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The lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin, Elton's writing partner. He explained the inspiration on his web site: "I'd seen this article in Time magazine on the Tet Offensive. And there was a sidebar next to it with a story about how many of the soldiers that were coming back from 'Nam were these simple sort of down home country guys who were generally embarrassed by both the adulation and, depending on what part of the country you came from, the animosity that they were greeted by. For the most part, they just wanted to get back to a normal life, but found it hard, what with all the looky loos and the monkeys of war that they carried on their backs.
I just took it from there and wrote it from a younger brother's perspective; made him disabled and wanting to get away. I made it Spain, basically, because it rhymes with plane."
When Elton wrote the music for this song, he chopped off the last verse because he thought the song was already too long. The deleted verse explained that "Daniel" was a Vietnam Vet who returned home to the farm after the war, couldn't find peace, and decided to leave America and go to Spain. With the last verse chopped off, it became a fairly vague story of two brothers who part ways, although Bernie Taupin says that losing the verse wasn't a big deal. Said Taupin: "We had that whole thing about the missing verse that everybody seems to believe explained the true meaning of the song. I think that's just an urban legend. It didn't really explain anything. Sure, it was cut out. But that used to happen all the time with our songs. I would often overwrite, and Elton felt it necessary to edit somewhat. But believe me, it didn't say anything that the rest of the song didn't say."
This was written and recorded the same day. Taupin wrote the lyrics one morning at the recording studio and brought them downstairs to Elton, who put music to it and recorded with the band that day.
This was part of a very productive songwriting period for Taupin and John. In an effort to quickly record songs for the album, they wrote 12 songs over a two day period. This was one of them.
The record company didn't want to release this as a single because they thought it was too long and somber to be a hit. Elton had other ideas, and insisted they release it as a single before the album came out. The record company did, but with very little promotion. It became a hit anyway.
According to Elton John: The Definitive Biography
, here's how the album got its title: While in Los Angeles, Elton was introduced to the legendary comedian Groucho Marx. They hit it off, but Groucho was always giving Elton a hard time about his name, insisting that he must have it backwards and really be John Elton. After Groucho refused to lay off the name thing at a party, Elton threw up his hands and said jokingly: "Don't shoot me, I'm just the piano player."
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