Few songs are as enduring as Elton John’s first hit single, “Your Song”. Written when he was 17 years old with longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, it finds beauty in its simplicity. Taupin often claims a good song should never take longer than half an hour to write. “Your Song” took 10 minutes.
It could only have been written by a teenager who’d “never been laid in his life”, Taupin joked. The lyrics read like a diary entry – a dreamy stream of consciousness – or a letter John is writing as he sings the words out loud.
At the time of its release, in 1970, he was still finding his voice – he was more the shy schoolboy than the colourful showman he is now. That voice deepened after John experienced major throat problems in 1986, but the emotion with which he imbues every performance (in 2013, Rolling Stone estimated he had performed the song live 2,000 times) has remained the same.
With their famous annual unveiling, the John Lewis Christmas advert has, somehow, become a national event. Over the past few years, however, the reaction has become more muted. “It’s OK,” audiences seemed to say of last year’s “Moz the Monster”, which told the story of a little boy with a friendly blue “monster” under his bed. “Not bad.”
This year, organisers have gone above and beyond to create something that feels meaningful, relevant, and heartwarming. Having Elton John star in the advert is something of a coup, and is especially poignant given his current farewell tour. Deciding on one track from John’s staggering back catalogue sounds like no easy task – but, really, nothing else fits the themes of the advert quite so well.
The advert opens with a shot of John’s back, as he sits at the piano and plays those famous opening notes of “Your Song”. From there, clever, sweeping shots whisk the viewer from one major moment in John’s career to the next – from his early start in local pubs to stadium shows in the Seventies. The attention to detail is stunning. Along with John himself, actors in prosthetics, glittering outfits and pink mohicans show him at those different stages of his life. Each era stars the recording of “Your Song” from that time, so fans can observe how his singing style has changed over the years.
Some creative license has been taken by John Lewis: though Elton John’s first access to a piano was in fact at his grandmother’s house, here we see the young boy gifted a piano for Christmas at his own home. But the point is the same: that a gift can be quite literally life-changing.
It must be tough, when you’re a multibillion pound corporation, to convince shoppers that you really do love Christmas – and not just because it makes you a shedload of money. But even those with the flintiest of hearts will feel moved as the child lifts a tentative finger to the keys and presses down, a look of wonder shooting across his face. Then we’re back to present John, playing those same notes – still with the same magic he felt all those years ago. How wonderful life is indeed.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies