The Story Behind Elton John's "Candle In The Wind"

Of all the songs Elton John and Bernie Taupin composed this was their most successful one. But its success was delayed 15-25 years. Originally released on the landmark 1973 album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" the song received airplay but never made it to Billboard's Top 40 charts. That would have to wait until 1987 when a live version of the original song would become a top 10 hit. But it wasn't until the tragic death of Princess Diana that a revised version would become the highest selling single in musical history.

The first version was a touching tribute to Marilyn Monroe (who could miss the "Goodbye Norma Jean" reference?). Yet the title wasn't inspired by Monroe at all. Bernie Taupin came up with the words "Candle in the Wind" when he read a quote about Janis Joplin. The song didn't chart in the United States although it reached #11 on the British charts.

The next stop for this song was Sydney where in December of 1986 Elton performed "Candle in the Wind" with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. This was released in 1987 on Elton's album "Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra" and as a single. In 1988, it reached No. 5 in the UK charts and No. 6 in the United States.

Death seemed to follow this song. Three years later On April 7, 1990 Elton performed at the Farm Aid 4 benefit concert, dedicating "Candle in the Wind" to Ryan White, an early AIDS victim. White, who was only 18 years old, died the very next night, the victim of a contaminated blood transfusion.

But it wasn't until the heart wrenching death of England's Princess in a car accident on August 31, 1997 in Paris, France that the song would reach monster popularity. Elton was already in a depressed mood having already lost another good friend, the fashion designer Gianni Versace, earlier that summer. In a terrible twist of fate Diana comforted Elton at Versace's funeral (it's pertinent to note that Princess Diana loved the original "Candle in the Wind"). The death of his royal friend shortly afterward sent Elton into a severe depression.

To help him through his shock and grief, Elton decided to contact Taupin and ask him to rewrite the lyrics to their original hit. Taupin complied, saying, "I thought it was very important to project it from a nation's standpoint. I wanted to make it sound like a country singing it. From the first couple of lines I wrote [which began "Goodbye England's Rose"], the rest sort of fell into place". Among the changes made were the opening lines. The original version begins, "Goodbye Norma Jean, though I never knew you at all." Taupin revised it to, "Goodbye England's rose, may you ever grow in our hearts." Although most of the lyrics reflected Princess Diana one line from the original version was omitted. The accusatory line "Even when you died, the press still hounded you... " was replaced by, "Even though we try, the truth brings us to tears... "

Elton recorded the song with George Martin, of Beatles fame, with a completely different arrangement from the 1973 version. Whereas the original recording was done in a standard rock ballad style (piano, electric guitar, bass, and drums) Martin added a classical arrangement of strings and woodwind. Elton performed the song only once... at Diana's funeral in front of an estimated television audience of over 2.5 billion. It shows how he feels about the princess' loss that since her death he's performed the original version innumerable times but he steadfastly refuses to perform the 1997 version unless asked to do so by Princes William or Harry.

The revised version, now titled "Candle in the Wind '97", was released that September and promptly went to #1 on the American charts, remaining there for an astonishing 14 weeks. It also went to #1 on the charts of numerous other countries. The single proceeded to sell more copies than any other single since the beginning of the recording industry. It later won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. It also received a unique honor: an RIAA Diamond Disc for US sales over 10 million.

And Elton never released the song again.

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