Behind The Song: Elton John, “Your Song”

Written by Bernie Taupin and Elton John

Videos by American Songwriter

There is always a time and a place for great songs to appear. “Your Song,” which Elton John recorded for 1970’s self-titled sophomore record, appeared on an otherwise normal morning at the breakfast table.

Then 17-years-old, lyricist Bernie Taupin scribbled down the stark, simple and poetic words one morning in 1969. He was sharing a bunk bed at John’s mother’s apartment in Northwood Hills, an area in the north-west of London, and the song came down like a bolt of lightning. “The early [songs] were not drawn from experience but imagination,” Taupin once said. “ ’Your Song’ could only have been written by a 17-year-old who’d never been laid in his life.” 

In a blog post, dated November 30, 2018, Taupin corrected a prevalent falsehood around the song’s origins. “So, supposedly I wrote the lyrics on the roof of 20 Denmark Street in London’s Tin Pan Alley while waiting for Elton to finish work, hence, ‘I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss,’” he wrote. “OK… I’ve never been in nor do I know where 20 Denmark Street is, so I can only assume it is where Elton (then Reg Dwight) worked as a gopher for Mills Music.”

“The problem here is that Elton worked there in this capacity three years before we were introduced. He was already a professional musician by the time we met in ‘67. As for the sitting on the roof bit, fanciful icing on the cake, I imagine,” he continued. “Believe me, nobody back then would have allowed some unfamiliar teenage friend of the tea boy to be perched precariously on their roof scribbling away like some hayseed Byron, romantic imagery, indeed.”

“How wonderful life is while you’re in the world,” reads the sweeping refrain. There is a magical innocence that is forever embedded in the lyrics. John’s delivery is as straightforward and lilting. “I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss / Well, a few of the verses, well, they’ve got me quite cross / But the sun’s been quite kind while I wrote this song / It’s for people like you that keep it turned on,” he sings.

Lyrically, the love song is drawn with vague references to an unnamed lover. Taupin claimed the song was written with no one particular lover in mind, while John has often commented that it is based on an ex-girlfriend of his. “What can I say, it’s a perfect song. It gets better every time I sing it. 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.

“Your Song” was written in roughly 20 minutes, and once John was finished composing the music, he called Taupin back into the room. “We both knew. I was 22, and he was 19, and it gave us so much confidence. The older I get, the more I sing these lyrics, and the more they resonate with me.”

“Your Song” became John’s breakout hit and would lead to a long, healthy creative career between the two. “It was one of the first songs we wrote when we really got locked into writing and when we had really honed our craft after writing all this sort of early bits and pieces that never surfaced,” Taupin told acclaimed author Paul Zollo in “More Songwriters on Songwriting” (2016). “The great thing about that song is that the naivete of it is truly honest. It’s real. It’s not somebody pretending to write a song that is simple and naive. It is a simple, naive song. And it still stands up.”

“Your Song” peaked at No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot 100. In the UK, the song would climb to No. 7 on the singles chart.

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