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"When Elton John glanced at Taupin's writing on the London Underground, he instantly realized he had found his songwriting partner." | Photo: Universal City Records (Public Domain, via Wikipedia)
"When Elton John glanced at Taupin's writing on the London Underground, he instantly realized he had found his songwriting partner." | Photo: Universal City Records (Public Domain, via Wikipedia)
Gabriel Karkovsky -

Bernie Taupin: Songwriting Soulmate of Elton John

In the 1960s, a young British composer and musician, Elton John, had a serious problem. While he could easily come up with a melody, he was unable to write lyrics. In 1967, he decided to audition as a working musician, only to be shown the door. The man overseeing the audition felt that songwriting wasn't quite John's strong suit, so handed him an envelope of countless lyrics signed "Bernie Taupin". After reading Taupin's texts on the way home, John knew instantly he had found his songwriting soulmate. Soon, began a partnership that would last over five decades.

Bernie Taupin was born in 1950 at Flatters House, a farmhouse located near Sleaford in Lincolnshire. His father, Robert Taupin, was of French descent; his family came to London at the turn of the 20th century because of their wine-importing business. After studying in Dijon, Robert started working as a stockman near Market Rasen, Lincolnshire. After World War II, the Taupin family hired a governess, Daphne Cort, who had escaped to Switzerland at the beginning of the conflict. Two years later, she became Robert's wife and the mother of Tony, Bernie and Kit.

While Tony, was a hardworking and studious young man who attended grammar school and later went to university, Bernie was not a diligent student, despite his interest in writing and literature. "My mother's father taught English literature. When I was about ten or eleven, I could recite Macaulay's 'Lays of Ancient Rome.' While other kids were playing pedestrian war games, I'd be Horatius keeping the bridge."

At the age of fifteen, Bernie decided to leave school and find a job. "Lincolnshire is the Idaho of England. You were either going to drive a tractor for the rest of your life or head for the city to work in a factory," Taupin later said about his homeland. Willing to become a journalist, he started working as a trainee in the print room of a local newspaper. However, he soon left this job and spent his teenage years surviving through meaningless part-time jobs or, more often, hanging out at youth club dances in the surrounding villages, drinking with friends and playing snooker.

Beginning of the partnership

At the age of seventeen, Taupin spotted a newspaper advertisement for talent in the New Musical Express by Ray Williams, the A&R manager for Liberty Records. At the same time, another young artist was about to answer the same advertisement: Reginald Kenneth Dwight, later known as Elton John. The latter worked as an assistant for a music publishing company and divided his nights between solo gigs at a London hotel bar and playing with his band, Bluesology. By the mid-1960s, the band was touring with several American R&B and soul musicians such as Major Lance and the Isley Brothers.

Neither Bernie Taupin nor Elton John passed the audition. However, when John confessed he couldn't really write lyrics, Williams gave him a sealed envelope with several thousand texts written by Bernie Taupin. On the way home, Elton John glanced at Taupin's writing on the London Underground and instantly realized he had found his songwriting partner. Soon after, John and Taupin met and recorded their first song, "Scarecrow", starting a long-time partnership between the two artists. Six months later, Reginald Kenneth Dwight began going by the name of Elton John in homage to his Bluesology friends, Elton Dean and Long John Baldry, and legally changed his name in 1972.

For the past fifty years, Bernie Taupin has been an interpreter of Elton John's memories and feelings, whether the songs are about drugs, such as "Too Low for Zero", or his hard-won fame on "Someone Save My Life Tonight". The duo worked together on more than thirty albums, including the two autobiographical releases "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" and "The Captain and the Kid", reflecting their long-time collaboration. Even if the team took time off from each other between 1977 and 1979, while Taupin worked with Alice Cooper, for instance, they resumed songwriting in the 1980s, though only occasionally at the beginning.

Back together

By the release of "Too Low for Zero" in 1983, Taupin had again become Elton John's primary lyricist for his solo albums. In the meantime, John initiated collaborations with other lyricists and writers for theatrical and movie projects such as "The Lion King" and "Aida", both featuring lyrics by Tim Rice. Screenwriter Lee Hall signed the stage musical "Billy Elliot" and the Elton John biopic "Rocketman", in which Taupin features as a major character. While Taupin tends to stay away from John's on-screen projects, he intervened this time and suggested several small changes. "I questioned the original script – I wasn't happy with it," Taupin said in an interview.

Even though Elton John retired from touring after the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, with the last show in Stockholm in 2023, he is about to record a new album. Bernie Taupin said he plans to write the lyrics the same way he has from day one, alone on his own, while John puts them to music afterwards. "If we've weathered the storm now for over 50 years and have been able to maintain this extraordinary bond with each other," Taupin said, "I don't think there's anything on God's green earth that could separate us now."

Tagy Elton John Bernie Taupin Songwriting

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Gabriel Karkovsky