We can likely blame this on the '60s and the musical shift therein, but since the dawn of rock 'n' roll as a serious art form, there has remained a pervasive opinion that serious rock (or pop) can't also be fun.
In 2012, though, the tides have finally shifted a little bit. Yes, we have superserious artists like Adele whose entire marketing angle is raw talent with few frills. But at the same time, we also have acts that freely cross these invisible boundaries. See, for just one glaring example, Lady Gaga, who despite her glossy production and often-ridiculous outfits, has become critically accepted and who writes — and even plays — the majority of her material.
We should thank Sir Elton John for all this creative freedom. The musical environment in which he first appeared was not exactly friendly to a piano-playing pop-rock crooner in glittery suits. When John (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight) first appeared, he had a tough act — the whole of the deadly-earnest hippie era — to follow. He had already ridden out the '60s with some industry success behind the scenes, putting Bernie Taupin's lyrics to music and creating hits for artists like Lulu.
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With Taupin, he soon put together his own debut album, the self-titled Elton John, which was released in 1970 and featured the single "Your Song." It was a sweeping, genre-less hit, one of pure melodic and lyrical satisfaction. This was pop with a timeless appeal and a kind of reflective, almost bittersweet mood at which John would prove a master. And his follow-up albums — 1970's Tumbleweed Connection, 1973's Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road — were equally polished.
These records were all loaded with unassailably solid tunes, backed by real piano playing and unadorned singing. Yet the man behind the music looked otherworldly in a way that had scarcely been seen up to that point. As glam rock rose in early '70s England with David Bowie, T. Rex, and others, John finally had a set of somewhat like-minded artists to make him look less crazy. But he wasn't really a glam rock artist. His songs were rarely built on anything that was truly rock 'n' roll, like distorted guitars or blues progressions.
Of course, Bowie helped set the tone for weirdos in the pop world. But Bowie was always an avant-garde artiste who would do his own thing. For him, the success was a nice aside. However, he had little use for Top of the Pops.
John, meanwhile, always seemed to be aiming squarely at popular adulation, though on his own uncompromising terms. He took a stand for serious pop. So without Captain Fantastic, there would likely be no piano-playing little monsters today.