Rewinding the Charts: In 1997, Elton John’s ‘Candle’ Lit Up the Hot 100

A classic track reworked to pay tribute to Princess Diana became the star's biggest hit.

In the aftermath of the Paris car accident that killed Diana, Princess of Wales, on Aug. 31, 1997, her sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, invited her sibling's friend Elton John to sing at Diana's Sept. 6 funeral service at London's Westminster Abbey. With the clock ticking, John, then 50, phoned his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin in Los Angeles about crafting a new song for him to perform.

Two days before the service, Taupin rewrote the lyrics to “Candle in the Wind” after John noted that his 1973 song was receiving renewed airplay in England in honor of Diana. The duo originally wrote “Candle” as an ode to Marilyn Monroe, who, like Diana, died at age 36, but it didn't become a chart hit until its release as a live single in 1987.

John gave a one-time-only performance of the rewritten “Candle” — with new lyrics such as “goodbye, England's rose” — at the globally televised funeral, and on Sept. 23, that version, “Candle in the Wind 1997,” was released as a double-sided charity single with John's radio hit at the time, “Something About the Way You Look Tonight.” 

The song quickly set a Nielsen Music era record of 3.4 million singles sold in the first week of its U.S. release. It debuted atop the Oct. 11 Billboard Hot 100 and reigned for 14 weeks. It has sold 8.8 million copies and remains his biggest Hot 100 hit.

In his now-six-decade career, John has landed 48 albums on the Billboard 200, the most among British solo artists. His most recent, Diamonds, arrived in 2017.

About the Author