Have Mercy on the Criminal

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"Have Mercy on the Criminal"
Song by Elton John
from the album Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player
Released22 January 1973 (UK)
26 January 1973 (USA)
RecordedJune 1972
GenreRock, Symphonic rock
LabelDJM Records
MCA Records (US/Canada-1975)
Songwriter(s)Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer(s)Gus Dudgeon

"Have Mercy on the Criminal" is a song by Elton John released on his 1973 album, Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player. It is the most frequent live-track on the album besides the two dominating singles, "Daniel" and "Crocodile Rock".

Musical structure[]

The song is one of only two songs from the album that features orchestration. Long-time collaborator Paul Buckmaster was responsible for the arrangement.[1] It opens unusually, in the middle of a crescendo, before ending with a snare drum-hit that segues into a slow-paced dramatic ballad that lasts for the rest of the song. Featured is also a guitar solo. Upon introducing the song during his orchestral tour of Australia in 1986, John stated that "no one did arrangements like this in those days," claiming "that's why Buckmaster was so great."

Author Mary Anne Cassata praises the song as a "breakthrough stunner," particularly praising Buckmaster's "tense" arrangement and John's "desperate" vocals.[2] Elton John biographer David Buckley believes the song's guitar riff was influenced by that of Derek and the Dominos' "Layla."[3]

Lyrical meaning[]

The lyrics describe what life is like for an escaped prisoner.[1][4] The first verses mention "dogs at night chasing some poor criminal", while the last verses mentioning "never seen a friend in years", bookending the theme as being about the escape and recapture of a criminal. The chorus claims "have mercy on the criminal - are you blind to the winds of change - don't you hear them anymore," pleading for tolerance for the criminal on the lam.[1] Author Elizabeth Rosenthal believes the song was influenced by the songs of Rosemary Clooney and Jo Stafford.[4] Phillip Norman traces some of the imagery in the song to stories and B-movies that Taupin was exposed to as a child.[5]


Bootleg sources prove that it was performed months before the album's release, with the earliest recording being from November 1972. It was performed at practically each show on his 1973 tours, occasionally in 1975. For his 1980 tour, it was a staple, being played during the latter half of every show. It was performed on and off in 1984 as well, and in 1986, with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. A live performance was included on the 1987 album Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.[1][2][4] As with other songs performed at those shows, it also received performances during his 1988/89 World Tour. It was performed in 1995 in the Netherlands, and on his 2002 tour as a staple. It made a brief return in the summer of 2004 during his second orchestral tour. He performed the song on 26 May 2016 at the Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv, Israel and most recently on 11 June 2016 at the Leicestershire County Cricket Ground, Grace Road, in England.



  1. ^ Jump up to: a b c d Guarisco, D.A. "Have Mercy on the Criminal". Allmusic. Retrieved 2012-03-04.
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b Cassata, M.A. (2002). The Elton John Scrapbook. Citadel. pp. 96, 112. ISBN 978-0-8065-2322-4.
  3. ^ Buckley, D. (2007). Elton: The Biography. Chicago Review Press. p. 147. ISBN 978-1-55652-713-5.
  4. ^ Jump up to: a b c Rosenthal, E.J. (2001). His song: the musical journey of Elton John. Random House. pp. 54, 520. ISBN 978-0-8230-8893-5.
  5. ^ Norman, P. (1993). Elton John. Simon & Schuster. pp. 12, 229. ISBN 978-0-671-79729-4.

External links[]

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