May 04, 2023
In August of 1974, Elton John recorded "Philadelphia Freedom," a song that would reach platinum status after its 1975 release with the help of his songwriting collaborator Bernie Taupin. Almost 40 years later, both men will share another achievement as fellow Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees.
While John was inducted into the institution in 1994, Taupin is getting his due this year as a recipient of the Musical Excellence Award.
Taupin and John, both from England, began their musical partnership in 1967. The men answered an advertisement from Liberty Records, which was seeking musical talent, and neither passed the audition. But the record company gave John, who said he struggled writing songs, an envelope with poems by Taupin. The two soon began working together, hitting their first breakthrough with John's 1970 self-titled album, "Elton John," the singer told Stephen Colbert.
Four years later, the duo teamed up to write a song about tennis pro Billie Jean King. John and King, the No. 1 ranked women's tennis player, had struck up a friendship while she was coaching the Philadelphia Freedoms, a mixed-gender tennis team.
"We're going to a concert of his one night because I used to go with him a lot," King told the Inquirer in 2012. "I just remember him in this car, in this shell, in this bubble. He can't go anywhere without five bodyguards. One night he's in the back seat and he goes, 'I want to write a song for you.' I'm looking at him like he's kidding me for sure. Yeah, right. What is he smoking?"
Taupin was hesitant to take on the song, he recalled, because he didn't want to write about tennis and wasn't wild about John's proposed name "Philadelphia Freedom."
"Not exactly the easiest title to deal with, I might add," Taupin said.
Taupin wrote his part and John added his before he went on to record the song, which incorporated the Philly sound, a distinct genre of soul music with funk influence that uses stringed and horned instruments.
"He got the sound of Philadelphia in it, because he knows I like that sound," King recalled. "There's a certain sound. We were talking about the Philadelphia arrangers and musicians. We were talking about that in the back seat. We really got into it. I said, 'God, I really love the sound of Philadelphia music. That would be great.'"
Almost 40 years later, "Philadelphia Freedom" still resonates. The New York Times called it "a song about what it feels like when we manifest our truest, fullest and freest selves."
Despite Taupin's indifference, "Philadelphia Freedom" became a hit, earning certified platinum status for over 1 million units sold. It peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, while also charting abroad in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany and the pair's native United Kingdom.
Taupin and Elton John have collaborated on over 30 albums, but Taupin has also worked on solo projects and with other musicians including Starship, Kid Rock, Courtney Love and Willie Nelson.
Other 2023 inductees into the Rock & Rock Hall of Fame include Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliot, George Michael, Willie Nelson, Rage Against the Machine, DJ Kool Herc, Link Wray, Chaka Khan, Al Kooper, Don Cornelius and The Spinners, who also boast a connection to Philadelphia. The Motown music group frequently worked with Thom Bell, one of the main architects of the Philly sound.