In 1967, teenage musicians Elton John and Bernie Taupin met for the first time after a record company gave John some of Taupin’s lyrics to work with. Eventually, they both moved into John’s parents’ house, where they started working together in earnest. One of the first songs that came out of this contrived but remarkable partnership would turn out to be one of John’s biggest hits.
One morning, while Taupin was sitting at breakfast at Elton’s parents’ house, an idea struck him. From there, he grabbed whatever piece of paper he could find and began rapidly jotting down the lyrics to what would eventually become ‘Your Song.’
“The original lyric was written very rapidly on the kitchen table of Elton’s mother’s apartment in Northwood Hills in the suburbs of London, if I recall, on a particularly grubby piece of exercise paper,” Taupin remembered. From there, Taupin took the coffee-stained lyric sheet to John and, sitting in his living room, came up with a melody in 20 minutes.
Looking back at it now, despite their longstanding relationship and immense history, John claims that Taupin still refuses to reveal the identity of the person who inspired this song. John told Rolling Stone, “I always thought ‘Your Song’ was written about one of his girlfriends, and when I asked him that, he just said, ‘No it wasn’t!’ He gets fairly defensive.”
The song was eventually released on his second album, but the single did not come out until seven months later as a promotional tool used to promote his tour. For a time, John was working as the opening act for Three Dog Night, who recorded this song on their 1970 album It Ain’t Easy. But by that time, John was becoming an established name, enough to make ‘Your Song’ a hit on his own, which was largely in part to a triumphant run at the Troubadour in Los Angeles in August 1970. Because of his growing success, Three Dog Night chose not to release it as a single to let John have his moment to shine.
From the initial hit, Taupin and John collaborated for the entire duration of John’s still-thriving career, but out of all of the immense discography, this is the one Taupin remembers the most.
Taupin said, ”This one is the one I recall like it was yesterday. The rest of them I’m a little shaky on. In retrospect, and I’ve said it on several occasions, I see this song as a bookend and its counterpart would be a song like ‘Sacrifice.’ ‘Your Song’ being a song about absolute naiveté in love while ‘Sacrifice’ is the complete opposite, the story of someone who’s seen and done it all, as far as love’s concerned, and come out the other end scarred but realistic about certain aspects of the real world.”
‘Your Song’ helped alter the 1970s music landscape, along with artists like Carole King and James Taylor, paving the way for more emotional ballads to hit the airwaves once again. Taupin later reflected on the song’s impact, “I think ‘Your Song’ is a gem. Our classic, I’m not sure. I’ll let others decide that. But it’s like an old friend, it means so many things on equally as many levels. It’s certainly proved its worth, and I’ve heard it sung a million times. It’s like a good dog, it’s always there.”