Candle In The Wind - Elton John

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"Candle In The Wind" - Elton John (1973)

Elton John’s classic torch song “Candle In The Wind”, was a tribute to the troubled life, rise to fame and tragic death of the most celebrated female icon of 20th century culture, Marilyn Monroe.

Songwriter Bernie Taupin’s inspiration for the title came to him after hearing the phrase used to describe the precarious life of Janis Joplin.
It deals with the sad dichotomy of the charmed movie star existence of Marilyn Monroe, the original blonde bombshell, and the reality of the lonely, oftentimes exploited and downtrodden life of Norma Jean Mortenson- the name and person Marilyn Monroe was born as. The opening line “Goodbye Norma Jean” informs the listener that it is the real woman behind the facade that he is honoring.

As with many of John’s songs “Candle in the Wind” is piano driven with John singing solo during the verses giving it a sense of melancholy and yearning. The rich backing vocals reserved for the choruses provide the song with a bittersweet warmth and drama, and were partly provided by musician and long-time friend Kiki Dee who also plays bass on the track.

Monroe starred in a string of successful movies in the 50s and early 60s but the song declares that “they crawled out of the woodwork and they whispered into your brain” which refers to the stringent demands of the Hollywood machine that she was subjected to.

In the line “Even when you died, the press still hounded you” it acknowledges the toxic co-dependency that Monroe, like many stars, had with the media.

In the line “From the young man in the 22nd row who sees you as something more than sexual” Taupin laments that he knows she had a lot more substance to her than just her iconic hourglass figure and blonde hair. Elton John sings “I would have liked to have known you but I was just a kid” and indeed he was only 15 years old when Monroe died of a drug overdose in 1962 aged just 36.

The song saw a meteoric resurgence in popularity after a new version of the song was rewritten and re-recorded in tribute to Elton John’s good friend Princess Diana on her sudden death in 1997. Like Monroe, Princess Diana was also under intense media scrutiny and in an eerie twist her death was caused by a car crash in a high speed chase to get away from the paparazzi, also aged just 36.

This version even included a change in the opening line to “Goodbye England’s rose, may you ever grow in our hearts”. More than 33 million copies worldwide making it the biggest selling single in history since 1950. Elton John vowed only to perform the new version of the song once at Princess Diana’s funeral and indeed has not performed or recorded it since.

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