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Mar 14

ELTON JOHN – “Candle In The Wind ’97” / “Something About The Way You Look Tonight”

Popular146 comments • 19,577 views

#774, 20th September 1997

citw Every Popular entry starts with the same question: why this record? This time it’s especially loud. “Candle In The Wind ‘97” is the highest-selling single of all time in the UK, almost 2 million clear of its nearest competitor. This is as big as pop gets. But “why?” might strike you as a silly question here, because its answer is so obvious: Diana, duh. So reframe it: why Diana?

The death of Princess Diana is recognisably a global news event, in the way we experience them now: the sudden in-rush of information into a new-made vacuum of speculation; the real-time grapple for meaning; and most of all the flood of public sentiment, deforming the story and becoming the story. It was also inescapable in a way nothing in my lifetime had been. But there are elements which feel very distant, and this single is one of them. It pushed the machineries of pop – literal ones, like CD presses and distribution fans, and metaphorical ones, like the charts – to their limits. HMV stores carried signs warning of a limit of 5 copies per person, and still sold out. There were reports of people buying 50 copies – for a shrine, perhaps, or just because CD singles had briefly become, like flowers and bears, part of a currency of devotion.

And still, because Diana so inconveniently died in the small hours of a Sunday, it felt to me like it arrived at No.1 late, a week after the funeral and two after the death. If its copies sold had been evenly distributed it could have managed months at No.1 – instead it racked up 5 weeks, fewer than Puffy. “Candle In The Wind ‘97” sets itself up to be a tribute that will last, but really it only made sense at the funeral, still in the heat of the story’s first phase: part of a fight about what Diana did or meant, and what her legacy might be.

Narratives overlapped, jostled for attention. Everyone had an agenda, everyone claimed her for it. Tony Blair, mesmerised by unifying figures and great causes, saw her as one – the “people’s princess”. TV news announcers, wrestling the story at its source, spat the word “paparazzi” with sudden, fearful distance. What they dreaded seemed to come true with Earl Spencer’s funeral speech, the ancien regime emerging to set the bloodline and duty of old England against its hateful, media-ridden, fallen reality. Murdoch’s Sun, meanwhile, had seen its opportunity. It raged at the family Diana had detested, damning their reticence. When others were a step behind, wringing their hands at the media for killing Diana, the Sun brazenly took that outrage and turned it into a lever to crack open the rest of Royal Family. The remainder of the Establishment retreated to their diaries, writing in despair of a Britain drowned in sentiment, left stained and sodden by this freak tide of petals, plushies and tears.

Legacy is part of what “Candle In The Wind” was always about – Bernie Taupin’s self-satisfied, sentimental recovery of the real girl beneath a superstar. “Candle In The Wind” is a song that’s angry about how men in Hollywood used and reshaped Norma Jean Baker, but then casually asserts the right of other men – Elton and Bernie – to revise the story and define an “authentic” version of the woman. Even the private life of Marilyn becomes a commodity, to be piously invoked by people who never met her. They all sexualised you, Nice Guy Bernie makes Elton simper – of course that’s not what I’m doing, way back in the obsessive dark of the cinema. Sometime in her teens, Diana Spencer sold her cassette of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to her friend and flatmate, for 50 pence. She signed it before she handed it over.

A song about a dead woman whose place in our memory gets fought over by a vast establishment on one hand and people who never met her on the other: Taupin’s job here isn’t so much to bring the lyrics of “Candle In The Wind” up to date as to urgently make them less pointedly about Diana. The original “Candle” inevitably haunts this one – not just because it’s too resonant to be smothered, but because it makes it obvious how rushed, overdone, and fatuous the new version is. Forgivably so, perhaps. Elton didn’t know Marilyn but he did know Diana – he might have been at the funeral by right of friendship even if it wasn’t a gig. And compared to the knowing, late-night regrets and ruminations of the original, on “Candle In The Wind ‘97” he sings like he’s in a black suit and tie and nervously fingering the collar. (Flip to the ‘double A-side’ – yeah right – for a useful comparison: that’s what a relaxed Elton sounds like). He sings key words – “GROW in our hearts…the GRACE that PLACED yourself…” – with an unctuous precision. Peak smarm is hit on “now you belong to Heaven”, where Elton sounds like a Sunday School teacher explaining to a 5-year old where Bunny has gone.

For the biggest televised funeral of all time, though, some hyperbole is expected. Taupin certainly doesn’t risk caution – “from a country lost without a soul” sobs the lyric. Behind all this rending of garments, more intriguing touches lurk.

There’s the William Blake reference, for instance – “Your footsteps will always fall here, round England’s greenest hills”, an obvious nod to the verse which has ended up known as “Jerusalem”: “And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green?”. Blake was referring to the legend that the young Jesus visited Britain, making the reference the closest “Candle In The Wind ‘97” comes to tying up all its vague messianic imagery into an implication that really would be startling. But there’s something more here. “Jerusalem” in its most famous sung arrangement also has currency as an alternative national anthem: it’s what England might have if we finally got rid of the Royal Family. Referencing it in a song for a woman who had stepped outside that family is a very interesting choice.

This reading of “Candle In The Wind ‘97” seems tenuous – but it’s backed up by the version of Diana the song chooses to emphasise. What we’re hearing about is Saint Diana, Our Lady Of The Landmines – placing herself in the grace where lives were torn apart. This was also the version of herself she most enjoyed. I don’t think she was cynical about her good works – while obviously living a life of astonishing privilege, she seems to have been a genuinely kind person, and on the right side of social history on some important issues – but she also knew the extent to which they threatened the monarchy.

One of the ways in which the monarchy managed to survive, retaining its power in an age where things might have gone badly for it, was turning Elizabeth II’s personal talent for rapid intimacy into a defining asset. The Queen, like Bill Clinton, has a famously good memory for faces, names, and small personal details – and this is turned by monarchists into an argument in favour of the whole institution. The Royals are valuable because they work so hard, and have such a bond with their subjects.

Since Divine Right won’t cut it, and the economic case is too grubby and unglamorous, this feels like the most solid defence of the Royals that monarchists have. But fixing a job description to monarchy is a secret attack on its legitimacy. If the job of monarchy simply amounts to empathising with people and remembering their names, then the monarch should be whoever does that job best. Diana’s challenge to the monarchy was that she took its nickname – The Firm – literally. She had been fired by the firm, and like a true entrepreneur she set up her own business as its competitor, disrupting it by doing exactly the same things – touring the world, visiting the poor or sick or industrious – with less protocol and more agility. The ultimate 80s icon was taking 80s politics to its unthinkable conclusion: privatise the monarchy. To do it, she used things the Royal Family could hardly touch – the media; youth; even pop.

This was why Diana’s modest assertion to Martin Bashir that perhaps she might be a princess “in people’s hearts” was such dynamite. What if, she was sweetly suggesting, simple popularity is a higher legitimacy than custom and tradition? This is a destabilising question. It’s the question implied by the NME when it modestly begins, in a paper full of critics, to list the records that sell the most every week. Which brings us back round to the original question: why is this record the biggest-selling single of all time?

Because they’re only based on sales, the British charts are a very crude cultural seismograph, able in their barefaced capitalist simplicity to pick up tremors other methods might smooth over. A colossal global news event should always show up on them, even overload them. But the unprecedented scale of this (really bad and hard to listen to) single’s success goes beyond that. Diana’s entire project – acting as a competitor to the Royal Family based on popularity and affection rather than iron tradition – means that a colossal show of genuine, bottom-up public mourning wasn’t just an inevitable reaction from her fans, it was the right one. And even if “Candle In The Wind ‘97” was a little late by our advanced standards, it was released in time to catch that wave.

Even so there’s a bigger question – why did this event manifest so strongly in pop, specifically? What sort of pop figure was Diana? It’s tempting and easy to look at her unearthly celebrity and simply pronounce her a pop star, but during her life that wasn’t how she figured into pop music. Instead, she was the archetypal fan. Though not for her taste, which was never going to wow critics – there’s a case for saying that “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” is the real tribute here, in that a bombastic bit of AOR with vaguely de Burghish themes is What She Would Have Wanted.

Diana’s most famous encounters with pop were fannish ones: being thrilled to meet Duran Duran backstage, dancing in front of a Kensington Palace mirror to “Girls On Film”. That second one, in particular, is iconic pop behaviour, but not star behaviour. It’s one of the classic images of fandom and the fan’s self-definition through pop: singing or dancing into the bedroom mirror. Diana’s performance of it in a palace calls back the original public idea of her, before the good deeds and the hugs. Diana was a symbol of pop – youth, energy, blah blah – at the heart of the establishment.

By 1997, that Diana was almost redundant. It still seemed like it might be important – and not just a trick of the demographic light – that the President played the sax and the Prime Minister had been some kind of rock band longhair. But the other possibility – that simply liking pop or rock music had no implications whatsoever – looked increasingly likely. A pop fan at the palace – or even thrown out of it – was no longer much of a story.

Dancing-in-the-mirror fandom has never been the only role for young women in mainstream pop, but it’s tended to serve as a default. It’s a coincidence that Diana dies just as the record industry starts to get its shit together about the Spice Girls and how to sell to their fans, but as we’ll see it makes “Candle In The Wind ‘97” a weirdly cathartic moment. The longer term trends in pop, as we close in on the modern day, are towards more women in the Top 10 and more solo artists, and mainstream pop in the last fifteen years is more defined than it ever was in Diana’s lifetime by the stories, presence, creativity and image of individual women.

The world these women are negotiating, resisting or conquering is similar to the one Diana faced. In adapting “Candle In The Wind” at her funeral, Elton John gave an account of Diana that stressed her enormous popularity and linked it with apparent sainthood. It was not the only version available – the intimate portrait by her brother, Earl Spencer, made the headlines by excoriating the press for hounding his sister. “Candle In The Wind ‘97” sounds awkward and overstated now, to say the least – Diana’s “legend” may not burn out any time soon, but it’s settled into a dull, emberish glow. But Spencer’s speech has fared worse: the era of the paparazzi, of the press hunting and being used by the famous, manifestly did not end.

Instead of the world rejecting the paparazzi, it caught up to them. Diana was, through circumstance, a post-privacy pioneer. The conditions of her adult life – forever observed, forever performing, always improvising to use that to her advantage – are replicated today not just for the stars who have to master those skills, but for all the billions living part of their life in public, . Her question, the pop question – who is popular, and what does that mean? – is the architecture of the social media world, its algorithmic cement. The iconography of Lady Di is frozen in the 1980s – scrape it away and you find an uncomfortably modern, uncomfortably pop figure.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Jim5et on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I don’t think there has been, or arguably could be, a better entry about a worse record. “Diana as disruptive tech startup” is a TED talk waiting to happen. 1, obviously; it was a ghastly song even before they mangled it.

  2. 2
    punctum on 27 Mar 2014 #

    OK, I have something of a dilemma. There is no TPL bunny to prevent me from commenting about this record here as neither song appears on any number one album. But I am also extremely reluctant to write publicly about matters in which I was personally involved (and it’s a cardinal Punctum rule that I never, but NEVER, write anything online about my day job), so the solution is that if anybody cares to read what I have to say about this record and the events which surrounded it, they can email me at marcellocarlin at yahoo dot com and I’ll send them a copy.

    That having been said, I’ll want evidence that there is demand for this writing. If I only get five or six people emailing me I probably won’t bother (too much TPL/IRL work to do) but if enough people are interested to make it worthwhile I’ll see what I can do.

  3. 3
    Cumbrian on 27 Mar 2014 #

    It probably began with Freddie Mercury – on death, an almost immediate whitewashing of the problems, the contradictions and the difficulties in favour of immediate raising to the pantheon. As celebrity deaths went by, we got more and more of the “never speak ill of the dead” mantra. Although there was distaste in some quarters for the reaction to Diana’s death, this whitewashing effect continued unabated, though at less feverish pitch, until Thatcher died. Finally, then, we saw people talk about a person as if they were real and were not perfect paragons of propriety once they died – but 20+ years of ignoring this when someone dies is still difficult to kick back against, and there was some backlash against those pointing out Thatcher’s problems. It still happens now, as people are creatures of habit; I have one friend on Facebook who will religiously put in an RIP and describe as a legend any Tom, Dick or Harry that has just died. I wonder what will happen when they face up to real grief and loss – where to go when everybody is to be venerated?

    Hopefully though, Thatcher’s death will be a watershed and the public and press will start to be more realistic about the lives of the recently deceased from now on. Anything else is at best silly, at worst dangerous – check out the spin machine that elevated Ronald Reagan, on death, into one of the greatest US presidents and the chilling effect it has on dissenting voices to the neo-con paradigm (whilst it ignored any of the damage he did or the stuff that happened on his watch – imagine if Iran-Contra were an Obama affair). Blair and Bush II, in particular, when they go deserve nothing less than an honest appraisal of their respective times on the planet.

    I managed to avoid watching the funeral. Sky One showed a Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon with 15 minute reminders that the funeral was on Sky News (and every other channel with basically no exceptions). I am not a ST:TNG fan but I was grateful for it that day. That whole period was a circus – one of which I wanted no part. Impossible to avoid but my instinctive reaction was to recoil. It was a good time to disengage from the media, gather up a few books and set to reading – in retrospect, I should have done that on the day of the funeral, instead of watching sci-fi.

    As such, I didn’t see the performance of this on the day and have only recently listened to it. They elevate her to sainthood. They compare her to Jesus. Perversely they actually remove her humanity, whilst attempting to celebrate it. They are creating a cipher. In short, it is spectacularly ill-judged. On listening to it, I felt sorry for William and Harry all over again, two of the few people (immediate family of those involved essentially) in this whole sorry saga that I felt any sympathy for.

  4. 4
    iconoclast on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I’ve little to add about the debate about Diana beyond mentioning a poll I remember about 25 years ago in a popular tabloid newspaper (not the Sun) which asked its readers who the most beautiful woman in the world was: Diana won with 30%, with approximately twice as many votes as whoever came second. Whether you consider this result totally justified or a symptom of the less pleasant aspects of reflexive British nationalism is entirely up to you.

    Back to the record. I’m not familiar with the original, and I’m not going to try to analyse it in terms of its socio-political context, since Tom has done a good enough job of that already. Taken on its own merits it’s *actually not that bad*; it’s a heartfelt piano ballad about a dead person, and very little about it is obviously wrong. Indeed it’s stately and dignified in ways perfectly fitted for its purpose, and as a Scot I can even forgive the references to “England”. However, as a song or a performance there’s little else remarkable about it: it’s made for a very specific circumstance and resonates little beyond it. SIX.

  5. 5
    leveret on 27 Mar 2014 #

    When I turned on Radio 1 that Sunday morning and heard a long loop of the instrumental version of the The Aloof’s ‘One Night Stand’ – its mournful strings punctuated briefly every couple of minutes by an announcer gravely intoning that Diana had passed away – I thought for a few crazy minutes that this might be an audacious satirical spoof by Chris Morris. He had, after all, caused controversy a few years earlier by announcing the ‘death’ of the still-living Michael Heseltine live on Radio 1, and so my first thought was ‘Christ, he’s really surpassed himself this time. I can see the Daily Mail demanding the BBC be shut down.’

    Maybe I was just young and naive, but with Morris’ Blue Jam for Radio 1 in the pipeline at the time, a Morris stunt seemed a genuine possibility for at least a minute or two. I had to turn on the TV to discover that Diana had really died in Paris.

  6. 6
    Rory on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Great entry, Tom. Eye-opening to learn that the original was one of her teen cast-offs. So is this the exact opposite of having one of your favourite songs played at your funeral?

    “The other possibility – that simply liking pop or rock music had no implications whatsoever – looked increasingly likely”: hello David Cameron, Smiths fan.

    I just listened to both versions back-to-back, and although the ’73 version isn’t one I particularly venerate (I’d probably give it a 5 or 6), it’s amazing how much it loses by being sung in 1997 Elton’s lower register. There’s a lightness to the earlier version that suits the wistfulness of its “I was just a kid” line, i.e. I was too young to know of you as a fan living in your moment, and am sorry it can only ever be retrospective. I’ve talked here in the past about how my own Beatles fandom was shaped by being a latecomer, and I’m sure that this is more and more something that new music fans have to deal with, as the legacy of All Recorded Music grows ever larger. We’ve all missed any number of boats. Interesting to hear it expressed within a cultural artifact itself, which in turn became the object of others’ fandom – the original “Candle” was a steady radio presence when I was a teenager in the 1980s.

    None of which remotely applies to CITW97: they were actual friends, and so all that stuff has been excised. The wistfulness of the tune is instead put to a purpose that I’m sure was affecting for many at the time (well, obviously) but now sounds unbearably sentimental. “Wings of compassion”, “stars spell out your name” – this isn’t Saint Diana, this is the Archangel Diana. With friends like these, who needs votaries.

    Six weeks at number one in Australia. I wasn’t there, though. This being one of those “you always remember where you were when you heard the news” events, I know I was standing on the corner of Montana Avenue in Christchurch, a mercifully long way away from the subsequent mountains of flowers and teddy bears.

    I figured I’d better listen to the other A side (while sharing Tom’s eye-roll at the “A”) before voting. It’s unremarkable, a 4 or 5 I suppose. So I’ll give the whole package 3.

  7. 7
    Ed on 27 Mar 2014 #

    A marvelous piece.

    One thing I would add: you say Diana was a pop fan, rather than a star, but the fan-who-became-a-star is a classic pop trajectory.

    That point is made brilliantly here: http://georgeanddiana.tumblr.com

  8. 8
    anto on 27 Mar 2014 #

    What I really remember about that week.
    – My Grandparents had only just been to visit. My Grandad was looking a lot older than he had before. Not quite the last time I saw them but the last time they came to see us together.
    – Applying for a Saturday job at the local branch of Our Price (now a Liverpool FC merchandise shop) – I didn’t get it.
    – My Mum calling upstairs at about 5 am on the morning of the 31st just as the main news story was breaking and my Brother, in the same room, leaping towards the door momentarily in possession of the speed and agility of Mike Powell – I stayed in bed until about nine.
    – Robbie Fowler walking past me in the street, seemingly dressed in his training gear.
    – ‘Summertime’ by The Sundays coming on the radio following 48 hours of nothing but turgid music across the airwaves. After the chilly, grey end to August the sunlight seemed to briefly make it’s way through the curtains at that moment. Harriet Wheeler’s voice is the best of England for some of us.
    – Returning to school on the Wednesday. The obvious talking point came up almost immediately. Curiously enough one of our teachers had been fairly keen to promote Diana’s work with landmine victims in the previous term.
    – Trying a cigarette for the first time and not liking the taste this particular brand left in the mouth.
    – The public mourning, the funeral, the break with royal protocol and everything else.

    I agree with Jim5et (#1) about the review and the song. It’s a reasonably good tune for a love ballad but Bernie Taupin’s writing is an acquired taste at the best of times. I recently heard him say he was never especially interested in Marilyn Monroe which suggests his real intention was to write a song about press intrusion, the perils of fame and early death which makes it seem a touch macabre that this is where ‘Candle In The Wind’ should end up.

  9. 9
    Rory on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Punctum @2, my email to your yahoo address just bounced, but if you do bring yourself to write it I’d certainly be interested to read it (email address here).

  10. 10
    Mark G on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Just in case you thought the achievements of Pop Music meant anything, it is nothing when compared to the sudden death of Royalty.

  11. 11
    Izzy on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Interesting, thoughtful review of a version I’ve managed to never hear, which today is not the day for changing. However, this bit:

    “Candle In The Wind” is a song that’s angry about how men in Hollywood used and reshaped Norma Jean Baker, but then casually asserts the right of other men – Elton and Bernie – to revise the story and define an “authentic” version of the woman

    Is this really how you want pop’s magnificent twisted magpieing to fizzle out? Unless group-of-choice is all that matters, I should have thought the difference was obvious and that Elton and Bernie carry no moral stain. Certainly I’m not comfortable with a critical reading based primarily on – to cite a better Elton song – Original Sin.

    Or to put it another way, is Popular any more legitimate, and if so why?

  12. 12
    Mark G on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #2 Tried a different email, you never know..

  13. 13
    Ed on 27 Mar 2014 #

    @3 “I wonder what will happen when they face up to real grief and loss – where to go when everybody is to be venerated?”

    Many people argued in the aftermath of Diana’s death that it’s real significance was that it sanctioned public displays of grief in a traditionally buttoned-up, inexpressive culture. Even the Royals – against protocol! – flew the flag at half-mast eventually.

    Some complained about the enforced official mourning, found it oppressive. But for others it was liberating, allowing them to express grief in ways that would have been seen as weak and embarrassing.

    We’re back to the Richard Aschcroft quote at the top of the entry for ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’: ‘Candle in the Wind ’97′ performed the same function for the great majority of the British population who are not rock blokes.

    Even as the memory of Diana’s life fades into history, that still feels like a way she changed British culture for good, and for the better.

  14. 14
    Alfred on 27 Mar 2014 #

    In America the experience, of course, was different. I don’t remember “Candle in the Wind ’97” getting much airplay — I still hear the top ten live version released in late ’87 while the original and Diana versions have vanished — but “Something About The Way…” dominated radio for more than a year. It was inescapable. Its #1 position almost diminishes its impact.

  15. 15
    Cumbrian on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #13: It’s a valid argument but I am squarely in the first sentence of your third paragraph. My view is let’s be realistic about what the event and the person actually mean/meant. People describing a different death, Mandela’s, as “tragic” as I saw in a few places, are just throwing up socially acceptable signals. It is not tragic, except for his family. He was an old man, living with increasingly poor quality of life. But if every death is elevated to tragedy, what emotional level do you go to when an actual tragedy takes place?

  16. 16
    Jonathan on 27 Mar 2014 #

    This is a political record, in that it argues post-mortem for the legitimacy of a political figure. Here, then, are my politics.

    Diana Spencer was a woman born into immense privilege who consciously chose to adopt a life of unimaginable privilege. To be dismayed by the paparazzi’s fascination with her is to misunderstand the monarchy; that institution invests in living people the essence and grandeur of the state. Journalists, then, should scrutinize those people as fiercely, as unceasingly, as they scrutinize other mechanisms of state. She was not a representative of the people, nor an alternative to the monarchy: for that look to people elected by democratic institutions, of whom this post mentions a couple: Tony Blair, Bill Clinton.

    This is a horrible song for a woman whose charity dinners will never erase the disgusting life she chose to live.

  17. 17
    thefatgit on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Declaration of interests: I grew up in a monarchist, tory-leaning working class family. My grandmother for a time in her youth, worked at the Plymouth Sutton constituency office of Lady Astor. My grandfather was a successful market gardener, former RN able seaman. My dad served in the RAF, and met my mum serving in the WRAF. On my mum’s side, there’s an Army Cook Sergeant, 2 Merchant Navy Stewards, the list goes on. All small-c conservative, deferential to and servants of King/Queen and Country. I’m probably the only Labour voter in this family and as a result, I have learned to remain tight-lipped when it comes to political discussions with my rellies. But it has skewed my thinking. I like the idea of a Constitutional Monarchy, but this one is too big, too privileged, too mired in history. Much as I’d like to see change, I can’t imagine not having them around. Just what exactly would a President do that the Queen doesn’t do at the moment? A Roundhead, or Republican I could never be.

    Having got that off my chest, on to Diana. Aristocratic? Yes. She famously rebuked Prince Phillip by telling him her lineage was more “authentic” than his. That word again. But even a noble-born Lady Diana Spencer was absolutely unprepared for becoming part of “The Firm”. She was painfully uncomfortable under the scrutiny of the press lens. She had to train herself to be more at ease, build up a rapport and importantly become more media-savvy than the family she married into. Ironic then, that one arm of the media may have facilitated her demise in the Pont De L’Alma road tunnel in Paris.

    Where was I when I heard? On holiday in Sandown, Isle Of Wight with my then-wife and daughter. The quaintest and fairest of islands and a former retreat for Queen Victoria, that mourner-in-chief from over a century ago. If anyone taught a nation how to mourn, it was her. We spent the day driving around the island bathed in glorious sunshine. Radio 1 played as much sombre, downtempo music as it could muster that day. Minimal DJ prattle. Frequent news reports. I seem to remember hearing a lot of George Michael that day. Oldies, that never went furher back than early 80’s as though they never dared to prick the Diana bubble. The music never got more uptempo than “Unfinished Sympathy”. It always struck me as odd, when someone like Breznhev died in the old Soviet Union, news reports always told us the state broadcaster played continuous “sombre music”. And here was Bannister’s BBC Radio 1 adopting what was, in my mind at least, a curiously Soviet practice. She had officially been booted out of The Firm 368 days ago. “Bye, leave your HRH at the door and mind it doesn’t hit you on the way out”. She kept her Kensington Palace apartment and £17m divorce settlement. Camilla was already installed at Highgrove.

    We returned home on the Tuesday, and all eyes, thanks to The Sun’s hysteria were on Balmoral. That bit stuck in the craw. But she was the media’s Princess after all, and the media demanded some act of Royal acknowledgment, even if it was just a lowering of a flag. The day before the funeral, The Queen broadcast to the nation. But the nation was well ahead of her. They had set up their shrine at Kensington Palace and propelled The Verve to #1. Tears behind sunglasses. Mourning in summer pastels. What would Queen Vic make of that?

    This is the bit that nobody ever talks about: after the funeral, when the Hearse exits the gates of Westminster Abbey, and the public are gathered outside in that still glorious sunshine, a single voice, an anguished scream “DIANA” rings out. Breaking the silence. The chink in the armour of British reserve. After witnessing The Firm doing their duty in the cool Abbey, that scream was probably the only honest gesture afforded her that day. Save for the stifled agony of her sons.

    And for her funeral, Elton & Bernie decided to sacrifice on the altar, their tribute to Marilyn. Change the lyrics, add a verse. Elton was already morose after losing his and Diana’s mutual friend Gianni Versace. The pain etched on his face as he fought back tears at the Grow-Grace-Placed line. He vowed never to play the song again. So here we are, 33 million sales Worldwide and all it was, was a compact disc in a jewel case with a nice picture of a rose on the front.

    Mother Teresa of Calcutta died on the same day as Diana. Nobody wrought a memorial CD in honour of her memory.

  18. 18
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #11 I don’t think, as a criticism, it’s any different from the one I made in the “Vincent” review. CITW ’73 is a lot better than “Vincent” – even though I find it kind of smarmy – because I think Elton at least knows there’s a contradiction in there, he HAS fans so he’s aware of how dodgy the fan construction of “I, who have never met you, know the real you” is. (Is Bernie – who knows? “Self-satisfied” is probably too harsh).

    The ‘moral stain’ is what makes the song interesting – ‘who decides legacy’ is what it’s about. I think it’s definitely possible to make records about that kind of thing while foregrounding your potential complicity (sexual or fannish) a lot more, though – “Little Baby Nothing” springs to mind. (I’d still take Britney’s “Piece Of Me” over either).

    Is Popular any different? Popular has a comments box. But it’s a risk I run.

  19. 19
    Ed on 27 Mar 2014 #

    The pictures of Diana and Elton at Versace’s funeral became very eerie in retrospect. Eg: http://www.corbisimages.com/images/Corbis-42-18828454.jpg?size=67&uid=901d6f81-ef20-4d12-b22d-c1526d300eb2

  20. 20
    Auntie Beryl on 27 Mar 2014 #

    “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” somehow manages to be listed as an A side on the best selling UK single of all time, and yet a strong candidate to be a Pointless answer.

    (Well done if you got that at home.)

  21. 21
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I’ve tweaked a couple of sentences in the review to better reflect that I am not, in fact, a monarchist! I’m not suggesting Diana was an alternative to monarchy in any political sense, any more than two privatised train operators offer ‘alternatives’ to one another – “privatise the monarchy” is meant as a description of Diana’s trajectory, not an endorsement. It’s running two bad British political ideas up against one another.

  22. 22
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #5 When I broke the news to top comics writer Al Ewing, the first thing he said was “This is a Chris Morris thing, right?”

    #14 Was “Something…” really the big tune in the US? That’s amazing!

  23. 23
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    My most vivid memory of That Week – sitting in a supermarket car park with my girlfriend and her looking round and winding up all the car windows before feeling able to say she had never liked Diana.

    Was I the only Popular commenter who was In Paris when it happened?

  24. 24
    inakamono on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Is it really true, as wiki claims, that “Candle In The Wind ‘97” spent 46 weeks at number 1 in Canada?

  25. 25
    Chelovek na lune on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Will write more later. For now, give me a Dies Irae anyday over this. Although I *am* a monarchist, I will feel awkward and unenglish (which, well, I am) in the meantime contemplating this …mistaken.. record.

  26. 26
    mapman132 on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Couple of quick replies before I start my main comments:

    #17 Mother Teresa actually died a few days later. But the proximity was noted at the time. I almost wonder if Mother Teresa’s death actually got more publicity than it would have otherwise as people were feeling guilty about all of the gushing over Diana.

    #24 Apparently, yes, on the national sales chart. Canada had an even weaker singles market than the US at the time, but still based their national chart on sales, so a big seller like this could really rack up the weeks. Most bizarre fact: some (like me) may have originally heard this record quoted as *45* weeks. The reason for the discrepancy: Apparently one final week at the top in *January 2002* (according to Wikipedia). No idea why.

    wrt US airplay: “Something” was the airplay champ over the long haul, but “Candle 97” got a lot of airplay in the first couple weeks. I’ve only heard “Candle 97” on the radio maybe twice in the years since, although I still hear the original version.

  27. 27
    Rory on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #24 Apparently so. Seems there were odd things afoot in the Canadian Singles Chart in the 1990s. (I have to laugh at the BBC article’s comment that “with barely 30m people, a record requires only relatively modest sales to ensure a high chart placing”. Barely 30 million! Why, that’s barely as many people as the UK had in 1865, when it ruled half the world.)

  28. 28
    swanstep on 27 Mar 2014 #

    As Alfred@14 remarks CITW97 didn’t get that much airplay except for a week or two in the US (and I don’t remember SITWYLT being played at all in Chicago, maybe a little on VH1). Diana’s death was still an incredibly big deal, however, all the crucial funeral and memorial events were covered live on all the broadcast networks (i.e., not just the cable news channels), there were nightly updates on the public mourning and the apparent mass hysteria, and so on. Note that reports that Diana had been in a car accident hit early Saturday evening, so US TV was right on it as a breaking story. I heard the first news then went out to dinner (where there was some chat about the accident story), and when we got back home the story had grown and she was dead.

    I’ve got more time for CITW73 than a lot of people here – it’s some kind of masterpiece I reckon, a song that everyone if they’re honest, wishes they’d written, and in the context of the album, where it kicks of one of *the* great three-track stretches, CITW, Benny ‘n’ the Jets, Goodbye Yellow Brick, it feels like it announces the arrival of an unstoppable MOR pop genius. CITW97 is OK – the underlying song’s so strong nothing can kill it completely – but it’s hard not to miss the backing vox and (killer) guitar of the original, and even to hate the less natural, more syncopated title phrasing in the choruses. The new lyrics seem mostly quite good under the circumstances – it’s bloody hard to write for tightly proscribed official occasions. If only Elton hadn’t felt the need to spice up the vocal rhythms. Original is for me an 8 or 9 easy whereas CITW97 is a:
    4 or 5

  29. 29
    Kat but logged out innit on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I remember having to do TWO (x)-minute silences (must have been…first week of school?), one for Diana and one for Mother Teresa, and my being annoyed that Diana got the longer one (3 mins instead of 1, I think?).

  30. 30
    PurpleKylie on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I was only 9 when it happened, and I still remember that morning. I woke up quite early, turned on the TV to find the rolling news about the car crash, after about 10 mins of shock, I decided to wake up my mum and younger sister to tell them what happened, they wouldn’t believe me until they saw the TV news for themselves. I can’t remember much else about that week, other than recognizing that “this was a really sad moment”, and I remember my primary school had a book of condolences which I signed.

    These days I really cannot listen to this song, or the original. Not because I care about the Royals in any way (adult me couldn’t care less), but it’s just so overwhelming with its grief that it’s just really unlistenable for me. And that’s saying a lot given that I usually love depressing music.

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