This was Elton's first hit song that he didn't co-write. It was written by the team of Leroy Bell and Casey James, who recorded as Bell & James. It was one of three songs Elton recorded when he teamed with the Philadelphia soul producer Thom Bell at the end of 1977 in hopes of making an album.
By this time, Elton was coming down from highs of several years of hitmaking and was looking for new sounds. On the outs with his writing partner Bernie Taupin, he teamed with Bell, who produced the three tracks, including "Mama Can't Buy You Love." But when Elton abandoned the project, the three songs were binned. In 1978, he released A Single Man
, his first album without Taupin. When it underperformed, his record company decided to finally release the songs he recorded with Bell, issuing them in 1979 on an EP called The Thom Bell Sessions '77
. "Mama Can't Buy You Love" was released as a single and got Elton back to the US Top 10 for the first time since "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
" in 1976. It also rose to #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.