"Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" is the first single from British musician Elton John's 1974 album Caribou; it was released that year during the latter half of May in the United Kingdom, and on June 10 in the United States. The song was written by John and his collaborator Bernie Taupin, and produced by Gus Dudgeon. It was written in the key of C major.
In the song, Elton sings to someone he has helped and from whom he is now experiencing rejection:
I took a chance and changed your way of lifeIt was written with the other songs on the album during a ten day period in January 1974.
but you misread my meaning when I met you
closed the door and left me blinded by the light
don't let the sun go down on me
although I search myself its always someone else I see.
"Don't Let the Sun" charted on June 1, 1974 in Great Britain, making it to number 16. In the United States, it was released while "Bennie and the Jets" was still in the Top 40, and reached the Top 10 after four weeks. On August 10, the song's two week stay at number 2 ended. It could not oust John Denver's "Annie's Song," nor Paper Lace's "The Night Chicago Died" from the top spot. But a number 2 pinnacle guaranteed it further airplay. By September it would become Elton's fourth gold single.
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As successful as the 1974 record had been, it was as a duet with George Michael that "Don't Let The Sun Go Down on Me" had its greatest success. The pair had performed the song at the Live Aid concert in 1985. Recorded live at a concert at Wembley Stadium, London on March 25, 1991 when Elton John was a surprise guest of George Michael, the duet became a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic. It was released later that year and reached number one on the UK singles chart for two weeks in December 1991 and a single week on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1992. The song was the only #1 single of the modern era to be recorded at an outdoors venue.
The footage used for the music video of the song was not taken from the same concert. "The video was actually shot over several days," confirms Michael Pagnotta, George's publicist. "It was shot in an airline hangar in Burbank where George had been rehearsing; Elton came in for a night and they ran through the song a couple of times. Then the song was filmed in its entirety live in Chicago in the middle of October as part of that Cover to Cover tour, and when Elton came out from the wings, that place went crazy." It appears on John's Love Songs compilation.
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"Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" has been a popular song for other artists to perform or record as well. Maynard Ferguson arranged this song into a jazz version, which he first performed in the 1970s show "The Mark of Jazz" with host Sid Mark. This live version stems from around 1975; it was never recorded onto an album. Roger Daltrey sang it for the 1987 soundtrack The Lost Boys. Gloria Estefan recorded it in 1989. Jazz singer Oleta Adams recorded it on the 1991 tribute album Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin. Late 1990s punk cover specialty act Me First and the Gimme Gimmes also took it on. In December 2002 David Sneddon won the BBC's first Fame Academy show singing his version of "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" and his own song "Stop Living The Lie". Sneddon also put his version of Elton's song on the B side, which was number one in the UK Singles Chart in January 2003.
In 2003, Vanessa Carlton performed the song during the Elton John Tribute Concert. Also in the 2000s, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" has become a frequent selection of reality television singing contestants. Most notably, Clay Aiken's performance of it in the semi-final wild-card round of the second season of American Idol propelled him into the finals and later a very successful recording career. "Don't Let" became one of Aiken's signature performances, and was reprised in the fifth season in a surprise appearance involving Michael Sandecki. David Archuleta's performance of it during the American Idol Season 7 Final received a lot of praise from all the Judges and even prompted Simon to proclaim it to be Archuleta's best performance on the show. Other such contestants who have performed it include American Idol's Justin Guarini, Jasmine Trias, Bo Bice, Canadian Idol's Tyler Hamilton, New Zealand Idol's Clinton Randell, and The X Factor's Journey South. Lately, it has become popular on Spanish show "Operación Triunfo", sung by Moritz. Forest Whitaker sang "Don't Let" in a comedy skit when he hosted the television show Saturday Night Live on February 10, 2007.
The song is covered by the company Wavegroup for the music video game Karaoke Revolution Presents:American Idol.