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"Someone Saved My Life Tonight" is an Elton John song from his album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. John originally wrote and recorded it in A-flat, though after vocal cord surgery in 1987 that resulted in him abstaining from using his falsetto range for a period, he more often performed the song in a lower key of F. It concludes side one in the album's narrative, which chronicles the early history of John and lyricist Bernie Taupin and their struggles to find their place within the music industry. When released as the album's only single in 1975, it reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and entered the top 25 on theUK Singles Chart. In the U.S., it was certified Gold on 10 September 1975 by the RIAA. In Canada, the single narrowly missed being his ninth number one there, hitting #2 on the RPM 100 national Top Singles chart on August 30.
Taupin's lyric refers to a time in 1969, before John was a popular musician, when John was engaged to be married to his girlfriend, Linda Woodrow. John and Woodrow were sharing a flat with Taupin in Furlong Road in the East End of London, hence the opening line "When I think of those East End lights." While having serious doubts about the looming marriage, John contemplated suicide. He took refuge in his friends, especially Long John Baldry, who convinced John to abandon his plans to marry in order to salvage and maintain his musical career. Comparisons can also be drawn to the earlier John/Taupin compositionSkyline Pigeon - as both songs contain the metaphor of a creature flying free towards the sky to signify escape from marriage. As a sign of his respect and gratitude for Baldry, Taupin wrote him into the song as the "someone" in the title, and also as "Sugar Bear". Some radio stations refused to play or altered the song, due to the use of the phrase "Damn it" in the second verse.
In the liner notes to the Deluxe Edition of Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy, writer Paul Gambaccini related a recollection from producer Gus Dudgeon. During the recording of the song's lead vocal, Dudgeon said he was pushing Elton for more in terms of his delivery of the vocal, not paying attention to the lyric. According to Gambaccini, another member of the production crew, Davey Johnstone, leaned over and told Dudgeon, "You know he's singing about killing himself." Dudgeon was apparently mortified by the revelation and relented.
The song, which at 6:45 was one of Elton's longest singles, was supposed to be edited to a shorter version for radio consumption. However, John refused to let MCA Records pare it down, saying that it was to be released as a whole, and the record company acquiesced.
John has played the song live many times, one of the best known recorded performances coming during the Central Park concert in September 1980.
- Ray Cooper – tambourine, shaker, cymbal
- Davey Johnstone – Leslie guitars, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
- Elton John – piano, electric piano, ARP string ensemble synthesizer, vocals
- Dee Murray – bass, backing vocals
- Nigel Olsson – drums, backing vocals
This song is featured in the trailer for the 2002 film Moonlight Mile directed by Brad Silberling, starring Susan Sarandon, Dustin Hoffman and Jake Gyllenhaal. Partially based on Silberling's dealing with the aftermath of the murder of his girlfriend actress Rebecca Schaeffer.
Sheryl Crow's song "Always on Your Side" features the lyric, "If butterflies are free to fly/Why do they fly away?" possibly in reference to this song's "Butterflies are free to fly/Fly away, high away/Bye, bye".
In the Simpsons episode "I'm with Cupid", which features Elton John playing himself, Apu irritates John by deliberately punning that "Someone saved your life tonight" after his quick response prevents the singer being struck by a crashing plane.
"Someone Saved My Life Tonight" was also well-known among die-hard Elton John fans for its flip-side, "House of Cards," a track recorded along with the album's other songs, but left off the final edit of the album. As far as anyone knows, it could well be the album's only recorded outtake. (A Taupin lyric for "Dogs in the Kitchen" was included with the original LP and Deluxe Edition CD issue Lyric booklet, but the song itself was never finished with music and thus never recorded.) "House of Cards," meanwhile, was a long-awaited track on CD, finally surfacing on Rare Masters, though left off the remastered CD re-release of Captain Fantastic in 1995. It was, however, included on the Deluxe Edition re-release as one of the bonus tracks, finally joining the album with which it was originally recorded.