Area Resident’s Stylus Counsel: A Tale Of Two Troubadours

Track 102 | The night Elton became a star — & how he should commemorate it.


Elton John famously played the Troubadour in West Hollywood twice. The first show was a triumph signifying his ascent to superstardom. The second was a special anniversary show five years later, signifying the end of the “five years of fun” era on which his entire musical greatness is built.

I was really hoping he’d play there one more time during his epic six-year Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, but alas it doesn’t appear he will. Perhaps that makes sense — Elton played L.A.’s Dodger Stadium to commemorate his famous 1975 show there, and had the third of his three concerts aired live on Disney+. So it’s not like he’s ignoring his famous historic gigs. Besides, Farewell Yellow Brick Road is specifically billed as a stadium tour. So far the smallest venue he’s played was a 6,000-seat Hard Rock casino. The 500-seat Troubadour club would be a bit weird, maybe. But he did play there in 1975, at the peak of his popularity. So it was definitely possible.

I wanted him to play the Troubadour one more time because that’s where it all began for Sir Elton. His self-titled sophomore album was released four months earlier and the 23-year-old was about to release Tumbleweed Connection when he arrived in America for the very first time — and flew economy! — to play the West Hollywood “musician’s venue” on Aug. 25, 1970. Introduced to the assembled 300 people by none other than Neil Diamond that first night, he nervously started with the soon-to-be-released-as-a-single Your Song, head down at the piano — just him, with a bit of Dee Murray‘s bass at the end. Lovely. But — CUE THE DRUMS! The next song was Bad Side Of The Moon and suddenly the unknown Englishman and his backing rhythm section of former Spencer Davis Group members exploded with raw energy, skill and originality. Critics gushed, made bold predictions, and every show was sold out after that. Pretty much all of Hollywood’s music scene caught one of the shows.

It could have been a very different story, though. If Elton had bombed at the Troubadour that night, it probably would have been the end of his career — which up to then had been sputtering despite his and lyricist Bernie Taupin‘s obvious talent. They were actually pretty desperate. Still, they turned down an insulting offer of $50 for a New York show and Elton’s management made sure to get a copy of the self-titled Elton John album into the hands of Troubadour owner Doug Weston. Weston, who had a reputation for showcasing new talent, was indeed one of the first in L.A. to get the record. As the story goes, he only needed to play half of it before deciding to book Elton into a headline slot. At the time, his music wasn’t on the radio at all in America.

Elton and his management agreed to play eight shows over seven nights at the small but influential Troubadour for $275. Admission was $5 cover, which many of the local VIPs didn’t have to pay. By comparison, the Farewell tour has so far attracted more than five million attendees and grossed around $800 million. So the dividends in 1970 were beyond their wildest dreams.

The Troubadour for Elton John in 1970 was sort of like what The Ed Sullivan Show was for The Beatles in 1964, except with a much smaller audience. In fact, apart from a 57-second clip of Sixty Years On, no video exists of the show — unless you want to watch the fictionalized stuff in Rocket Man. You could also say the Troubadour show was akin to The Sex Pistols’ gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976. This was it. This was the moment. Within weeks, even John Lennon was raving about the originality of Your Song. It hit No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 — the first of 16 top-10 hits in the coming decade. Oh, and seven No. 1 albums in four years.

The day after his engagement in West Hollywood, Elton, Dee and Nigel went on to play six dates at the newly opened Troubadour (North) in San Francisco. The closest thing to hearing the legendary first Troubadour show might be achieved by getting a copy of the 17-11-70 live album. I’m currently hunting for the special Record Store Day release Elton did a few years ago — expanding the album to a double and including the entire show. It’s one of my favourite live records. The setlist from three months after the Troubadour show was pretty much the same, with addition of Can I Put You On? from the Friends soundtrack, Amoreena and My Father’s Gun from the not-yet-released Tumbleweed Connection and even, curiously, Indian Sunset from the not-recorded-yet Madman Across The Water.

Troubadour Setlist | Tuesday, Aug. 25, 1970

Your Song
Bad Side Of The Moon
Sixty Years On
I Need You To Turn To
Border Song
Country Comfort
Take Me To The Pilot
Honky Tonk Women
Burn Down The Mission / My Baby Left Me / Get Back

In 1975, Elton’s popularity was at its peak even though his mental health was struggling and his songwriting was taking a marked downward turn. He’d been recording, appearing and performing non-stop for seven years. He’d forgotten how to be Reg Dwight, changed his legal name to Elton Hercules John and was emotionally adrift in a sea of booze, drugs and a serious eating disorder.

By this time, though, he was the biggest concert attraction in the world. He put family and friends on a private plane and somehow managed to pull off an intimate two-night, four-show stand at the Troubadour to celebrate the five-year anniversary of his critical breakthrough. Seating was limited to less than 500 per show, and the opportunity to buy two tickets was determined by a postcard lottery. Tickets were now $250 instead of a $5 cover, but opening night was a benefit show — funds were distributed to the UCLA Eye Clinic, Jules Stein Institute. By today’s standards, $250 seems cheap for an Elton concert, but that’s the equivalent of $1,400 today.

Following the Troubadour five-year anniversary, Elton booked a return to the States and Los Angeles, touring the new album Rock Of The Westies. The tour culminated with two legendary shows at Dodger Stadium. None of the 110,000 fans likely had any clue their piano-playing hero had attempted suicide two days earlier. His mom had an inkling — she was one of those flown over on the private jet. The sight of her son looking so thin brought her to tears at one point. There are heaps of video of the Dodger Stadium shows, but what’s really odd is that video footage of either the 1970 or 1975 Troubadour shows is pretty much non-existent online. If you managed to win the ticket lottery in 1975, here’s what you would have been treated to:

Troubadour Setlist | Aug. 25, 1975

Your Song
I Need You To Turn To
Border Song
Honky Cat
Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Bennie And The Jets
Dixie Lily
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
The Bitch Is Back
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
Street Kids
Island Girl
Philadelphia Freedom
Crocodile Rock
Pinball Wizard

The current farewell tour is not a retirement. Elton intends to keep recording and performing — he just won’t be touring because the extended travel keeps him away from his family. That means a return to the Troubadour could still be possible. My suggestion? August 2025 on the 55th anniversary — and he should do the show as a trio with just bass and drums.

•         •         •

Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.


Previous articleMidweek Mixtape | About 140 Songs That Are Royally Entertaining (Side 1)
Next articleNow Hear This: Grande Royale | Welcome To Grime Town