This song is a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, a famous actress and sex symbol who died of a drug overdose in 1962. The "candle in the wind" represents her short, but eventful life.
The song makes various references to the press coverage of Monroe. The famous opening line, "Goodbye Norma Jean," refers to her birth name: Norma Jean Mortenson, and how she gave up both her name and her privacy for the sake of celebrity.
The lyrics were written by Elton's writing partner, Bernie Taupin, who got the idea for the title from a quote he read about Janis Joplin. According to Taupin, the song is more of a take on fame and celebrity than an ode to Marilyn Monroe. Said Taupin: "I think the biggest misconception about 'Candle In The Wind' is that I was this rabid Marilyn Monroe fanatic, which really couldn't be further from the truth. It's not that I didn't have a respect for her. It's just that the song could just as easily have been about James Dean or Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain. I mean, it could have been about Sylvia Plath or Virginia Woolf. I mean, basically, anybody, any writer, actor, actress, or musician who died young and sort of became this iconic picture of Dorian Gray, that thing where they simply stopped aging. It's a beauty frozen in time.
In a way, I'm fascinated with that concept. So it's really about how fame affects the man or woman in the street, that whole adulation thing and the fanaticism of fandom. It's pretty freaky how people really believe these people are somehow different from us. It's a theme that's figured prominently in a lot of our songs, and I think it'll probably continue to do so."
When Elton got the lyrics, he had no trouble writing the music. He understood the stress caused by constant media attention, and felt Monroe must have been in terrible pain her whole life.
On April 7, 1990 Elton dedicated this to Ryan White, one of the first high-profile AIDS patients, when he performed it at Farm Aid 4. White, who got the disease from a blood transfusion, died the next night at age 18.
This wasn't released as a single in the US until 1987, when a live version came out from Elton's Live In Australia album featuring the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. This version made #6 in the US, and in the UK, where it was also released, made #5. When it was first released as a single in the UK in 1973, it hit #11.
Elton's lyricist, Bernie Taupin, rewrote the lyrics to this song after Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car accident on August 31, 1997. The 36-year-old princess had divorced Prince Charles, but remained a beloved celebrity, revered for her humanitarian efforts and grace. Diana was friends with Elton John and also a big fan - she identified with the sentiment in "Candle In The Wind," especially the lyrics, "They made you change your name, never knowing who to cling to when the rain set in" and "even when you died, the press still hounded you."
With the song rewritten, most notably with the first line changed from "Goodbye Norma Jean" to "Goodbye England's Rose," Elton played it at Princess Diana's funeral on September 6. The global TV audience for the funeral was estimated at 2.5 billion, and Elton's heartfelt performance provoked an outpouring of support for the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. The new version of the song, which was produced by Sir George Martin of Beatles fame, was released as a single as "Candle In The Wind '97," this time dedicated to Princess Diana and with proceeds going to the fund.
Within a month, it became a #1 UK hit, where it topped the charts for five weeks. In America, it had an even more sensational chart run, going to #1 on October 11, and staying there for an astounding 14 weeks. The only song with a longer stay at the top of the American charts is "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men.
The sales milestones attributed to the 1997 version of this song are a little confusing. In the UK, the single sold 1.54 million copies the first week and has since sold close to 5 million, both of which are records. These figures are tracked by BPI, which certifies sales of British music.
In America, the RIAA certified sales of 11 million copies of the single, making it the only single in history to earn a Diamond certification for sales of more than 10 million. While this is a record for the Rock Era, it's likely that Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" has sold more, although sales figures are unreliable. Where the numbers get really fudgy is in attempting to chart worldwide sales numbers, as these figures can be easily manipulated. The authority most often cited for worldwide sales is the Guinness Book of World Records, which estimates "Candle In The Wind '97" at 37 million sales worldwide and "White Christmas" at 50 million. Both numbers seem ridiculously inflated to us (if "Candle" sold 16 million between America and the UK, that means it moved 21 million elsewhere, which we don't buy), but evidence does suggest that "Candle In The Wind '97" is one of the top worldwide sellers ever.
Elton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997 shortly after the death of Princess Diana. He is a close friend to the Royal Family, and offered emotional support after the tragic incident. Because of his close friendship with the Royal Family, he refuses to play that version at concerts, and his performance at the funeral was his only live rendition of the song. Radio stations stopped playing it about a month after her death.
Another good friend of Elton's, designer Gianni Versace, died shortly before Princess Diana.
Suggestion credit: Patrick - Conyers, GA
Elton and his songwriter Bernie Taupin got some heat from muggles who objected to the 1997 rewrite of this song, feeling that is should remain a tribute to Marilyn Monroe. Taupin responded by stating, "As regards that remake, I'm not really sure what to make of it. I did it because EJ asked me to and I felt good enough. I don't know why it seems to bend a lot of people out of shape, which is rather peculiar, if you consider the outcome. I mean, it's a bit uncharitable. After all, it raised I think something like $14 million for the Princess trust. And then my original handwritten lyrics fetched like a further half million at auction for the LA Children's Hospital.
So, you know, I guess my conscience is clean. Hey, I guess if you hear anything enough, it's going to get up your nose. But at the same time, in this case, I think it might be in your best interest to hold your breath and cut it some slack. Whatever you think of it, it's totally your prerogative. But it would serve you much better to get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and say, 'I wonder what I can do today to really make a difference.' So, you know what they say, people in glass houses and all that."
Elton John won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for "Candle In The Wind '97."
The Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album was recorded in France at the Château d'Hérouville studio (the "Honky Château"), where Elton had recorded his previous two albums. The first attempts at recording the album took place in Jamaica, where the crew envisioned a creative paradise but encountered dilapidated equipment and unaccommodating locals. Bernie Taupin planed to write many of the lyrics for the album there, but ended up doing them in France while recording was going on. For both "Candle In The Wind" and "Roy Rogers," he drew inspiration from movies and TV shows he watched as a kid.
Ed Sheeran, a favorite of Elton John, covered this for the 40th anniversary expanded edition of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Peter Asher, a longtime Beatles associate and friend of Elton's, produced the track. "Ed and I sat down and talked about it and he had a tempo and a feel in mind," Asher told Songfacts. "Just listening to him and his guitar, essentially, was where the idea came from. He's an incredibly smart arranger and composer himself, and he had a clear idea of what he wanted to do."
In 2018, Sheeran and Asher teamed up again to record another version for the tribute album Revamp: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Sheeran also performed the song on the CBS special Elton John: I'm Still Standing Grammy Salute.
Hollie from United Statesdid any of you even read the article or done the history on the song? 1- he did not write this song, neither version. 2- he was also asked by her family to do a tribute for her at her funeral. He had the song reworked because he was in too much and distress from losing one of his best friends to do the rewrite or write an original piece for that matter. also he knew this particular song was one of her favorites. So what he had done for her was a very beautiful thing. He won't even sing that version because it hurts too much. You all should be ashamed of yourselves for thinking that way. think of the last time that you lost someone close to you. Were you in this state of mind to write a eulogy, tribute, etc.?! They are both highly regarded in the public eye and he had literally days to put together something for the entire world.
Adrian Chan from MalaysiaAs with the title of Elton's earlier hit from 1984, Sad Songs (Say So Much), these are indeed the words that best describe this song.
Mark P Cohen from 92240Hey, y'all. The song was not written for Marilyn Monroe nor really about her. Bernie just used her to talk about the larger subject: how fame becomes all consuming with a loss of self and privacy among others. Bernie has stated it could have just as well been written about James Dean or anyone else who was overpowered by the fame and died too early. Sorry, this is just a perspective from a Californian.
Jennifur Sun from RamonaBoth Marilyn and Princess Di remind me that though I'm not well known and don't have much money, I have my privacy. In many ways I feel sorry for those who are huge celebrities, because they will always be hounded and their actions will always be either taken the right way or the wrong way. As crazy as it sounds I would just rather be a regular person. And as for Princess Di, SHAME ON THE PRESS WHO HOUNDED HER EVERY MOVE. Wonder how they would like if if the tables were turned.
Susan from Atlanta, GeorgiaObviously there are those who are under the mistaken impression that all a songwriter has to do is sit down and say, "I'm going to write a song" as easily as someone else might sit down and say, "I'm going to write a grocery list." There are those rare exceptions who can write a song on command in a short time (rumor has it that Hank Williams could do and did do this), but for the most part, it isn't that easy. As I understand it, there was very little time in which to compose an original song, and "Your Song" was Princess Di's favorite EJ song, so a revision of that song for the occasion was under consideration, but for some reason, "Candle In The Wind" was chosen instead. I must be unusual, in that I like both versions and consider them two different songs. I think the rewrite is amazing in that it was done so quickly and so well and performed live one time.
Carmelo from Genova, ItalyI've always loved the original from 1973 but bought the Di version, too, maybe because I was concerned about the charity issues. Yet I might have listened to this one just a coupla times. The MM original is the one I keep on playing, the 1997 one's been resting on my CD shelf since then, instead! -Carmelo, Genova, Italy
Megan from Stevenson, AlThis is great! It makes me cry every time!
Adrienne from Springfield, IlI LOVE this song. It is such a great tribute to Marilyn Monroe. Rob, I don't know where you got that it was written for James Dean but Marilyn fit better in the rhyme from, but that makes no sense. James Dean wasn't seen as just a sex symbol like Marilyn Monroe was and he was not found in the nude when he died and people did not fixate on that. And I don't recall his real name being Norma Jean. James Dean had barely started on his film career when he died, while Marilyn was well into hers, but no matter what she did she was typecast as a dumb sexy blonde who was generally a gold digger when she actually really smart. I firmly do NOT believe she killed herself. I did a speech on her death and if people actually looked at the facts and whatnot then they would see it. The first cop on the scene did not believe she killed herself either and that there was foul play. Unfortunately we will never know, but I love that this song pays a beautiful tribute to her and it will always have a place in my heart.
Annabelle from Eugene, OrI absolutely looooooove the live version from 1987. I was only three years old when it came out, but oh how I wish I was there in Australia!
Marie from Elgin, ScI don't think it was lazy to use the same tune for Princess Di as was used for Marilyn Monroe. Although the two had different lives in many ways, there WERE strong similarities in the spiritual trials both of them faced: namely the burden of having to live a life in which you yearn for authenticity and freedom but are being pressured to carry on a role others want for you. Rather than cheapening Di's death, using the original tune empowered the meaning of being a "candle in the wind" that rang true for both women (as well as Elton John himself).
Paula from Laredo, TxImagine If Paul (from the Beatles) changed a couple of lines of that love song he wrote for Linda and dedicated it to another woman. The horror. So while Sir Elton John is a great singer with a great voice what he did was simply tacky.
Mackenzie :) from Fairmont , Wvthis song means a lot to me because it played at my aunt's funeral. she died of cancer a year ago at the age of 49. i cry every time i hear this song. it's a really beautiful song.
Colin from London, United KingdomUK chart fact. This was a hit in three decades (1974, 1988, 1997) in three different versions (original, live in Australia and Diana rewrite), each successive version a bigger hit than its predecessor.
The 1997 version almost never gets played now. Let's say, diplomatically, that it was "of its time", when the British public, showing mass grief on a scale associated with Argentina after Eva Peron died, caused it to fly off the shelves, in some cases people buying multiple copies. The result is that it has sold over 4.8 million units in the UK, making it this country's biggest selling single by well over a million. It was actually a double A side, and the lead track on the single was in fact "Something About The Way You Look Tonight", which was what was featured on Top Of The Pops during the single's five weeks at no 1 in 1997.
While the sentiments of the original were noble, I always found it quite clumsy lyrically, with dreadful lines like "I would have liked to have known you" and "All the papers had to say was that Marilyn was found in the nude". On teh album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road it has the misfortune to follow the might Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, my favourite Elton John track.
Kristian from Cleveland, Txok for one thing, i believe that marilyn monroe lived her life more like a candle in the wind more than di, it was sad that di died, but the song was WRITTEN for marilyn monroe and she is more of an icon than di will ever be. i believe that marilyn monroe deserved this song fifteen times than di. i believe she was more of a sad soul than di was
Kristin from Manhattan, NyIan, you think the tragedy of her death was "blown out of proportion"? Um...thats insensitive. She was a young woman, loved by basically the world who had a hard enough life as it was, and died when she finally finds a little bit of happiness in her life. That sounds pretty tragic to me. As for the song, the lyrics "you lived your life like a candle in the wind" fit diana perfectly, so why would elton come up with a completely new song if he knew he couldnt come up with something better than that to describe her?
Mike from Germantown, MdAlastair in Winnepeg said "if the '97 version is SO bad, how come it came to be the biggest selling single of all time?" I know exactly why. It's because people can be idiots.
Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScElton John wrote the original. So that existing song was his song.
Brandon from Peoria, IlAll Elton John did was take an existing song about a person VERY different from Princess Di and tried to make a comparison between the two. The only similarities between Diana and Marilyn were that they died at a very young age and the public adored them. Aside from that they lived two completely different lives. Marilyn took her own life whereas Princess Diana was struck down in a sad tragic accident. The fact that Elton used a song about someone else and just changed a few words is not really sympathetic, it's the easy way out. I admire Elton John, and i love his work, but i think that this was a bad move that turned out good for him. And in response to Alastair in Winnipeg: the reason it sold so well is because someone died...that's it. Tragedy sells. Look at all the artists who made 9-11 songs...they flew off the shelves. Yours is not a valid point.
Ashley Jade from Cleveland, GaElton John has had many friends die... Gianni Versace, Princess Di, John Lennon
Randy from Lexington, KyI heard he wrote this song while he was on acid
Alastair from WinnipegI completely disagree with Ian for many aspects that he has pointed out. For one, many, many users on this site (such as myself) are not american. I've seen comments by people from, Denmark, South Africa, China and New Zealand. Personally I think that getting "american" responses shouldn't be that fascinating. Also, just because somebodys american, doesn't mean they'll instinctively love Candle in the Wind '97 and Princess Diana. And chances are there are tons of brits out there who liked the '97 version better and adored the late Princess of Wales. However... I do agree that the tradgedy of her death was blown a little out of proportion. And finally, if the '97 version is SO bad, how come it came to be the biggest selling single of all time? Think about that for a moment.
Cristin from Boston, MaThe gist of the song may fit Diana as well, but how easy is it to change a few lyrics; it's not songwriting at all. the sentiment of the original song was written in memory of marilyn monroe. if one was really to honor diana, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to write a whole new song for her, especially for people of talent like elton john and bernie taupin. her life was different and should inspire a different musical outcome. and somehow that got him a knighthood. laziness if you ask me.
Francesca from Preston, EnglandThe song fits both Marilyn and Diana, it doesnt matter what country we're from, the song is a celebration of their short lives. i think it takes a very courageous person to write a song for these two fantastic women, and the fact that Elton wont play this song again out of respect to Diana is commendable!
Sarah from Reading, EnglandIan, Then how come i'm from England and love the song for Princess diana as much as I did when it was about Marilyn Monroe?
I dont think it was cheapened in any way, both songs are amazing and its not the words that make it its the emotion behind it which is what makes it great, he could have been singing anything, but with the emotion he put into either, would have still had the public adoring the song.
Ian from ManchesterI really wasn't going to add a comment but was interested in the responses from the(largely American)users of this site, to this particular song. But Britney of CA, it really doesn't do to have a go at someone, accuse them of being rude (how??)and then tell them to clear off just because you disagree with them, now does it? That way leads to ignorance and oppression.
I too agree with Roddy, and if you look closely you will see a pattern here; those from the US love the song as much as they loved the late Princess of Wales. Us Brits and Aussies are a bit more scathing of the song, and we are also a bit fed up with the cult of Diana too. Failing to appreciate or account for these cultural differences is just a tad naiive.
For the record the original, for me, is a beautiful song and, as Britney of CA points out, not everyone can write a song that touches so many people. But the re-write is a part of English history that many of us are now rather shame-faced about. You will never hear anyone in the UK mention the 2nd version, except when reviewing the biggest selling records in the charts.
Jimmy from AustraliaElton John is a great inspirational singer in any occassion.the candle in the wind originally dedicated to marilyn monroe,and later re-wrote for princess Diana was a great job and fits the two icons.they were both exceptional gifted human beings,whose lives were like candle in the wind for they both lived a short,but fulfilling lives.
Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, ScI agree with Halley. Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe were both very famous people who had a lot of hard times in their lives. In a way, they were both tragic figures. even though the song was originally aboyt Marilyn Monroe, it fits well with princess Diana.
Michael from Los Angeles, CaThe Diana version was created from a misunderstanding between a grief-stricken John, and Taupin, who was being told to write a song of a similar ilk as Candle in the Wind to play for Diana's funeral. Taupin thought he said redo the original to fit Di, and by the time the two got together on it, there was not enough time to write a song from scratch, so the Di version was played. John was not happy about playing it.
Rob from Castaic, Caactually, the song was originally written for James Dean... but Marilyn Monroe went better with the rhythm and all.
Halley from Woodinville, WaWhile I love the original of this song, I think we all need to remember that what Elton and Bernie were presenting in BOTH versions was a tribute. Diana and Marilyn both had very hard times in their lives and while no one is saying that they are the same, they were both good people who died before their time. I don't think that modifying the lyrics changes the underlying meaning for either of the versions or cheapens them in anyway. They are two different songs, when you think about the lyrics and the events surrounding the inspiration for both. Everyone has a right to their own opinions, but I think that tying these two women together with this song creates a powerful message.
Cheryl from Melbourne, AustraliaI agree with Roddy. The song was about Marilyn and to blantly change the words instead of writing a different, original song, cheapens it.
Britney from Calabasas, CaUm, roddy, I love Elton's songwriting and music. If you got a problem take it else where. He was paying a tribute to Princess Diana in his own way. Did you happen to meet Pricess Diana before she passed? Jus because your english doesn't mean you met her. I love anyone who has the power to write a song about death and make it beautiful and hopefull like Elton does. Keep your snyde and rude comments to yourself. If you think Elton has destroyed this song than you don't understand real music or have never actually written a song before. I will always love this song.
Pete from Nowra, Australiathis was also used in a McDonalds tv commercial in Australia,featured a Marilyn Monroe look alike, walking down a street , carrying a bag of fries, being followed by photographers, the commercial finished with Marilyn stepping on to a air grate which then blew up her dress, Also it was said , that McDoanalds had to get permission from Marilyn's estate to use the look alike ,plus she wasn't allowed to eat more then 2 fries for fear of people thinking Marilyn, was a bit of a food guts???
Roddy from Southampton, EnglandThe englands rose version totally destroyed this song. It was tacky, melodramatic and an insult to both Elton's song writing abilities and Diana's dignity.