The lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin, John's writing partner. They were inspired by Taupin's first trip to America. John and Taupin are from England, and this was the first album they wrote after spending time in the US. Taupin and John spent a lot of time together in the '70s; Bernie traveled with the band would usually stand by the soundboard during shows.
The "Blue jean baby, LA Lady, seamstress for the band" sure sounds it's Maxine Feibelmann, who was Bernie Taupin's girlfriend when he wrote the song and who became his first wife in 1971. She traveled with the band on their early tours, often sewing together the costumes and fixing their clothes. Plus, on the Madman Across The Water album, it says, "With love to Maxine" under the credits for this song. Elton John even said at one point that Bernie wrote it about his girlfriend.
Well, Taupin says that the song was not about Maxine. Here's the story he tells: "We came to California in the fall of 1970, and sunshine radiated from the populace. I was trying to capture the spirit of that time, encapsulated by the women we met - especially at the clothes stores up and down the Strip in L.A. They were free spirits, sexy in hip-huggers and lacy blouses, and very ethereal, the way they moved. So different from what I'd been used to in England. And they all wanted to sew patches on your jeans. They'd mother you and sleep with you - it was the perfect Oedipal complex."
Taupin adds that the "tiny" was poetic license, although these women were all petite. And "Tiny Dancer" sounds a lot better than "Small Dancer" or "Little Dancer."
The Madman Across The Water album was much more heavily-produced than Elton's first four. It was one of his first songs with a lush string section arranged by Paul Buckmaster, who arranged the stings on many of Elton's albums as well as songs by The Rolling Stones, Train, and Leonard Cohen. Ron Cornelius, who played guitar on Cohen's album Songs Of Love And Hate, told us: "Buckmaster is a wonderful string arranger, he's just one of these guys who can make an orchestra talk. In other words, if the strings aren't saying something, it ain't on the record."
Rick Wakeman, who later joined the group Yes, played keyboards on the album.
This was featured in the 2000 movie Almost Famous. It is used in a scene where the band is mad at each other, but remembers why they love music when they all start singing this on their tour bus.
In 2011, Budweiser used the same "Tiny Dancer changes the mood" theme in a commercial that debuted on the Super Bowl. In the spot, a gruff cowboy starts a sing-a-long to the song when he gets his beer. Peter Stormare, whose film credits include Fargo and The Big Lebowski, played the cowboy.
Elton was pleasantly surprised to learn about this song's use in Almost Famous, as it didn't always get a great reaction when he performed it live. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2011, Elton recalled: "Jeffrey Katzenberg called me and said, 'There's a scene in this film which is going to make 'Tiny Dancer' a hit all over again.' When I saw it, I said, 'Oh my God!' I used to play 'Tiny Dancer' in England and it would go down like a lead zeppelin. Cameron resurrected that song."
Elton performed this as a duet with Tim McGraw to open the 2002 American Music Awards. McGraw was named Favorite Male Country Artist, but left before he could accept the award.
In 2008, DJ Ironik interpolated this for his album No Point In Wasting Tears, in a version featuring the rapper Chipmunk. This reworking, which was titled "Tiny Dancer (Hold Me Closer)," hit #3 in the UK. Elton John is featured in the video.
On October 28, 2010, Elton played the Electric Proms, and the following evening appeared on the BBC magazine programme The One Show where two members of the audience had been at the show the previous night, and the guy - Guy! - had proposed to his girlfriend during Elton's performance of "Tiny Dancer". He insisted on them coming up to meet him.
Fortunately, nobody alluded to the ill-omens that Elton's marriage ended in divorce when he decided that neither the lovely Renate Blauel (nor any woman) was the right person for him, nor even worse that Bernie Taupin and his tiny dancer were divorced in 1976, and that by the time this programme was aired, the lyricist was on his fourth wife!
When Tony Danza hosted the ESPY Awards on ESPN, Chris Berman gave him the nickname Tony "Tiny" Danza. He hated it. On the show, he claimed he wanted the nickname Tony "Extrava" Danza.