Elton John

I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues

Composed by Bernie Taupin / Davey Johnstone / Elton John

Song Review by

When Elton John is at his best, as on "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues," he makes as good a case as any contemporary songwriter -- including critical favorites like Elvis Costello -- for status as one of the late-20th century's classic pop music composers. A nostalgic song that finds John teaming back up with his longtime collaborator, Bernie Taupin, after a few years' break (on and off), "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" is likely to stand the test of time as a standard.

John is a master of mood; the song is a warm, nostalgic, comforting, and highly emotional bit of melancholy. Reaching the heart-wrenching climax in the song's chorus multiple times -- "Wait on me girl/Cry in the night if it helps" -- the melody alone tugs at the heartstrings. Taupin is in top form here as well, with a lyric that takes its cue from Tin Pan Alley songs of the '40s and '50s, particularly World War II-era songs of separation like "Till Then": "Just stare into space/Picture my face in your hands/Live for each second without hesitation/And never forget I'm your man." Taupin shows an enormous amount of growth from his greener early-'70s days when his ambition often exceeded his ability, resulting in often fumbling, forced verbiage. With lines like, "And while I'm away/Dust out the demons inside/And it won't be long before you and me run/To the place in our hearts where we hide," the lyricist finds compelling and fresh means of expressing a universal emotion.

As with the lyric, the music has more than a tinge of nostalgia, with a '50s-like R&B shuffle, a jazzy piano theme, and an inspired, Toots Thielemans-like harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder. The soaring solo takes the song to new heights, the ache of the sentiment palpable in every note.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Too Low for Zero 1983 Island / Virgin EMI
No Image 1985 Vestron
Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (1979-1987) 1987 MCA 4:44
No Image 1989
Various Artists
Chrysalis Records
To Be Continued... 1990 Geffen / Island / Universal 4:42
Stardust: Greatest Love 1992
Various Artists
Alex
Greatest Hits: 1976-1986 1992 Island/Mercury / Island/Def Jam / MCA / Universal 4:43
No Image 1992 A*Vision Entertainment
Peter's Friends 1993
Original Soundtrack
Epic 4:41
Love Songs [1995] 1995 Universal Music 4:43
Love Songs 1996 Universal International 4:45
Live Like Horses 1996 Mercury / Universal 4:41
Pure Rock Ballads 1998
Various Artists
Polygram 4:40
The Best of the Best [Insight] 1998
Various Artists
Insight (3)
One Night Only: The Greatest Hits 2000 Universal 5:12
The Greatest Hits 1970-2002 2002 Island / Universal Distribution 4:44
Greatest Hits Live: 1970 - 2002 2003 Mercury / Rocket
Greatest Hits Live @ Madison Square Garden 2003 Universal International
Dream Ticket 2004 WAB
Movies Greatest Love Songs [Universal Music TV] 2005
Various Artists
CAPITALGD
Greatest Hits/One Night Only 2005 Universal Distribution / Mercury / Mercury Records
Rocket Man: The Definitive Hits 2007 Mercury / Universal 4:41
Rocket Man: Number Ones 2007 Island
No Image 2007 Universal Distribution 4:41
Elton 60: Live at Madison Square Garden 2007 Island/Mercury / Mercury
Rocket Man 2007 Mercury 4:43
Just Like Belgium: The Definitive Hits 2008 Mercury / Universal Distribution 4:41
The Red Piano 2008 HST Management, Ltd.
Revolutions in Sound: Warner Bros. Records - The First 50 Years 2008
Various Artists
Warner Bros. 4:43
Live in Verona 2009 2010 Mercury Records 4:40
De Pre Historie: 1983, Vol. 1
Various Artists
Eva 4:42
No Image Rock
More Than a Feeling [Tellydisc]
Various Artists
Tellydisc
blue highlight denotes editor's pick