July 4, 2022

In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Scorching 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my means up into the current.

Elton John sobbed visibly. In July of 1997, Elton was on the funeral of the designer Gianni Versace, who’d been shockingly shot useless exterior of his Miami Seashore mansion. Elton and Versace had been good associates, and Elton had hassle getting by way of the funeral. In photographs from the funeral, Elton seems like a wreck, and Princess Diana helps him by way of it, nearly bodily holding him up in some moments.

That funeral marked a reconciliation for Elton John and Princess Diana. Diana and Elton had been associates since 1981, however they’d had a falling-out in 1996. Diana had promised to write down the foreword for a coffee-table guide of Gianni Versace’s photographs, and that guide was a fundraiser for Elton’s AIDS charity. Diana had backed out of the dedication, figuring that it wouldn’t be acceptable to have her title on a guide with footage of half-naked males. In his memoir, Elton later theorized that the Royal Household had put strain on Diana, although she and Prince Charles finalized their divorce that 12 months. Elton had been livid when Diana modified her thoughts. He’d written her to inform her how a lot cash she’d value his AIDS Basis. Earlier than Versace’s funeral, Diana known as Elton to squash the meat. They made plans to satisfy once more the following time they had been each in London. That by no means occurred.

Slightly greater than a month after Versace’s funeral, Diana and the man she was seeing, the ultra-rich Egyptian film producer Dodi Fayed, each died in a automotive crash in Paris. On the time, everybody assumed that the crash had been brought on by the paparazzi that the couple had been attempting to flee. In actuality, it most likely had extra to do with driver Henri Paul, who was additionally killed within the crash, being drunk and pilled-out, and with the truth that no one within the automotive wore seatbelts.

The demise of Princess Diana was a significant cultural occasion, a second so stunning that it’s laborious to correctly clarify it to anybody who wasn’t round to expertise it on the time. I bear in mind my dad waking me up that morning to inform me about it. As somebody who by no means cared in regards to the Royal Household past the curiosity issue, Diana’s demise appeared extra like a lurid sideshow than an emotional trauma. In that, I used to be within the minority. At college later that day, my pal Adam unloaded on me. I’d mentioned one thing about Diana being “some wealthy girl,” and he shot again that Diana was truly “the white Mom Teresa.” The reality might be someplace between these two extremes. Diana was a pleasant one who labored for charitable causes and who obtained well-known due to her involvement with the Royal Household, an establishment that has completely no justifiable purpose to proceed current. However for individuals world wide, Princess Diana was evidently an entire different factor.

After Diana’s demise, suicide charges spiked within the UK. Hundreds of individuals left flowers exterior the gates of Buckingham Palace, and so they saved including extra flowers for weeks. When the Royal Household’s public response was chilly and formal, the British press responded with outrage. And Elton John’s music for Diana — a rewritten model of a observe that he’d recorded a few a long time earlier — grew to become the biggest-selling single in historical past.

For no matter purpose, the mid-’90s pop charts had been filled with ballads the place celebrities mourned the deaths of different celebrities. Mariah Carey and Boyz II Males saluted C+C Music Manufacturing unit’s David Cole on “One Candy Day.” Bone Thugs-N-Concord despatched off Eazy-E on “Tha Crossroads.” Puff Daddy eulogized Biggie Smalls on “I’ll Be Lacking You.” The exceptional, world-crushing success of Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind 1997” might have been the apex of this unusual little pattern, the last word superstar farewell.

The unique “Candle In The Wind” didn’t have something to do with Princess Diana, who was 12 years previous when the music first got here out. Elton and his longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin wrote “Candle In The Wind” about Marilyn Monroe, who had died when Elton was 15. The music is a touching tribute to somebody who wasn’t granted an entire lot of dignity in her lifetime, and it’s additionally a form of meditation on fame. Years later, Taupin advised Rolling Stone that he’d by no means been particularly drawn to Marilyn Monroe however that she made an efficient automobile for what he wished to say with the music’s lyrics: “It was actually in regards to the excesses of superstar, the early demise of celebrities, and ‘dwell quick, die younger, and depart a phenomenal corpse.’” He’d taken the title from one thing that Clive Davis had as soon as mentioned about Janis Joplin.

Elton positioned “Candle In The Wind” on his vastly well-liked 1973 double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Street. The music reached #11 within the UK, but it surely by no means got here out as a single in America. Nonetheless, “Candle In The Wind” lingered. In 1987, Elton launched a dwell model of “Candle In The Wind” that he’d recorded in Australia the earlier December. On the time, Elton was a month away from getting a throat lesion surgically eliminated, and his voice was noticeably strained. However because of the keenness of each Elton and the followers, the recording nonetheless labored, and it grew to become one in every of Elton’s greatest ’80s hits. Within the US, that dwell tackle “Candle In The Wind” made it to #6. (It’s an 8.)

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There are a number of totally different tales in regards to the circumstances surrounding the 1997 rewrite of “Candle In The Wind.” In his memoir, Elton writes that Virgin Data boss Richard Branson known as him up and requested him to remake the music, telling Elton about all of the individuals who had been quoting “Candle In The Wind” lyrics in Diana’s Guide Of Condolence. Elton additionally speculates that somebody in Diana’s household might have put Branson as much as the duty. In Fred Bronson’s Billboard Guide Of No 1 Hits, although, Bernie Taupin tells one other story.

Elton John had already been requested to sing at Diana’s funeral in Westminster Abbey, and he wished to sing a brand new music. The Bronson guide claims that Elton known as Taupin in Los Angeles and requested him to write down some new lyrics, and he additionally talked about that “Candle In The Wind” had been getting a number of radio play since Diana’s demise. Taupin “misunderstood” and thought that Elton was asking him to write down new lyrics for “Candle In The Wind,” in order that’s what he did. Taupin spent two hours adapting “Candle In The Wind” to satisfy these altering circumstances. A music about corrosive superstar grew to become a fond, sentimental farewell, and “goodbye, Norma Jeane” grew to become “goodbye, England’s rose.”

Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana had been each fairly, glamorous white women who died on the age of 36, however they didn’t have quite a bit in widespread past that. On one stage, it’s fairly low-cost to rewrite a beloved previous music, taking out all of the nuance and making use of all of the sentiment to a totally totally different particular person. However Princess Diana had at all times cherished “Candle In The Wind,” and he or she’d come to establish with the music’s picture of fame. From that perspective, then, the rewrite was Elton honoring a pal by repurposing one in every of her favourite songs. It’d’ve been low-cost, but it surely wasn’t cynical.

A lot has been written in regards to the Royal Household’s response to Diana’s demise, and Helen Mirren ultimately gained an Oscar for enjoying a Queen Elizabeth who needed to be badgered into any form of public expression of grief. The Royal Household positively wasn’t into the thought of Elton John acting at Diana’s funeral, considering that the spectacle can be too sentimental. However the Royals had been talked into it. Billions of individuals world wide watched Diana’s funeral on TV, and people billions noticed Elton singing his new model of “Candle In The Wind.” It could be the one time that he’d ever sing it dwell. Elton has mentioned that he’ll solely sing the music once more if requested by Diana’s sons.

The Royals had been proper; that “Candle In The Wind” efficiency was a sentimental spectacle. The footage of the efficiency — of all of the individuals exterior Westminster Abbey brazenly sobbing whereas watching it — is really affecting. Elton’s voice sounds sturdy and stentorian. Taupin has talked about how he wished his rewritten model of the music to resemble a complete nation saying goodbye, fairly than a single particular person. In that second, Elton John succeeded in giving voice to an entire lot of unhappy individuals. As a singular efficiency, it’s a robust gesture.

Immediately after the funeral, Elton John went to London’s Townhouse Studio and recorded that new “Candle In The Wind” with Beatles producer George Martin. It could be the twenty third and closing Scorching 100 chart-topper that Martin produced, and it will even be the primary since Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s “Say Say Say” obtained there 14 years earlier. Martin added a string quartet, which was the one factor that accompanied Elton’s voice and his piano.

As a bit of music, faraway from its cultural second, that rewritten “Candle In The Wind” suffers compared to those that got here earlier than. Elton’s unique model of the music had an in-the-pocket rhythm part, glam-rock guitar accents, and wailing backup vocals. The 1986 dwell model had a slick, moody synth. “Candle In The Wind 1997” has none of that. The revamped lyrics go for full-on mythic schlock: “You known as out to our nation, and also you whispered to these in ache/ Now you belong to heaven, and the celebs spell out your title.” The second didn’t name out for something difficult, and Elton John did what the second required. He turned his personal music right into a musical sympathy card. Elton knew Diana as an actual particular person, however the actual particular person isn’t what we get within the music. What we get within the music is sheer idealized projection.

Idealized projection is what the world wished. Princess Diana had lived an odd public life. When she obtained married, the world handled her as a real-life Disney princess dwelling out a storybook ending. However that storybook ending hadn’t been the ending, and Diana had made it by way of her husband’s tawdry tabloid affairs and the form of public divorce that was nonetheless stunning to some commentator sorts within the ’90s. Diana remained well-liked — so well-liked, the truth is, that her continued post-divorce presence in public life threatened the general public picture of the Royal Household. (There’s a persistent conspiracy principle that the Royals had Diana assassinated.) A big slice of the general public had recognized with Diana, who appeared like an actual particular person in unreal circumstances, and these individuals had watched Diana’s storybook ending devolve into shame and demise. “Candle In The Wind 1997” handled Diana with a shallow form of dignity, and it linked.

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Elton launched “Candle In The Wind” as a single barely every week after the funeral. The music got here packaged with “One thing About The Approach You Look Tonight,” the lighthearted and vaguely soulful first single from The Large Image, the album that Elton was already planning to launch that month. “One thing About The Approach You Look Tonight” obtained radio play, but it surely’s completely not the rationale that the only bought the way in which that it did. That’s simply pure zeitgeist magic. The one may’ve technically been a double A-side, however that’s not how individuals took it.

Within the UK, the “Candle In The Wind 1997” single bought 1,000,000 and a half copies in its first week. The discharge stretched CD-pressing crops to their breaking level. Individuals had been shopping for a number of copies of that single simply to have them. Within the US, one thing comparable occurred. “Candle In The Wind 1997” didn’t get a ton of radio play. As an alternative, the music maintained a 14-week stranglehold on the #1 spot by way of singles gross sales alone. The brand new “Candle In The Wind” grew to become the primary single ever to rack up diamond-certified gross sales, transferring 11 million copies within the US alone. Around the globe, it moved one thing like 33 million items. Because the single was a profit for Diana’s favourite charities, it raised a fortune for varied good causes.

“Candle In The Wind 1997” was by no means presupposed to final. Elton nonetheless carried out “Candle In The Wind” dwell, however he at all times did the unique model. When the only lastly fell from the charts, radio stations stopped taking part in the 1997 “Candle In The Wind” and returned to the opposite variations. In his memoir, Elton himself expresses discomfort for the way that new “Candle In The Wind” caught hearth. He mentioned that he by no means even listened to the music, besides as soon as, to OK the combination, and that he couldn’t think about why anybody else would wish to hearken to it. When Elton saved seeing footage of the funeral on Prime Of The Pops each week, “it nearly felt like wallowing in her demise, as if the mourning for her had obtained out of hand.” He by no means included that model on any greatest-hits album or another re-release.

On reflection, “Candle In The Wind 1997” was some form of excellent storm. A newly sober Elton John had aged into snug elder-statesman standing, however he’d by no means stopped being a pop star. 5 years earlier, Elton had returned to the #1 spot for the primary time in additional than a decade when he and George Michael launched their dwell model of “Don’t Let The Solar Go Down On Me,” one other much-loved ’70s Elton ballad. (No person has ever been smarter about repackaging their previous songs than Elton John.) Elton John had made a bunch of hits within the ’80s, however that George Michael duet led to an excellent larger industrial second for Elton. Shortly after that music hit #1, Elton made it to #9 along with his single “The One.” (It’s a 7.)

In 1992, Elton John performed with Queen and Weapons N’ Roses at Freddie Mercury’s memorial live performance at Wembley Stadium, after which he performed with GN’R once more on the VMAs. Two years later, Axl Rose inducted Elton into the Rock And Roll Corridor Of Fame. That very same 12 months, Elton had one in every of his biggest-ever industrial successes. He and Tim Rice wrote the songs for The Lion King, and each that film and its soundtrack had been large, overwhelming hits. On the Oscars in 1995, Elton and Rice obtained three of the 5 nominations for Greatest Authentic Track, and so they gained the award for the #4 hit “Can You Really feel The Love Tonight.” (It’s a 7.)

In 1997, the 50-year-old Elton John was about as established as a pop star might presumably be, and he was using an entire new wave of recognition. The world knew about his friendship with Princess Diana, and the music grew to become a form of avatar for its second. “Candle In The Wind 1997” doesn’t actually work in dialog with the opposite pop music of 1997, besides possibly with that little wave of dead-celebrity ballads. I believe that most of the individuals who purchased the CD single weren’t lively customers of pop music. In a means, although, Elton John did one thing just like what Puff Daddy did with “I’ll Be Lacking You” a number of months earlier. He tailored a well-known piece of music to say goodbye to a well-known pal who’d simply suffered a sudden automotive demise. It’s simply that the music Elton tailored was his personal.

By nearly each measure, “Candle In The Wind 1997” is now the biggest-selling single in historical past. There’s some risk that Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” the earlier champion, had bought extra copies within the US, but it surely’s slightly tougher to hint the numbers on one thing that got here out in 1942. In contrast, we all know precisely how enormous “Candle In The Wind 1997” was. This was a one-off phenomenon, and it didn’t actually apply to the remainder of Elton John’s profession. His album The Large Image, which didn’t embrace the “Candle In The Wind” rewrite, went platinum, simply as Elton’s earlier album had completed. Meaning it bought a few tenth of what the “Candle In The Wind” single racked up. His subsequent single, 1998’s “Recuperate Your Soul,” peaked at #55.

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Within the 25 years since “Candle In The Wind 1997,” Elton John has completed an entire lot of issues. He gained a Tony for teaming up with Tim Rice once more to write down the songs for the 1999 Broadway musical Aida. The Lion King additionally grew to become a Broadway musical — probably the most profitable Broadway musical in historical past. Elton went on to write down music for the West Finish adaptation of Billy Elliot, the play that helped flip present Spider-Man Tom Holland right into a star. Elton saved making his personal data, and he grew to become a frequent visitor on data for different individuals — for Alice In Chains, Woman Gaga, Queens Of The Stone Age, Kanye West, and a gang of others. Famously, Elton sang “Stan” with Eminem on the Grammys in 2001, giving Em a simple out on all of his extraordinarily justified accusations of homophobia. (“Stan” peaked at #51. Eminem will ultimately seem on this column.)

Today, Elton is a daily at massive and glamorous to-dos just like the Grammys. He obtained his personal biopic, and he gained a second Oscar for writing a music for that biopic’s soundtrack. I favored it when Elton performed himself in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, doing a CGI-assisted motion scene. Elton is a enjoyable particular person to have round, largely as a result of he appears to actually love music. On issues like his Apple Music radio present, Elton has enthusiastically supported artists means youthful and fewer well-known than him, and his tastes are unusual and interesting. I like the story about Elton going right into a Vancouver report retailer to ask if that they had something by the cultish Kansas Metropolis rapper Tech N9ne, then shopping for out the shop’s entire Scritti Politti choice once they didn’t have any Tech N9ne.

“Candle In The Wind 1997” was a exceptional late-career #1 hit, and Elton hasn’t been again to #1 since. Proper now, Elton John is 75 years previous, and he’s within the midst of a farewell tour that began means the hell again in 2018. In nearly another circumstance, that is the purpose the place I might say that we gained’t see Elton John on this column once more. With this man, although, I’m not so certain, particularly given what occurred earlier this 12 months.

Final 12 months, Elton John teamed up with Dua Lipa for “Chilly Coronary heart (Pnau Remix).” (Dua Lipa’s two highest-charting singles, 2019’s “Don’t Begin Now” and 2021’s “Levitating,” each peaked at #2. “Don’t Begin Now” is a 9, and “Levitating” is an 8.) “Chilly Coronary heart (Pnau Remix)” stitches collectively a bunch of lyrics and melodies from songs that Elton initially recorded within the ’70s and ’80s, placing them over a streamlined dance beat. As soon as once more, Elton John has discovered a sensible technique to take songs that he wrote a long time in the past and to current them, as soon as once more, to the general public. “Chilly Coronary heart (Pnau Remix)” hit #1 within the UK, and this previous January, it reached a peak of #7 within the US. (It’s an 8.) That music is Elton’s first top-10 hit in America since “Candle In The Wind 1997,” and it’s a hell of an end-cap on a profession that’s lasted greater than 50 years. Provided that form of savvy, I can’t be remotely stunned if we see Elton John on this column once more.

GRADE: 5/10

BONUS BEATS: Right here’s the quilt of “Candle In The Wind 1997” that Euro-dance duo La Bouche additionally launched in 1997:

(La Bouche’s highest-charting single, 1995’s “Be My Lover,” peaked at #6. It’s an 8.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s Craig David masking the OG “Candle In The Wind” dwell on some goofy-ass TV present in 2003:

(Craig David’s highest-charting US single, 2000’s “7 Days,” peaked at #10. It’s a 7.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s Chris Pratt singing a form of “Candle In The Wind” parody on a 2011 episode of Parks & Recreation:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s Lauren Alaina singing OG “Candle In The Wind” on a 2011 episode of American Idol:

(Lauren Alaina’s highest-charting single, 2011’s “Like My Mom Does,” peaked at #20. American Idol will ultimately determine into this column. Judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez will present up right here, too.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Elton John’s occasional duet accomplice Ed Sheeran has launched a number of totally different covers of OG “Candle In The Wind.” Right here’s the model that Sheeran recorded for a 2018 Elton tribute album:

(Ed Sheeran will ultimately seem on this column.)

THE NUMBER TWOS: Usher’s weightless R&B jam “You Make Me Wanna” peaked at #2 behind “Candle In The Wind” 1997. It’s an 8.

THE ASTERISK: Whereas “Candle In The Wind 1997” was at #1, Sugar Ray’s Tremendous Cat-assisted corndog-rock sunburst “Fly” kicked off a four-week run at #1 on Billboard‘s Radio Songs chart. That is yet one more case of successful music that by no means charted on the Scorching 100 as a result of it was by no means formally launched as a single within the US. If “Fly” had been in a position to compete, it most likely would’ve made it to #1. It’s a 9.