Elton John – Levon

Great song by Elton that I heard early on in my life.

This was the first US single from Madman Across The Water, Levon runs 5:22 minutes and Elton would not let his record company cut it down for radio play. As a result many radio stations ignored it. The song didn’t chart high but proved to be an enduring song, earning airplay on classic rock and adult contemporary radio for decades to come.

The song peaked at #24 in the Billboard 100 and #6 in Canada in 1971.

The next single from the album was Tiny Dancer, which is even longer, at 6:12. Like Levon, that one fared poorly on the chart (#41) but… also became a classic. Neither song was issued as a single in the UK.

I always wondered if the song had anything to do with Levon Helm, but Bernie Taupin says that he simply made the name up because he likes it, and the song has nothing to do with Helm.

From Songfacts

In Susan Black’s book Elton John in His Own Words, Elton says of “Levon”: “It”s about a guy who just gets bored doing the same thing. It’s just somebody who gets bored with blowing up balloons and he just wants to get away from it but he can’t because it’s the family ritual.”

When Rolling Stone asked Taupin about the song in 2013, he insisted that he has no idea what he intended as the meaning. “It was a free-form writing,” he said. “It was just lines that came out that were interesting.

This is a great example of Taupin’s intricate, nuanced writing style that leads to many different interpretations. For instance, the “cartoon balloons” that Levon blows up all day could be balloons with cartoon characters printed on them, or perhaps something more figurative, like thought bubbles that appear in comic strips, indicating the thoughts that are constantly rising out of his consciousness.

Taupin and John made a great team because Elton could interpret his lyrics very well, giving life to the characters in the songs with a curious ambiguity that encouraged further listens. In many cases, Elton didn’t know what Taupin had in mind when he wrote the lyrics – when asked he would often reply, “you’ll have to ask Bernie.”

The actual New York Times page 1 headline that included the phrase “God Is Dead” is dated March 24, 1968; the full headline read, “‘God Is Dead’ Doctrine Losing Ground to ‘Theology of Hope’.”

The phrase also appeared in a major (page 3) article on January 7, 1970. Smaller pieces dated January and April 1966 that feature the phrase in their headings can also be found. None were on Christmas Day, but the January ones are close! 

Jon Bon Jovi covered this for the tribute album Two Rooms. Elton played piano on some of Bon Jovi’s recordings. 

Sir Elton and his partner David Furnish became parents to a son born on Christmas Day 2010 to a surrogate mother in California. They named him Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, which is how the baby boy ended up in this Songfact. It is assumed the name “Levon” was chosen because of the song’s line, “He was born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas day.”

Levon

Levon wears his war wound like a crown
He calls his child Jesus ’cause he likes the name
And he sends him to the finest school in town

Levon, Levon likes his money
He makes a lot they say
Spends his days counting
In a garage by the motorway

He was born a pauper
To a pawn on a Christmas day
When the New York Times
Said God is dead and the war’s begun
Alvin Tostig has a son today

And he shall be Levon
And he shall be a good man
And he shall be Levon
In tradition with the family plan
And he shall be Levon
And he shall be a good man
He shall be Levon

Levon’s sells cartoon balloons in town
His family business thrives
Jesus blows up balloons all day
Sits on the porch swing watching them fly
And Jesus, he wants to go to Venus
Leave Levon far behind
Take a balloon and go sailing,
While Levon, Levon slowly dies

He was born a pauper
To a pawn on a Christmas day
When the New York Times
Said God is dead and the war’s begun
Alvin Tostig has a son today

And he shall be Levon
And he shall be a good man
And he shall be Levon
In tradition with the family plan, woo
And he shall be Levon
And he shall be a good man
He shall be Levon

And he shall be Levon
And he shall be a good man
And he shall be Levon
In tradition with the family plan, woo
And he shall be Levon
And he shall be a good man
He shall be Levon