Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Tiny Dancer”

These posts are about the songs that just barely failed to cross the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.

Maxine Taupin used to sew patches onto Elton John’s garments and make other repairs to stage costumes, no small tasks. Serving as seamstress for the band was hardly the most prominent or notable role for the once and future Maxine Phyllis Feibelman when John released the album Madman Across the Water, in late 1971. The woman who was a ballerina as a child was now a newlywed, having married music man Bernie Taupin, John’s steadfast lyricist. When Taupin sat down to put words to some of John’s new music, that L.A. lady was on his mind. Actually, the whole experience of being in Los Angeles in the early nineteen-seventies occupied Taupin’s thoughts, and he tried to capture the entirety of the experience, from religious proselytizers roaming the avenues to pirouettes on the beach.

“Tiny Dancer” became the lead track on Madman Across the Water and served as the album’s second single, following “Levon,” which became John’s third Top 40 hit in the U.S. “Tiny Dancer,” though, had some built-in challenges. Stretching to over six minutes, the track was a tough sell for radio programmers who preferred quick and peppy, all the better to make it seem like they were cramming in a lot of tunes between cascades of commercials. John was a known performer, but he wasn’t yet a superstar with the kind of clout required for sprawling singles. “Tiny Dancer” broke John’s streak of placing songs in the Billboard Top 40, peaking at #41.

The middling success initially of the single proved to be an inaccurate forecast of its legacy. Later embraced by both album rock and adult contemporary radio stations, the song soared in popularity, eventually selling over three million copies in the U.S. and cementing a place in pop culture so prominent that arguably exceeds that of any of John’s many other collaborations with Taupin.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.

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