This song deals with a time in Elton's life when he was going to get married to a woman named Linda Woodrow. In the 1991 Two Rooms tribute project, Elton explained: "I was going to get married once when I was younger, and I went out and got drunk with Long John Baldry and Bernie and John said I shouldn't get married. I knew he was right but I didn't know how to get out of it so, I just got drunk and went home and said I'm not getting married."
"Sugar Bear" in the lyrics refers to Long John Baldry, who recalls, "Apparently, I gave Elton some very good advice when he was in a pickle, and he wrote a song about it. But I still can't figure out what the song is about."
Elton wrote the music in 1975 while he was on a cruise. He was aboard a ship called the SS France for it's last voyage, and used the onboard piano to write the songs he used for the album. He had to write in short spurts because there was an opera singer who had booked most of the time on the piano.
Bernie Taupin, who wrote the lyrics to this song, explained: "It tells a story that actually happened. For the most part, most of the things I write are an amalgam of several subjects or feelings that I then cut and paste to create one entity. Not always, but a lot of the time, I mean, I guess you could even say that with this song, the crux of its meaning is sort of surrounded with visual props that are intended to help set the scene for the main event, which was Elton saying adios to this woman who was pushing him into a marriage that he knew deep down in his heart would be a lie on a multitude of levels.
It's packed with imagery, like most of the songs from that album. I was most definitely trying to conjure up an atmosphere and project a moment in time when we were struggling with the mundane areas of life, the everyday struggles to make ends meet. So when I hear that song now, it really makes me think of grey skies and wet streets, smoky pubs; in all, that fragile feeling you just kind of get inside when you're unsure of the future."
Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy tells the story of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's early years together as friends and writing partners - the songs are in chronological order. The album entered the US chart at #1. Elton was very hot at the time, and advance orders for the album were over a million.
Regarding the lyrics, "clinging to your stocks and bonds, paying your H.P. demands forever," there are two schools of thought:
1) "Clinging to your stocks and bonds" refers to Elton's fiancé's inherited investment portfolio. "Paying your H.P. demands forever" refers to his fiancé's penchant for the more luxurious things in life that they would not be able to sustain with said portfolio but, would require Hire Purchase (H.P.) packets to satisfy. (Note to US readers: Hire Purchase Packets are the same as an Installment Loan, with the exception being an H.P. is drawn directly from your "pay packet" (weekly/monthly check) directly by your employer (and paid to the bank) rather than receiving a monthly statement and issuing a "personal check" for payment.)
2) "Clinging to your stocks and bonds" is a metaphor for a married gay man being physically and mentally restrained in a marriage of "convenience" (think of the "Stocks and Bonds" of Medieval times). "Paying your H.P. demands forever" means paying for this "convenience" on a weekly basis. (thanks, Randy - Seattle, WA)
According to Tommy Mottola's autobiography Hitmaker, when he knew his marriage to Mariah Carey was crumbling, the music mogul accelerated their split by leaving her a note with lyrics to this song: "Butterflies are free to fly. Fly away."