This was Elton's first single to chart. Before he hit it big, he worked as a songwriter and studio musician, and for a time was the warm-up act for Three Dog Night, who recorded this song on their 1970 album It Ain't Easy
(they had previously recorded Elton's "Lady Samantha
"). When it looked like Elton might finally make it in the States with his own version of "Your Song," Three Dog Night chose not to release it as a single in an effort to give this young upstart a chance to make it on his own.
Elton's version was released on his second album, but the single did not come out until 7 months later, when it was released to promote his tour. Elton released his third album, Tumbleweed Connection
, before the single came out, and by this time he was established enough to have his own hit. (Thanks to Kent Kotal at the Forgotten Hits newsletter.)
This was one of the first songs John wrote with Bernie Taupin. They met after a record company gave John some of Taupin's lyrics to work with. Eventually, they both moved into John's parents' house, where they started working together.
The song was written in 1967, when Bernie Taupin was 17 ("hence the extraordinarily virginal sentiments," he has said). Elton has said that this song is not about anyone in particular, so Taupin has refused to reveal the identity of the person - if such person exists - who inspired this song. He explained in a 1989 interview with Music Connection: "It's like the perennial ballad 'Your Song,' which has got to be one of the most naïve and childish lyrics in the entire repertoire of music, but I think the reason it still stands up is because it was real at the time. That was exactly what I was feeling. I was 17 years old and it was coming from someone whose outlook on love or experience with love was totally new and naïve.
Now I could never write that song again or emulate it because the songs I write now that talk about love coming from people my age usually deal with broken marriages and where the children go. You have to write from where you are at a particular point in time, and 'Your Song' is exactly where I was coming from back then."
Bernie Taupin wrote the words for this song over breakfast at Elton's parents' house, where he was staying. The original lyrics have coffee stains on them.
"The original lyric was written very rapidly on the kitchen table of Elton's mother's apartment in Northwood Hills in the suburbs of London, if I recall, on a particularly grubby piece of exercise paper," said Taupin.
Elton wrote the music in about 20 minutes, as he often did with Taupin's lyrics in their early days.
This helped alter the music landscape in the early '70s. After it came out, singer/songwriters like James Taylor and Carole King had a lot of success with heartfelt songs featuring a prominent vocal and a soft piano or guitar.
Regarding the place of this song in the Taupin/John canon, Bernie Taupin said: "This one is the one I recall like it was yesterday. The rest of them I'm a little shaky on. In retrospect, and I've said it on several occasions, I see this song as a bookend and its counterpart would be a song like 'Sacrifice.' 'Your Song' being a song about absolute naiveté in love while 'Sacrifice' is the complete opposite, the story of someone who's seen and done it all, as far as love's concerned, and come out the other end scarred but realistic about certain aspects of the real world."
This attracted the attention of some heavy hitters in the music industry. Arranger Paul Buckmaster and producer Gus Dudgeon both signed on to work with Elton after hearing this. They played a big part in crafting his songs over the next several years.
Elton appeared on US TV for the first time performing this on The Andy Williams Show. He was shy and dressed very plain, which changed a few years later when he became known for his outrageous costumes and flamboyant personality.
Elton's 1975 song "We All Fall In Love Sometimes" is about the writing of this song.
After hearing this, John Lennon said Elton was "The first new thing that's happened since we (The Beatles) happened." They ended up becoming good friends.
Both Elton John and Bernie Taupin agree that this is one of their best efforts. Said Taupin: "I think 'Your Song' is a gem. Our classic, I'm not sure. I'll let others decide that. But it's like an old friend, it means so many things on equally as many levels. It's certainly proved its worth, and I've heard it sung a million times. It's like a good dog, it's always there."
Elton performs this at all his concerts. He once said of this song: "I don't think I've written a love song as good since." He has called it "A perfect song," and says that the older he gets, the more the lyrics resonate with him.
This was originally released as the B-side of "Take Me To The Pilot."
In 1987, John released a live version as a single from his album Live In Australia
. It didn't chart, but the next single from the album, "Candle In The Wind
Billy Joel performed this with Elton at the 2001 "Concert For New York" to benefit victims of the World Trade Center attacks. It was not included on the CD of the show.
This was used in the movie Welcome Home, and also in a commercial for Rimmel Cosmetics.
This played a major role in the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge. It is sung by Ewan McGregor when he presents it as a poem to Nicole Kidman.
This was featured in an episode of The Simpsons when Apu gave his wife a present every day of the week leading up to Valentine's Day. This made Homer and the other men of Springfield very upset, and when they heard that Elton John was coming to town, they kidnapped him, thinking he (Elton) was there for Apu. Elton performed this song at the end of the episode with the lyric "This one's from Apu" in place of "This one's for you." (thanks, Patrick - Tallapoosa, GA)
Elton performed this at the "Concert For Diana" on July 1, 2007. It was the first song in the program. (thanks, Donovan Berry - El Dorado, AR)
Elton re-recorded the song with Italian tenor Alessandro Safina for the Sports Relief charity in 2002. This new version reached #4 in the UK singles chart, out-peaking its original chart position of #7.
Elton claims that he doesn't ask Bernie Taupin what his lyrics are about. He told Rolling Stone: "I always thought 'Your Song' was written about one of his girlfriends, and when I asked him that, he just said, 'No it wasn't!' He gets fairly defensive."
Elton John had played keyboards on several of the Hollies' tracks, including their hit song "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother
," and the English band had hoped to record this song themselves. "We knew Reg because he was a staff writer with a music publisher we used. He was writing songs well before he became famous," recalled their guitarist/vocalist Tony Hicks to The Daily Mail
June 15, 2013. "One was 'Your Song.' I thought it would be a good one for the Hollies, and asked the publisher for permission to record it. He told me Elton had recorded it himself and it was due to be released in the US. He said, 'But it probably won't happen for him, so wait until it's all over.'"
At that time Elton had yet to break into the charts. "Well, it did happen - 'Your Song' became Elton's first big hit," added Hicks, "and one that's unfailingly identified with him. But it so easily could have been Our Song."