The lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin, Elton's writing partner, and were inspired by Taupin's first trip to America. John and Taupin are from England, and Madman Across The Water was the first album they wrote after spending time in the US. Taupin and John spent a lot of time together in the '70s; Bernie traveled with the band and would usually stand by the soundboard during shows.
The "blue jean baby, LA Lady, seamstress for the band" sure sounds it's Maxine Feibelmann, who was Bernie Taupin's girlfriend when he wrote the song and who became his first wife in 1971. She traveled with the band on their early tours, often sewing together the costumes and fixing their clothes. Plus, on the Madman Across The Water album, it says, "With love to Maxine" under the credits for this song. Elton John even said at one point that Bernie wrote it about his girlfriend.
Well, Taupin says that the song is not about Maxine. Here's the story he tells: "We came to California in the fall of 1970, and sunshine radiated from the populace. I was trying to capture the spirit of that time, encapsulated by the women we met - especially at the clothes stores up and down the Strip in LA. They were free spirits, sexy in hip-huggers and lacy blouses, and very ethereal, the way they moved. So different from what I'd been used to in England. And they all wanted to sew patches on your jeans. They'd mother you and sleep with you - it was the perfect Oedipal complex."
Taupin adds that the "tiny" was poetic license, although these women were all petite. And "Tiny Dancer" sounds a lot better than "Small Dancer" or "Little Dancer."
This song ripened into one of Elton John's classics, but it didn't even crack the Top 40 when it was released, peaking at #41 in America in 1972. In the UK and most other territories, it wasn't released as a single.
Its chart failure has a lot to do with its 6:12 running time, making it too long for many radio stations. Also, Elton was only on the precipice of stardom at the time, his biggest hit being "Your Song
" at #8. Part of the song's enduring popularity owes to how it was never overplayed - when it comes on the radio, it seems special.
The Madman Across The Water album was much more heavily produced than Elton's first three. It was one of his first songs with a lush string section arranged by Paul Buckmaster, who arranged the stings on many of Elton's albums as well as songs by The Rolling Stones, Train, and Leonard Cohen. Ron Cornelius, who played guitar on Cohen's album Songs Of Love And Hate, told us: "Buckmaster is a wonderful string arranger, he's just one of these guys who can make an orchestra talk. In other words, if the strings aren't saying something, it ain't on the record."
This is featured in the 2000 movie Almost Famous
in a scene where a rock band is on tour, at each other's throats. When "Tiny Dancer" come on in the tour bus, they all start singing along and remember how they're connected through their love of music.
In 2011, Budweiser used the same "Tiny Dancer changes the mood" theme in a commercial that debuted on the Super Bowl
. In the spot, a gruff cowboy starts a sing-a-long to the song when he gets his beer. Peter Stormare, whose film credits include Fargo
and The Big Lebowski
, played the cowboy.
Elton was pleasantly surprised to learn about this song's use in Almost Famous, as it didn't always get a great reaction when he performed it live. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2011, Elton recalled: "Jeffrey Katzenberg called me and said, 'There's a scene in this film which is going to make 'Tiny Dancer' a hit all over again.' When I saw it, I said, 'Oh my God!' I used to play 'Tiny Dancer' in England and it would go down like a lead zeppelin. Cameron resurrected that song."
After it was used in Almost Famous in 2000, Elton made this a regular part of his setlists. Over the next few years, digital downloading became possible and "Tiny Dancer" was a top seller. In 2005, it earned its first Gold certification for selling 500,000 copies; in 2018, it was certified at 3 million.
Ten different backup vocalists are credited on this track, including bass player Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson, both of whom became played on many of Elton's later recordings, but not on this one: session man David Glover played bass and Roger Pope was on drums. Other backup vocalists include songwriter Roger Cook ("Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)
" by The Hollies) and the duo Sue & Sunny (Sue Glover and Sunny Leslie).
Additional personnel are:
Davey Johnstone - acoustic guitar
Caleb Quaye - electric guitar
B. J. Cole - steel guitar
Madman Across The Water
contains another late bloomer in Elton's catalog: "Levon
," which with a 5:08 running time, didn't get much airplay when it was first released, but went on to become one of his standards. Released as a US single ahead of "Tiny Dancer," it stalled at #24.
Elton performed this as a duet with Tim McGraw to open the 2002 American Music Awards. McGraw was named Favorite Male Country Artist, but left before he could accept the award.
In 2008, DJ Ironik interpolated this for his album No Point In Wasting Tears
, in a version featuring the rapper Chipmunk. This reworking, which was titled "Tiny Dancer (Hold Me Closer)," hit #3 in the UK. Elton John is featured in the video.
Bertrand - Paris, France
On October 28, 2010, Elton played the BBC Radio show Electric Proms, where during his performance of "Tiny Dancer," a guy in the audience asked his girlfriend to marry him. The following evening, Elton appeared on the BBC magazine program The One Show
, and the now-engaged couple were in the audience. When Elton learned of this, he insisted on them coming up to meet him.
Alexander Baron - London, England
When Tony Danza hosted the ESPY Awards on ESPN, Chris Berman gave him the nickname Tony "Tiny" Danza. He hated it. On the show, he claimed he wanted the nickname Tony "Extrava" Danza.
Elton John performed this with Miley Cyrus at the Grammy Awards in 2018. Four days earlier, Elton announced his farewell tour.
In February 2019, this featured in a trailer for the movie Rocketman
, starring Taron Egerton as Elton John. Egerton did his own singing in the film, and the trailer proved that he could pull it off. A few days after the trailer was released, Egerton sang it with the real Elton John
at Elton's annual Oscars party. The film was released on May 31, 2019.