Sir Elton Hercules John is a musician of impeccable talent. However, it comes as a surprise to hear that this British legend endured 22 studio albums to produce his first #1 hit in the UK-“Sacrifice.”
Released as the second single off of his 22nd studio album ‘Sleeping with the Past,’ “Sacrifice” became one of Elton John’s most notable songs. The song also reached #18 on US Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1990. The single was released twice; first time in Octobe 1989 and second time in May 1990. Each time the disc had two different songs, “Love Is A Cannibal” and “Healing Hands,” on the flip sides.
Elton John’s long-time collaborator and lyricist for “Sacrifice,” Bernie Taupin spoke with Music Connection magazine about the meaning behind the song. According to him, the song is about the “rigors” of love in a marriage. According to Elton John, the inspiration for the song was drawn from the American singer Aretha Franklin’s hit “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” which touched topics of infidelty and gender equality.
This soulful ballad by the maestro has sparked many cover versions, most notably by Sinéad O’Connor, and Don Henley and Vince Gill.
Watch the Music Video for “Sacrifice” by Elton John
The music video, directed by Alek Keshishian, starrs Canadian model Yasmeen Ghauri and actor Chris Isaak. The video shows the turmoils of a marriage life ending in a split and the husband taking care of their daughter.
The song talks about the fall of a marriage and how it is “no sacrifice.” It is the common conception of the world that love and marriage takes some ‘sacrifice’ from both parties, and how lack of it would be disastrous. Elton John sings that divorce or separation is not a sacrifice either of them are making. The only sacrifice they would be making is on their child’s psychology.
Lyrics Review and Song Meaning of “Sacrifice”
The first verse of the song starts off with a clue as to why this marriage is falling apart. Elton John builds on the human nature that when a relationship gets tough, each of them would turn towards comfort in other people. For him; “When the scent of her lingers/And temptation’s strong,” and for her; “Into the boundary/Of each married man,” comes the feelings of infidelity. And that is where everything starts to go south.
In these lyrics, Elton John sings how his heart has been turned cold or ‘dead’ by the actions of this other person. Often we have turn our emotions off to prevent us from getting hurt. ‘Things that look better’ could be other men and women, whom Elton pleads to be just be by-gones.
‘Giving up’ is not a sacrifice. It’s a temporary fix to a series of temporary problems. They loved each other at one point and something is causing them to forget that. The simple word Elton refers to here could be ‘love.’ Or is it ‘sacrifice’ itself? Or could it be ‘loneliness’ which is the feeling that they could be going through being stuck in “two separate worlds”?
‘Mutual understanding’ is a strong pillar of a successful marriage. On the flipside ‘mitual misunderstanding’ is not. When misunderstanding sets in, it eats up the relationship. Being hurt continuously is something no one can endure forever. Either they break or turn cold. In the song, we learn that being hurt too much makes one build a prison around themselves; not necessarily to restrict them, but to prevent them from dealing with things that hurt them.
Watch Elton John Perform “Sacrifice” Live in Rome in 2005
In the final act, as in the last stage of their marriage, they find themselves in a situation where there is nothing left to be done to salvage it. Every possible opportunities and possibilites are tried and failed. All the tears are shed and all curses are thrown out.
The stronger you hold on to something/someone the harder it will be to let them go. The stronger the bond, the more jealousy it results and the more pain it causes.
Elton Jon might be suggesting that even in the final act, it is important to have a clear vision of the ‘direction’ that the couple is taking on. There is “no sacrifice” in giving up on a marriage, except for the trauma endured by the child. There is also no purpose in grinning through it “for the child,” but it is important to re-evaluate their choices and decisions and find their sense of direction.
The song concludes with an almost-wail of Elton John saying that their decision was “no sacrifice.”
What do you think this song and lyrics mean? What are your fond memories of this song? Drop a comment below.