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"Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" is a song from the Elton John album Honky Château. It reflects Bernie Taupin's take on New York City after hearing a gun go off near his hotel window during his first visit to the city. The song's lyrics were partly inspired by Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem," in which he sings "There is a rose in Spanish Harlem." In response to this, Taupin writes, "Now I know Spanish Harlem are not just pretty words to say / I thought I knew, but now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City." A more upbeat sequel to the song called "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (Part Two)," was recorded about 15 years later for Elton's later album Reg Strikes Back.

Rolling Stone magazine's Jon Landau praised the song when it was released, writing:

"Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" shows how much John can really do in the space of a single cut. Using minimal instrumentation and singing one of Taupin's most direct lyrics, John effortlessly reveals the myth beneath the myth of "... a rose in Spanish Harlem." He expresses his involvement with the city, his need for its people, and his final desire to be alone through one of his best tunes, simplest arrangements, and most natural vocal performances.[1]

Elton himself has called the song "one of my all-time favourites,"[2] upon introducing it at his 60th-birthday concert in New York's Madison Square Garden.

The song was used in the film Almost Famous, in a scene in New York City, highlighting the loneliness of one of the film's characters.

The song was used in the finale of Life on Mars.

Cover versions

  • Mandy Moore on her Coverage album. Mandy Moore reported being pleasantly surprised to learn that Elton John "heard my version ... and he liked it!"[3]
  • Jason Hart on the 2005 album If I Were You

The song also inspired a line in the Rob Thomas-penned Santana hit, "Smooth," in which the singer refers to "my Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa."

References

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