Have you ever completed the classic road trip ritual of belting "Tiny Dancer?" Did you very much enjoy the scene in 27 Dresses where Katherine Heigl's character thinks the lyrics to "Bennie and the Jets" include "She's got electric boobs," leading to a bar-wide singalong? (Did you also think the lyric was "electric boobs?)
If so, then you have Bernie Taupin to thank just as much as you do Elton John. As the new movie Rocketman, out May 31, shows so well, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) is the secret ingredient to Elton John's (Taron Egerton) pop-stardom. Without Taupin, there'd be nothing to sing along to. You'd just have John's rollicking piano.
Taupin and John have their working partnership down to a science. Taupin writes the lyrics, and John writes the melodies — and typically completes them within the hour. Clearly, the formula works: Over the course of their 50-year partnership, they've accumulated 35 gold and 25 platinum albums, sold 300 million records, had 30 consecutive Top 40 hits, and the largest selling single of all time (the version of "Candle in the Wind" released after Princess Diana's death). But you don't need stats to know John and Taupin are magic. You just need to listen to a song.
Who is Bernie Taupin?
Simply put: Bernie Taupin is Elton John's song-writing partner, and the lyricist behind John's most famous songs. He was born in 1950 on a farm in Lincolnshire, England. Growing up, Taupin was fascinated by the myth of the American west and movies. Both themes would play into his later work, like the Western-themed albums Tumbleweed Connection and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which references The Wizard of Oz.
Temperamentally, Taupin is a bit different than his more outgoing working partner. Taupin shuns the spotlight, telling Rolling Stone, "I couldn't live [Elton's] life. I would rather drill myself in the head with a nail gun than do what he does."
How did Bernie Taupin and Elton John meet?
Tapuin and John were brought together by a failed audition. In 1967, a 17-year-old Taupin and a 20-year-old John responded to an ad for singer/songwriters at Liberty Records — but both were missing some essential ingredients. Taupin couldn't play an instrument; John couldn't write lyrics. After John played an impromptu tune with no words, music publisher Ray Williams gave John a folder of Taupin's lyrics to experiment.
Taupin and John began their relationship as energized pen pals. Taupin sent over lyrics; John wrote melodies. They wrote over 20 songs before they first met.
For three years, their songs went to other artists. Their first album, Empty Sky, came out in 1967 — and from there, fame was fast and stratospheric. Elton John became the biggest pop star since the Beatles.
What is Bernie Taupin and Elton John's relationship like?
Generally, their relationship is rock-solid. For a glimpse into their relationship dynamics, listen to the 1975 biographical album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, which is based on their lives. Taupin, with his love for rural atmospheres and riding horses, is the "brown dirty cowboy," and John is Captain Fantastic.
“Every lyric on [that album] was about Bernie and me, about our experiences of being able to make songs and make it big,” John told 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.”
In the mid-'70s, not even a decade in to their partnership, Taupin and John took their first (and only) hiatus. At the time, Taupin was getting a divorce from his first wife and needed to get away from the fame. Taupin moved to Southern California permanently; John made the album Victim of Love without him. The disco-inspired album was not commercially or critically well received. After two years, they were back to making music together.
Both John and Taupin credit distance as the key to their writing process — and to their long-lasting relationship. "We live such separate lives. We are two separate people. I think had we been the same kind of personalities and been in close proximity of each other these past years, I think there probably would have been a more acrimonious kind of thing between the two of us," Taupin told Rolling Stone.
What songs did Bernie Taupin write?
Nearly all of 'em. Taupin writes the lyrics. As a result, many of John's songs are personal — but about Taupin's life. The song "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" is about Taupin's decision to leave the glitz of fame for a more subdued life in California. Other songs, like "Honky Cat" and "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters," are similarly concerned with the deceptive dangers of the city. "Tiny Dancer" was inspired by his first wife, Maxine Feibelman, who really was John's seamstress.
Taupin occasionally writes from John's perspective. The song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" incorporates specific details about the time John called off an engagement to a woman. Taupin also revised the lyrics to Candle in the Wind, originally written for Marilyn Monroe, to commemorate Princess Diana specifically, keeping John's close relationship with her in mind.
Taupin has an interesting process: He starts with a title. "I love coming up with titles and I work around those titles or first lines, because if you have a title, you can really build a strong chorus behind it," Taupin told Rolling Stone.
Where is Bernie Taupin now?
The country boy went back to the farm — a rather glitzy farm, actually. Taupin moved to Southern California in the '70s and never left. Until 2017, he lived in the Roundup Valley Ranch, a 30-acre estate in California's Santa Ynez Valley, with his fourth wife, Heather Lynn Hodgins Kidd, and their two daughters.
At this point, writing music is only a small portion of Taupin's schedule. He and John come out with an album every three years, and it takes him two months to write lyrics for each.