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"The King Must Die"
Song by Elton John

from the album Elton John

Released April 10, 1970 (UK)
July 22, 1970 (USA)
Recorded January 1970
Genre Rock, symphonic rock
Length 5:04
Label DJM (UK/world)
Uni (US/Canada)
Writer Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer Gus Dudgeon
Elton John track listing
"The Cage"
"The King Must Die"
"Bad Side of the Moon"
(1995 reissue)

"The King Must Die" is a song by Elton John with lyrics written by Bernie Taupin. It is the closing track of his 1970 self-titled album. It was played often in his early repertoire, but he stopped playing it somewhere during 1972. Since then, it has only been played live with orchestral backing, and is included on his 1987 live album. It was also played live on occasion in the aftermath of the release of the live album, his 1988-1989 tour. The only known performance besides that was in the summer of 2004, where he performed with a symphony orchestra in such places as New York and Birmingham. It should also be noted that all the musicians playing on this song were session musicians, with Elton's friend Clive Hicks playing the acoustic guitar.

Lyrical meaning

The song uses many archaic words, like many of Taupin's early compositions. It tells a story of a king who is about to get overthrown. Throughout the song there are many "King"-references, such as the opening line:

"No man's a jester playing Shakespeare 'round your throne room floor. While the juggler's act is danced upon, the crown that you once wore"

It could almost being placed in the vein of folk;

"Tell the ostler that his name was the very first they chose" An "ostler" being a stable boy, who seemingly is just another subject.

"Sooner or later, everybody's kingdom must end" specifically symbolizes that the King is about to be overthrown.

"I'm so afraid your courtiers cannot be called best friends" symbolizes betrayal.

The last parts of the song flows together with the music, which is very dramatic, where the line "The king must die" ends in the crescendo, "The king is dead" - "Long live the king".

Taupin might have been inspired by the book of the same name.

Musical structure

The song starts with the first verse being accompanied by piano only. The drums and bass then kicks in for the second verse. There are no electric guitar on this song. There is an acoustic guitar, though it's quite hard to hear. The first chorus is then backed by a symphony orchestra and a horn section. For the intro for the third verse, the piano and the drums play with each other. The song gets more and more tense, the vocal gets louder along with the orchestra, before ending in the crescendo, as described above.

Due to the volume of the orchestra, the song has sometimes been qualified as symphonic rock.




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