A few days ago, Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” found its way into the rotation on my iPhone, and I relished in the perfection of that song. It’s one of the last truly classic Elton John songs; several years later, he retreated into adult contemporary oblivion with such light filler as “Sacrifice” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
The song has a throwback 50s sound, led by Elton’s bluesy (no pun intended) piano playing and Stevie Wonder’s harmonica solo. There are lots of seventh chords in the song, which add to the blues sound.
Bernie Taupin’s lyrics have never been better. They are spot on and earnest, with gems such as “Wait on me girl; cry in the night if it helps/But more than ever, I simply love you more than I love life itself.” They’re heartfelt, wistful and simple, getting right to the point.
But what Sir Elton does so well on “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” — and throughout his career he has done this — is create a paradox in the music. Even though “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” is in a medium tempo and a major key, there’s an overall wistful feeling that at times tugs hard at your heart. The nostalgic sound further adds to the confusion, creating contentment while planting the seeds of longing and remembrance.
Below is the original video for the song; like many 80s videos, it tells a story within the lyrics — that of a GI leaving his girl for boot camp and longing for her as she fights temptation from another man. It’s a perfect complement to the poignant song. And after hearing it, you’ll know why AllMusic crowed, “‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ is likely to stand the test of time as a standard.”