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‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’: The Elton John Epic That Took 17 Years To Hit No.1

The stirring John-Taupin composition was one of many they wrote in a purple patch for the ‘Caribou’ album.

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Elton John in 1974. Photo: Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images
Elton John in 1974. Photo: Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

It took 17 years to become a No.1, but the fact that “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” has been one of the staples of Elton John’s unparalleled career was underlined by its place in his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour set lists about half a century after he recorded it.

The stirring John-Taupin composition was one of many they wrote in a purple patch of creativity while writing for what became the Caribou album. Elton’s eighth studio set was released in June 1974, a month after “Don’t Let The Sun…” became its first single, and just as the 45 was taking flight. The song was the highest new entry on the Billboard Hot 100 for June 22, at a promising No.70, arriving in the same week as two singles that would overtake it and reach No.1, Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and Andy Kim’s “Rock Me Gently.”

Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Remastered 1995)

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Billboard’s album review picked out “Don’t Let The Sun” as one of its best cuts, alongside “Stinker,” “Solar Prestige A Gammon,” and “Dixie Lilly” – but not, interestingly, “The Bitch Is Back,” which would share space in the US Top 10 in the fall, alongside John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” on which Elton featured. As “Sun” rose, his album profile was high even before Caribou took a bow, with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road still in the Top 10 in its 36th chart week, and Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player still in the Top 100 after 72 weeks.

“Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” featured impressive and impactful backing vocals by Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys and Toni Tennille, who would find fame the following year as one half of the Captain & Tennille. The duo’s US chart-topping version of Neil Sedaka’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” would mark the start of consistent success for the rest of the decade. As for the Beach Boys, another fine example of Wilson and Johnston’s talents as backing vocalists for Elton would come on the excellent “Since God Invented Girls,” the closing track on his 1989 album Reg Strikes Back.

Bernie Taupin said later of “Don’t Let The Sun”: “My only recollections of this is that we wanted to write something big. I mean, big in that dramatic Spectory style, like ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.’ Hopefully being powerful without being pompous. I’m not sure that with this in mind it made me fashion the lyrics any differently. Although, in retrospect, they do seem to have a slightly more Brill Building flair to them, so it’s entirely possible that I did.”

The 1974 single climbed to No.2 in the US and spent two weeks there, held off the top by John Denver’s “Annie’s Song.” It was quite a result for a recording of which Elton always said that he strongly disliked his vocal performance. Indeed, “Don’t Let The Sun” did top the chart in Canada, and reached No.3 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart, on which Elton was as much a fixture as he was on the Hot 100.

Perhaps disappointingly, it peaked at No.16 in the UK, where in 1975, he told the New Musical Express: “I didn’t think ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down’ was a hit single, I just liked the song and it meant a lot to me.” But after covers including those by Roger Daltrey and Joe Cocker, the song would shine again in late 1991, when Elton guested on George Michael’s live version at Wembley Arena, recreating the duet they had performed over the road at Wembley Stadium for Live Aid, six years earlier.

George Michael, Elton John - Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Live)

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The live recording was an instant smash, topping the UK chart for two weeks, the US Adult Contemporary listing for two, and the Hot 100 for one. It was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group, and proceeds went to the London Lighthouse and the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity. Later versions have accrued by Gloria Estefan, Bettye Lavette, Garth Brooks, and Engelbert Humperdinck, and in 2018, the honor of remaking “Don’t Let The Sun” for the Elton covers project Revamp went to Miley Cyrus.

Buy or stream “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” on Caribou.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. StoriesIG

    June 24, 2023 at 8:04 am

    Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” is a timeless classic that has resonated with music lovers for decades. The song’s heartfelt lyrics and soulful melody are a testament to Elton John’s musical genius and the enduring power of his music. It’s no wonder that this song has remained a favorite among fans and critics alike. Alex Cool.

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