"Someone Saved My Life Tonight
" was a big hit for Elton John
, taken from the 1975
album, "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy
"Someone Saved My Life Tonight" is one of the most noteworthy Elton John songs for several reasons. Firstly, and simply, it is just a really high quality song. As with almost every Elton John song, particularly the well-known ones of which there are many, it has an introduction that is immediately recognisable. An average listener will only need to hear about a second of the song before they can tell what it is. The powerful ascending and descening bass notes have a very striking effect. Elton John's vast and creative knowledge of musical structures and themes is demonstrated in this song. Those with a musical education (of which I cannot claim to be) will find that Elton uses very unconventional chord progressions. The effect of this clever chord manipulation is that one cannot ever really tell what key the song is in. It is a hallmark of Elton John's style that he will often use chords that would not traditionally fit within the key he is playing in, yet somehow seem to fit nonetheless.
The piano accompaniment is quite simple however, consisting largly of chords played in a fourth-note rhythm, and occasionally, in pretty much an eighth-note rhythm when the song builds up. The vocal melody is also striking as it fluctuates from a comfortable middle range of notes suddenly up nearly an octave into a falsetto register, then back again. There is a great use of backing vocals on this track, which is unusual for Elton John. Elton was influenced by Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson on these.
A further factor in the greatness of this song lies, I feel, in its autobiographical basis. The album "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" is a collection of such autobiographical songs based on the lives of Elton John (Captain Fantastic), and lyricist Bernie Taupin (the Brown Dirt Cowboy).
"Someone Saved My Life Tonight" has great emotional content. It tells a tale from a very difficult time in Elton John's life. It was at this time that he attempted suicide by leaving a gas oven on, but fortunately, he had left the windows open. Elton later referred to this as his "Woody Allen suicide attempt". Specifically, this song refers to the events surrounding this incident. At age 21, Elton was involved in a relationship with a particularly strong willed and abusive woman who was just using him for what she could get out of him. She had bullied him into agreeing to marry her and on the eve of the wedding, Elton was persuaded out of going through with the marriage by his friend "Long" John Baldry (from whom Elton took half of his name - Elton John was born with the name Reginald Kenneth Dwight). Baldry is therefore the someone who saved his life in the song.
Elton John has no doubt that the marriage would have ruined his life and destroyed his music career. In the song this is reflected in the lyric;
"I'm sick and tired, thank God my music's still alive"
This is just one of many examples of Bernie Taupin expressing Elton John's personal feelings so well, it is as if they came from Elton himself. The two men make a perfect team. The lyrics can be quite emotive in "Someone Saved My Life Tonight", and the emotions range from relief to vindictiveness. This is doubtlessly refective of Elton's own rollercoaster of emotions after Baldry saved him from the marriage. A particularly strong lyric reflecting many aspects of the situation is;
"You almost had your hooks in me, didn't you dear?
You nearly had me roped and tied,
Altar bound, hypnotized,
Sweet freedom whispered in my ear,
"You're a butterfly and butterflys are free to fly,
Fly away, high away""
I think that speaks for itself.
When I first heard "Someone Saved My Life Tonight", I really liked it, but after I found out what the song was actually about, my appreciation for it grew and the exquisitely penned lyrics of Bernie Taupin made sense. Altogether, the song reflects the genius of Elton John and Bernie Taupin and many reckon it to be the pinnacle of their work.
Classic Hits: Elton John, Todd Lowry, Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, 2002.
The sleeve of the "Elton John Greatest Hits 1970-2002" album, Mercury Records, 2003.