“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” is an Elton John song from his album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.
The song concludes side one of the album’s narrative, chronicling the early history of John and lyricist Bernie Taupin and their struggles to find their place within the music industry. When released as the album’s only single in 1975, it was the first album to ever enter at #1 in the history of music on the Billboard Hot 100 and entered the top 25 on the UK Singles Chart. In the U.S., it was certified Gold on 10 September 1975 by the RIAA. In Canada, the single narrowly missed being his ninth number one there, hitting #2 on the RPM 100 national Top Singles chart on August 30.
Taupin’s lyric refers to a time in 1968, before John was popular as a musician, when John was engaged to be married to girlfriend Linda Woodrow. John and Woodrow were sharing a flat with Taupin in Furlong Road in Highbury, London, hence the opening line “When I think of those East End lights.” While having serious doubts about the looming marriage, John contemplated suicide. He took refuge in his friends, especially Long John Baldry, who convinced John to abandon his plans to marry in order to salvage and maintain his musical career. After “sticking his head in the gas oven, but with the windows open”, his parents arrived the next day, in a van, to take him back to their apartment in Pinner.
As a sign of respect and gratitude to Baldry, Taupin wrote him into the song as the “someone” in the title, and also as “Sugar Bear”.
Comparisons can[according to whom?] be drawn to the earlier John/Taupin composition Skyline Pigeon – as both songs contain the metaphor of a creature flying free towards the sky to signify escape from marriage, with the creature in this case being a butterfly.
Some radio stations altered the song or refused to play it due to the use of the phrase “Damn it” in the second verse.
In the liner notes to the Deluxe Edition of Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy, writer Paul Gambaccini related a recollection from producer Gus Dudgeon. During the recording of the song’s lead vocal, Dudgeon said he was pushing John for more in terms of his delivery of the vocal, not paying attention to the lyric. According to Gambaccini, guitarist Davey Johnstone leaned over and told Dudgeon, “You know he’s singing about killing himself.” Dudgeon was apparently mortified by the revelation and relented.
At 6:45 this was one of John’s longest singles and was supposed to be edited to a shorter version for radio consumption. However, John refused to let MCA Records cut it down, saying that it was to be released as a whole, and the record company acquiesced. Its B-Side song, “House of Cards”, was recorded by UK singer Linda Kendrick.
John has played the song live many times, one of the best known recorded performances coming during the Central Park concert in September 1980.
Elton John – piano, Rhodes piano, ARP String Ensemble synthesizer, vocals
Davey Johnstone – Leslied electric guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Dee Murray – bass guitar, backing vocals
Nigel Olsson – drums, backing vocals
Ray Cooper – tambourine, shaker, cymbal