Elton John’s ‘Honky Château’ album celebrates 50th anniversary today; Davey Johnstone shares his recollections

The Rocket Record Company

Elton John‘s classic fifth studio album, Honky Château, was released 50 years ago today, on May 19, 1972.

The album was Elton’s first to top the Billboard 200, spending five consecutive weeks at #1 in July and August of ’72 and beginning a run of six straight chart-topping studio efforts in the U.S. for Elton.

Honky Château included two songs that reached the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, “Rocket Man” — one of Elton’s signature tunes — and “Honky Cat,” which peaked at #6 and #8, respectively.

The album was recorded in France at Château d’Hérouville, an 18th century manor house, and was Elton’s first full album to feature contributions from his classic backing band of guitarist Davey Johnstone, drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray.

Johnstone tells ABC Audio that he had basically just met Olsson and Murray for the first time at the airport before the sessions began, but he says they quickly developed a chemistry while working on the album.

“[W]ith Elton on piano, Nigel on drums, Dee on bass and me on guitars, and then us all doing background vocals, we it had tailor-made,” Johnstone says. “[We were a] four-piece … rocking outfit. And with Bernie Taupin supplying the lyrics, it was like, suddenly we were this unstoppable force.”

Johnstone notes that with everyone staying at the chateau, songs often would come together very quickly.

“[W]e’d come down in the morning and have a coffee and a baguette or something, and we’d just immediately start rehearsing some of these songs,” Johnstone recalls. “And in some cases, we’d rehearse the song and we’d say, ‘Oh, that sounds great. Let’s just go over to the studio and cut it right now.’… So it was very, very fast.”

Here’s Honky Château‘s full track list:

“Honky Cat”
“I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself”
“Susie (Dramas)”
“Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)”
“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”

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