December 7, 2017

Diamond Moments: ‘Sacrifice’

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


Elton’s second single from his 1989 album, ‘Sleeping With The Past’, quickly established itself as one of his most powerful and plaintive ballads and holds a special place in the superstar’s career.

Sacrifice became Elton’s first solo #1 single in the UK, much to the surprise of many fans who thought he certainly must have had at least a few British chart-toppers by then. After all, he had released more than 50 UK singles in the 22 years since his career had begun and had already amassed six #1s in the US.

But in his home country he had only reached the top spot with his duet with Kiki Dee, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, in 1976. “[Producer Chris Thomas] had the first solo number one in England with Elton and I didn't!”, Elton’s primary producer Gus Dudgeon said laughingly in 1993. “That really did me in, because I was determined that I was going to be the guy to do that.”

However, it did take two tries...

Even with its glistening arrangement and its success stateside – peaking at #3 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart (staying on that list for 28 weeks) and #18 during its four months on the Hot 100 – Sacrifice only reached the #55 position the first time it was released as a single in the UK in October 1989.

It was only after BBC DJ Steve Wright began playing the song frequently in the late spring of 1990 that Elton decided to re-release it in May as a “double A-side” single with Healing Hands, with proceeds going to the Terrence Higgins Trust AIDS charity.

Sacrifice topped the UK Singles Chart on June 23, 1990, and went on to win Ivor Novello Awards for Best Song Musically and Lyrically and Best Selling ‘A’ Side in 1991. It also reached #1 in France and on Billboard’s Eurochart Hot 100.

Like Your Song 20 years prior, Bernie’s lyric to Sacrifice begins with “It’s a…” But that is where the similarities end.

It’s a simple lyric, but it’s an intelligent, adult lyric. It’s basically about the rigors of adult love, and it’s a million miles away from ‘Your Song.’ Elton came up with a brilliant melody, and his performance on it gives it a lot of integrity and meaning,
Bernie Taupin (1989)

Sleeping With The Past was recorded in the winter of 1988 at Puk Recording Studios in Judland, Denmark (George Michael had tracked much of his debut album, Faith, there a year earlier) and was released on August 29, 1989.

Bernie has been quoted as saying that he was listening to Aretha Franklin’s 1967 hit, Do Right Woman, Do Right Man a lot as he wrote the lyrics to Sacrifice.

Musician Credits:
★  Elton John – Keyboards, Vocals
★  Davey Johnstone – Guitar
★  Fred Mandel – Keyboards
★  Guy Babylon – Keyboards
★  Romeo Williams – Bass
★  Jonathan Moffett – Drums  

A favourite amongst those who worked on it (producer Chris Thomas feels it is the Elton track he is most proud of), Sacrifice has been named by Bernie as the song he feels is the best he and Elton have ever collaborated on. Davey Johnstone says that his guitar solo was a tribute to one of his early influences, Hank Marvin of the instrumental rock group the Shadows. Fans of their 1960 hit Apache will clearly hear the basis for Davey’s homage d'twang.

Certainly, I remember Guy’s work on 'Sacrifice'. That sort of tinkling response-line to the vocal…the riff? That was one of Guy’s things.
Producer Chris Thomas (1992)

Elton himself paid the song high praise during the 1989-1990 tour that supported (and, at some concerts, preceded) Sleeping With The Past. This was an unusual move since the tour began on July 28 in Hartford, CT and the new album would not be released until August.

Mid-way through each evening, Elton would give the band a breather and play a few songs on his own at the Roland digital piano. For this stripped-down set, where the songs would be asked to hold up on just the strength of their core elements, he chose vintage classics like Daniel, Candle In The Wind and Blue Eyes…and introduced fans to a new one: Sacrifice.


Official video for 'Sacrifice' – directed by Alek Keshishian.

The video for Sacrifice was directed by Alek Keshishian (best known for helming the iconic 1991 Madonna documentary Truth or Dare) and starred Candian model Yasmeen Ghauri. It was filmed in Los Angeles in 1989, but was not the first video shot for the song; a previous version was directed by Ken Russell, who directed Elton in the film Tommy as well as the video for Nikita, but was never used.

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