Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)


This album saw Elton and his crack band at the peak of their popularity, and often at the peak of their collective powers.

By now entrenched as one of the 70’s dominant performers, at this point a supremely confident Elton was willing to try nearly anything, which was both a blessing and a curse. The album is his best known due to its classic hit singles, including four A+ efforts in a row to start the album, but it also includes a fair amount of filler and is one of those “good double albums that could’ve been a great single album.”

Indeed, had Elton taken the best 9 or 10 songs here this would’ve easily been his best album, but his judgement here isn’t always to be trusted, as witnessed by the inclusion of misogynist, mean-spirited rockers such as “Dirty Little Girl” and “All The Girls Love Alice.” Other songs revisit previous styles a tad too closely and not as well (“The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-1934)” and “Roy Rogers” veer unimpressively into Tumbleweed Connection territory, while “Your Sister Can’t Twist” is a fast-paced rock ‘n’ roller a la “Crocodile Rock” only not nearly as good), or are too short (“This Song Has No Title”) or too long (“I’ve Seen That Movie Too,” which is also quite reminiscent of “Have Mercy On The Criminal” come to think of it).

Fortunately, much of the rest of the album is outstanding, and yes I’m including songs that I know I’m not supposed to like such as “Jamaica Jerkoff,” a silly but fun reggae throwaway, and “Social Disease,” which oddly enough combines bluesgrass with Dixieland jazz, but again in a fun way. Still, these are undoubtedly minor efforts on an album that is most definitely about its major efforts. Of those, the mournful 11-minute (!) epic (“Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)”) that begins the proceedings is arguably the best thing Elton ever did.

The first 6-minutes or so, the all-instrumental “Funeral For A Friend” part, is moody and funereal; it’s also almost prog-like in its multi-sectioned ambition, and it’s spectacularly successful in every way. Then the vocals kick in on the “Love Lies Bleeding” part, which is simply one of Elton’s very best rockers, with vocal hooks galore and his band in peak form, especially Johnstone. Though not a hit per se, this is a well-worn album track that subsequently became a radio favourite. The second song, “Candle In The Wind,” a lovingly rendered tribute to Marilyn Monroe, was a U.K. hit in 1974, a top 10 hit when released from a 1987 live album, and of course was revised and sung at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997; the single released of that version became a worldwide #1 hit.

Now that’s an enduring ballad, and in addition to its excellent melody and moving lyrics I really like Olsson’s drum performance on this original version, as well as the airy backing vocals and Johnstone’s riffs. Next up is another classic single in the campy #1 hit, “Bennie and the Jets,” which is mostly notable for its canned applause, piano hooks, and of course Elton’s fabulous falsetto vocals, which also grace the musically lush, deeply affecting title track, one of Elton’s best ballads and another major hit single. Other impressive album cuts are the previously mentioned (in my Elton John review) “Grey Seal,” and “Sweet Painted Lady,” which overcomes more misogynist lyrics by virtue of Elton’s tender delivery of them plus another pretty melody.

Still, only two of the albums truly classic tracks come on what used to be sides three and four (the album is now a single cd), thereby strengthening the “this should’ve been a single album” argument, but “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” is a terrific, hard charging, rabble rousing party tune that’s simply Elton’s most convincing guitar driven rocker, period. Last but certainly not least is the short but sweet album closer “Harmony,” which is basically the antithesis of the opening track but which is also impressive enough that it became a popular radio track without being released as a single. I’m not surprised how that happened, as the song’s airy harmonized choruses, in direct contract to its sombre deep voiced verses, are almost impossible not to sing along to.

So, long story short (though it’s probably too late for that!), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, on which Del Newman, not Buckmaster, added orchestrations to several songs, could’ve been a masterpiece had it been edited down, but its many high points capture the multi-faceted talents of one of the brightest pop stars of the ‘70s. For all its over ambitious faults, none of his other albums range quite so far or show off so many different styles, and as a result for better and sometimes worse Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is the quintessential Elton John album.

May 15, 2013 - Posted by | Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road |

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