While I’m on this line of thought, I cannot help but consider one of my favorite musicians who is remembered partly as a eulogist. It has always bothered me that one of Elton John’s most well-known songs is “Candle in the Wind”. It isn’t a good song at all, in my own judgment. It was badly recorded, has a thin piano track, and worst of all, the song is more about lyricist Bernie Taupin’s teenage fantasies. Any actual concern for the tragedy of Monroe, who died 50 years ago today, is disingenuous and affected. Naturally, this was the song Elton John rehashed when called upon to sing at the funeral of Princess Diana of Wales back in 1997, leading Keith Richards to dismiss the pianist as “a eulogist for dead blondes.” What I wish more partisans of 1970s music understood was how many great songs Elton wrote for the deceased that don’t get the level of publicity. So, let’s explore…. 7 Elton John eulogies better than “Candle in the Wind”.
1. “Skyline Pigeon”: From Elton’s seldom-heard 1969 debut album, he brought back the song, ostensibly about rising above the ugly realities of life, when his friend, the young AIDS victim Ryan White, died in 1990.
2. “Funeral for a Friend”: This instrumental begins one of Elton’s greatest albums, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, ironically the same disc that contains our whipping boy for this exercise, “Candle in the Wind.” Elton wrote this progressive, synthesizer-laden track as an exercise in writing the sort of music he would want to play at his own funeral. Nearly 40 years later, this is still a frequent addition to his concert setlists.
3. “The Last Song”: Not the last song Elton wrote about AIDS, for sure, but it was the first. In this track, Taupin actually writes the strongest lyrics of his career, telling about a dying gay man reconciling with his father on the eve of his passing.
4. “American Triangle” From the 2001 Songs from the West Coast, Elton and Bernie muse on the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, left to die of exposure on a wire fence on account of his homosexuality. As per the title, the song’s tragedy lies in that three lives were wasted by needless hate, not only Shepard’s, but his two killers as well.
5. “Blues Never Fade Away”: On his most recent solo album, The Captain and the Kid, Elton reflects on how he lived on in spite of hundreds of bad decisions, while friends obscure and famous were felled by untimely or tragic circumstances. “It’s like rolling dice in the belly of the blues,” Elton muses fatalistically.
6. “Empty Garden (Hey, Hey Johnny)”: Elton remembers his friend John Lennon two years after his death. Bernie almost ruins the song with some of his worst lyrics ever, courtesy of an overwrought gardening metaphor (“through their tears, some say he farmed his best in younger years”), but Elton’s pain and sense of conviction in the wake of Lennon’s murder carry the track.
7. “Song for Guy”: When a messenger boy was fatally struck by a car during the recording of A Single Man, Elton composed this short piano instrumental as an elegant, understated elegy.