Hello there! This week we will discuss the song Candle In The Wind, and the re-write of that song titled Candle In The Wind 1997 (often referred to as Goodbye, England’s Rose, after its opening words), that Elton John performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.
This is a song with a fascinating history. After discussing both the original song and its 1997 re-write by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, we will discuss covers by Sandy Denny and by Billy Joel.
Elton John and Candle In The Wind:
Elton John is one of our favorite rock musicians. We previously featured him in our blog post on the song Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. We also discussed his song Rocket Man, also Tiny Dancer, and his cover of Pinball Wizard. Most recently we reviewed his cover of the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody.
So here we will briefly summarize Elton John’s life and career.
Elton John was born Reginald Dwight in a suburb of London in 1947. He adopted the stage name “Elton John” as a composite of Elton Dean, saxophonist in his first band, and blues singer and mentor Long John Baldry.
At age 11, he was awarded a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. Elton recalls that he was not a diligent student and was not particularly attracted to classical music. He subsequently left high school at age 17 to pursue a career in pop music.
Below is a photo of Elton John in 1973. This is the way I prefer to remember him – as the wild and crazy rocker sporting a feather boa, before his more sedate incarnation as Sir Elton John.Embed from Getty Images
A unique feature of Elton John’s career was his decades-long collaboration with lyricist Bernie Taupin. The two were introduced in 1967 when each of them answered an ad for musicians in the British magazine New Musical Express.
Following the first big Taupin-John hit Your Song in 1970, Elton John embarked on an incredibly productive and versatile career. During the 70s he came out with one blockbuster album after another. Taupin and John produced ballads, rocking tunes and funky cross-over hits.
Candle In The Wind has had a most interesting history. The genesis of the tune occurred when Bernie Taupin heard Janis Joplin’s life compared to “a candle in the wind.” Following their unique collaborative style, Taupin wrote up a set of lyrics and mailed them to Elton John.
Elton then wrote a melody to accompany Taupin’s lyrics. The initial line “Goodbye, Norma Jean” refers to the real name of actress Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean(e) Baker. Taupin states that the song refers to
“the idea of fame or youth or somebody being cut short in the prime of their life. The song could have been about James Dean, it could have been about Montgomery Clift, it could have been about Jim Morrison … how we glamorise death, how we immortalise people.”
Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled
They crawled out of the woodwork
And they whispered into your brain
They set you on the treadmill
And they made you change your name
And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did
Candle In The Wind was included in Elton John’s blockbuster 1973 double album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. At left is the cover art from the album.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was written during Elton’s ‘manic phase,’ a time when he was heavily into cocaine. The upside of this otherwise dangerous period was that Elton John was incredibly productive.
Bernie Taupin wrote essentially all of the songs for the album over a three-week period. However, Elton outdid Bernie by writing all of the melodies for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road during a 3-day stay at the Pink Flamingo Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica!
All 18 songs on the double album were subsequently recorded at the Chateau d’Herouville in France, after problems arose with recording in Jamaica. The recording itself took only three weeks.
Candle In The Wind is too melodramatic for some. For example,
composer Gruff Rhys called it “the worst song he had ever heard.”
Furthermore, the Rolling Stone critic, Stephen Davis, found the entire Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album an
“exposition of unabashed fantasy, myth, wet dreams and cornball acts, an overproduced array of musical portraits and hard rock & roll that always threatens to founder, too fat to float, artistically doomed by pretension.”
(by the way, that album is currently ranked #91 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time!)
Contrary to Mr. Davis, I find the lyrics to Candle In The Wind poignant and touching. I especially enjoy Taupin’s description of his appreciation of Miss Monroe, who died 11 years before the song was written: “From the young man in the 22nd row, who sees you as something more than sexual, more than just our Marilyn Monroe.”
Here is Elton John in a live version of Candle In The Wind. This was performed in Dec. 1986 in Sydney, Australia.
Elton is dressed in his best Mozart look-alike regalia, complete with powdered wig and beauty mark. This version was included on his album Live In Australia With The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
This time, the song was released as a single, whereupon it shot up to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and made it to #5 in Britain. The tune has remained one of Elton John’s signature tunes ever since.
Elton John’s costume in this video is par for the course during this period. Nothing seemed too outrageous for him – gigantic embossed glasses; oversized Doc Martens boots; ruffles and lace; you name it, Elton appeared in it. In 1988 some 2,000 items of his memorabilia were auctioned off at Sotheby’s and raised $20 million for charity.
The Song Candle In The Wind 1997:
Elton John and Princess Diana were good friends. After their mutual friend Gianni Versace was assassinated in July, 1997, Diana consoled Elton at Versace’s funeral.
So after Diana died following a car crash in August, 1997, Elton and Bernie Taupin re-wrote the lyrics to Candle In The Wind to describe Diana, her life and her influence. The song was re-titled Candle In The Wind 1997.
Here are some of the re-written lyrics.
Goodbye England’s rose
May you ever grow in our hearts
You were the grace that placed itself
Where lives were torn apart.
You called out to our country
And you whispered to those in pain
Now you belong to heaven
And the stars spell out your name
And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never fading with the sunset
When the rain set in
And your footsteps will always fall here
Along England’s greenest hills
Your candle’s burned out long before
Your legend ever will
I have to say that these lyrics are considerably too melodramatic for my taste. But here is Elton John performing Candle In The Wind 1997.
This took place at Diana’s funeral in Westminster Abbey, London, on Sept. 6, 1997. As you can see, there were enormous crowds at the funeral, and millions more watched on television.
So what kind of impact did this song have? Elton John has given all proceeds from the song to various of Diana’s favorite charities. To date this is the best-selling song ever, since playlists began to count record sales.
The song has sold more than 33 million copies. It is believed that only Bing Crosby’s White Christmas has sold more. The tribute song clearly touched a nerve with the general public.
Over a nearly 50-year span, Elton John has established one of the greatest, most productive and enduring careers in rock music. He
has sold more than 300 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists in the world. He has more than fifty Top 40 hits, including seven consecutive No. 1 US albums, 58 Billboard Top 40 singles, 27 Top 10, four No. 2 and nine No. 1. For 31 consecutive years (1970–2000) he had at least one song in the Billboard Hot 100.
Following a short marriage and subsequent divorce in the 80s, Elton came out as gay in 1988. In 1993 he began a relationship with Canadian advertising executive David Furnish, which culminated in their marriage in 2014. This relationship seems to have brought stability and happiness to Elton.
Elton John has been an outspoken and articulate advocate for the GLBT community and in particular for AIDS sufferers. He has been quite courageous about combating public prejudice in this area.
Elton was a vocal supporter of people like teenager Ryan White, who contracted and eventually died from AIDS and who was the victim of considerable prejudice. His Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for AIDS research and HIV/AIDS research and education.
It would take an entire blog post just to list Elton John’s myriad honors and awards. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1998. In addition, Elton John
has received six Grammy Awards, five Brit Awards … an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Tony Award, a Disney Legend award, and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004.
At age 70, Elton John continues to perform today, although he has announced that his current tour will be his last. Sir Elton – one of the great rockers of all time!
Sandy Denny and Candle In The Wind:
Sandy Denny was one of the best-known female singer-songwriters in the British folk-rock community in the late 60s and early 70s. Denny was born in 1947 in a suburb of London. She studied classical piano as a young girl, but was inspired by her grandmother, who sang traditional Scottish folksongs.
Below is a photo of Sandy Denny circa 1970.Embed from Getty Images
Ms. Denny began her own career singing traditional folk ballads. In the late 60s, she wrote the song Who Knows Where The Time Goes? Judy Collins heard a demo of Denny’s composition, and included a cover of that song in an album with the same title.
Collins’ cover became a best-seller, and brought Sandy Denny her first major recognition. In May 1968, she became the lead vocalist for the British folk group Fairport Convention. Her tenure with this band lasted less than two years, but during that period Fairport Convention shifted its focus to folk-rock, and went on to become the most influential British folk-rock ensemble.
Denny left Fairport Convention in late 1969 and formed the group Fotheringay (more about that group shortly). She remained with Fotheringay only a little more than one year. After that she released solo albums for a couple of years, and then returned to Fairport Convention from 1974-75.
Here is the audio of Sandy Denny singing Candle In The Wind.
This was from Ms. Denny’s 1977 album Rendezvous, a solo effort released after Sandy and her husband Trevor Lucas had left Fairport Convention. The album performed so poorly that Ms. Denny was dropped by her record company, Island Records. This would turn out to be Sandy Denny’s last album.
Because we were unable to find a live performance of Candle In The Wind by Sandy Denny, here we present a live performance of Ms. Denny as lead vocalist for the folk-rock group Fotheringay.
This was recorded for German TV in 1970, and consists of 14 minutes in concert. If you like, you can watch only the first song which lasts just under five minutes. Sandy Denny’s clear and moving vocals show why she was so highly regarded in the British folk community.
Sandy Denny’s style reminds me somewhat of Judy Collins, except that Ms. Collins had a more powerful voice and a greater range. In any case, Denny’s sweet, sad vocals are haunting and memorable.
In July, 1977, Sandy Denny gave birth to a daughter, Georgia. She then embarked on a tour to publicize her latest album. In March 1978, Sandy Denny was on vacation in Cornwall with her parents and her daughter. She fell and hit her head on concrete; the accident left her with debilitating headaches.
She was prescribed a painkiller, dextropropoxyphene, for her headaches. Apparently that drug can be fatal when mixed with alcohol. A few weeks after the accident, Ms. Denny was behaving so erratically that her husband Trevor Lucas returned to his native Australia along with their infant daughter.
On April 17, Sandy Denny collapsed and fell into a coma. She was taken to hospital, but never recovered and died there. She was 31 years old.
Sandy Denny was a folk artist with exceptional potential. She died tragically at much too young an age; she is sadly missed.
Billy Joel and Candle In The Wind:
Billy Joel is an American singer-songwriter. He has had an extraordinary career, and has emerged as one of the best-selling musicians of all time.
Joel was born in the Bronx in May 1949, and raised in Levittown, Long Island. His father was a classical pianist who emigrated from Germany after the Nazis came to power.
Billy’s mother forced him to take piano lessons as a child. Although Joel resisted this, he nevertheless became an accomplished piano player.
In high school, Billy performed at a piano bar as a means of raising some extra money. Unfortunately, this resulted in poor attendance at school. As a result, he came up short of the credits required to graduate from Hicksville High School.
Joel reports that his response to not graduating was:
‘To hell with it. If I’m not going to Columbia University, I’m going to Columbia Records, and you don’t need a high school diploma over there.’
Apparently Billy was inspired to pursue a career in music after watching the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. Joel joined several bands, in search of fame and fortune. Although he obtained work as a session musician, initially he found no commercial success.
Here is a photo of Billy Joel with one of his fans (Joel is on the right).Embed from Getty Images
In 1969 Billy Joel joined forces with drummer Jon Small to form the duo Attila. They disbanded after Joel had an affair with Small‘s wife, Elizabeth Weber; Elizabeth eventually became Billy Joel’s first wife.
Billy landed a contract with a small record company, and began recording and touring. His first big break came when a Philadelphia DJ began playing Joel’s song Captain Jack.
Captain Jack became a popular hit on the East Coast. This led to a record contract with Columbia Records in 1972, at which time Billy moved to L.A. In order to make ends meet, Billy worked at the Executive Room piano bar on Wilshire Boulevard.
Billy Joel’s first Columbia release was the 1973 Piano Man. The title tune from that album, which became Joel’s signature tune, recounted some experiences from his tenure at the Executive Room.
Billy released a couple more albums that showed considerable promise and brought him some fame. However, he became disenchanted with L.A. and returned to New York in 1975.
At that point, Joel made two major strides in his career. First, he assembled a group of musicians who became the Billy Joel band. Second, he began to collaborate with Phil Ramone, who would produce his records for the next 11 years.
Billy Joel then proceeded to release a number of blockbuster albums. The first was the 1977 release The Stranger. That album produced four top-25 singles and reached #2 on the Billboard album charts. The album outsold Columbia’s previous best-selling record, Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Billy Joel had his finger on the pulse of contemporary America. He could write beautiful sentimental ballads such as She’s Got A Way and Just The Way You Are.
Joel also provided caustic analysis of America’s social and military history in songs such as Allentown, Good Night Saigon, and We Didn’t Start The Fire.
In addition, he produced tunes that commented on American social and cultural mores, such as Only The Good Die Young, Big Shot, and The Entertainer.
Later in his career, while he was married to Christie Brinkley, Joel even harked back to his doo-wop roots with songs like Uptown Girl and The Longest Time.
Here is Billy Joel in a live performance of Candle In The Wind.
This performance took place during a joint tour by Joel and Elton John. Billy introduces the song by noting that it was not written by him, but by “the other piano player over there.” However, Billy sings it as a solo.
I really enjoy Billy Joel’s performance of Candle In The Wind. In fact, I saw him perform it on one of his Face To Face tours with Elton John. I was visiting Adelaide University in South Australia in March 1998, doing physics research, when I noted that the Elton John-Billy Joel concert would be appearing at the Adelaide Oval cricket grounds.
The ticket prices ($400 Australian and up) were out of my league. However, on the evening of the concert I wandered past the Adelaide Oval. To my great delight, a gigantic pair of video screens were mounted directly behind the stage.
Although I could not see either of the performers directly, I had a great view of them onscreen; even outside the cricket venue, the sound was terrific. I sat on the grass and thoroughly enjoyed watching Billy and Elton play selections of their own and each other’s greatest hits, and perform several duets.
A few years ago, the New Yorker ran a profile of Billy Joel titled The Thirty-Three-Hit Wonder. The article pointed out that following an extraordinary career as a singer-songwriter, Joel had not written an original hit for nearly 20 years.
However, he has embarked on many successful tours during this period. Among these were the afore-mentioned Face To Face tours with Elton John.
Since 2014, Billy Joel has been playing roughly one concert every month in Madison Square Garden. The concerts have become exceptionally popular events.
Billy Joel is currently a “living national treasure,” a singer-songwriter who wrote and performed a series of brilliant tunes over a 20-year period from roughly 1970-1990.
Thanks for the memories, Bill — “We’re all in the mood for a melody, and you’ve got us feelin’ alright!”
Wikipedia, Candle In The Wind
Wikipedia, Elton John
Stephen Davis, Review: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Rolling Stone magazine, Nov. 22, 1973.
Wikipedia, Sandy Denny
Wikipedia, Billy Joel
The Thirty-Three-Hit Wonder, Nick Paumgarten, New Yorker magazine, Oct. 27, 2014.