OCTOBER 22, 2021

The Lockdown Sessions: A Song-by-Song Guide

Music fans who happen to find themselves in a physical record store could definitely get their steps in shopping for music in the Rock, Rap, Hip hop, Pop, Soul, Alternative Rock, Synth-pop, Classical, Heavy Metal, and Country sections.

Or they could just buy Elton’s new CD and head right to the cashier.

To celebrate the release of The Lockdown Sessions, which includes songs with artists from each of the above genres, we offer a cheat sheet to help you crush the “Collaborations” portion of your next local Elton Trivia Night.

By John F. Higgins

1. Cold Heart (PNAU Remix) \u2013 Elton John & Dua Lipa

★ Written by Elton John, Bernie Taupin, Peter Mayes, Nicholas Littlemore and Sam Littlemore
★ Produced by Nicholas Littlemore, Peter Mayes and Sam Littlemore (PNAU). Original Elton recordings produced by Gus Dudgeon and Chris Thomas.
★ Elton contributes vocal samples (The song also includes bell sounds that Elton keyboardist Fred Mandel played on his Jupiter 8 on Sacrifice).

The song was released as The Lockdown Session’s first single on August 13 and became Elton’s first UK #1 single in 18 years on October 21. (After Are You Ready For Love topping the chart on September 6, 2003; some reports note 2005’s Ghetto Gospel by Tupac Shakur, which samples Indian Sunset.)

In the US, it became Elton’s first Billboard Top 40 single since 1999 (Written In The Stars w/LeAnn Rimes), and his 58th overall, when it reached #32 on the Billboard Hot 100 on October 16. With this, Elton now holds the record for longest span on the US Top 40 appearances, not counting holiday releases. His span of 50 years and 10 months since Your Song (Elton’s single reached #38 on December 19, 1970, on its way to a #8 peak) surpasses Michael Jackson’s 46 years.

Learn more in our feature Cold Heart (PNAU Remix) – 10 things you didn’t know.

2. Always Love You – Elton John, Young Thug & Nicki Minaj

★ Written by Elton John, Andrew Wotman, Ali Tamposi, Louis Bell, Jeffery Lamar Williams, Billy Walsh, and Onika Maraj
★ Produced by Andrew Watt and Louis Bell
★ Elton contributes vocals and piano

The fourth single from The Lockdown Sessions. Elton’s history with Young Thug dates back to 2016, when the rapper recorded High (featuring Elton John) for his album 2018 On The Rvn. The song sampled the vocals from Elton’s 1972 #2 hit, Rocket Man. Producer Stelios came up with the idea after reading a 2015 interview Elton gave where he lauded Young Thug’s music.

The two musicians met at Elton’s home in Atlanta in March 2016, with Elton saying, “It was a really nice meeting but I didn’t know what to call him. Thug? Mr. Thug? Sir Thug? I could see the headline in the paper: Queen meets Thug. But anyway, it was a really nice meeting and I loved him. I left feeling full of energy as I do when I meet great new artists. He’s a really talented guy. I’d love to hear him sing more, and I said this to him when we met. He’s got a great voice.”

3. Learn To Fly – Surfaces (featuring Elton John)

★ Written and produced by Forrest Frank and Colin Padalecki (Surfaces)
★ Elton contributes vocals and piano

This song was recorded via Zoom (Elton in LA, Forrest and Colin in Texas) in March of 2020, the day after Elton wrote After All with Charlie Puth. It was released as an animated video and digital download on June 12 of that year, reaching #11 in Japan and #14 in New Zealand.

Working with Elton felt like the idea of winning a Grammy. He was so passionate and driven and we couldn’t have wished for a more effortless collaboration.


4. After All – Elton John & Charlie Puth

★ Written by Elton John, Charlie Puth, and Jacob Kasher Hindlin
★ Produced by Charlie Puth
★ Elton contributes vocals and electric piano

Recorded in early March 2020, with Elton writing the music in one go, a first take on Charlie’s Fender Rhodes electric piano, this song was finished quickly (Elton – “I couldn’t have knitted a sweater in the time that [Charlie] actually put this track together. It was brilliant.”) and released as the album’s second single on September 23, 2021.

The duo also performed the song under the Eiffel Tower in Paris as part of Global Citizen Live two days later. Charlie, who has a strong social media following, has featured the track, with Elton making cameos, on TikTok and joined Elton for a fan Q&A on the platform on September 26.

[Elton’s] relationship with David [Furnish], lyrically inspired me to write something very uplifting…and that piano part just set the whole song off. … Elton has such a way of playing melodies where you kind of like hear the lyrics pop out at you.

Charlie Puth

5. Chosen Family – Rina Sawayama & Elton John

★ Written by Rina Sawayama, Jonny Lattimer, and Danny L Harle
★ Produced by Danny L Harle
★ Elton contributes vocals and piano

On April 14, 2021, this remix of Rina’s original version (from her 2020 album, Sawayama), was released as a worldwide stream, with the pair also doing a video performance of it.

For this recording, done during…well…lockdown, Rina had to quarantine for two weeks before going into the studio. Elton provided a new piano part and contributed vocals. The duet was selected as a closing song for the 2020 Olympics in August 2021, yet another achievement Elton can put on his refuses-to-quit-growing résumé.

The collaboration is yet another direct result of Elton promoting an artist on his weekly radio show; he played Rina’s song on Rocket Hours 239 and 288, noting its powerful message of inclusiveness, especially as it pertains to the LGBTQ+ community. As he said when Rina was a guest on his show, “I just thought this song spoke about bringing people together and loving at a time when people are so hateful to each other and that the world is so divisive.”

6. The Pink Phantom – Gorillaz (featuring Elton John & 6LACK)

★ Written by Damon Albarn, Remi Kabaka, and Ricardo Valdez Valentine Jr.
★ Produced by Gorillaz and Remi Kabaka Jr.
★ Elton contributes vocals and piano

This track originally appeared on the Gorillaz album Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, released on October 23, 2020. It was the eighth single from that album. Elton recorded his part, again remotely (Elton in London, Damon in Devon), in early May 2020.

Elton has commented that this is his favorite track on The Lockdown Sessions, noting how different it is from anything else in his catalog. Damon, the primary force in Gorillaz, was a special guest on the October 24, 2020, Rocket Hour, with Elton telling him, “I loved the song straight away. You write very simple insidious songs, which is such a gift.”

7. It’s a sin (global reach mix) – Elton John & Years & Years

★ Written by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe
★ Produced by Stuart Price and Pet Shop Boys
★ Elton contributes vocals and piano

Elton and Years & Years (Olly Alexander) tore the 2021 Brit Awards in May apart when they premiered their powerful cover of the classic Pet Shop Boys song. Immediately after the broadcast, the song was made available worldwide as a downloadable charity release for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The version on The Lockdown Sessions has a new orchestration part added.

Elton became a huge fan of the television series It’s A Sin, starring Olly, in early 2021 and jumped at the chance to collaborate with its star. “I have to say,” Elton said to a flabbergasted Olly on a Rocket Hour, “that, being a gay man and having lived through that time [the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s], this is probably one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television. Ever.”

Elton has worked with Pet Shop Boys in the past: recording their song In Private in 2009, performing on their cover of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again (Naturally) in 2005, and appearing with them for a medley of Believe and Song For Guy on the magnificent ITV special An Audience With Elton John in 1997.

8. Nothing Else Matters – Miley Cyrus (featuring WATT, Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma, Robert Trujillo & Chad Smith)

★ Written by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich (Metallica)
★ Produced by Andrew Watt
★ Elton contributes piano

Elton called this “one of the best songs ever written…it’s very melodic…it’s kind of a classical piece of music” on the Howard Stern Show – a statement that led guest James Hetfield to tears. The track was released as a single from The Metallica Blacklist cover album on June 22, placing Elton on the Billboard Hot Hard Rock Songs and Hot Rock & Alternative Airplay charts.

Elton has a strong admiration for and history with the song’s vocalist, Miley Cyrus. She covered Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me and The Bitch Is Back on Revamp… and Restoration: Reimagining The Songs Of Elton John & Bernie Taupin releases in 2018, and joined Elton at the 2018 GRAMMYS for a duet of Tiny Dancer. Two nights later, she kicked off the Elton John: I’m Still Standing – A GRAMMY Salute television special with The Bitch Is Back.

9. Orbit – Elton John & S.G. Lewis

★ Written by Elton John, Samuel George Lewis, and Sophie ‘Frances’ Cooke
★ Produced by SG Lewis
★ Elton contributes vocals and piano

Although not having a direct relationship with S.G. Lewis before, Elton had long admired his work…and vice versa. In a 2019 interview, Sam divulged that he had grown up listening to Elton’s music and had in fact sung Are You Ready For Love at a karaoke bar the night before.

On March 27, 2021, Elton interviewed the electronic music artist on Rocket Hour, leaving him speechless by saying, “I would desperately like to do something with you as far as writing or doing something.” This statement quickly led to Orbit, the last song Elton worked on for the album.

The final version took a little extra effort from S.G.; Elton rejected the first mix, saying it sounded a little too safe…he wanted the producer to bring more of his own style to it. As recently as three months ago, S.G. found himself on the 300th Rocket Hour Special, assuring Elton (from his car, no less) that the new mix would be in his inbox “in the next couple of hours”.

10. Simple Things – Elton John & Brandi Carlile

★ Written by Elton John, Andrew Wotman, and Roman Campolo
★ Produced by Andrew Watt
★ Elton contributes vocals and piano

It can be said with certainty that, of all the artists on The Lockdown Sessions, none are the (self-described) Elton geek that Brandi Carlile is. To take it even further, it is very likely that Brandi is the biggest Elton fan to appear on anyone’s album…ever.

“Elton is my greatest hero of all time,” she said at an iHeartRadio Music Awards Elton tribute before performing in front of Elton this May. “I am the biggest Elton fan in existence.” She has also tweeted that, “[Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy] is my favorite album, and Someone Saved My Life Tonight is one of the greatest songs ANYONE has ever written.” She mentioned him numerous times in her recent memoir “Broken Horses”, explaining that she had pictures of Elton, Bernie, and even orchestrator Paul Buckmaster on her childhood bedroom walls.

While in junior high school, Brandi sang Honky Cat at a talent pageant, fully dressed up in Elton regalia, and continues to regularly cover Elton songs during her concerts: Madman Across The Water, Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting), We All Fall In Love Sometimes and Rocket Man. In 2009, Elton played piano and sang harmony vocals on Caroline, from her album Give Up The Ghost. And she recently joined Elton, Ed Sheeran, Courtney Cox and Lisa Kudrow on an Instagram sing-along of Tiny Dancer, with the words adjusted à la Kudrow’s character on an episode of Friends: “Hold me closer, Tony Danza.”

11. Beauty In The Bones – Jimmie Allen & Elton John

★ Written by Jimmie Allen, Taylor Bird, Phil Bentley, and Bruce Roberts
★ Produced by Taylor Bird and Bruce Roberts – Elton John’s vocals recorded by Peter Stengaard
★ Elton contributes vocals

Elton was contacted by songwriter/producer Bruce Roberts, asking if he would consider singing on a new track by the American Country Music Award winner. Elton agreed, eager to support the talented new artist and continue to build his catalog with Bruce:

  • 1987 – Bruce co-wrote Jennifer Rush’s Flames of Paradise, on which Elton sang duet vocal.
  • 1992 – Elton and Bruce wrote Some Other World, which Elton sang in the animated motion picture Ferngully – The Last Rainforest.
  • 1995 – Elton contributed backing vocals to three songs on Bruce’s album Intimacy, including the hit dance single When The Money’s Gone.
  • 2003 – Elton and Donna Summer performed her classic 1979 hit No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), co-written by Bruce, at Elton’s White Tie & Tiara charity ball on June 26.

12. One Of Me (EJ Lockdown Version) – Lil Nas X & Elton John

★ Written by Montero Hill, John Cunningham, Jasper Sheff, and Isley Juber
★ Produced by John Cunningham & Jasper Sheff
★ Elton contributes piano and background vocals

Elton first met Lil Nas X, another artist he has played frequently on his Rocket Hour, when the breakout star co-presented him with his Icon Award at the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Awards in May.

Last month, Elton noted on a Capital FM radio how much he admired Lil Nas X, and not just artistically: “This is very unusual for a Black hip-hop artist to come out in a very homophobic area of the music community.” He continued on BBC Radio 5 this week, “He’s a hurricane of fresh air. He’s a seismic shift in how the hip hop community must regard gay people. He’s got so much bravado and so much sense of humour and irony. He’s so intelligent with what he’s doing visually and lyrically and musically. It’s hard to not just take to him and watch him and think ‘Wow, where did this come from?’”

The pair got along so well that they joined forces for a series of wonderfully light-hearted Uber Eats “Tonight I’ll Be Eating” commercials, which launched on September 9.

Elton recorded his parts for One Of Me at Abbey Road – Studio 2, the iconic facility in which he had worked as a session musician 54 years before on songs for the Hollies, The Scaffold, and the Barron Knights.

This is how I started out. Before I became Elton, I was playing on other peoples’ records … I’ve come full circle!

Elton John

13. E-Ticket – Elton John & Eddie Vedder

★ Written by Elton John, Eddie Vedder, and Andrew Wotman
★ Produced by Andrew Watt
★ Elton contributes vocals, piano, keyboards, and organ

Long-time fans of Elton will feel transported back to the early 1970s upon hearing the vibe of his, and the four-piece band’s, blistering performance on this song, one of two he wrote with Eddie Vedder. The other is due to appear on the Pearl Jam frontman’s upcoming solo album, Earthling.

The two have known one another for some years now – Eddie can occasionally be seen attending Elton’s concerts – and performed together when Eddie sang backing vocals on Elton’s performance of Love Song at Neil Young’s Bridge School benefit on November 1, 1992.

14. Finish Line – Elton John & Stevie Wonder

★ Written by Elton John, Andrew Wotman, Ali Tamposi, and Roman Campolo
★ Produced by Andrew Watt
★ Elton contributes vocals and electric piano

“We wanted Stevie initially just to play harmonica and then it just grew,” Elton told Billboard News’ Melinda Newman earlier this month. “Then he put acoustic piano on it, so he and I are playing piano on the same record, which is so great.”

Calling the song “One of the best tracks I’ve ever done,” Elton sounds like the exuberant young fan he was when collecting Stevie’s Motown releases growing up…clearly knocked out by the fact that he has finally recorded a duet with his idol.

To learn more about the personal and professional relationship between the two superstars, read our feature: Elton John and Stevie Wonder: A History.

15. Stolen Car – Elton John & Stevie Nicks

★ Written by Elton John, Andrew Wotman, and Ali Tamposi
★ Produced by Andrew Watt
★ Elton contributes vocals and piano

On September 1, Stevie Nicks revealed her involvement in The Lockdown Sessions on her social media: “Dream come true…one of the top 3 things I’ve ever done! Thank you Elton!”.

Although the pair had never recorded together before, they have been social friends since the 1970s, when Fleetwood Mac and Elton often engaged in a tug of war on the record charts. Stevie also made an appearance in Cameron Crowe’s 2010 documentary on the making of The Union, Elton’s album with Leon Russell.

16. I’m Not Gonna Miss You – Glen Campbell & Elton John

★ Written by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
★ Produced by Julian Raymond – Elton’s vocal produced by Giles Martin
★ Elton contributes vocals

Elton was invited by Glen’s family to record a verse on the late singer’s heart-wrenching farewell effort, which Elton has called “one of the most beautiful songs of all time.”

Slightly nervous about being able to honour the deep personal connection the song had to its writer, who passed in 2017 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, Elton found himself recording his vocal on the same afternoon he did the Lil Nas X song.

This last factoid perhaps sums up The Lockdown Sessions, and Elton’s life, like no other. Even during a time when he “had no plans to make any music at all,” Elton found himself connecting with the widest variety and age range of musicians imaginable and accepting their invitations to collaborate, often one right after the other…giving his fans and lovers of all styles of music something to savor.