The Elton John song “Tiny Dancer” (lyrics by Bernie Taupin) is in my iTunes library because of its use in the sing-along scene of Almost Famous, the Cameron Crowe movie from 2000 in which a touring rock band, its crew and entourage are touchingly reunited by the song after some tension involving LSD, “real people,” and a jump from a roof into a swimming pool at a teenage house party.
The song is from Elton John’s fourth album, Madman Across the Water, released in 1971. As a single, “Tiny Dancer” only reached #41 on the U.S. pop chart. Among the “Tiny Dancer” tidbits at Songfacts.com is this:
Elton was pleasantly surprised to learn about this song’s use in Almost Famous, as it didn’t always get a great reaction when he performed it live. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2011, Elton recalled: “Jeffrey Katzenberg called me and said, ‘There’s a scene in this film which is going to make ‘Tiny Dancer’ a hit all over again.’ When I saw it, I said, ‘Oh my God!’ I used to play ‘Tiny Dancer’ in England and it would go down like a lead zeppelin. Cameron resurrected that song.”
“Tiny Dancer” was finally certified gold on May 19, 2005. It came up in my iTunes shuffle recently, prompting warm memories of that movie scene, and inspiring me to try to figure out how to play the song on acoustic guitar.
Browsing through similar efforts of others at YouTube, I was soon reminded that Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl had travelled this peculiar road years before — with absolute mastery, and before a live studio audience on The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn on February 16th, 2001. One of the compelling aspects of the song that Grohl expresses so brilliantly is the ridiculous nature of its lyrics. Take the opening line, for example:
Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band
As I write, the song’s Wikipedia entry mockingly explains that this is “because there are so many band seamstresses in California.”
Back at Songfacts.com, we read about Maxine Feibelmann, who is said to have sewn costumes and fixed clothes for Elton John and his band while travelling with them on tour as Bernie Taupin’s girlfriend, one of the many inspirations he discovered during his first trip to America.
Elsewhere on the web, we find a photo of Bernie Taupin and Maxine Feibelman with Elton John on their wedding day in 1971, along with further expalnation of the “Tiny Dancer” lyrics: “A trained dancer, she would spend most of the shows dancing at the side of the stage.”
Presumably, this would have been “In the auditorium.”
The couple reportedly divorced in 1976.
Currently, on Bernie Taupin’s own website, the song’s lyrics page includes a three-and-a-half minute audio exegesis of his lyrics, in which Taupin offers a dramatic reading of his own “definitive answer” of the “misread” song’s “true meaning,” as entrusted to Rolling Stone writer Gavin Edwards.
Before that, though, Taupin goes to great lengths to “dispel” the “biggest misconception” about the song — that it was written about his first wife, simply because it happened to be dedicated to her on the album cover. He notes that even “Elton himself, in an early documentary” once stated the song was about Taupin’s girlfriend. Taupin, with “no disrespect,” asserts that Elton is “notorious” for misreading his true meanings.
Over at Gavin Edwards’ website, we read Taupin’s definitive answer — and Taupin’s laughter at the suggestion that the song is really about Elton’s penis. The passage is excerpted from Edwards’ 2010 book, Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed.
Last Christmas Day, Chicago Tribune writer Phil Rosenthal posted this tweet:
Fun to watch this Elton John documentary from 40 years ago (11 years before This is Spinal Tap): http://t.co/MxFxXBJnBz
— Phil Rosenthal (@phil_rosenthal) December 25, 2013
The Elton John Story (a.k.a. Say Goodbye Norma Jean and Other Things), a 1973 British documentary produced and directed by Bryan Forbes, is simultaneously hilarious in an almost Monty Python way — and awesome for the empire that Elton John forged out of such tenuous materials. In the film, Bernie Taupin (seen walking the country lanes of Lincolnshire with “his American wife Maxine”) talks of spending three to four hours a day for two weeks out of the year to write his 24 to 30 songs for Elton. Guitarist Davey Johnstone admits, “It’s a bit of a silly life, really.”
“Tiny Dancer” is not mentioned — but another Elton John / Bernie Taupin classic featured in live performance footage is “Crocodile Rock.”
I was wondering about this song the other day. Is it some sort of allusion to Bill Haley’s “See You Later, Alligator”?
Reportedly, “Crocodile Rock” was inspired by a 1971 song Elton loved, called “Eagle Rock” by an Australian band named Daddy Cool.
The similarity of the song’s chorus to the falsetto refrain of Pat Boone’s 1962 hit “Speedy Gonzales” (featuring Mel Blanc) led to a 1974 lawsuit on behalf of “Speedy Gonzales” composer Buddy Kaye that was eventaully settled out of court.