12 Things You Might Not Know About Elton John

LENNART PREISS/AFP/Getty Images
LENNART PREISS/AFP/Getty Images

Few entertainers have enjoyed the accolades and career longevity earned by Elton John: The British singer and songwriter, currently in the middle of a farewell tour, has sold more than 250 million albums in a career that's spanned five decades. John's eclectic life and musical achievements will be the subject of Rocketman, an upcoming biopic starring Taron Egerton. While you wait for that film's release on May 31, check out some facts about John's upbringing, his feud with David Bowie, and how some UK fans can rest their bottoms on a seat named after him.

1. Elton John's birth name wasn't Elton John.

Elton John in September 1974.
Elton John in September 1974.
D. Morrison/Express/Getty Images

He was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25, 1947, in Pinner, Middlesex, England, to parents Stanley and Sheila Dwight. He was called Reg or Reggie, but once he legally changed his name in 1972, he no longer wanted to be associated with his former name—even by those who had known him when he was younger. "Reg is the unhappy part of my life," he once said, according to a biography by David Buckley. "If my mother can call me Elton, then everybody else can."

2. Elton John taught himself how to play piano.

John was a musical prodigy, reportedly teaching himself how to play the piano. At the age of 3, he played "The Skater's Waltz" after learning it by ear. That innate talent for music earned him a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London at age 11. Eventually, John was more consumed by his passion for composition than his studies, and he opted to drop out at the age of 17 to pursue a career.

3. John took his stage name from two of his bandmates.

In the early 1960s, John formed a soul group called Bluesology. He would eventually take his stage name from the names of two members of that ensemble: saxophonist Elton Dean and singer Long John Baldry. (Baldry was also later the subject of the song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight.") For a middle name, he chose Hercules. The name wasn't a nod to the Roman god—it was the name of a horse on a long-running British sitcom called Steptoe and Son.

4. John released four albums in one year.

Some artists take years to craft albums, agonizing over arrangements, lyrics, and their own performances. Early in his career, John appeared to be more prolific than perfectionist, releasing four albums—Tumbleweed Connection, Friends, the live album 17-11-70, and Madman Across the Water—between October 1970 and November 1971. The latter stands out for including "Tiny Dancer," one of John's most enduring hits.

5. He couldn't stop producing hits.

John's rise to stardom in the 1970s was fueled in part by his outlandish stage presence, which included colorful costumes and utilizing the piano at a time when much of rock and popular music was built around guitars. But John was no mere curiosity. Between 1973 and 1976, he recorded 15 hit singles as part of his longtime collaboration with lyricist Bernie Taupin, nine of which went to No. 1 or 2. ("Don't Go Breaking My Heart," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me" among them.) As the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame noted, it was impossible to look at the Top 40 in any given week during that time and not see at least one John track on the list. The same held true for entire albums, with John's records hitting number one an average of once every four weeks during the mid-1970s.

6. John can compose a classic song in minutes.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin attend an event in 2011.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin attend an event in 2011.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

John's relationship with Taupin has always been a curiosity for fans interested in the songwriting process—especially considering that they've been a successful team for more than 50 years. For one, the two never work together in the same room (which is a good system, considering Taupin moved to California in the '70s and never left). Taupin writes lyrics, and then John arranges a composition around them. John could reportedly execute this process in as little as 15 or 20 minutes.

7. He shared the stage with John Lennon for Lennon's final performance.

During a concert at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving day in 1974, John convinced ex-Beatle John Lennon to come up on stage. According to John's musical director and guitarist, Davey Johnstone, Lennon agreed to appear after John played piano on Lennon's "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night." If the single hit No. 1, John said, then Lennon would have to agree to the performance. Lennon wound up singing three songs with John at that concert, including "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "I Saw Her Standing There;" it was his final time performing in public.

8. John had a falling out with David Bowie.

Although they were contemporaries in popular music for much of their respective careers, Elton John and David Bowie spent most of that time at odds. After developing a friendship with Bowie in the 1970s, John said he was offended to read Bowie refer to him as "rock 'n roll's token queen" in a Rolling Stone interview. The remark cooled their personal friendship, but John apparently still considered Bowie a formidable talent: When Bowie passed away in 2016, John honored his memory with a public performance of "Space Oddity."

9. John played in the Soviet Union.

At a time when relations between the U.S. and their allies with the Soviet Union were chilly at best, Elton John became one of the first major foreign rock acts to perform behind the Iron Curtain. John played a total of eight shows in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and Moscow in May 1979. John was initially put off by the fact that many attendees sat stoically in the audience—several were government officials not prone to displays of emotion—until several of his more devoted fans began occupying the seats up front and cheering for him. John typically ended the shows by playing "Back in the U.S.S.R."

10. He names his pianos after female singers.

Elton John plays his "Million Dollar Piano," Blossom, in 2011.
Elton John plays his "Million Dollar Piano," Blossom, in 2011.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

John's trademark instrument, the piano, often takes center stage in his performances, and he's not shy about showing them off. For a 2011 tour, he utilized a Yamaha that took four years to construct and featured a series of LED screens that could display images and video footage that "reacted" to the rhythm of his playing. It cost $1.3 million. John dubbed it Blossom, after jazz singer Blossom Dearie. He's named most of his pianos after female singers, including instruments named for Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, and Diana Krall.

11. John does weddings.

Booking private events can be lucrative for major acts, and John is no exception. In the past, he's accepted fees in excess of $1 million to be the performer at weddings. In 2010, John performed for radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh's reception. The money earned for these types of events are donated to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the performer's charity devoted to funding and researching treatment for the disease.

12. He had a set of bleachers named after him.

Pop singer and football club chairman Elton John leads Watford Football Club team out onto the pitch in 1974.
Pop singer and football club chairman Elton John leads Watford Football Club team out onto the pitch in 1974.
Tim Graham/Getty Images

A lifelong soccer fan, John became president and later chairman of the Watford Football Club in his hometown during the height of his success in the 1970s and again sporadically throughout the 1990s. In 2014, the club named a set of bleachers after him, and in 2016, John's 7-year-old son, Zachary, was signed to the club's academy division for junior players. Perhaps one day, young Zachary will compete as his father watches from the Sir Elton John Stand.

8 Surprising Facts and Misconceptions About Recycling

iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

If you pat yourself on the back for just remembering to separate the recycling or haul that big blue bin to the curb each week, you're not alone. Despite the strides we appear to be making toward eco-consciousness as a country, we have a long way to go in helping the Earth, as evidenced by our complicated relationship with recycling. These facts about the most prevalent of the three Rs will make you pause the next time you throw anything away.

1. The United States's recycling rate is low—really low.

Figures from the Environmental Protection Agency show that America recycles about 34.7 percent of the garbage it produces. (The world's top recyclers—Germany, Austria, Wales, and South Korea—report a rate between 52 and 56 percent.) But Mitch Hedlund, founder and Executive Director of the organization Recycle Across America isn't even sure the recycling rate often quoted is accurate because there is so much junk mixed in with actual recyclables.

Recycle Across America is currently working to encourage the use of standardized labels for recycling bins to eliminate the confusion over what actually belongs in these receptacles. "If the U.S. gets the recycling number up to 75 percent, which we believe is completely possible once the confusion (over what to place in the bins) is removed, it will be the CO2 equivalent of removing 50 million cars from the roads each year in the U.S. and it will create 1.5 million permanent new jobs in the U.S. (net)."

2. Proper recycling can result in monetary savings.

Businessman stepping on green squares with recycling symbols
iStock.com/Rawpixel

While Hedlund admits the idea of providing universal labels clearly stating what should be placed in the bins is a simple one, it's making a serious impact on those who have jumped on the bandwagon. "Many schools are seeing dramatic increases in their recycling levels since using the society-wide standardized labels on their recycling bins," she says. "For instance, in the pilot program at Culver City schools in Los Angeles [County], their recycling levels doubled when they started using the standardized labels and the materials they were collecting in their recycling bins were so much less contaminated with garbage." Another story, she says, is that "as a result of a donation from Kiehls (who makes a donation to Recycle Across America each April in the sum of $50,000), all of the schools in the San Diego Unified School District and San Diego County started using the standardized labels. San Diego Unified School District reduced their landfill hauling fees by about $200,000 (net) in the first year."

3. Recent changes from China have severely impacted the recycling industry.

Until 2018, China took 40 percent of the United States's recycled paper, plastic, and metal. But in January of that year, China imposed strict new rules on the levels of contamination (think food or other garbage mixed in with the recyclables) it's willing to accept—standards American cities are largely unable to meet. Because of that, and a lack of suitable destinations closer to home, many cities have been forced to incinerate or stockpile recyclables until they can find a better solution.

4. Only 9 percent of plastic is recycled in the U.S.

The nation recycles less than 10 percent of its plastic, compared to 67 percent for paper materials, 34 percent for metals, and 26 percent for glass. And China's restrictions have especially affected plastic—while exports of scrap plastic to China were valued at more than $300 million in 2015, they amounted to $7.6 million in the first quarter of 2018, down 90 percent from the year before.

5. Clothing can be recycled, but it rarely is.

Clothing at a garage sale
iStock.com/alexeys

Unfortunately, most curbside haulers don't accept textiles, and America has a serious problem with old clothes ending up in the trash. In 2019, the nation is on track to throw away more than 35 billion pounds of textiles, according to the Council for Textile Recycling—almost double the number from 1999. On the plus side, some cities have set up drop-off points for unwanted clothes, and there are a variety of ways to sell or donate unwanted items. Some brands, including Eileen Fisher and Patagonia, have also introduced buy-back programs for their items.

6. Aluminum is the world's most-recycled packaging product.

Crushed aluminum cans
iStock.com/hroe

Nearly 70 percent of aluminum cans are recycled internationally, according to Novelis, a leader in rolled aluminum products and recycled aluminum. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable without degrading, meaning it can be reused in a way completely different from what it was in its previous life, or recast into its original form. Not only is aluminum the world's most-recycled product, it's also the most profitable and the most energy-efficient. Using recycled aluminum instead of virgin materials saves about 95% of the energy, compared to 60% for paper and 34% for glass [PDF].

7. That soda can you're drinking from could find its way back to you more quickly than you think.

According to Novelis's research, an aluminum can that is recycled can be back on a grocery store shelf within 60 days [PDF]. That's a seriously speedy turnaround.

8. Scrap recycling is big business.

While the words scrap recycling might have you humming the Sanford & Son theme song, it's far from being a junkyard industry. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), in 2017 U.S. scrap recyclers processed more than 130 million tons of scrap metal, paper, plastic, glass, textiles, and more—material that was sold back to industrial consumers in the U.S. and around the world, generating close to $18 billion in export sales. All told, scrap recycling was a $117 billion industry in 2017 [PDF].

This list first ran in 2015 and was updated by Mental Floss staff in 2019.

From Cocaine to Chloroform: 28 Old-Timey Medical Cures

YouTube
YouTube

Is your asthma acting up? Try eating only boiled carrots for a fortnight. Or smoke a cigarette. Have you got a toothache? Electrotherapy might help (and could also take care of that pesky impotence problem). When it comes to our understanding of medicine and illnesses, we’ve come a long way in the past few centuries. Still, it’s always fascinating to take a look back into the past and remember a time when cocaine was a common way to treat everything from hay fever to hemorrhoids.

In this week's all-new edition of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is highlighting all sorts of bizarre, old-timey medical cures. You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

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