The prospect of a new version of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” featuring vocals by Britney Spears has sent the music world into a frenzy for weeks, especially since Spears hasn’t released new music in six years amid of knockdown combat and sliding combat for it. conservatism. Fortunately, “Hold Me Closer,” produced by Andrew Watt and Cirkut and finally due for release at midnight ET, is an unlikely celebration of good vibes on the track, following John’s surprise 2021 smash, featuring Dua Lipa, “Cold Heart,” which drew on elements of his previous hits, such as “Rocket Man.”
John first collaborated with former Grammy Producer of the Year Watt while making a guest appearance on Ozzy Osbourne’s 2020 album ‘Ordinary Man’, which led to Watt producing John’s ‘Cold Heart’ – with the album ‘The Lockdown Sessions” last year. . “The song is still in the 20s in the global top 50 and it’s been over a year,” says Watt (pictured above, left) Variety of ‘Cold Heart’. “It really resonated with people, because the world is so serious right now. It was a way to scream an Elton John song while out in a nightclub and also feel Dua’s energy. Elton wanted to make a sequel to this song. Why didn’t he? We thought we’d try something with ‘Tiny Dancer,’ so they sent me the initial stems.”
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“Andrew and I had been collaborating on a bunch of music recently, and he called me one day to ask if I’d like to create something for Elton together,” says Toronto-born Cirkut (real name: Henry Walter, pictured above, right ), who has also collaborated with Spears several times in the past. “I’ve been an Elton fan since I was little, so of course I had to get involved. We were able to mix and rearrange the original strings, guitar, piano and backing vocals from “Tiny Dancer”. We stumbled upon this amazing guitar part that I didn’t even know was in the song — it’s not a prominent part of the original production. We used that as the basis for the beginning of ‘Hold Me Closer’ and built it around that. We had it playing on loop while Watt started playing bass and I programmed the drums.”
Of that Caleb Quaye guitar part, Watt marvels, “He literally sounded like Hendrix. I thought, what the hell is this? Is this actually Hendrix? Was he alive then? I FaceTimed Elton and played it for him, and he said, “This is amazing!” I said, “Give me a few hours. I was just really inspired.” When the two producers laid the hook of “Tiny Dancer” over their instrumental bed, “that was it,” says Watt. “It clicked. We had our fucking record.”
“We had to figure out how to put a new spin on it while keeping the spirit of the original,” Cirkut says of the challenge inherent in reinterpreting a song as well-known as “Tiny Dancer.” “The tempo of the original song is 73 BPM (beats per minute). We could have gone half time with it and taken it in a completely different direction than we did, but we wanted to do something upbeat and danceable, so we basically slowed down the tempo of the original and doubled the beat. Once the groove locked into place, I knew we had something special.”
Watt was leaving his Beverly Hills studio waiting to fly to Dallas to meet John the next day when another idea struck him. She recalls, “As I walk up the stairs, I sing to myself, ‘hold me closer… hold me closer.’ What if we take that first line of the classic chorus and redefine the melody a bit? I ran back downstairs and Cirkut was already packing, but he’s so amazing that we quickly took my idea and turned it into this kind of post-chorus at the end of the song. The structure was growing. But there’s a lot of pressure to sit back and say, “Hey Elton, here’s another version of ‘Tiny Dancer.'” What I had to keep telling myself is that this isn’t a new version of “Tiny Dancer.” It’s a great addition to an already amazing piece of art. Luckily, he loved it.”
While John and Watt were sitting together in Toronto the next day, John’s husband and manager David Furnish showed off some new merchandise featuring photos used on John’s 1992 album “The One.” Says Watt, “We’re looking at this hoodie while we’re sitting on the couch, and it hits Elton: What about ‘The One’ for the lyrics? He starts singing it, but he sings it a little differently. We went through the melodies together, and it’s the words and the vibe, but the melody is redefined to work over the chords. We took the vocal from that and tweaked it. ‘Tiny Dancer’ and ‘The One’ are 20 years apart, but they worked incredibly well together.”
John later played Fender Rhodes piano through a Roland Jazz Chorus amp and added new piano parts to “Hold Me Closer”, leaving an important and final element of the song hinted at. “He wanted to work with an artist again and he came up with the idea of having Britney on the record,” says Watt, confirming that Spears recorded her vocals in his studio. “The fact that he came together and wanted to do it and how it sounded on the record — you couldn’t have imagined it. It’s amazing. It’s a moment in time. She elevated the record so much and put so much of her own personality into it – all her ad-libs and runs and soul.”
Spears “was actually one of the first big artists I produced when I was first starting out professionally,” says Cirkut. “It feels very special to be a part of her first release in quite some time, not to mention a major positive turning point in her life and career. Seeing the excitement of her fans is growing my excited.” Adds Watt, “I was born in 1990, so she’s my pop star, you know? She’s the one I grew up watching on MTV. She’s my Madonna. To record with her and hear that voice was just incredible. It was master at hearing her own voice and knowing when she’d taken it. You’d never think her and Elton’s voices would mesh so well, but they do. She took the record to a place we never dreamed it could. goes and really made him an event”.
Ultimately, “Hold Me Closer” is a ray of positivity amid a world constantly struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat of escalating war in Ukraine, and bitter political and cultural divisions. “Everybody’s on edge,” says Watt. “This song is just a celebration. Let’s hope the summer lasts for another couple of months. It’s a song to go out and sing your ass off at Elton John karaoke. You can get lost in it. You want to have fun. Songs that are serious and can change the world are also amazing, but this one, you can just put it all aside and enjoy it. Britney’s had a lot to go through, and maybe this is her moment too – a moment where she feels carefree and uses her voice to make people dance and have fun.”
Asked why he thinks John was so excited about revamping his classic material when so many artists of his vintage are content to rely on decades-old formulas, Watt says the artist “loves music more than anyone in the world. He’s the only person on the planet I could sit down with and in the same sentence talk about Lizzo and Jerry Lee Lewis. We just sit and listen to other people’s music for hours and hours — the other night we went from James Blake to Aretha Franklin. His range and knowledge of music is so broad, so it makes sense that he likes to make contemporary music. You can’t play “Tiny Dancer” in a nightclub. You could, but it would have to be a remix. For Elton, why not do it himself? Why not put his musical genius into it and make a version that today’s youth will want to hear?”
John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Tour has been on hiatus since early August, but will resume with shows on September 7-8 in Toronto. Watt produced Osbourne’s star-studded next album, “Patient Number 9,” out Sept. 9 via Epic, while Cirkut was behind longtime collaborator Ava Max’s upcoming release, “Diamonds & Dancefloors.” , due October 14 via the Atlantic. .
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