Elton John has made an entire career out of defying expectations, penning hits and working with all of the right people to become the international phenomenon that he is today. And to celebrate that legacy, the Rocket Man is making sure he pays it forward.
On Friday (Oct. 22), John is set to unveil his new album The Lockdown Sessions, a series of collaborations he’s recorded throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Featuring a bevy stars like Lil Nas X, Charlie Puth, Stevie Wonder, Stevie Nicks, Rina Sawayama and more, The Lockdown Sessions is set to showcase John’s status as a legend and mentor for younger acts.
The rollout has certainly worked thus far — the album’s first single, “Cold Heart (PNAU Remix)” featuring Dua Lipa and PNAU, has already made history for John as his first top 40 entry on the Hot 100 in the 21st century, and given him the record for the longest span of top 40 hits on the chart with a whopping 50 years and 10 months.
But what about all of the collaborations John pulled off before The Lockdown Sessions? Billboard took a look through the icon’s discography and picked out the 15 best collaborations from John’s career (excluding those on his 2021 album). Check out our ranking below.
15. “Makin’ Whoopee” with Rod Stewart
Who doesn’t love to see two legends performing a jazz standard together? As part of Rod Stewart’s covers album Thanks for the Memory: The Great American Songbook, Volume IV, the superstar teamed up with John for this saucy cover of an American classic. With Elton tickling the ivories as usual and the pair trading lines back and forth on the verses, this duet marks a quiet but quintessential entry into John’s history of collaborations.
14. “All of the Lights” with Kanye West and Company
In the great tradition of collaborations, there are very few songs as ambitious as “All of the Lights.” Kanye West (who has now legally changed his name to simply Ye) brought in the best of the best to offer their musical stylings on this monster of a track, including a cavalcade of stars like Rihanna, Kid Cudi, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Charlie Wilson, and yes, Elton John playing the keys and delivering some backing vocals. Sure, it may not be an obvious choice when it comes to John’s work with other artists, but make no mistake — “All of the Lights” went a long way toward reminding younger generations about Sir Elton’s ongoing impact.
13. “Sine From Above” with Lady Gaga
It took a decade after Lady Gaga and Elton John teamed up at the 2010 Grammys for an iconic mashup of some of their favorite tracks for the pair to finally come together for an official collaboration. The result of that wait was “Sine From Above” off Gaga’s Chromatica, a wild, dramatic dance-pop track that saw the two leaning into their respective loves of disco and electronica for a spectacular collaboration. John’s growling bass mixed with Gaga’s head-turning high notes makes for an exhilarating listen, and a thrilling addition to John’s songbook.
12. “Ordinary Man” with Ozzy Osbourne
Who do you call when you want to perform a reflective piano ballad about struggling with legacy and the price of fame? If you’re Ozzy Osbourne, you call Elton John, which is how the pair came together for Osbourne’s gorgeous single “Ordinary Man.” Released ahead of Osbourne’s 2020 album of the same name, the track sees both stars looking back on the mistakes they made in their respective careers and personal lives, hoping they will be remembered for all that made them great after they’re gone. “Ordinary Man” is a beautiful ballad by any standard.
11. “The Power” with Little Richard
When rolling out his 1993 album Duets, Elton John decided to ring one of his biggest influences — Little Richard — for an assist on a powerful gospel track. Thus, “The Power” was born, a grooving gospel jam that saw John and the rock n’ roll legend bringing audiences around the world to their feet. After the icon’s passing in 2020, John stated that he saw Richard as “my biggest influence” and revealed that “The Power” remains “a favorite in my catalog.” Take another listen to the moving track and you’ll see why.
10. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” with John Lennon
A lifelong fan of The Beatles, Elton John decided to cover one of his favorite songs from the icons for a 1974 single. As it turns out, John didn’t just get to perform “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” — he got to do so with John Lennon backing him up on guitar and background vocals. The song ended up not only being a lovely tribute from John to one of his favorite bands — it also ended up becoming his third-ever No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, beginning a trend of John regularly topping the charts with his star-studded collaborations.
9. “Bohemian Rhapsody” with Queen & Axl Rose
When it came time to pay tribute to the late, great Freddie Mercury, Elton John was ready to deliver. At the renowned 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert held at Wembley Stadium, John, joined by the rest of Queen as well as Guns ‘N Roses’ Axl Rose, delivered a stirring performance of the band’s seminal classic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Nowhere did John try to offer an impersonation of Mercury — he simply performed the song as he would, seated at a piano and gorgeously singing the melody of the song’s first section. It’s a moment that was quickly heralded by Queen fans as a wonderful toast to John’s lost friend.
8. “Runaway Train” with Eric Clapton
On “Runaway Train,” John decided to dial a little bit more into the rock genre — so, he called in guitar hero Eric Clapton to help him capture the feeling he was chasing. The result blends early-’90s pop with the guitar-shredding stylings that Clapton became famous for in his career. John offers up his own expertise throughout the song, slamming on an electric keyboard, as he and Clapton trade verses on this soulful rock anthem.
7. “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” with Taron Egerton
Fo Rocketman, the 2019 biopic surrounding his rise to fame, Elton John decided to team up with his old writing partner Bernie Taupin to spin some gold. “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” the singer’s duet with the film’s star Taron Egerton, sounds as though it was a long-forgotten B-side lifted off of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road that’s just been brought back to the table. The original song written for the film bursts with joy and wonder, with John and Egerton’s voices blending together in the perfect balancing act. No wonder, then, that the song went on to take home an Oscar for best original song.
6. “Live Like Horses” with Luciano Pavarotti
When you think of world-renowned opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, it’s unlikely that the phrase “Do you remember his collaboration with Elton John” comes to mind. But listen again to the pair’s duet version of “Live Like Horses,” and you will see why you should remember. This stunning version of the single sees John singing the original verses as intended, accompanied by some pianos and strings — in other words, business as usual. But then, he switches out the chorus, letting the tenor take over, performing a soaring Italian chorus, adding even more emotion to this deeply dramatic track.
5. “Through the Storm” with Aretha Franklin
What more could you ask for than seeing two musical icons like Aretha Franklin and Elton John sharing a duet together? For the Queen of Soul’s 1989 album Through the Storm, Franklin brought John in for the titular track (and the album’s first single). With syncopated synths and an inspirational message to buff it all, Aretha and Elton blended their voices together to bring a fanfare of perseverance. Though the album may not have been as well-received, the single became an immediate chart success, notching a No. 16 position on the Hot 100.
4. “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” with Ray Charles
Many fans consider “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” to be one of Elton John’s most heartbreaking songs of all time, with its crushing lyrics and brilliantly pared-down instrumental. But heartbreaking hardly even begins to describe the duet of the song released with Ray Charles as a part of his Genius Loves Company duets album in 2004. With the addition of Charles’ raspy, expressive vocals, as well as a moving string section, the song transforms into the kind of tragic love song that stays with you for hours after first listening.
3. “That’s What Friends Are For” with Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight & Stevie Wonder
Everything about “That’s What Friends Are For” just screams timeless classic. First, you’ve got an incredible crew of performers — Dionne Warwick alongside John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight, all performing on the same single. Next, you’ve got an important cause — all proceeds from the 1986 single went directly toward to funding research into AIDS, the deadly disease that had gone ignored for many years thanks to institutionalized homophobia. It’s not only a bop — it’s also a song that potentially saved lives. Add onto that its No. 1 peak on the Hot 100 and its Grammy wins for song of the year and best pop performance by a duo or group with vocals, and you have yourself an instant prototype for what a good charity single looks and sounds like.
2. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” with George Michael
Before 1985, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” was already one of Elton John’s most popular singles. But when he took to the stage with George Michael at Live Aid, the two changed the song’s future for good by performing a duet version. The two English pop superstars have a natural chemistry that’s immediately apparent upon hearing the track, as Michael’s crystal-clear stylings pair perfectly with John’s raspier, soulful vocals. In 1991, the song would be released as a live duet between the two, becoming a global hit, going No. 1 on the Hot 100 (the 1974 original peaked at No. 2) and on the U.K. chart, and becoming a staple in both performers’ live sets.
1. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” with Kiki Dee
While Elton John had already earned five No. 1 hits in the U.S. by 1976, he had shockingly still been blocked out of the top spot on the U.K. charts. Luckily, that changed when he and Kiki Dee teamed up for “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” — a Motown-style pop jam that would not only cement John and Dee’s first No. 1s in the UK, but would also become one of John’s most beloved songs of all time. From the sugary-sweet lyrics to its perfect pop production, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” would go on to see multiple other versions (the most famous featuring drag superstar RuPaul in Kiki Dee’s place). But none could compare to this original, career-defining duet that proved to the rest of the world that Elton John was a bona fide hitmaker.