Paul is Traveling Tonight On a Plane

As a writer, I especially appreciate the lyrics of a song. There are so many talented lyricists, but my favorites are Jackson Browne and Bernie Taupin. I acknowledge Bob Dylan’s greatness as a lyricist, but frankly, I find so many of them nonsensical that he’s not a favorite of mine. I’m sure it’s because they’re so far beyond me that I can’t appreciate them. Yeah, that’s it.

Although I don’t always agree with Jackson’s political and religious points of view, I’m in awe of his ability to express himself. His lyrics are never cliche, and I’m always amazed at his choice of words. The way he phrases things is always unexpected, and he makes choices that never would have occurred to me. I mean, if I were a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter.

To me, his lyrics are elegant and have a sophistication to them far, far above the typical Styx and Stones. I think sophistication is the key word. It’s what I appreciate most about his lyrics. My favorites are “The Pretender” and “For a Dancer.” I would link the lyrics here, but every version I found online has at least one typo. I can’t in good conscience support that.

Bernie Taupin I like for a different reason. I find his lyrics so colorful. And I have to admit, my favorite artist is Elton John. Once I discovered there was music beyond the Johnny Cash and Charlie Pride and Camelot and My Fair Lady 8-tracks that my parents used to play (and I still love that stuff), the first album I ever bought was Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I still have it. Tri-fold cover and yellow dust sleeves and all.

It’s probably still my favorite album. It would definitely be my desert island album. But I’m not sure my favorite Elton song is on that album. It’s a tough choice, but I think that song would be “Daniel”. I can listen to that song over and over, and still have that same sense of beauty and eager anticipation each time I hear the opening chord. Isn’t music funny? I have no idea why that simple melody captivates me so much.

But as perfect as the song is, even the great lyricists can use a second set of eyes on their work.

For years, I’d heard rumors of a missing verse. In interviews, Elton always said the song was too long, so he just deleted the last verse. He said the last verse explained the song, about how Daniel was a Vietnam Vet trying to escape the horrors of war.

Whenever someone would ask me that “who would you want to have dinner with?” thing, I’d answer Elton John or Bernie Taupin, so I could ask them what the missing verse for Daniel said. But to tell you the truth, something didn’t quite sound right about Elton’s explanation for why he deleted the last verse, because in the recording, he repeated the first verse. Why do that if the song was too long? Why not just sing the last verse instead of repeating the first verse?

And now, thanks to the magic of the internet, I have the answer. I only found this recently, so whenever I searched in the past, I must have been using the wrong search terms.

“But guitarist Davey Johnstone told the story: ‘Elton had written this song which immediately we all loved. And he called me over and said, “Look at this last verse. I think Taupin’s on drugs. He must be taking acid or something.” And we looked at this verse, and I can vaguely remember something about a ship’s dog named Paul. And I’m like, “What the **** is he talking about?” Suddenly out of nowhere he starts talking about this dog. So Elton just kind of took the page and ripped that bottom part off very slowly and very definitely and said, “Well, that’s the end of that.” And that’s why that verse was lost.’ ”

Mystery solved. Elton was just covering for his boy. I can appreciate that. Now I can sleep at night. And so can you.

8 Thoughts to “Paul is Traveling Tonight On a Plane

  1. I still remember sitting in your room at your house on Hampton Court listening to the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album. Timeless classic.

    1. I always wonder what the reception would be if those albums were released today. I have to think they would still be awesome. It’s just great music. And like you say, timeless.

  2. I listened to the song (love) and read the lyrics and honestly, I can’t really understand what the song is about. Is there a hidden meaning, or him just missing his brother Daniel, who went to Spain?

    1. Laurie, it’s about all the stuff that EJ said, about a Vietnam vet that just wants to get away and escape the horrors of war. Bernie got the idea from an article he read about the war, and Daniel went to Spain as his chosen escape destination simply because it rhymed with plane.

      The part Elton made up was that the last verse explained it all. He just said that so he didn’t embarrass Bernie by telling the world that the last verse was nonsensical.

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