Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me

Album: Caribou (1974)
Charted: 16 2
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  • This is a song that was influenced by The Beach Boys, and contains contributions from members of the group; Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston both sang backup. Elton said the Beach Boys "sound, harmonies, and the way they structured their songs" was an influence on many of his tracks, including this one and "Someone Saved My Life Tonight."
  • As usual, Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics. Taupin is a student of words, and was always looking for new ways to present an idea. "I like to be more interesting than a good old 'I love you, you love me, my heart will break if you leave me," he told Esquire. "Throw in a curveball. 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me.' Put a dark twist on them."
  • Regarding the composition of this song, lyricist Bernie Taupin said: "My only recollections of this is that we wanted to write something big. I mean, big in that dramatic Spectory (as in Phil Spector) style, like 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'.' Hopefully being powerful without being pompous. I'm not sure that with this in mind it made me fashion the lyrics any differently. Although, in retrospect, they do seem to have a slightly more Brill Building flair to them, so it's entirely possible that I did.

    Of course, I always seem to have to revert to a crib sheet to check these things, as I just seem to have a really bad memory of my own work. In fact, it makes me think of a situation that I found myself in a few years ago watching some TV with some friends of mine. There was a game show on where one of the categories happened to be my lyrics. And there were, I believe, five questions, and four of them I got wrong."
  • Toni Tennille and Daryl Dragon, who would later have several hits and their own TV show as The Captain & Tennille, performed on this. The idea was to have a huge chorus made up of semi-famous singers in the background. Dusty Springfield, as well as members of America and Three Dog Night, recorded vocals for the song, but all the voices sounded terrible when mixed together so they just used Wilson, Johnston, and Tennille.
  • This was an extremely difficult and frustrating song to record. Elton was not satisfied with any of his vocal takes, and producer Gus Dudgeon had fits trying to mix all the voices and instruments that went into it. In Philip Norman's book Sir Elton: The Definitive Biography, Dudgeon said, "When Elton recorded this track, he was in a filthy mood. On some takes, he'd scream it, on others he'd mumble it, or he'd just stand there, staring at the control room. Eventually, he flung off his headphones and said, 'Okay, let's hear what we got.' When Gus played it for him, Elton said, 'That's a load of crap. You can send it to Engelbert Humperdinck, and if he doesn't like it, you can give it to Lulu as a demo.'" >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jason - Madison, WI
  • Elton claims he would not have attempted a song like this early in his career. He feels his voice has improved over the years, and by 1974, he had enough confidence and ability to sing with a very broad range.
  • This song came at a time when Elton was at the peak of his powers, but on an absurdly tight schedule that created a lot of tension. He and his band toured the last five months of 1973 before heading into Caribou Ranch studios in Colorado in January 1974 to record their next album in a window of just 10 days. They had to cut some corners (fewer takes, less refinement), but still made a very impressive album, a testament to the creative energy of those involved (including Bernie Taupin, who had to write a lot of lyrics very quickly).

    Soon after recording the album - which was named after the studio - Elton shipped off to Japan where he started his tour on February 1. After being mixed in Los Angeles, the album was released in July with "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" the first single. It went to #2 in America, and the album hit #1, where it stayed for four weeks. One more single was released from the set: "The Bitch Is Back," which went to #4.
  • A live duet with George Michael released in 1991 was a huge hit, going to #1 in both the US and UK. Elton sang it with Michael at Michael's March 19, 1991 Wembley Arena concert, and again at his Wembley concert on March 23; it's not clear which performance was used on the release, or if they were edited together, but George Michael is credited as the producer, indicating that some editing and production took place.

    It wasn't the first time they performed the song: Elton brought Michael onstage during his Live Aid set in 1985 to guest on the song; Michael told the crowd it was "one of my favorite tracks of Elton's." This was Michael's only appearance at Live Aid, as Wham! didn't have their own set.

    Also in 1985, the pair shared vocals on "Wrap Her Up," a track from Elton's "Ice On Fire" album that went to #20 US and #12 UK.

    Elton's 1991 appearances with Michael were two of just a handful he made that year; he went through a rigorous rehab program in the summer of 1990 and was focused on his health. When the duet was released as a single late in 1991, it harkened a phase in Elton's career, as he shed his alcoholism, drug addiction and eating disorder. It's success showed that there was still tremendous demand for his music, and when he returned in 1992 with his album The One, he was back in form with two more hits: the title track and "The Last Song."
  • Proceeds from the 1991 George Michael version that was sold as a single went to The London Lighthouse and The Rainbow Trust Children's Charity. This version was included on Elton's 1993 album Duets.
  • If Elton's line "don't discard me" sounds a little weird, that's because he was doing an exaggerated American accent out of frustration recording his vocal. Producer Gus Dudgeon was going to bury the line in the mix, but Toni Tennille, who was singing some of the background vocals, convinced him to keep it out front.
  • The horns heard on the last refrain and at the outro to this song were played by the horn section from the band Tower of Power, who had a hit single in 1972 with "You're Still A Young Man" and another the following year with "So Very Hard To Go." They also played on the Caribou tracks "The Bitch Is Back" and "Stinker."
  • Oleta Adams recorded this for the album Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin. Other artists who covered the song include Joe Cocker, Obsession, The Three Degrees, and Roger Daltrey of The Who, whose version was used in the 1987 movie The Lost Boys. Various orchestras have also recorded the song, including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
  • Nigel Olsson's drumming on this track was an influence on three Guns N' Roses songs. According to GnR drummer Matt Sorum, "November Rain,"
    "Don't Cry" and "Estranged" started out as all one song. After they broke them up and were getting ready to record "November Rain," Axl Rose played "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me."

    "I said, 'God, listen to the tom toms on that,'" Sorum told us. "Axl goes, 'Yeah, that's cool. So epic.'"

    Sorum worked that drum phrasing into the song, and played the same fills on "Don't Cry" and "Estranged" to unify the tracks.

Comments: 20

  • Gary James Parker from Rotorua, New ZealandIn 1973 Elton John came to New Zealand and played in Auckland. A local radio station in Hamilton, where I lived at the time, ran a write a song for Elton John competition( lyrics only) and Elton was asked to select the top 6 entries. I entered the song lyrics " Sandy where did you go" and Elton selected it as the winning entry. The song centred around an experience I had with a friend when we were hitch hiking at night. Each of the verses revolved around light going out and being left alone " "started to run to that neon sun when it suddenly went out" The refrain went on to say " you took my harmony and song and left me to sing the blues alone". In January the following year Elton and Bernie Taupin came up with " Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me", one of my favourite songs of all time and Lonnie & Josie, about a couple who have run away together and were last seen hitch hiking. I have in all this time wondered if the song he judged and declared the winning entry back in New Zealand in 1973 influenced these two songs.If they did I would be more than pleased to know. I also understand why he would have had so much trouble singing it as I struggled to find a tune for the version I had written.
  • Diane from United StatesWould it interest anyone to know that in the 1930's signs were put up at the borders of American "sundown towns" like Hawthorne California that stated, "Ni--er, don't let the sun go down on you."?
  • Daryl from Sydney, AustraliaThere seems to be a "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" pattern in the chorus of this song i.e. don't Let the Sun go Down on me. Is it pure coincidence that John released Lucy as a single in the same year as Caribou (1974) and recorded it at the same location?
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyAs stated above; on March 25th, 1991* Elton John joined George Michael onstage at London's Wembley Arena and the duet performed "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me"...
    Eight months and seven days later on December 1st, 1991 their 'live' covered version would enter Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #72; and seven weeks later on January 26th, 1992 it would peak at #1 for one week...
    And on February 2nd, 1992 it also reached #1 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
    Plus it peaked at #1 in Belgium, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the Netherlands...
    * March 25th, 1991 was also Elton John's 44th birthday.
  • Oldpink from Farmland, InSurprising to read about all the trouble Elton had with this one.
    I consider it his masterpiece.
  • Paul from Detroit, MiThis one and Someone Saved my Life Tonight from 1975 are Elton's two best songs, imo. Hard to believe songs like The Night Chicago Died, and Having My Baby kept this song at #2. ugh.
  • Megan from Stevenson, AlI have to say this is my favorite songs that Sir Elton John has ever sung. This gorgeous! I love the lyrics to this! Simply amazing...
  • Colin from London, United KingdomFurther to the remarks attributed to Brad Wind, the George Michael and Elton John version was not the only UK No 1 recorded outdoors. The EP Five Live, which featured George Michael and the surviving members of Queen, was recorded at the Freddie Mercury memorial concert at Wembley Stadium in 1992, and topped the UK chart in May 1993.
  • Liquid Len from Ottawa, CanadaThis song has nothing to do with suicide, you're thinking of 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight'. I like most of Elton John's songs, but not this one. This song and the rest of the songs on the album 'Caribou' were written and recorded in too much of a rush, and the critics (and Gus Dudgeon, album producer, as far as that goes) were quick to notice the drop in overall quality from 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'.
  • Mary from Phoenix, AzOMG! I totally did not know that Toni Tennille and a couple of the Beach Boys did the back up! I just listened to it closer, and I can totally hear it now! That's so cool! I love songfacts!
  • Fyodor from Denver, CoVariations of this song's title have more recently been used for Michael Jackson jokes!!
  • Ivan from Dallas, TxI consider this song to be Elton's masterpiece and best of his recordings. He has his best voice here, though he reportedly wasn't satisfied with it. Also ironically it didn't go to number 1 in the US.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaRoger Daltry does a good version of this.
  • Steve from Fenton, MoOne of Elton's greatest songs and recordings.
  • Antonio from Brugge, BelgiumThis song appear at the end titles of The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher, 1987). It's a movie about vampires...and you know, sun and vampires...
  • Michael from Kearny, NjAs Jason mentioned correctly, Elton was in a vicious mood at the time of recording this song, contrary to the fact that when Elton first wrote this song to Bernie's lyrics, he broke down and wept like a baby. It was typical for Elton to come up masterpiece songs like this while his personal life was falling apart from excesses of drugs, drink and a rock and roll lifestyle.
  • Holly from Trenton, NjWas written about a suicide attempt Elton made in his early career.
  • Aimee from Auckland, New ZealandGeoff, if you read the facts properly, you'd have noticed this: "Released as a live duet with George Michael in 1991" - you see, the duet at the concert with George Michael came much, MUCH later.
    The songfacts are referring to the original recording.
  • John from Greeneville, TnCoincidentally, despite Elton's lack of satisfaction regarding his vocals, he won his first performance Grammy for Male Vocalist of the Year (1974).
  • Geoff from Tucson, AzThe song was not recorded outside. It was recorded during a George Michael concert at the Rosemont Horizon near Chicago. I was there.
    -Molly Kehr
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