Elton John, King of the Chateau

42 years ago today, Elton John did something in America that he’d never done before — and something he hadn’t done in his own country yet.

On the US album chart for the week of July 15, 1972, Elton’s ‘Honky Chateau’ toppled the Rolling Stones’ ‘Exile On Main St’ from the summit, giving the British singer-songwriter his first No. 1 on either side of the Atlantic. It stayed on top for five weeks and on the chart for 61.

Elton had devoted a great deal of time to breaking America, and this was the period that would really see him assume superstar status. He’d already had three top ten albums in the US and been acclaimed as one of the most original writers of his generation for albums like ‘Tumbleweed Connection’ and ‘Madman Across The Water,’ but ‘Honky Chateau,’ named after the now-famous Château d'Hérouville near Paris, where it was recorded, raised his game to new levels. Elton and his band loved the creative atmosphere so much, they stayed there for three albums.

The first single from the album, ‘Rocket Man,’ had been climbing the Hot 100 since early May, and peaked at No. 6 in the very week the parent album landed at the top. ‘Honky Cat’ would follow it into the top ten in September. Elton-John-Honky-Cat-83345
The 'Honky Cat' single in its Mexican edition picture sleeve

Elton’s British audience were still being a little slower on the uptake. They took ‘Honky Chateau’ to No. 2 and the ‘Rocket Man’ single to the same position, but ‘Honky Cat’ could only reach No. 31. It wasn’t until 1973’s ‘Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player’ began a run of four consecutive UK No. 1 albums that Elton’s British preeminence became truly unstoppable.

Produced by Gus Dudgeon with Elton’s faithful band of Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson, plus of course with Bernie Taupin also in residence at the Chateau as in-house lyricist, ‘Honky Chateau’ remains a delightful listen. Tracks like ‘Honky Cat’ and ‘Hercules’ lay bare Elton’s southern rock influences, with a particular nod to Dr. John, and ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’ remains one of his most charming early ballads. 42 years ago exactly, no one could argue that his first stay in the Chateau helped Elton conquer America.

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