On November 30, 1974, Elton John’s Greatest Hits began a 10-week run atop the Billboard 200 pop album chart on its way to selling more than 24 million copies worldwide.
Elton John was born and raised as Reginald Dwight in suburban London, and if you’d rearranged his DNA or his childhood environment just a bit, he might have become an RAF fighter pilot instead of one of the biggest pop stars of all time. His father, Stanley, wanted young Reginald to follow his footsteps into the British military, but his mother Shirley Dwight’s Elvis Presley records sparked his interest in rock and roll, and her uncritical devotion made it possible for the bespectacled boy to pursue his dream of rock stardom without discouragement. And he displayed remarkable tenacity in pursuing that dream, even to the point of ruining his vision by wearing a pair of Buddy Holly-style eyeglasses until his eyes adjusted to their strong prescription.
An accomplished pianist with a gift for composing original melodies, Reg Dwight toured extensively with a band called Bluesology while still a teenager in the mid-1960s, but his path toward stardom really began when he landed a 9-to-5 songwriting job at DJM Records in 1967 and was paired with a lyricist named Bernie Taupin. Taking the stage-name Elton John in 1969, Dwight began recording original material written with Taupin while still turning out bland, commercial ballads by the hundreds as part of his day job. His debut album, Empty Sky (1969) failed to catch on in the UK and was not released in the United States until years later, but his follow-up, Elton John (1970), was a breakthrough smash thanks to “Your Song,” his first top-20 hit on both sides of the Atlantic.
Over the next four years, John would produce new material at a rate that is utterly astonishing by today’s standards. Prior to the November 1974 release of Elton John’s Greatest Hits, he released six full-length studio albums—Tumbleweed Connection (1970), Madman Across the Water (1971), Honky Château (1972), Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player (1973), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) and Caribou (1974)—and scored 14 American top 40 hits, 10 of which were included on the greatest-hits album that reached #1 on this day in 1974.
Over the subsequent decades of his phenomenal career, Elton John would release two further volumes of greatest hits, sell tens of millions of albums worldwide and establish an American chart record that may never be equaled by placing at least one hit on the Billboard Top 40 in each of 30 consecutive years from 1970 through 1999.