Classic Rock Landmarks: Tiny Dancer


Elton John on stage in 1971. CC by SA 2.0. 1 credit

“Hold me close, young Tony Danza.”

In a 1996 episode of Friends, Phoebe Buffay, the endearing moron played by Lisa Kudrow, said the most romantic song of all time was the one Elton John wrote for the guy on Who’s the boss. “Hold me close, young Tony Danza.”

Never mind that Tony Danza, who first achieved national prominence in 1978 on the hit television series Taxi and later performed on who is the bosswas an unknown student in 1970 when Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics to “Tiny Dancer”.

The actual lyrics, “Hold me close tiny dancer”, were penned by Taupin during the Englishman’s first trip to the United States, and the song made its relatively modest worldwide debut on November 5.e1971, as the opening track of Elton John’s fourth album, Crazy through the water.

Alright, so “Tiny Dancer” wasn’t written for Tony Danza. Sorry, Pheebs. But who was Elton John singing in the song only 50 years after its release? rolling stone magazine named 47e greatest song of all time?

Would you believe that when Elton recorded ‘Tiny Dancer’ at Trident Studios in London in August 1971, he sang those tender, loving words about Maxine, Bernie Taupin’s wife?

Well, sort of.

Taupin was a budding poet in 1967. At just 17, he answered an ad from Liberty Records in the New musical express newspaper; the label was looking for songwriters, so he sent in some of his words. A 20-year-old pianist named Reggie Dwight saw the same ad. He was supporting Long John Baldry at the time but was looking to branch out on his own, so he sent in a tape of his music. Taupin didn’t play music and Dwight didn’t write lyrics, so someone at the record company gave Reg a sealed envelope randomly from the submitted lyrics – coincidentally, it was Bernie’s. .

Twenty-five years later, Taupin and Dwight, who changed his name to Elton Hercules John shortly after their chance encounter, have been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. And the process has always been pretty much the same: Taupin writes a few words and Elton adds music. They’ve done it together hundreds of times, and sometimes it put Elton in the awkward position of singing words that are quite personal to Bernie. This is the case of “Tiny Dancer”.

Elton John played his first show in America in August 1970 at the famous Troubadour club in West Hollywood, California (which hosted the debut shows of a surprising number of future superstars, including Jackson Browne, The Byrds, Carole King, Bonnie Raitt , James Taylor, Eagles and Linda Ronstadt). Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics for “Tiny Dancer” around this time.

“It was as if the sun had just shone from the people,” Taupin once said. “I guess I was trying to capture the spirit of that era, encapsulated by the women we met, especially in the clothing stores, restaurants, and bars all along the Sunset Strip. It was these free spirits, sexy, all tights and lace blouses, very ethereal in the way they moved. They were so different from what I had been used to in England. They had this thing about embroidering your clothes. They wanted to sew patches on your jeans. They mothered you and slept with you. It was the perfect Oedipus complex.

When he started writing the lyrics, Taupin’s “blue jean baby” was not a woman, but rather an amalgamation of the women he met. One of these women, Maxine Feibelman, soon became Taupin’s girlfriend, and at the time Elton recorded the song she was Mrs. Taupin (“you will marry a musician”). Although Maxine was initially just one of the California women who inspired Taupin’s lyrical musings, “Tiny Dancer” ended up being dedicated to her in the liner notes on Crazy through the water. And why not? Maxine, according to the story, actually sewed patches on Elton’s (“band‘s seamstress”) clothes and the Rocketman was quick to credit her for inspiring his lavish stage outfits. .

Producer Gus Dudgeon, who had also helmed Elton’s previous three albums, arranged “Tiny Dancer” around Elton’s circular piano figure and soft, vulnerable voice (as if singing for a reclining lover next to him). As the song builds, his voice eventually turns into an authoritative falsetto, just as the arrangement explodes into an onslaught of piano strokes from Elton augmented by a low-key, dramatic 10-string chorus and Paul Buckmaster. Pervasive pedal steel guitar gives the song an underlying American feel, a carryover from John’s Tumbleweed Login LP of the previous year.

“Tiny Dancer” is over 6 minutes long and due to the way it goes from soft to heavy, there was no effective way to cut it down to the three-minute presentation demanded by the radio. Plus, too many radio programmers freaked out over the line, “Jesus freaks/Out in the street,” so “Tiny Dancer” never really had a chance of being a hit single when it was released. filmed in 1972; its 41st place on the US pop charts was disappointing and anything but indicative of the song’s popularity. Fortunately, the nascent progressive rock FM radio format wasn’t put off by the length or the politically incorrect line, so “Tiny Dancer” had a chance to be heard by a growing audience.

But although “Tiny Dancer” has been a classic rock radio favorite for decades, it took on a whole new life in 2000 when writer/director Cameron Crowe used it at a pivotal moment in his semi-biographical film, rock & roll-initiated. almost known. With the fictional band from the movie Stillwater fractured after the guitarist falls victim to a stereotypical rock star moment, the band find themselves on the tour bus in a make-or-break situation when Elton’s piano starts playing softly under the clumsiness. palpable. Viewers knew at that point, even if the band didn’t quite know it yet, that everything would be fine. This is truly one of the great scenes in rock & roll movie history.

“Tiny Dancer” in the movie Almost Famous

It’s not like “Tiny Dancer” was a forgotten song until almost known (just ask Phoebe Buffay), but the movie gave him a life he long deserved but never fully enjoyed.

Ask Elton Hercules John.

“I used to play ‘Tiny Dancer’ in England and it was falling like a leaden zeppelin,” he said rolling stone in 2011. “Cameron [Crowe] revived this song.

Dave Grohl covers “Tiny Dancer” on Craig Kilborn

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