The Story of... 'Tiny Dancer' by Elton John

26 August 2022, 19:35

'Tiny Dancer' is a constant in Elton John's setlists these days.
'Tiny Dancer' is a constant in Elton John's setlists these days. Picture: DJM/Uni Records/Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

'Tiny Dancer' is now considered an Elton John classic.

But the beautiful piano ballad was not an immediate success and was only included in Elton's setlists as time went on.

Nowadays, 'Tiny Dancer' is considered one of Sir Elton John's most beloved and most revered songs - it'd cause a huge upset if he wasn't to perform it live.

But who wrote the song? What was the song really about? Has anyone else covered it? When did it become an Elton classic?

Here's all you need to know about Elton John's 'Tiny Dancer':

Who wrote 'Tiny Dancer’?

'Tiny Dancer' was a collaboration between Elton John and his long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin, who wrote the song's lyrics.

It was one of the first songs they'd written together, having spent months on the roading touring the US for the first time ever.

Their fruitful partnership was just beginning, and they'd spend much of the decade writing together in turn making Elton John one of the world's most successful musicians.

Who was the song written about?

'Tiny Dancer' was suggested to have been written about Bernie Taupin's girlfriend Maxine Feibelmann, who later became his wife.

The lyric "blue jean baby, LA Lady, seamstress for the band" was a nod to Maxine as she'd regular tour with Elton and his band, sewing together costumes and fixing clothes when required.

Beneath the song's credits in the Madman Across The Water album liner notes, it states "With love to Maxine" which further suggests it was written about his then-wife.

Elton certainly thought 'Tiny Dancer' was written for Maxine, but Bernie later disputed the theory saying it was about Californian women in general:

"I was trying to capture the spirit of that time, encapsulated by the women we met - especially at the clothes stores up and down the Strip in LA."

"They were free spirits, sexy in hip-huggers and lacy blouses, and very ethereal, the way they moved. So different from what I'd been used to in England. And they all wanted to sew patches on your jeans" he added.

When was 'Tiny Dancer' released and how did it perform?

The single sleeve for the 'Tiny Dancer' single release in 1972.
The single sleeve for the 'Tiny Dancer' single release in 1972. Picture: DJM/Uni Records

Featuring on Elton John's fourth studio album Madman Across The Water in 1971, 'Tiny Dancer' was eventually released as a single in the US the following year.

It failed to crack even the Top 40 in the singles charts, peaking at No.41.

Because of its failure, the record company at the time (DJM and Uni Records) chose not to release 'Tiny Dancer' as a single in the UK or other territories.

Given its lengthy running time at 6:12 minutes, it was deemed too long for radio stations to spin so received minimal airplay.

When did ‘Tiny Dancer’ become one of Elton John’s most popular songs?

It wasn't until 2000 when rock 'n' roll comedy-drama Almost Famous included 'Tiny Dancer' in one of its most memorable scenes that it picked up traction.

After the characters' relationships become strained with life on the road as touring musicians, 'Tiny Dancer' comes on the radio on the tour bus in which they all start singing together, as they remember how they're connected through their love of music.

Since then it's become a staple of Elton John's sets and one of his most beloved songs, something that surprised even Elton himself.

Speaking to Rolling Stone magazine in 2011, Elton recalled how Almost Famous changed the life of a song he'd buried years before:

"Jeffrey Katzenberg called me and said, 'There's a scene in this film which is going to make 'Tiny Dancer' a hit all over again.'"

"When I saw it, I said, 'Oh my God!' I used to play 'Tiny Dancer' in England and it would go down like a lead zeppelin. Cameron [Crowe, the film director] resurrected that song."

After the advent of digital downloading, the song earned its first Gold certification for selling 500,000 copies in 2015, and in 2018 it was certified at 3 million.

Has anyone else covered ‘Tiny Dancer’?

Since 'Tiny Dancer' was rejuvenated, it's been covered by numerous artists including Miley Cyrus, Tim McGraw, rapper Chipmunk, Ben Folds, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Even Taron Egerton - who played Elton in his biopic Rocketman - performed the song with him at his annual Oscar party in 2019.

In 2022 it was revealed that Britney Spears was releasing a cover version of 'Tiny Dancer' and mash up of his 1992 single 'The One' named 'Hold Me Closer'.

It's a duet with Elton himself, and the legendary singer was thrilled to help Britney resurrect her career after being freed from her conservatorship.

He told the Guardian newspaper: "The song meant so much to her, and you can hear it in her vocal performance. She’s singing her ass off."