Indian Sunset

Album: Madman Across the Water (1971)

Songfacts®:

  • This song deals with the plight of Native Americans, whose land was basically stolen from them, and who in addition to being dehumanized and disenfranchised, found themselves confined to reservations in squalid conditions where alcoholism and other social unpleasantries were rife. According to Elizabeth Rosenthal's biography His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John, "Indian Sunset" was inspired by a visit lyricist Bernie Taupin made to a reservation. Narrated by an unnamed Native American, this emotive ballad, which runs to 6 minutes 47 seconds, is about the end of a way of life as the colonization of the vast American continent by the White Man leads inevitably to the subjugation and near extinction of its former masters.
  • Although separate by decades and genre this song has much in common with Europe's "Cherokee," and barring the works of Native American singer-songwriter Buffy St-Marie, is one of only a handful of contemporary ballads to explore the suffering of this once proud warrior race. The string arrangement by Paul Buckmaster gives the song both a grandiose and a melancholy effect.
  • Bernie Taupin used a little poetic license with this song. Geronimo, who was an Apache, was not killed by renegades; he surrendered to General Miles in September 1886 and was treated magnanimously, becoming a celebrity in his old age and publishing his autobiography. He died of pneumonia in 1909. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 3
  • The song "Ghetto Gospel" by Tupac samples and repeats the lyrics, "Those who wish to follow me I welcome with my hands" and, "And the red sun sinks at last into the hills of gold," and mixes together the first half of the line, "And peace to this young warrior" and half of "without the sound of guns." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Michael - Sydney, Australia
  • In the '70s and '80s, Elton John rarely played this song live, but he introduced it into his setlist on his 1994 tour and played it at many of his concerts in the 2010s, including on his farewell tour. He told Rolling Stone in 2011 that it is one of his favorites to play live. "Nobody knows that song at all," he said. "It's an obscure track from Madman Across the Water, and it gets a standing ovation every night. It's a six-minute movie in a song."

Comments: 11

  • Norm from BostonAnyone who likes this song needs to hear the Warren Haynes version, very transformative.
  • Susan In Fl from FloridaAlso yellow moon means harvest and abundance. Also noticed use of term teepee and Iroquois had long houses.

    Perhaps the person saying all of this was from a more western tribe than Iroquois?
  • Susan In Fl from FloridaI’ve always loved this song. It is very powerful. There is, however, a lot poetic license in it and it runs afoul of reality and geography. My impression is that the story is from an Iroquois, who were located in NE and into Canada. Yellow Dog, however, was Crow and their territory was/is Wyoming through Montana abd in N Dakota. Mention of Sioux gauntlet - would that be known in area of Iroquois? Sioux were in area now known as ND, SD, Wisconsin, Minnesota. I guess I was unaware that they traveled and mixed like that.

    However, that doesn’t minimize the heartbreak of the decimation of the indigenous peoples.
  • T from North Myrtle BeachThis song is another tapestry of the american west by Bernie Taupin written in blood and tears
  • Charger from TennesseeI have been a huge Elton John fan since the 70's and I must admit I was listening to MATW in the car the other day and this track came on. I was blown away again, I had forgotten all about this song over the years!! I hope he plays it when I see him in Chattanooga in March!!!!
  • Nathan from From The Country Of, CanadaTo Alexander of London England: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crow_Creek_massacre, European scalping was prevalent during the migration period into Europe, but that was 4th-9th century. Europe didn't make sustained contact with Europe (Vikings and some explorers happened upon Europe) until much, much later.
  • Hope from Boston, MaI first heard this song when I was about 10, but have recently re-discovered it. It is just so deep and moving, and it moves me to tears every time I hear it.
  • Charles from Bronxville, NyI recently returned from a trip with my family to Arizona where we spent time on the Navajo reservation. First of all their name is actually D'ni. If you visit Canyon De Chelley (Pr. De Shay) and find out about what happened there with General Sherman, it's hard to listen to this song without being moved.
  • Alexander from London, EnglandIt is well known that the White Man introduced the practise of taking scalps; the film "Soldier Blue" contains a graphic depiction of this.

    A Baron
  • Gregg from Coralville, IaAmazing song. I was literally moved to tears
  • Charles from Charlotte, NcDon't want to sound like I'm trivializing the suffering of the Native Americans, but weren't they the scalpers and the white man the scalpees?
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