The Writers Room: Episode
In this episode, we mull over the melody, meaning, and lyrics-first collaboration of "We All Fall In Love Sometimes," music by Elton John and lyrics by Bernie Taupin, from the album "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy."
What follows is a transcript of the audio version of this song analysis, which includes music clips to illustrate the points made.
In May of 1975, the self-described Rocket Man of pop music launched a meteoric, ten-track, autobiographical song capsule, called “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.” And like a guided missile, it shot straight up to the top of the Billboard album chart.
It was co-written by singer-songwriter Elton John (re-dubbed The Captain) and lyricist and long-time writing partner Bernie Taupin (The Cowboy) — or as they’re nicknamed in the title song, “The Captain and The Kid.”
The album’s lavish packaging reinforced these characterizations, with storybook depictions of the duo’s alter-egos, rendered artistically on the outer gatefold sleeve and the album itself, as well as on the full-color poster, lyrics booklet and scrapbook, stashed inside like highly coveted cereal box prizes, opposite the vinyl record.
The elaborate artwork was brought to life in eye-popping color and detail by British album designer Alan Aldridge, in homage to the Northern Rennaissance triptych oil painting, “Garden of Earthly Delights,” by Bosch. Anyone who looks closely at the sleeve can find a visual representation of nearly every song in the collection.
Captain Fantastic was so hotly anticipated that it became the first album ever to debut at number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. So it was only natural that as Elton and Bernie’s legion of fans poured over Bernie’s latest lyrics — using the decorative booklet provided for that very purpose — they eagerly devoured any correlations they perceived between the lives of the writing team and their illustrated counterparts.
Fans searching for these connections between the songwriting partners’ professional lives and those of their LP caricatures would be richly rewarded in the lyrics, through Taupin’s vivid chronicle of their early years in the opening title track, their efforts to make a living writing and selling songs in “Bitter Fingers, the dangerous allure of drugs and excess in "Tower of Babel," and even one of Elton's suicide attempts in “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”
But one song on the record seemed to delve many layers deeper into the personal side of the co-writers’ relationship than all of the others combined. That song was “We All Fall In Love Sometimes.”
Before we examine the meaning behind the song, let’s take a look at its architecture.
The four-measure baroque piano introduction consists of a melody which spans more than an octave. Those intros leading into the verses end on a minor 3rd, by turns maintaining or returning us to a minor tonic chord and key.
The mood of the verses is perhaps best described by the second verse lyric, “It’s so strange, this feeling,” and a tone that foreshadows Elton’s later song, “Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word.”
By contrast, the intros leading into the bridges end on a major 3rd, shifting the modality and triggering a magnificent climb in a major key.
I say “bridges,” because the middle sections behave more like a bridges than choruses. One reason is that the words, line lengths and syllables are completely different on the second time around. For instance, compare the opening lines of each of the bridges, one of which begins on the "and" of the first beat...
...and the other starts a beat later...
Listen to the rhythmic differences in those lines again.
The melody is approximately the same, but the lines aren't uniform, which requires Elton to sing on different beats. The result, because of Elton's talent for melody, sounds effortless and it's easy on the ear.
We can find lots of examples of this technique in the John/Taupin catalog, since Bernie pens his (sometimes) loosely structured lyric first, and Elton tailors his music to Bernie’s lyrical blueprint.
Here's another example, from the ending lines of the bridge. Notice how the co-writers throw rhythmic and syllabic symmetry out the window, while maintaining a basic melodic pattern:
The verses end with the song’s title, making a chorus section less necessary. The first bridge also ends with the title, but the middle bridge doesn’t.
As the song begins, our protagonist writing team is taking stock at the end of a long day, a little tired from the cyclic onslaught of writing, recording, interviewing, and touring. All of this is explained succinctly, poignantly and poetically:
Soon enough, their thoughts have already turned from matters of the day to the satisfaction of their achievements — and a realization (or perhaps an admission):
To the uninformed listener, these appear to be Elton’s thoughts, not Bernie’s. In actuality, Bernie put the words in Elton’s mouth, and Elton is speaking for both men. The substance isn't only biographical. It’s also confessional.
“We All Fall In Love Sometimes” was released almost a year and a half before Elton John revealed for the first time to Rolling Stone magazine (and thus his fans) that he was “bisexual.” (That’s the word he used at the time.)
Prior to that interview, despite Elton's flamboyant stage presence, he sang relationship songs which many fans assumed were about women and he even married traditionally. So what could be the meaning behind a love song on the autobiographical album of two men — one straight and one who at that time had not yet come out as gay?
In a 2013 interview with Cameron Crowe for Rolling Stone, Elton explained: “Every lyric on ‘Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy’ was about Bernie and me, about our experiences of being able to make songs and make it big. I cry when I sing this song, because I was in love with Bernie, not in a sexual way, but because he was the person I was looking for my entire life, my little soul mate... I was gay by that time and he was married, but he was a person that, more than anything, I loved.”
Of the great male comedy team Martin & Lewis, whose fandom reached Beatlemania heights in the comedy world, it’s often said that their jokes weren’t actually that funny, but despite that, their audiences responded to something magical in the men’s combined chemistry. More specifically, it was obvious in their performance that they loved each other. They’d have to, to submit to their comedic roles within the team, night after night, over and over again, with such obvious enjoyment and total support for one another. With every setup and punchline, they were catching each other’s fall.
We all fall in love sometimes. But there's a difference between privately admitting "I love you, man" and announcing it to the world.
It’s kind of amazing that this combination of lyrical and musical ideas, created in separate rooms, could so unabashedly embody the complex intimacy of what was essentially a bromance.
It’s even more astonishing that — in the less-sexually enlightened time of the mid-nineteen-seventies — a song about two men falling in love was featured on a prominent, mainstream album, let alone saw the light of day.
One thing's for sure: At one time or another, each of us has put on a song by Elton John and Bernie Taupin and found... We All Fall In Love Sometimes.