Elton John first released “Candle in the Wind” in 1974 as a memorial to Marilyn Monroe. Almost a quarter-century later, when his good friend Diana Princess of Wales, died in an automobile accident, John was inconsolable. He discussed with his longtime writing partner and lyricist Bernie Taupin the possibility of adapting their classic song in memory of Diana. Within a few days, the new version was ready. He performed it at Diana’s funeral, and a studio version was released. It was not only more successful than the original version but indeed went on to become one of the best-selling singles of all time, behind only “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. It captured the imagination and hearts of people worldwide who had just lost one of the most beloved public figures of the century.
Elton John has been one of the most popular performers in the world for nearly half a century. Together with his longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin he has written hundreds of songs, including dozens of smash hit singles, making him one of the highest-selling musicians of all time. But who would have imagined that his greatest success would come from a revision of one of his oldest songs?
“A Day in the Life” by The Beatles
Rounding out Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” can be described as ethereal, trippy, and evocative. The main theme of the lyrics describes a man experiencing confusing and conflicting emotions as he gets up in the morning and reads the newspaper. John Lennon was the primary songwriter of this track. It was inspired by a car crash that claimed the life of his friend, the 21-year-old heir to the Guinness empire, Tara Browne. Lennon adapted the story in the Daily Mail newspaper into the first two verses of the song.
Even the third verse, the enigmatic one about “holes” filling the Albert Hall, was adapted from another article in the same edition of the same newspaper. The article was about the numerous holes in England’s roads, and Lennon was inspired to make it a little more psychedelic.
“Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John
Rock star Elton John and tennis star Billie Jean King made for an unlikely friendship, but a deep and lasting friendship they nevertheless forged. John asked his longtime songwriting partner and lyricist Bernie Taupin to help him write a song in her honor, to be called “Philadelphia Freedom” after her professional tennis team, the Philadelphia Freedoms. Taupin claimed he had no idea how to write a song about tennis. In the end, Taupin wrote a song about life, and every listener simply filled in the meaning in their own head about what the song meant to them. The song was a smash number-one hit single.
Over the years, Elton John and Billie Jean King have leveraged their friendship and their respective fame to create a major philanthropic movement that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS causes and LGBT rights causes as well.
“I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash
One of the most defining country-western musicians ever created one of his biggest hits with “I Walk the Line” shortly after his marriage to Vivian Liberto, his first wife. He meant it as a declaration of fidelity since she was his first wife. While we can't speak about fidelity, Cash would eventually divorce Liberto in order to marry June Carter.
In the 2005 biopic about the man in black, the song was used as a ballad to help Cash woo Carter, a slight manipulation of events, one has to admit. It's still one of the most famous country songs ever.
“Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones
Despite having a name that is anything but gentle, this delicate love song has gone down as a sweet staple of this legendary British rock band. While the band the Flying Burrito Brothers released a version first, it all came from the Stones. Mick Jagger was hanging out with Gram Parsons, who was part of the FBB, and just came up with some music.
Keith Richards had just had a son and hated spending time away, but eventually, it became a little more of a love song for Marianne Faithfull, who was in a relationship with Jagger at the time.