November 16, 2017

Diamond Moments: 'Candle In The Wind'

We are selecting Diamond Moments from Elton's 50-year career to celebrate the November 10th release of Elton’s ultimate greatest hits collection, Diamonds.

'Candle In The Wind', which is included on all versions of Elton’s new Greatest Hits collection 'Diamonds', remains one of his most beloved songs…even aside from its reincarnation in 1997 to honour Princess Diana.

The modern hymn was recorded at the Château d'Hérouville studio in France on May 7, 1973 and was Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’s third single in every territory except the United States (where Bennie And The Jets was selected instead). It remained on the UK Singles Chart for 9 weeks, peaking at #11, in the spring of 1974 and is on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The ballad in E-major is built on a simple, pensive piano part and accompanying guitar line. Elton’s guitarist, Davey Johnston, had to be talked into playing the electric guitar melody that echoes Elton’s piano hook at the end of the choruses. “When he sang the part to me, I went, ‘That’s so cheesy. You’re not serious. I’m not going to play that.’,” Davey explained. “It’s one of the few times we’ve had an argument like that in the studio. And he said, ‘Will you at least try it?’ And I went, ‘Ok.’ So I tried it and I thought, ‘Okay, that does sound good.’”

The lilting “candle in the wind” melody line was so strong that album engineer David Hentschel used it as the climax to his instrumental intro on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’s first song. Listen for it on synthesizer at the 1:18 mark of Funeral For A Friend.

Original track sheet for 'Candle In The Wind'.

Original track sheet for 'Candle In The Wind'.

"Candle In The Wind", live at Sydney Entertainment Centre in 1986

A master class could be taught on the backing vocals to Candle In The Wind. Davey, Dee, and Nigel created the multi-layered near-wailing parts without Elton’s involvement (typical for the time) late at night after the rest of the song had been recorded. That is Nigel’s high voice that can be heard at the very top of the backing vocals, which run the aural range from a Beach Boys-esque low part half-way through the third verse (the only time they appear outside the chorus) to a goose-bump-inducing crescendo at the three-minute mark.

While the lyrics refer to film actress Marilyn Monroe, who died 11 years before the song was written at the age of 36, by her given name, Norma Jean Baker, their writer Bernie Taupin says they could have been written about any number of famous people who died at a young age.

I think the biggest misconception about 'Candle In The Wind' is that I was this rabid Marilyn Monroe fanatic, which really couldn't be further from the truth. It's not that I didn't have a respect for her; it's just that the song could just as easily have been about James Dean or Jim Morrison…Kurt Cobain. It's a beauty frozen in time.
Bernie Taupin

Candle In The Wind was first played live during Elton’s winter 1973 tour of the UK, which concluded with six “Christmas Party” concerts in five days at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. The ballad currently closes Elton’s concerts, solo at the piano without the band, on his current tour of the US and Canada.

In 1986, a live version was released as a single – reaching #5 in the UK and #6 in the US, where it spent 21 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was billed as “With the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra” but was actually a solo rendition (while the orchestra put their instruments down and lit candles, much to Elton’s surprise) recorded during his Tour de Force concert in Sydney, Australia on December 14, 1986.

Musician Credits:
 Elton John – Piano, Vocals
★  Davey Johnstone – Electric Guitars, Acoustic Guitars (uncredited), Backing Vocals
★  Dee Murray – Bass, Backing Vocals
★  Nigel Olsson – Drums, Backing Vocals

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