Ben Folds names the only album on which Elton John is “represented as a piano player”

Elton John Ben Folds
(Image credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for Bonnaroo Arts and Music Festival)

As he releases his new album, What Matters Most, singer-songwriter Ben Folds has been discussing the 10 piano albums he thinks every music fan should own.

Quite the piano player himself, of course, Folds served up his menu of 88-key delights in an interview with Consequence of Sound. One of his recommendations is classic Elton John live album 17-11-70 - named after the date on which it was recorded - a record that Folds clearly rates very highly.

Originally captured for a live radio broadcast, the album features a trio of John on piano, Nigel Olsson on drums (he remains in Elton’s band to this day) and the late Dee Murray on bass. The record’s raw, unfiltered sound is somewhat removed from what you’d hear at an Elton John show today, and the Rocket Man has said on several occasions that it remains his greatest live performance.

Folds is inclined to agree, telling Consequence that it’s the one Elton album that really highlights his piano playing.

“The thing is, I don’t think that Elton is represented on any of his other albums as a piano player,” he explains. “And the reason for that is because he’s trying to make the best album. So Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, right, that’s a hit song. You barely hear the piano in it at all.”

Folds goes on to say that John is “very humble about his piano playing,” and recognises that, despite being recorded very early in his career, 17-11-70 represents something of a high watermark on that score.

“I spoke with him once about this record,” Folds recalls. “And he said that it was pretty much beyond his ability, that he listens to it and recognises that the piano playing is pretty goddamn fierce on this record.”

Folds has long been an Elton John fan, of course, regularly covering Tiny Dancer in his live shows. 

Other piano-powered records in Folds’ top 10 include Joni Mitchell’s Blue (“What I like about [it] as a piano album is that it’s not completely piano”), Randy Newman Live, James Booker’s Junco Partner and Ramsey Lewis’s Goin’ Latin.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.