’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” / “Candle In The Wind 1997”
The one hundred twelfth No. 1 song of the 1990s was the Double A-sided single “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” / “Candle in The Wind 1997” by Elton John. This release was the third and last Double A-sided single to top the Billboard Hot 100 in the ’90s, following two-for-one tracks by 2Pac and Toni Braxton. It would be John’s ninth and final No. 1 hit in the U.S., if you include “That’s What Friends Are For,” credited to Dionne & Friends. Following this, John would land on the Hot 100 three more times, as recently as 2000, never cracking the Top 20. From that narrow perspective, this release could be seen as John’s grand exit from the mainstream Pop music stage, but of course his career and impact are far greater than his success on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
This release, which as of this writing is the second best-selling single in history behind Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” came in at No. 1 for the year 1997 and No. 8 for the year 1998. Safe to say the single has a unique history. By late 1997, John’s career had somewhat slowed down. He’d enjoyed some success with his contributions to the soundtrack to the 1994 animated Disney feature The Lion King, but by and large he was seen as a bygone Adult Contemporary act, and not someone whose output was likely to be embraced by Top 40 radio. On Aug. 31, 1997, Princess Diana, a dear friend of John’s, died in a Paris car crash. A week later, at her internationally broadcast funeral on Sept. 6, John performed an updated, rewritten version of his popular tribute to Marilyn Monroe, “Candle In The Wind,” which has an interesting history of its own because it originally hit shelves in 1974 but didn’t chart in the U.S. until 1988, when a live 1986 concert recording of the song peaked at No. 6.
Meanwhile, unrelated to Princes Diana’s death, John was preparing to promote his studio album The Big Picture, and chose the ballad “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” to be the lead single. It was packaged with “Candle In The Wind 1997” and released in the U.S. two weeks after the funeral, with proceeds going toward charities near and dear to Diana. The single would eventually raise $53m globally for the memorial fund in her honor.
From a commercial standpoint, this strategy leaves open the very real question of whether “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” was popular in its own right. It was. In fact, it achieved a higher peak on the Radio Songs chart than “Candle In The Wind 1997” — No. 18 vs. No. 21 — and topped the Adult Contemporary chart for 10 weeks, separately from “Candle In The Wind,” which reached No. 5 on that tally. Based on that alone, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that John would’ve had a modest hit on his hands regardless of “Candle In The Wind 1997.” But, of course, it’s the Diana tribute to which the record-breaking sales of the single are justifiably attributed.
By the way, it’s worth mentioning that when a song enjoys a 14-week run at No. 1, it consequently prevents other artists from from reaching the summit. In this case, they were: Usher, who spent seven weeks sidelined at No. 2 with his breakthrough hit, “U Make Me Wanna…“; LeAnn Rimes, who spent three weeks in the runner-up position with “How Do I Live“; and Puff Daddy & The Family f/ The Notorious B.I.G. and Mase, who spent two weeks at No. 2 with “Been Around The World.”
Listen once again to “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” and “Candle In The Wind 1997”:
Let’s start with “Something About The Way You Look Tonight.” This is a cleanly produced Blues serenade well-suited for radio play, and somewhat foreshadowing to John’s 2001 releases “I Want Love” and “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore.” It’s nice. Our only criticism, which we had at the time, is the pace of the lyrical delivery being too slogging. The tempo of the song is fine, but the lyrics are delivered in such small pieces that it takes a long time for a point to be made. The chorus alone is one long sentence delivered over 50 full seconds. It tries the listener’s patience a bit. But the basic components are all lovely.
Regarding “Candle In The Wind 1997”: This melody is magic. Both the original version about Marilyn Monroe as well as this remake about Princess Diana are emotive without being overwrought, introspective and respectful to the women being honored. We can remember having initial doubts about John re-purposing the song for Diana’s funeral, and wondering why he couldn’t just do a song as it was, or something new. Looking back, what he and lyricist Bernie Taupin did here was pitch perfect. John demonstrated commendable composure given the circumstances. The death of Princess Diana was a devastating shock to the world. We were freshmen in college. I (John) still remember exactly where I was when I heard the news, and was understandably stunned. I also remember watching the televised funeral service and tearing up about 5 seconds into John’s performance.
Does it hold up? “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” somewhat disappears into John’s catalog. “Candle In The Wind” will always be considered an Elton John classic. This particular version, though, was occasion-driven. Since Diana’s funeral, John has never performed it live. There is still interest in Diana’s death, with coverage on the troublesome circumstances that surrounded it still inspiring films and television specials, and references to the late princess continuously made as we watch her sons grow up, marry and become fathers. The performance of “Candle In The Wind 1997” was an important cultural milestone, and lives on for that reason alone.
Dopeness: 4 out of 5 Birkenstocks
“Something About The Way You Look Tonight” \ “Candle In The Wind 1997”
14 weeks at No. 1, starting Oct. 11, 1997
Preceded by: “4 Seasons Of Loneliness,” Boyz II Men
Followed by: “Truly Madly Deeply,” Savage Garden
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?