Elton John’s aha moment came near the end of 1966 when he was about 19, when his band Bluesology opened for Little Richard at London’s Saville Theatre. At the time, John—then performing under his given name, Reginald Dwight—played the organ. Seeing Richard—the flamboyance, the showmanship, the unbridled lust of R&B and rock ’n’ roll—made him switch to piano. Mixing early rock (Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis) with R&B-leaning ’70s pop (Leon Russell, Dr. John) and idiosyncratic singer-songwriters like Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson, here’s a playlist of not only the music that helped shape one of the biggest pop stars of all time, but the sounds that provided the musical environment in which he reigned. From ballads to rave-ups, earnest to glammy, sentimental to flip—all shades of Elton can be traced back to these influences.