From Elton John’s Goodbye Yellowbrick Road album, Candle in the Wind pays tribute to a famous actress who died of a drug overdose.
She became an icon for millions and is a symbol of the era’s sexual revolution. Just who is this woman?
Hint: It’s not Princess Diana. Discover who the hit initially referred to with us.
Let’s dive in!
Who Originally Wrote Candle in the Wind?
Candle in the Wind comes to us from one of the most famous songwriting duos in music history. From the first meeting, Bernie Taupin has written the lyrics, with Elton John writing the music.
Born Reginald Dwight in March of 1947, he changed his name to Elton Hercules John in 1972. He grew up in Middlesex, England. At four years old, he learned to play keys after his mother heard him picking out tunes on the piano.
He started playing in bands when he was 15 and by the mid-60s was touring as a backup player for famous American blues groups, including the Isley Brothers and Patti LaBelle.
In 1967, he answered an advertisement record company. He was given an envelope with lyrics and instructions to write the music. This job is where he met Bernie.
Bernard John Taupin was born in May 1950 in Lincolnshire, England. Not very good at school, he left at 15 to work at a local newspaper. This job didn’t last long, and he spent the rest of his teenage years partying with friends and hitchhiking around the country to attend dances.
He had a few part-time jobs and, in 1967, answered an advertisement seeking new songwriters. It was the same ad that Dwight had responded to, and they met for the first time. Their songwriting partnership is one of the most successful in music history.
So, Who is the Original Candle in the Wind About?
Taupin got the original idea for the song title from a quote about Janis Joplin. Bernie felt the song to be more of a take on fame and celebrity and how fame affects the man or woman in the street more than an ode to Marilyn Monroe.
He wasn’t necessarily a fan of Monroe. He said it could be about anybody – an actor, writer, or musician – who dies young, stops aging, and becomes beauty frozen in time.
In John’s hands, he understood the stress caused by constant media attention and felt Monroe must have been in terrible pain her whole life. There’s no specific information on whether John changed the opening lyrics, but the song is certainly about Marilyn Monroe.
We know she’s a massive icon for the gay community, so that may be a clue as to why it ended up with her as the subject.
What Was the Creative Process for the Song?
After problems at the original studio location in Jamaica, recording took place at the Château d’Hérouville in France. The move gave the band creative inspiration and an abundance of great songs. This led to the decision to release Goodbye Yellowbrick Road as a double album.
Taupin gave the lyrics for Candle in the Wind to John. Many of the songs on the album were composed during breakfast and recorded later in the day. This song was no exception. John wrote the music on the piano while sitting in the dining room.
The band listened while they ate and then headed to the studio to lay down the tracks for the song. The band members on this recording consist of Davey Johnstone (guitar), Dee Murray (bass), and Nigel Olsson (drums).
Is There Another Version of Candle in the Wind?
Yes. Upon Diana’s death in 1997, Elton John re-wrote and recorded the tune as a tribute to the Princess. He changed the first verse to:
Goodbye, England's rose May you ever grow in our hearts You were the grace that placed itself Where lives were torn apart.
Additionally, he added the following to the chorus:
And your footsteps will always fall here Along England's greenest hills.
Did Elton John Play at Princess Diana’s Funeral?
At first, Buckingham Palace didn’t want Elton to sing the updated version of the song at the funeral. Then fearing the song was too sentimental and afraid the Royal Family would veto the piece, they brought in a saxophonist to perform the music.
Appealing to the royals, the then-Dean of Westminster urged them to allow John to perform the song. He argued that the performance would be an imaginative and generous gesture to the grieving public.
In his 2019 memoir, Elton revealed that the popularity of Candle In The Wind ’97 made him uneasy. He felt that people were wallowing in her death and that mourning for her had gotten out of hand. John said, “It seemed unhealthy and morbid to me.”
Elton John never played the song again after the funeral.
Are Elton John and Bernie Taupin Still Friends?
Yes. The pair hit it off from the beginning, living together in John’s mother’s house in the early years. Even when Elton would be selfish or irritable, Bernie was willing to forgive and support him immediately.
Taupin shared thoughts about being able to work together for so long. He concluded that had he and John been more alike and in closer proximity, they probably wouldn’t have gotten along so well.
While they don’t collaborate as much as they used to, they speak on the phone often. It’s usually about record collecting.
Is There a Movie about Elton John?
Indeed there is. The movie Rocketman from 2019 is a biographical musical drama that tells the story of John in his early days in England. Additionally, it recounts his meeting and relationship with Bernie Taupin.
The film also covers his time in Los Angeles and his problems with drugs and alcohol. Finally, it details his coming out as gay and going through rehab to address his addictions.
Nominated at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, it won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards in 2020.
Ultimately, it’s a movie about recovery and redemption and tells the story of John and Taupin’s early career.
“Candle” Was the Wind Beneath Elton John’s Wings
The song wasn’t a U.S. single until 1987, when it appeared on the album Live in Australia. From then on, he played it regularly at concerts, often during the encore. It also kept Elton on the charts during his recovery from throat surgery and while battling drug abuse.
Thanks to Candle In The Wind, he kept his streak of 31 consecutive years alive with at least one song on the Hot 100.
I’m sure we all have a favorite Elton John song. What’s yours?