“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” by Elton John

Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” is premised on the singer and the woman he loves being separated by a considerable amount of distance. More specifically Bernie Taupin wrote it in regards to Toni Russo, the lady he was married to from 1979 ’til 1991. And at the time he was in fact in the Caribbean, apparently far away from his wife.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Elton John's I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues at Lyrics.org.

And at certain points this may read as a sad song. For instance, as the title indicates, the vocalist clearly has “the blues”, i.e. is suffering from depression, as to be expected when one spends substantial time away from his or her partner. 

Indeed he imagines that all of the idle time he has on his hands could rather be ‘spent with her’, “living like lovers” do, i.e. enjoying each other’s company and making love.

Bernie talks about “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”

But in fact, according to Bernie Taupin, it is said idle time which is at the center of this song, not the idea that the singer misses his lover, even though only a relatively-few lyrics are dedicated to it. Or more to the point is now that they are in fact separated, how will they utilize their free time? 

Bernie Taupin talks about "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues"

And what the signer is telling his partner is that she should make the most of it. Or put differently, she shouldn’t sit around depressed like he is (an idea buttressed by the music video). Rather she could use the opportunity for instance to “dust out the demons inside”, i.e. labor towards her own personal edification as opposed to that of the relationship itself. 

Or worded alternatively yet again, romance naturally takes precedence when the two of them are together. So being that, temporarily speaking, they are not, then the time is ripe to instead focus on some personal growth.

But this is not to imply that the singer is actually leading by example, for it is pretty clear that his own mind is very much on his lover.  Verily he goes on to state that he loves her “more than… life itself”. And such is indeed a powerful statement – so powerful in fact that out of all the lyrics Taupin has written throughout his distinguished career, this is the one he regrets penning the most.

But even if said statement is a bit over-the-top, at least it effectively gets across what the narrator is going through. And simply put, he misses his significant other.

Lyrics of "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues"

On which album is “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”?

This track is from “Too Low for Zero”, the album Elton John put out in 1983. 

Peaking at number 7 on the Billboard 200 and being certified platinum in both the US and UK, it was considered a comeback project by the Rocketman. This was after his previous four albums bombed, at least in relation to the standard he had set earlier in the 1970s. And for the record, “Too Low for Zero” was his 17th studio album.

And the reason his previous four albums didn’t perform up to par apparently had something to do with the fact that he did not employ the services of his traditional lyric writer, Bernie Taupin, as much on them. 

Well Elton didn’t make that mistake this time around, as Taupin reportedly wrote all of the lyrics featured on “Too Low for Zero”, including this song. And the other composers of the track are Elton John and Dave Johnstone. Moreover the song track was produced by Chris Thomas, who served the same role on many an Elton John classic.

I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues

More Interesting Facts about “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”

It would appear that this is Elton John’s favorite track from “Too Low for Zero”.

Stevie Wonder also participated on this track. On top of being a world-class singer, Stevie is likewise a multi-instrumentalist. Owing to that, on this song, he rendered the one instrument that he is perhaps most-famous for, the harmonica.

Also interesting to note is that one of the engineers behind “Too Low for Zero” was Renate Blauel. And readers familiar with the personal history of Elton John would recognize that name as his first spouse. Elton was married to this lady from 1984 to 1988.

This track is the lead single from “Too Low for Zero”. The Rocket Record Company, which Elton John and Bernie Taupin co-founded, first released the song as such during April of 1983 in the UK. Then Geffen Records issued the single some six months later in the United States. Elton’s UK platinum-certified song “I’m Still Standing” also appears as a single on this project.

The music video to this track, which was filmed in London at a venue called the Rivoli Ballroom, was directed by a regular Elton John collaborator in that regard, Russell Mulcahy.

“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” was a notable hit for Elton. It reached number 1 in Canada and Zimbabwe. But its success did not stop there. It broke the top 5 of the UK Singles Chart and Billboard Hot 100. The song also went on to be certified platinum in the United States, earning that distinction as recently as 2018.


Popular Cover Versions

This song has been covered by some notable artists throughout the year. 

James Blunt did so a while back, with his rendition being featured on the album BBC Radio 2: Sounds of the 80s (2014). 

In 2018 a tribute/remix album came out entitled “Revamp: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin”, and that time around Alessia Cara covered the song. 

Also the Rocketman himself teamed up with R&B singer Mary J. Blige twice to drop renditions of “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”. 

A live version can be found on “Elton John One Night Only – The Greatest Hits” (2000). And the other is on a 2006 EP entitled “Mary J. Blige & Friends”.

2 Responses

  1. Padger says:

    None of this explains what it is that leads “it” to be called “the blues”.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Exactly! WHY do they call the blues, ‘the blues’? The lyrics suggest they’ll explain why ‘the blues’ is an appropriate term, but then they don’t. Probably expecting too much from a pop song….

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