In 1973, Elton John was on top of the world. Every place you looked, there was Elton John in some form or fashion. Radio stations, record stores and concert halls. The rocket man was on a rocket ride himself. And in 1973, he was about to blaze his greatest trail.
Every commercial artist has an “it” record. The Beatles have Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club and The Beach Boys had Pet Sounds. Elton John has Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
The album itself is an epic roller coaster ride of musical fun. From the beginning rock opera Funeral For A Friend/ Loves Lies Bleeding, to the heart tugging pop ballad Harmony. And Elton, along with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin, seem to right a song about everything in between.
In retrospect, this was the album that really launched Elton John into mainstream commercial appeal. He started out in 1970 as a singer/songwriter a la Bob Dylan and James Taylor. However, as the years passed, he made himself a lot more commercially viable and mainstream sounding. Some music snobs may call this selling out. However, the music he released still had a very strong melody and was far from a color by numbers affair that many pop records become. Instead, the former Mr. Reginald Kenneth Dwight found a lovely mix of contemporary popular music and mixed it with his gospel and folk music influences.
Included on the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album are several recognizable hits. The first track, the epic rock opera, is a staple of his in concert performances. Additionally, the album cut is played on classic rock stations worldwide. The next three songs, which would have been side 1 of the original record, contains 3 of Elton and Bernies most famous songs. Candle In The Wind (the original version), Benny And The Jets and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
The lyrics to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road were penned by Bernie Taupin and expressed his deep resentment for the fame he was now experiencing. Taupin, a shy young man from Lincolnshire, never yearned for the spotlight and merely wanted to go back to his farm. Elton, the genius pop musician now stepping into his own, turned a sad depressing lyric into a song of inspiration. In addition to the first four tracks, this album also yielded the very popular Saturday Nights Alright (For Fighting). This is regarded as Elton’s signature rock anthem. Matter of fact, this song often gets overlooked within John’s catalog because it is a full tilt rock and roll song, and not a ballad or mid tempo song, which Elton is known for. And Harmony, as briefly mentioned before, is a very popular album track that gets a lot of radio play despite not being an official single. The song is a music ode to The Beach Boys. And if you close your eyes, you could picture Brian Wilson harmonizing along.
What makes this album a real winner is not just the 6 popular tracks. The album is full of hits which were just waiting to be released. Had Elton John not been under contract to release two albums a year, he could’ve rode the success of Goodbye Yellow brick Road over a couple of years. Any number of songs would have made a great choice for a single. He easily could’ve released the quirky and funky number Grey Seal, which later became a concert smorgash board. Or the slow bluesy ballad Sweet Painted Lady. Taupin, in his infinite wisdom penned the ballad, which makes prostitution sweet and lovable. Simply amazing.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is one of those time effortless albums that make you forget that today’s Elton John can be a shell of his former self. Beyond his catty remarks and overblown tiaras, the man has produced music that cannot be duplicated. And there is no better example than this classic 1973 album.