The History of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’
In early 1970, Elton John was still a struggling singer and piano player. Even though his collaborations with Bernie Taupin had begun, the partnership had yet to bear fruit in the form of a hit.
That all changed with the release of “Your Song.”
The song’s roots can be traced back several years before. John, at the time still going by his birth name, Reg Dwight, had invited Taupin to move into his family’s northwest London home. During breakfast one morning, Taupin felt some sudden inspiration.
“The original lyric was written very rapidly on the kitchen table of Elton’s mother’s [house] in Northwood Hills in the suburbs of London, if I recall, on a particularly grubby piece of exercise paper,” Taupin recalled in The Independent.
Listen to Elton John's 'Your Song'
Taupin was only 17 when he penned the lyrics and had very little experience with romance. “It’s the voice of someone who hasn’t experienced love in any way," he noted. "It’s a very virginal song.” In a 1989 interview with Music Connection magazine, Taupin said “Your Song” had “one of the most naïve and childish lyrics in the entire repertoire of music, but I think the reason it still stands up is because it was real at the time.”
Upon reading Taupin’s lyrics for the first time, John retreated to the family piano and immediately began formulating a melody. “I remember writing it at my parents' apartment in North London and Bernie giving me the lyrics, sitting down at the piano and looking at it and going, ‘Oh, my God, this is such a great lyric, I can't fuck this one up,’" John recalled during a 2013 conversation with Rolling Stone. “It came out in about 20 minutes, and when I was done, I called him in and we both knew.”
Listen to Elton John's 'Your Song' Demo
“Your Song” was coming together quickly, but there was still the matter of getting someone to listen to it. At the time, John and Taupin were staff songwriters at music publisher Dick James’s DJM Records.
Unbeknownst to the company’s head, the duo routinely sneaked into the facilities at night to rehearse their original material. When a security guard informed James of what was going on, he became irate ... until he heard the quality of the work. Impressed by the songwriting, James signed the duo to an official record deal and arranged for a proper recording session.
The initial recording of “Your Song” was meant to be a high-quality demo to drum up music-industry buzz. But when James heard the recording, he decided it was strong enough for commercial release.
The Hollies, for whom John had previously played keyboards on several tracks, got wind of “Your Song” and were interested in recording their own version. "We knew Reg because he was a staff writer with a music publisher we used. He was writing songs well before he became famous," Hollies singer and guitarist Tony Hicks recalled to The Daily Mail. "One was 'Your Song.' I thought it would be a good one for the Hollies, and asked the publisher for permission to record it. He told me Elton had recorded it himself and it was due to be released in the U.S. He said, 'But it probably won't happen for him, so wait until it's all over.'"
As it turned out, "Your Song" made its debut with a different band. Three Dog Night released their version of “Your Song" on their third studio album, 1970's It Ain't Easy. The group’s take features a heavier bass line, a jazzy arrangement and prominent guitar parts not heard in the more familiar John recording. As legend goes, Three Dog Night purposefully didn’t release the track as a single because they wanted John to make it his breakout hit.
Listen to Three Dog Night's Version of 'Your Song'
On April 10, 1970, three weeks after Three Dog Night released It Ain’t Easy, John’s self-titled second album came out. Even though “Your Song” wouldn’t become an official single until October, it was clearly the LP’s standout track, so much so that John made it the opening song during his legendary first performance in the States at the Troubadour.
The song also earned the singer his first U.S. television appearance when, in December 1970, he performed “Your Song” on The Andy Williams Show.
Watch Elton John Perform 'Your Song' in 1970
Commercially, "Your Song" peaked at No. 8 in the U.S. and at No. 7 in the U.K. It has since been certified double platinum, meaning more than 2 million copies were sold in the States.
In 1975, John Lennon gave the song some of his highest praise, stating, "I remember hearing Elton John's 'Your Song', heard it in America — it was one of Elton's first big hits—and remember thinking, 'Great, that's the first new thing that's happened since we [the Beatles] happened.' It was a step forward. There was something about his vocal that was an improvement on all of the English vocals until then. I was pleased with it."
In the decades since its release, “Your Song” has continued to be one of the most revered songs of all time. It has been covered by an extensive list of artists, including Ellie Goulding, Lady Gaga, Harry Connick Jr. and Rod Stewart. In 1998, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
John performed a slightly altered version of “Your Song” during his 1999 appearance on The Simpsons. The track also highlighted a key moment in the 2001 musical Moulin Rouge!, performed by Ewan McGregor in the film.
Listen to Elton John on 'The Simpsons'
Watch 'Your Song' Scene From 'Moulin Rouge'
John has performed “Your Song” at almost every live performance of his career, including 2018's royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. “What can I say? It's a perfect song. It gets better every time I sing it,” the singer remarked when looking back on the track's legacy.
In hindsight, John believes that “musically, [“Your Song”] was a big step forward. And the older I get, the more I sing these lyrics, and the more they resonate with me.”
Taupin is just as proud of the track’s continuing resonance. “I think ‘Your Song’ is a gem," he noted. "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.”
Watch Elton John Perform 'Your Song' Through the Years