Elton John's co-writer Bernie Taupin on 50 years of hits and what their 'perfect song' is
In a Q interview, the songwriter reflected on some of his favourite songs
Originally published on April 19, 2018
There's no Elton John without songwriter Bernie Taupin. Together, they've made 25 platinum albums, sold more than 250 million records all around the world, and penned unforgettable hits like Bennie and the Jets, Tiny Dancer and Rocket Man.
Now, John and Taupin are celebrating 50 years of making music together by inviting some big musical stars — including Lady Gaga, Willie Nelson and Ed Sheeran — to cover their greatest hits on two new records, which they're calling, Restoration and Revamp: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
Taupin joins Tom Power to look back on his five decades working with John, and talks about some of his favourite songs, including the biggest-selling single of all time, Candle in the Wind 1997. Taupin says the song, which was originally released in 1974 but rewritten in 1997 as a tribute to the late Princess Diana, is the closest he and John have come to creating a "perfect song."
Below, Taupin shares the stories behind some of his other favourite collaborations with Elton John.
On Your Song (covered here by Lady Gaga) and Sacrifice
Your Song was written from the point of view of a very, very naive kid, you know, which it probably was because I wrote it when I was 17 years old. So I was I was pretty virginal in every area and aspect of life. But you take that idea, and you take it 30 years later, and you get a song like Sacrifice, which is beautifully done by Don Henley and Vince Gill on the Restoration album. That probably could be one of my favourite songs, if not the best song I think we've ever written. Because I think it's it's a very good lyric with an exquisite melody and it has a tremendous emotional impact too.
On Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (covered here by Maren Morris)
[Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters] is about our first impressions of New York City in 1970, and if anybody was around in that that period of time they'll realize that New York wasn't quite as magical as it was probably presented to the rest of the world. It was a tough place to get along in and we didn't have a lot of money back then, obviously, when we first visited, so we were staying in really sort of cheap hotels, and eating with very little money in our pockets, playing gigs and getting out. But it had a profound effect on me. I remember New York as being always cold when we were there and I don't know again if that was because we weren't very flush with money. But I mean, I found refuge in museums and art galleries and any place I could get in that didn't cost any money that would give me some sort of inspiration. But it was a tough place and all the magical things you hear about it sort of were contradicted by other things that were happening on the street.
On I Want Love (covered here by Chris Stapleton)
I think it's all part and parcel of the emotional aftermath of relationships, which that song is about, and it's a moment in time. It doesn't mean you're going to stay that way forever, but that's how you feel at that particular point in time. And I think the whole song represents that. I'll be honest, I think ["A man like me is dead in places/ Other men feel liberated"] is probably one of the finest lyrics I've ever written. I mean it has such an amazing cadence to it, which is added by Elton's brilliant sort of simple melodic [line,] the way that he just builds and dives and comes back. It's a really good song.
— Produced by Mitch Pollock