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Holiday Inn: The lost lyrics
Tuesday, February 1 2000

By Reggie Zippo.

While listening to the album version of "Holiday Inn", I often wonder how many fans know that they are only listening to about 75% of the original lyrics. After nearly 30 years of hearing a song that sounds so complete as is, it may surprise even the most avid of EJ's fans that "Holiday Inn" once had a third verse, a slightly different chorus, and a meaning that painted a much darker picture about life on the road.

Everyone has heard Elton and Bernie tell the tale of how the song "Daniel" was originally written with a third verse and how it had to be deleted before the final recording was made. Time and time again, they have said that the missing verse had explained the whole meaning of the song, but it would have been too long to be a pop tune. This was, however, not the first incident in which one of Bernie's lyrics had had the third verse removed and the meaning changed before the master recording was made.

In all of the interviews I have encountered, EJ and BT have never mentioned how or why "Holiday Inn" was reduced to a syrupy tribute to a motel chain, rather than the dark confines of a prison that Bernie had originally envisioned. Did the company that owned the Holiday Inn motel chain threaten to sue for liable? Did EJ consider the rooms to be of higher quality than that of his partner? Or did they simply feel that the public would enjoy a much shorter happier version in the long run? Listening to the original demo recording, I honestly feel that it would have stood the test of time.

The first notable change came during the chorus. Everything was the same between the demo and the final master. All except one little word. The final version of the chorus reads in part: "You ain't seen nothing till you been in a motel, baby, like a Holiday Inn." That sounds all well and fine, but the replacement of just one word changed the whole tone and meaning of the song. The word "baby" replaced the word "prison"! "You ain't seen nothing till you been in a motel prison, like a Holiday Inn."

With "prison" now deleted and "baby" inserted, the song ended up sounding like a commercial advertisement for the Holiday Inn. For those of you who do not know, Holiday Inn is a motel chain in the USA. I am quite surprised that the company has not yet tried to use this song to their advantage. Once the word "prison" was eliminated and "baby" penciled in, verse one and two seemed to fit better with the chorus. Verse three, however, was now terribly out of place. If it had been left intact, it would not have worked well with the rest of the lyrics. "Prison" supported that third verse. Without it, there would have been no connection to the chorus. Consider the words: "Don't even know if it's Cleveland or Maine. Well, the building's as big and the room's just the same. Oh, the TV don't work and the French fries are cold, and room service closed about an hour ago."

It must have been a last minute choice to dramatically alter the lyrics because I have heard EJ perform it live in 1970 with the third verse intact, but sans "prison" in the chorus. There was a great story to be told here, but Elton chose fluff instead of meat. Had Elton left well enough alone, the song would have surely been far more memorable. Just imagine performing for several hours then traveling to the next destination for an overnight stay in a motel room that seemed unacceptable for human comfort. With nowhere to go, the countless number of motel rooms begins to feel like a sort of prison. Solution? Write about it. Why we were deprived of this original thought may never be known. Perhaps Elton will one day reinstate the original lyrics and perhaps he won't. For now, I can only rely on the muddled unreleased demo version to capture my imagination about staying "in a motel prison, like a Holiday Inn".

(Please note: Feelings expressed in this article about the Holiday Inns of the early 1970s is in no way a reflection of their current reputation of quality and great service that they now possess.)

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