How Elton John’s ‘Candle In The Wind’ Became the Best Selling Single of All Time

The singer/pianist retooled and re-released the song after one of the biggest tragedies in the 1990s.

Marc Piasecki/Getty Images For Global Citizen

Videos by Rare

Videos by Rare

During Elton John’s never-ending farewell tour, the jumbotron behind him performing onstage lists a series of the singer/pianist’s many accomplishments. One message on the big screen reminds audiences that he’s sold more than 100 million singles worldwide.

Indeed, just about every song on John’s goodbye setlist is a familiar tune. That includes “Candle in the Wind” — which is the second-highest physical single ever and bestselling one since the 1950s, according to Guinness World Records.

So, how did that song manage to outdo not only “Crocodile Rock” and “Bennie and the Jets,” but any song in the modern era?

Elton John Breathes New Life Into “Candle”

Upon its initial release, “Candle in the Wind,” a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, was not a hit. It only peaked at number 11 on the British charts — and didn’t even register on U.S. charts — when it originally came out in 1974.

Elton John revisited the tune in 1987 with a new live version of “Candle in the Wind” with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. That rendition fared better in both the U.K. and U.S., peaking at number 5 and 6 on those countries’ respective charts.

But it was Elton John’s third recorded take on “Candle in the Wind” that immortalized the song in the annals of pop music. Also called “Goodbye England’s Rose,” John and his collaborator Bernie Taupin rewrote and re-recorded the tune after the death of Princess Diana.

The princess tragically died in a car crash on August 31, 1997. Her death became one of the saddest and best-known events of the year.

A mere two weeks later, Elton John released the song as a tribute to Diana. Technically speaking, the best-selling version of the composition was actually titled “Candle in the Wind 1997.”

Emphasizing the new song’s relevance he changed the original lyrics “Goodbye Norma Jean, though I never knew you at all” to “Goodbye’s England’s rose, may you ever grow in our hearts.”

The new single broke seemingly countless records, so to speak. Elton John also picked up the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for it.

With 33 million copies sold, “Candle in the Wind 1997” endures as the best-selling song in the modern era.

The song also permanently connected Elton John to England’s royal family. After Queen Elizabeth died earlier this month, he remarked at his Toronto concert that Queen Elizabeth II “worked bloody hard.”

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