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Elton John, still standing The sun never did go down on England's perennial pop star

Although rock and roll, as Danny & the Juniors sagely observed, is definitely here to stay, rock stars rarely are.

Most big-name rockers enjoy just a few years at the top before making the inevitable slide down the charts. A lucky few, like Eric Clapton or Paul Simon, manage to hold onto the mass audience for 20 years or more, but most are happy to hold onto the sort of small-but-loyal following that has supported Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell all these years. It may not be heavy rotation on MTV, but it sure beats the oldies circuit.

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Elton John is luckier than most. Not only has he managed to beat the odds and spend a quarter century in certifiable rock stardom, but he's actually gained back some of the momentum he lost during his first slide down the charts.

Back in the '70s, when "Philadelphia Freedom" and "Crocodile Rock" ruled the charts, Elton John seemed almost a force of nature. It wasn't just that his albums went to No. 1 and stayed there; there was something irresistible about the music he made.

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As critic Robert Christgau wrote, "It wasn't simply that he was so there, although that helped; quite simply, the man was a genius. No matter how you deplored his sloppiness, or his one-dimensionality, or his $40,000 worth of rose-colored glasses, you would find yourself humming 'Take Me to the Pilot' or 'Bennie and the Jets' and 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me.' "

That didn't last. But then, it never does. After eight years of platinum-plus sales, Elton suddenly found himself releasing albums that didn't even go gold. "Victim of Love" and "The Fox" weren't flops, exactly, but they hardly achieved the kind of success most listeners associated with the singer. Things improved somewhat as the '80s progressed, thanks to singles like "Sad Songs Say So Much" and "I Don't Want to Go Out Like That," but on the whole, it looked as if Elton John was as dated as polyester double-knits.

But like so many '70s icons, Elton John was due for a comeback. Only he managed to do it on his own terms, sailing up the charts on the strength of new material instead of relying on refired oldies. By 1992, he was back to the million-seller status again, thanks to the double-platinum "The One," and his current album, "Made in England," shows every indication of continuing that hot streak. Factor in the sell-out stadium shows he did last year with Billy Joel, and it seems clear that the boy is back.

To what does he attribute this resurgence? He's not saying -- at least not to the press. Elton is not exactly an interview hound -- "I never speak to the press or anyone involved in it," he was quoted earlier this year -- so there's not much from-the-horse's-mouth info available.

However, he does seem to credit much of his current success to the sobriety he embraced in 1990. As he told England's Q magazine, "[T]hat changed my life completely. I can actually remember things now! Hahaha!

"Physically and mentally, my life is brilliant and I just wish I'd done it sooner. That's been the biggest change in my life -- actually knowing what's going on and being more responsible for my actions and not behaving like a prat, basically . . ."

He also told the magazine that even though his performance of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" with George Michael was one of his favorite duet experiences, he actually tried to talk Michael out of releasing it as a single. "And it went to No. 1 in every country, which shows you how much I know," he laughed. John added that the performer he would most like to duet with at this point is R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe.

"I'm very busy, and I'm enjoying myself," he concluded. "I'm really well."

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Elton John

When: Sunday, Aug. 20, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Merriweather Post Pavilion

Tickets: $25 lawn

Call: (410) 730-2424 for information, (410) 481-6500 for tickets


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