Pandemic Playlist: 5 Elton John tracks penned by Bernie Taupin you can listen to on lyricist's 70th birthday
As one of the most successful duos in the music business, John and Taupin have put out some of the greatest hits of modern times together
In honor of Bernie Taupin's 70th birthday, who is one of the most prolific songwriters of modern times, here's a playlist of five tracks that stemmed from his most successful collaboration to date: a five-decade-long partnership with Elton John.
Originally written by Taupin as more of a pun based on the old euphemism for an STD, 'Social Disease' details the story of an alcoholic who society might deem as a 'parasite'. The song wasn't, however, a criticism of those with 'social diseases', but instead was more of a commentary on how society treats the misunderstood. The song was featured on John's 1973 album, 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road', often considered one of the greatest albums of all time. The lyrics were written by Taupin in two and a half weeks, while John composed most of the music in three days.
The tracks revolve around themes of being an outcast in society and reflect on the plight of the unlucky and unloved. The album itself was recorded in two weeks and remains John's best-selling studio album to date. 'Social Disease' is a song that takes on new meaning in the age of social distancing, especially considering the push for a shift to using the term "physical distancing" due to how isolating "social distancing" can be.
'Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time)'
Inspired by the short story 'The Rocket Man' in 'The Illustrated Man' by Ray Bradbury as well as themes explored in David Bowie's 1969 song 'Space Oddity', this song went on to become one of his greatest hits ever and continues to be covered by artistes from various genres. But according to Elizabeth Rosenthal's book 'His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John', the song, which recounts a Mars-bound astronaut's mixed feelings of having to leave his family behind in order to fulfill his duties, was actually inspired by Taupin's sighting of either a shooting star or a distant airplane.
The first stanza of the track was thought up by Taupin while he was on his way to his parents' home. As he made his way down the motorway, he repeated the lyrics to himself over and over again for two hours until he could write them down. 'Rocket Man' doubles up as a beautiful tribute to the medical workers who have to sacrifice time with their loved ones as they actively battle the ongoing coronavirus pandemic every day.
'Candle in the Wind'
Described as a 'threnody', or a wailing ode, 'Candle in the Wind' was originally written by John and Taupin in honor of Hollywood starlet Marilyn Monroe, who passed away 11 years prior to the song's release in 1973. The song would find popularity again in 1997 after John performed a rewritten version of the song for Diana, Princess of Wales, as part of her funeral service. The song's original lyrics open with 'Goodbye, Norma Jean', a reference to Monroe's real name, the song included references to someone's journey being cut short while they were in their prime.
The song also tackles themes of fame and youth, and to that end, uses Monroe's name as more of a metaphor than being a direct tribute to her. Taupin later stated, "The song could have easily have been about Montgomery Clift or James Dean or even Jim Morrison. But it seemed that she just had a more sympathetic bent to her, so I used her. And she was female, and that was more vulnerable. But it was really about the excesses of celebrity, the early demise of celebrities, and ‘live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse.’ And that was really the crux of the song."
The song's title drew its inspiration from Janis Joplin, who was known to use the phrase 'candle in the wind', and ironically, Joplin herself would die of a heroin dose after establishing herself as one of the most influential artistes of the psychedelic rock era. As we continue to brave the pandemic, we must also take time to honor the brave souls we have lost to the Covid-19 virus, and 'Candle in the Wind', as a song built on the idea of honoring the loss of loved ones gone too soon, is the perfect song to do just that.
'I'm Still Standing'
John performed this track as part of the 'One World: Together at Home' tribute to healthcare workers fighting against Covid-19. In his dedication, John stated, "This is for everyone out there who's been working on the front line. Thank you, thank you, thank you," following which he launched into an energetic and uplifting performance of 'I'm Still Standing' while accompanying himself on the piano. And as he sang the lyrics, "Don't you know I'm still standing better than I ever did," it was hard not to feel moved.
The song has long been perceived to be about the experience of being gay in a world that doesn't accept identities outside the heterosexual norms. The fun, colorful video drives the point home that despite the hate, John and his community were still standing. Others believe that John and Taupin wrote this song as a way to tell the singer's haters that he was still relevant even as the music world continued to change and grow. Regardless of its original intention, this song has come to be an anthem for anyone who wants to proclaim that they're still standing strong, no matter what the world throws at them.
When asked about having children, John once stated, "No. I’ll take the perks of being gay where I can get them and that’s one of them for me: gay men are the only group of people who aren’t looked down upon if they don’t have kids." His partner David Furnish, however, has said, "I wanted children. We talked extensively about adopting, but it came down to Elton saying, 'I'm going to continue to do what I do and it will be very difficult to raise a child with you if I'm not going to be there'."
'Blessed' is a heartwarming track that sees a parent gush about their newborn child, promising that they will be blessed and loved no matter what. And the song takes on a bittersweet meaning when one recognizes that it is being sung to a child that John never had. Taupin, however, stated the song was about feeling your eyes being opened to a new world when you have children, stating parenthood, for him, was a great feeling.
Outside of its original themes, however, 'Blessed' is a beautiful track that reminds us all that we are blessed and worthy of love and happiness. And that's a wonderful message to remember during times when most things feel uncertain. So as John serenades us with the lyrics, "I promise you that, promise you that, promise you that / You'll be blessed," let's all join forces to thank him and Taupin for helping us stay positive and hopeful during these trying times.
Pandemic Playlist is a daily list of songs that will keep you entertained instead of feeling drained while you're isolated at home. Look out for a fresh selection of great tunes from MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) to refresh your mood every day