“Candle in the Wind” is a threnody with music and lyrics by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. It was originally written in 1973, in honour of Marilyn Monroe, who had died 11 years earlier.
In 1997, John performed a rewritten version of the song as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales. This version of the song was released as a single and reached No. 1 in many countries, proving a much greater success than the original, officially being listed as the second best-selling single of all time, behind Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”.
The original version in the key of E major appeared on John’s 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road recorded in May 1973 and released in 1974. The lyrics of the song are a sympathetic portrayal of the life of Marilyn Monroe. (The song’s opening line “Goodbye, Norma Jean” refers to Monroe’s real name, Norma Jeane (more commonly spelled Jean) Baker.) In the Eagle Vision documentary on the making of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Taupin said the song is about “the idea of fame or youth or somebody being cut short in the prime of their life. The song could have been about James Dean, it could have been about Montgomery Clift, it could have been about Jim Morrison … how we glamorise death, how we immortalise people.” The single release of the original song reached No. 11 in the UK charts in 1974. At the time, it was not released as a single in the United States (“Bennie and the Jets” was chosen instead). Taupin was inspired to write the song after hearing the phrase “candle in the wind” used in tribute to Janis Joplin.
This version is ranked #347 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. On the other hand, composer Gruff Rhys called it the worst song he had ever heard.
During a concert on 7 April 1990, at Farm Aid IV, John dedicated the song to Ryan White, who had been suffering from AIDS. White died from AIDS complications the next day.
“Candle in the Wind 1997” or “Goodbye England’s Rose” is a re-recording of “Candle in the Wind” as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales. Released in 1997, the song peaked at No. 1 in the United Kingdom, becoming John’s fourth No. 1 single. It also peaked at No. 1 in several other countries. The Guinness Book of Records in 2007 stated that “Candle in the Wind 1997” is the biggest-selling single “since records began”, but that Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” has sold the most copies. The record of this version was produced by George Martin.
Using the same vocal take as the original 1973 recording, engineer Greg Penny stripped away all instrumentation except Davey Johnstone’s acoustic guitar. Even the double-tracking of the lead vocal was removed, leaving Elton and the original backing vocal arrangement of Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnstone. The remix first appeared as a bonus track on the 30th Anniversary edition of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and subsequently on the 2003 EP Remixed.