NEW YORK (AP) — How’s this for your 67th birthday?
Elton John celebrated his on Tuesday with the release of the 40th-anniversary edition of his classic album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” The new four-disc edition features covers of John hits including “Bennie and the Jets” by R&B star Miguel and “Candle in the Wind” from singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.
Contemporary country acts Zac Brown Band and Hunter Hayes, Irish musician Imelda May and singer John Grant are also featured. But here’s the yellow brick road for Sheeran, Fall Out Boy, Emeli Sande and the Band Perry, who talk about tackling songs from one of music’s most celebrated singers.
Ed Sheeran, “Candle In the Wind”
Ed Sheeran knew responsibility came with covering John’s “Candle in the Wind,” which the pop icon wrote in honor of Marilyn Monroe, and years later, rewrote in tribute to Princess Diana.
“That’s when I got a little bit hesitant, but only for a second because that song holds so much meaning to England and Britain and the world after the Diana thing,” the English singer said. “I didn’t really know how I was going to tackle that and cover that because obviously you don’t want to outdo that song.”
Sheeran, 23, said he decided to “capture the heart of it and just do it” instead of trying to achieve perfection.
His version is softer, with a singer-songwriter vibe. Sheeran, who has written for One Direction and with Taylor Swift, among others, said watching John’s prolific career has helped guide him.
“Consistency is key,” the Grammy-nominated performer said. “Almost be careful what you put out there and make it the best you can do.”
Fall Out Boy, “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”
When Elton John asked Fall Out Boy to appear on the rerelease of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Patrick Stump had a request: appear on FOB’s album.
And John did.
“I’m like, `Sure, I would love to record for him, but does he want to record for us?’ And he said yes, which kind of blew my mind,” the bandleader said. “And I was kind of bluffing.”
The English musician appears on the title track of FOB’s “Save Rock and Roll.” The rock band returned the favor with a cover of “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” – though that wasn’t their initial pick of John classics.
“My favorite track on that album without question is `Bennie and the Jets.’ At the time when we were asked, they hadn’t really solidified pretty much anyone, except Miguel had already done that track, so I was like, `Ugh,'” Stump recalled. “But I heard it and it’s amazing. Miguel killed it, so I’m happy to relinquish it to him.”
Emeli Sande, “All the Girls Love Alice”
Emeli Sande says remaking John’s “All the Girls Love Alice” helped her become a better songwriter and influenced how she’s approaching songs that will appear on her anticipated sophomore album.
“When you take on a classic song, you’re forced to bring it down and try to look at why is it classic, why is it something that’s stood the test of time, so it was definitely inspiring for me,” she said. “It has inspired me to pay attention and to really set the bar quite highly for what’s a good song, what’s a bad song.”
Scottish-born Sande said she appreciated John reaching out to her via email and, like John, she’s hoping to fill a void in pop music.
“I felt like that art in storytelling isn’t really in pop anymore and I miss it,” she said. “It was nice to have something to get your teeth into and be able to break down like that.”
The 27-year-old, whose debut “Our Version of Events,” was the No. 1 album of 2012 in the United Kingdom, said she chose to record “Alice” because it was “musically interesting and lyrically different.” She also said she wanted to impress John.
“We were quite nervous sending it off, but we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best,” she said. “It was a great feeling to know the original maker approved.”
The Band Perry, “Grey Seal”
The Band Perry is really a family affair.
The sibling trio, who cover Elton John’s “Grey Seal,” said their parents introduced them to the piano-playing veteran.
“Our parents are kind of like our very first radio,” Kimberly Perry said. “They had a massive vinyl collection and our parents were both big fans of Elton John.”
The Band Perry brought their country flavor to their version of the John jam, adding a banjo throughout as a tip of “our hats to our country roots,” Perry said.
The group, which also includes brothers Neil and Reid, said covering the dramatic song made them feel like actors in a movie.
“We really tried to get in Elton’s head a little bit,” she said. “The lyrics of `Grey Seal’ are extremely eclectic … it’s something of a legend, but apparently Elton and Bernie (Taupin) were inspired by a high school teacher.”
Perry said they are grateful for the opportunity.
“He actually called Neil on his cellphone to say `thank you’ and was just appreciative. And we’re like, `We’re the appreciative ones. You’re a hero,'” she said.