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#ThrowbackThursday: “Candle in the Wind 1997” by Elton John

by Sean Smith

Yesterday marked the 19th anniversary of the U.S. release of one of the best selling singles of all time, by one of the most prolific artists of all time. That artist is Elton John and the song was “Candle in the Wind 1997,” which was released in the U.S. on September 22, 1997.

The song was created as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, who died on August 31, 1997 in Paris, France. She and her boyfriend were driving through a tunnel being followed by paparazzi when the driver lost control of the car causing Diana, her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, and the driver Henri Paul to be killed. A British investigation some years later attributed the accident to Paul driving recklessly due to the ensuing paparazzi. Princess Diana was just 36 years old at the time of the tragic accident. She was survived by her two children Prince William and Prince Harry, second and third in line for the British throne respectively.

The death of Diana, Princess of Wales was a huge world event, especially in Britain. This despite the fact that she was at times vocally at odds with members of the Royal Family following her divorce from Charles, Prince of Wales in 1996. Diana was fondly known as the “People’s Princess” and was beloved for among other things her many charitable efforts.

The unexpected death of the beloved member of royalty meant that a large televised state funeral was in order. That service was held in the famed Westminster Abbey on September 6, and included a lot of pomp and circumstance. One of the lasting images from the funeral, which according to estimates was viewed by 2.5 billion viewers worldwide, was when her friend of over 15 years Elton John performed a song in honor of her.

After Diana’s death Elton John was asked by Diana’s family to perform at the funeral. He wanted to write a song for his late friend, but had very little time to create one prior to the service. He got together with his longtime writing collaborator Bernie Taupin, and decided that due to the extremely limited time they had to create a new song, they would instead rewrite an existing song for the occasion.

In 1973 the two had written a song called “Candle in the Wind” together, which was a song about the untimely death of another famous 36-year-old. Marilyn Monroe. The song was a homage to the film stars life, and as a person who struggled with living life under the harsh microscope of the public. So short on time, Elton John and Bernie Taupin reworked the lyrics of the song to honor the late Diana. The song was produced by famed producer George Martin, often referred to as the “Fifth Beatle” for his extensive production credits with The Beatles. The reworked “Candle in the Wind” was named “Candle in the Wind 1997” and was performed by Elton John at the funeral for Diana to an emotional audience.

The performance of “Candle in the Wind 1997” at Diana’s funeral is the only time that Elton John has ever performed the song to a live audience. He has stated that the only way that he will ever perform the song again is if Diana’s children, Prince William and Harry, ask him to. Elton John does however continue to perform the original 1973 Marilyn Monroe version at concerts to this day.

The song was released as a single, with all proceeds going to charities through the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. The single was first released in Britain on September 13, where it sold over 600,000 copies in it’s first day and close to 1.5 million in its first week. It was released as a single in the U.S. on September 22, where it also did extremely well. It debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and sold around 3.5 million copies in its first week. Keep in mind that it being released in 1997, these are physical copies bought at a store we are talking about here and not digital downloads. Thus making these numbers that much more impressive. According to rough estimates, it is believed that “Candle in the Wind 1997” has sold over 30 million copies worldwide since its release, making it one of the best selling songs of all time.

Other than the official single, “Candle in the Wind 1997” has never been included as a track on any Elton John album released. The only time the song has been included on any larger piece at all is when the live performancewas included on the BBC official recording of the funeral, which was released as a soundtrack on September 30, 1997.

So with “Candle in the Wind 1997” being released 19 years ago this week, we take a moment to remember the special tribute song Elton John performed for his late friend Diana, Princess of Wales. Enjoy.

Elton John

“Candle In The Wind 1997”

Rocket/A&M Records