Given new life and significance by its inclusion in the film Almost Famous (2000) -- an excellent rock & roll movie -- "Tiny Dancer" experienced something of a rebirth during the turn into the 21st century. Not that the popular song ever really left the radio waves, but it benefited from this fresh look. The warm Stonesy ballad served as a unifying plot element, a moment of family-like comfort and camaraderie for the motley crew of rock stars and groupies on a tour bus during an emotionally raw time in the tour. Out of this context of the film, one could be forgiven for writing the song off as a melodramatic bit of navel-gazing from a rock star, an ode to his "blue jean baby" on the road with him. In the scene, however, "Tiny Dancer" seems to be a tender ballad, and a catchy singalong as well. Sure, it's a tribute to a groupie, and -- along with yet another of Elton John's aching and graceful melodies and heartfelt performances -- that is what makes it sweet; it's a heartfelt love song, not the usual rock/groupie braggadocio along the lines of "American Band" or a sordid play on perception of rock stars' exploits like "Stray Cat Blues."
Bernie Taupin makes like a pop-poet here, with sharp-eyed details from the road mixed with silly-yet-romantic characterizations of women ("tiny dancer"?), as the narrator falls in love with one out of the spotlights: "Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band/Pretty eyed, pirate smile, you'll marry a music man/Ballerina, you must have seen her dancing in the sand/And now she's in me, always with me, tiny dancer in my hand/Hold me closer tiny dancer/Count the headlights on the highway/Lay me down in sheets of linen/You had a busy day today."
As always, John provides a stunning melody and country-pop arrangement, augmented by Paul Buckmaster's lush and dramatic strings. Clocking in at over six minutes, the sweep of the song is epic, with electric and pedal steel guitar licks and a choir of backing vocalists. Despite its length, "Tiny Dancer" just missed cracking the Top 40. The music offsets rather than accents any sappiness from the lyric. And as the film demonstrates, a sickly sweet pop song in just the right context can be a magical thing.