien but was so handsome – I’d never seen anything like him, and I put two and two together and said, ‘That was the man I saw in the magazine!’ So that was the record that really changed everything.”
John was also able to cross paths with the singer before he died, although it wouldn’t be the magical experience he dreamed of all those years. In fact, Presley’s health was in dire straits at this time, and the once-charming beloved singer was now a shadow of his former greatness. Seeing Presley in the flesh was a warning sign about what could happen to John if he didn’t change his ways and turn away from the dark side of drugs.
Presley had succumbed to an unfortunate addiction to painkillers, which completely consumed him, and rendered him no longer reminiscent of the musician John once adored. It had a scarring effect on the singer, who found the whole meeting sad and harrowing. John opened up about the gruelling ordeal to Oprah Winfrey in 1996 and revealed: “It was so sad because he turned into this big man with no eyes. They had sunk into the back of his head, and it was pathetic.”