The Story of... 'I'm Still Standing' by Elton John

25 June 2023, 21:27

Elton John's 'I'm Still Standing' video
Elton John's 'I'm Still Standing' video. Picture: Elton John/YouTube

By Tom Eames

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

The early 1980s were a mixed bag for Elton John, and he needed a song to give him a new beginning.

By 1983, Elton John hadn't had a significant chart hit since 1976's 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart', had briefly retired from performing and was battling addictions.

But things started looking up when he brought out the aptly-titled Too Low for Zero album. Its lead single 'I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues' was a big hit, and this was followed by the ultimate comeback record: 'I'm Still Standing'.

  1. Who wrote 'I'm Still Standing'?

    Elton's previous four albums had failed to have any long-lasting international hit singles, and had disappointing sales compared to his hit records during the first half of the 1970s.

    For the first time since 1976's Blue Moves, all lyrics on the album were written by Bernie Taupin.

    Elton had also reunited with most of his backing band of the early 1970s: Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnstone, as well as Ray Cooper, Kiki Dee and Skaila Kanga.

    As with most of their collaborations, Bernie had written 'I'm Still Standing''s lyrics, and Elton wrote the music.

  2. What is the song about?

    Elton John and Bernie Taupin in 1985
    Elton John and Bernie Taupin in 1985. Picture: Getty

    The song is often seen as a message of Elton's resilience over the years.

    However, Bernie Taupin wrote it with a particular person in mind.

    He later said: "It's perhaps one more example of the original idea being interpreted by everyone into something quite different. I think people see it as an anthem based on Elton's strong sense of survival in the face of adversity. Which, believe me, is perfectly fine by me.

    "In fact, it's probably infinitely more interesting, perhaps, than what it was initially written about. Which, if my memory serves me correctly, it was a sort of kiss off to an old girlfriend. You know the sort of thing, 'Don't you worry about me, I'll be perfectly fine.' Unlike George Jones' 'She Thinks I Still Care,' where, in fact, he really did, I really didn't."

    The song is directed at a former lover, with Elton singing about how he is still standing strong without them.

  3. Where and how was the music video filmed?

    Elton John - I'm Still Standing

    The music video was directed by Russell Mulcahy, and it was shot in Cannes and Nice on the Côte d'Azur in France.

    Bruno Tonioli, later a judge on Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing with the Stars, appears as one of the dancers in the video.

    It was choreographed by future Strictly judge Arlene Phillips, who later said her work on the video is one of the proudest moments in her career.

    “Part of the video was coming up from the mountains and riding down in a car, Elton in the front of the car, [clear] glass window sugar glass [and] Elton driving through the glass window,” Arlene explained.

    “Suddenly, the police said it was too dangerous and so the whole story of the video was gone.”

    Explaining further, Arlene said that there was panic about what the production would look like and she came up with an alternative idea.

    She continued: “Well, my friend has got a dance school, let’s get loads of dancers and we’ll dance everywhere.

    “So they got permission to dance everywhere and Bruno was saying ‘what am I going to do? I was doing the catching’.”

    Arlene mentioned the lengths that the production team went to in order to bring the new concept to life.

    “We got costumes from the shop, we got a body paint artist. It was so much fun,” she added.

    Speaking on the White Wine Question Time Podcast, Arlene explained how the moment quickly came together.

    “The director said ‘let’s get them body painted’, and everything was choreographed on the spot,” Arlene said.

    “It was like pouring out instant soup. Right, we’ve got this hotel, let's come down the stairs! We’ve got La Croisette, let's dance along it!”

    Rocketman (2019) - I’m Still Standing Scene (10/10) | Movieclips

    She also spoke about Bruno’s appearance in the video - after he was supposed to be sitting in the car with Elton in the original video concept, Arlene got creative and tried to get him dancing in different situations in the new story.

    She explained: “Bruno Tonioli was supposed to be sitting in the back of the car when Elton drove down the mountainside. Instead, we played around.

    “Bruno here, Bruno there, just use Bruno! [He] hates taking his clothes off, hates his body being seen!”

    It was due to be shot over the course of two days, but a camera full of the first day's film was destroyed, when Mulcahy accidentally fell into the sea.

    It had to be filmed again on another day, and during the shoot Elton met up with Duran Duran.

    He said that he was exhausted due to being up since 4am. Simon Le Bon gave Elton a martini. "So I did," Elton said, "I had six."

    The next morning, Elton had a bad hangover and went into his personal assistant's room – which had been "levelled". He asked him "What happened?". His assistant replied: "You happened!"

    In 2019, the original 16mm film negatives were re-scanned and the computer graphics were recreated, creating a new remastered version.

    The video also provides the ending to the 2019 biopic Rocketman, with Taron Egerton as Elton John rotoscoped to recreate scenes from the original music video.

  4. Who else has covered 'I'm Still Standing'?

    Before he played Elton in Rocketman, Taron Egerton sang this as the Gorilla in the computer-animated film Sing.

    It has also been covered by Weather Girls star Martha Wash and Lulu among others.