The song was released in the United States in October 1970 as the B-side to "Take Me to the Pilot". Both received airplay, but "Your Song" was preferred by disc jockeys and replaced "Take Me to the Pilot" as the A-side, eventually making the top ten on both the UK and US charts.
A demo version was included on John's 1990 box set album To Be Continued. The song has been covered by a number of artists, including Ellie Goulding, whose version reached number two on the UK Singles Chart in late 2010.
The lyrics express the romantic thoughts of an innocent. Taupin offers a straightforward love-song lyric at the beginning: "It's a little bit funny this feeling inside / I'm not one of those who can easily hide / I don't have much money but boy if I did / I'd buy a big house where we both could live." At times the self-deprecating narrator stumbles to get out his feelings, which despite being a melodramatic device, AllMusic calls "effective and sweet": "So excuse me forgetting but these things I do / You see I've forgotten if they're green or they're blue / Anyway the thing is what I really mean / Yours are the sweetest eyes I've ever seen / And you can tell everybody this is your song / It may be quite simple but now that it's done / I hope you don't mind, I hope you don't mind / That I wrote down in words / How wonderful life is / While you're in the world..."
The song was part of a stockpile of songs John and Taupin wrote while living together. John pinpoints his composition of the music to 27 October 1969. It took him only ten minutes. Taupin had penned the lyrics earlier that day over breakfast. John cites the song as one of his favorites, and plays it at most of his concerts.
"Your Song" was itself the inspiration for the song "We All Fall in Love Sometimes" on John's 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. The original framed handwritten lyric, complete with egg and coffee stains from breakfast, can be seen in the lyrics booklet that is included with various editions of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.
"Your Song" was praised by critics upon its release and in subsequent years. Bill Janovitz from AllMusic described it as a "near-perfect song". In a 1975 interview with Rolling Stone, John Lennon recalled, "I remember hearing Elton John's 'Your Song,' heard it in America—it was one of Elton's first big hits—and remember thinking, 'Great, that's the first new thing that's happened since we (The Beatles) happened.' It was a step forward. There was something about his vocal that was an improvement on all of the English vocals until then. I was pleased with it." John Mendelsohn from Rolling Stone called the song a "pretty McCartney-esque ballad".
The song was John's first pop hit. It rose to number eight on the Billboard Hot 100, and peaked at number seven on the UK Singles Chart. In 2002, John re-recorded the song as a duet with opera singer Alessandro Safina for the first Sport Relief charity telethon, and it reached number four in the UK. In the US it was certified Gold and Platinum on December 13, 2012 by the RIAA.
English recording artist Ellie Goulding covered "Your Song" for inclusion on the re-release of her debut album, titled Bright Lights. Produced by Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons, it was released digitally on 12 November 2010 as the re-release's lead single. The song was featured in the Christmas 2010 television advert for department store chain John Lewis.
Nick Levine of Digital Spy gave the song four out of five stars, commenting that producer Lovett "shrouds her beautifully fluttery vocals in little but piano and strings, just adding a few harmonies towards the finish, allowing her to draw out the tenderness in Bernie Taupin's lyrics and the utter loveliness of one of Elton John's very best melodies. The result is a quiet, modest triumph, but a triumph nonetheless." Caryn Ganz of Spin magazine opined that her cover is "everything Gaga's Grammy version wasn't—a tender, vulnerable gift". Jon O'Brien critic AllMusic, in his review for Bright Lights, called it "unimaginative" and felt that it "sounds out of place alongside the rest of her rather more adventurous material."
"Your Song" debuted at number thirty-nine on the UK Singles Chart for the week of 14 November 2010. The single jumped to number three the following week, selling 84,896 copies. In its third week, it climbed to its peak position of number two (behind The X Factor Finalists 2010's cover of David Bowie's "Heroes") on sales of 72,292 copies, becoming Goulding's highest-peaking single after the 2013 chart-topper "Burn". It maintained its position the following week, selling 63,753 units. The song also topped the UK Official Download Chart for the week ending 11 December 2010.
The single was certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) on 22 July 2013, and had sold 755,326 copies in the UK by August 2013. Elsewhere, "Your Song" reached number four in Austria, number five in Ireland, number twenty-two in Denmark, number twenty-five in Sweden and number fifty-six in Switzerland.
The music video, directed by Ben Coughlan and Max Knight, premiered on YouTube on 14 November 2010. Shot in a home video look, it depicts Goulding's life on the road with friends. Areas from Goulding's hometown of Hereford can be seen throughout the video, including Hereford railway station.