Album in Depth: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

Hi, I’m JotaKa. I’m a rocker by birth and grew listening to rock discs and long plays by the dozen. Ah, finally, summer break. I was getting tired of working and studying my ass off: now I can just sit back and relax. And maybe increase my numbers: compared to what I reviewed last year, this year I’m a little more absent. I was in the mood of reviewing this album since I did a review on some classic albums that are more pop oriented: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, by Elton John. Elton John, for me, was always a good thing to listen, even though looking back, that guy was this day’s Lady Gaga in awkwardness material. So, even though I don’t believe it’s actually necessary, a little background is required.

The year is 1973. The United Kingdom becomes part of the EU, which at that time was known as European Economic Community. The Exorcist is released and is the highest grossing movie of the year and Bruce Lee deceases before the release of Enter the Dragon, victim of a misadventure. Ac/Dc is formed and the Doors disband officially. Konami is born, even though rudimentarily, and Atari releases Gotcha, the first arcade maze game.

Reginald Kenneth Dwight (also known as Elton John) was enjoying his newly won worldwide success with his previous album “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player”, which was his sixth album. He and Bernie Taupin, his companion to this day, had already a huge following, so they decided to produce a new album, this time around having as a main theme (but not too much to make this a concept album) the feeling of nostalgia and the loss of innocence as one grows up. After the release of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, considered being his best album by many, he achieve super stardom and released his last album in 2005, also his twenty-ninth album. He also advocates for the LGBT cause and has a non-profitable foundation to help people that have Aids.

To talk about Elton John without mentioning Bernie Taupin would be impossible: Bernie Taupin is the lyricist of most of Elton John’s songs. In this album in particular, all 17 songs were credited to Bernie Taupin as well, and he is known for being a lyricist (if he wrote some of the melodies, I do not know). They first met at a newspaper request for lyrics and melodies and they are working ever since, and that took place in 1967. And for my clear surprise, I’m mostly sure that I’m not the only one, he’s not Elton John’s husband. I mean, I seriously thought he was. Not only that, he’s straight, which for me was a surprise as well. I heard some commentaries that “Elton and Bernie are together for forty years” and assumed that they were together in the biblical way as well, knowing Elton John’s past.

The cover is pretty creative, since the theme of this album is nostalgia and loss of innocence, with Elton John entering a painting of the Yellow Brick Road from the Wizard of Oz, a representative of innocence: I’m not sure if in the original material it was meant that way, if L. Frank Baum thought of the Brick Road as being anything but just a way to get to somewhere. The way the painting wore off also strengthens the idea of loss. The elapsed time of the entire album is 76:20, which is inexcusable for a kind of pop oriented album, with the longest being “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” with the running time being a whopping 11:09 and the shortest one being “This Song Has No Title” (seriously, that’s the name of the song) with 2:23.

This album had a great reception, getting 1st place in a lot of charts at the time and till this day is considered a great album by many, being in the top 100 greatest albums by Rolling Stones (not that I think that that particular list is of any good) and was awarded with 7 platinum albums. With the intro being completed, let’s dive right into it: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John.

1st track: “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” – Holy fuck, the longest one first? That’s really bad planning. This song needs patience, but it is really, really, great. I mean, seriously, when I first grabbed this album and checked the tracks, I thought what the good and bad ones were, this one didn’t jumped on my eyes. It starts with a 6 minutes instrumental, with guitar, piano and synthesizer. Sorry, a GREAT instrumental, with a sort of dark tone to it: or a morbid tone, like a funeral song, but as a rock and roll hymn. When the singing starts, it’s Elton John in all his glory and the whole dark tone goes away to become a lot happier, but the lyrics are still dark as hell. The song has some mood changes over it all, but not one of them is bad or gives a whiplash in the ears. Dream Theater did a cover on this song on “A Change of Seasons” (which by the way, I must hear it all because it seems awesome) and it’s really good. I prefer Elton’s singing over LaBrie, but if you enjoy Dream Theater, you should check this version out because you will prefer it over the original probably.

2nd track: “Candle in the Wind” – And so early, the tearjerker comes. This one is just unfair. Although originally conceived to be a homage to Marilyn Monroe and an Ode to be sung as if it was her funeral (even though she died way back in 1962), for those that weren’t alive back then, it’s Diana’s death that this song reminds, when Elton sang in her funeral with some different lyrics. The song is beautiful, with a piano through it all and it’s one of the songs that he made that made him popular back in the days. This song deserves a check just for the weight it has to it.

3rd track: “Bennie and the Jets” – This song is odd. I don’t know why, I just don’t like it. I know that there are lots of people out there that love this music (heck, even Axl Rose said this is what inspired him to sing), but as Elton John himself, I find this one odd. It’s just… broken. I can’t put my fingers on it. I think is one of those songs that or you love, or you hate it. It says about a fictional band named “Bennie and the Jets” and has some standard piano beats and an applause based rhythm, which is cool. But, that’s about it.

Side One of Disc One over. Side two, here we go!

4th track: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” – There are some songs that I don’t know how to start praising. This is one of them. This song is great. This one is a masterpiece of epic proportion: if the idea of it was to invoke the feeling of nostalgia and innocence lost (I’m repeating myself with this, I know), this one manages to do it incredibly well. The falsetto chorus hit me right in the spot. I don’t think that Elton John is a great singer, he is good, he is in tune, he know what he is doing, but he’s not a born talent (I think) like I think of Freddie Mercury, but in this one he manages to move you. With a piano intro and a soft rock ‘n roll sort of country feel to it, this one should be listened, even more than Candle in the Wind. This one should be heard at least one time, because it’s that one piece that even if you hate everything Elton John related, you will enjoy. If not, well, I don’t think anything in his library would satisfy you.

5th track: “This Song Has No Title” – The shortest song of the album and incredibly enjoyable as well, being completely piano oriented with some clever lyrics. Sometimes, it surprises with an entire chorus that I’m pretty sure it’s just Elton’s voice recorded over and over (I might be wrong in this one), and I really like this song, but it’s too quick to be overanalyzed. It’s simply piano with some inventive lyrics.

6th track: “Grey Seal” – The intro reminds me a lot of Pinball Wizard. This is one of his earliest works although released three years after, and it shows, although it fits kind of neatly with the rest of the album, being as a relief after some deep songs. It has a cool usage of wah-effects with a piano working it the entire song, and a creatively well done back vocals. It is a feel good party kind of song, even though I don’t understand exactly what the lyrics mean: maybe that’s a good thing in a feel good party song.

7th track: “Jamaica Jerk Off” – It reminds me… strangely… of Blue Swede’s version of Hooked on a Feeling in the beginning, and it should not be like that. Other than that, it has a Caribbean flare to it, to the point where it’s predictable and other people had done it better. It’s just not a great song and it’s not memorable at all. Of course a 17 track album has to have its flaws, but it pains me to be this early. The song is not bad, it’s just standard, on an album that shouldn’t have standard moments.

8th track: “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” – A well-deserved ballad song that should get an attention of its own, because Elton John actually did a lot of songs based on this one. And when I say based, I say few differences and lots of similarities, but I believe this was the first one of “this type of song” he did, and it shines. The lyrics are about someone who was fooled by someone but refuses to be fooled again. The “lounge” piano, as always, is present, but with some cool strings (I think for the first time in this album) that are really enjoyable. The only thing that he never tried again in songs of this style is the awesome guitar solo with strings section that he should’ve tried more times. It’s awesome.

First Disc Over. Let’s go to Disc Two.

9th track: “Sweet Painted Lady” – Songs like these shows a genius in action. Everyone can make a happy song with a happy message or a sad song with a sad message. Only true music makers can make happy songs with a sad message and sad songs with happy messages, in this case, it’s a happy song. If you listen to this with your English deactivated, you will think “this song is happy”. A happy piano, an accordion: at some times, the lyrics are great as well. When you realize Sweet Painted Lady is a prostitute that makes sex cheaply with sailors you get the idea. I really enjoy this song, but it’s sad as hell: to get the idea, the prostitute kind of misses the guys after that, or at least one guy. It’s a girl that want an emotional attachment but does not get it.

10th track: “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-1934)” – This one sounds like a bar song, an Irish drinking song, if you will. Maybe I only get that feel because of the surname of the protagonist of the song, Bailey, but it really sounds like that, or at least a tribute to a guy sung in a bar. This song fails to impress after Sweet Painted Lady with the piano, even though not starting yet to bore me, is wearing thin and repetitive. This song is not so good as many other presented in the album so far. Forgettable, to say the least.

11th track: “Dirty Little Girl” – I feel sorry, but I don’t think I get this song. With a piano resembling, well, everything he did in this album with a loose piano and lyrics that seem like an old guy in a yard complaining about children, this song don’t captivates me in the least. Maybe it’s the impression that Sweet Painted Lady causes is still glooming over, but it’s a song that I don’t get. It’s like Bennie and the Jets, I don’t know, maybe you’ll like it, I didn’t.

12th track: “All the Girls Love Alice” – After two mediocre songs to say the minimum, a rock and roll song that really innovates, finally. It talks about lesbianism with a very fast rhythm and a bass and drums feel to it, really well marked, with cool vocals and back vocals. For me, the best part is when all the speed is dropped for the chorus, that change of pace really wins me over. Let’s talk more about the lyrics: I don’t think it’s about a lesbian, but a young girl that doesn’t know, but because of peer pressure, pleases women.

Last quarter: Side Two of Disc Two.

13th track: “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n Roll) – This one has that feel that those songs of the dawn of rock and roll had: it reminds me of Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock. It’s a fun song to dance twist or just to wake up and fake a guitar off of a broomstick. It’s a good song and reminds me of the fifties, with the most misplaced keyboard solo EVER, but that’s about it. It’s a good song, not great, but a good song in his entire repertoire. In fact, I would like to see him playing this song in concerts more awesome, it sounds like a really cool wake up call to the public, for a dance off instead of a punk circle.

14th track: “Saturday’s Night’s Alright for Fighting” – If there’s something you can’t deny is Elton’s versatility, evidenced by this side so far: after a more late fifties early sixties American rock and roll, he jumps something that resembles the more soft works of Alice Cooper. This song was also a single (too few for a seventeen track album, I mean, this is the last one and there were four I believe) and although it should fit me like a glove, it sounds as if it was made on the purpose to do this. It sounds as if it’s just him trying to seduce people that enjoy rock ‘n roll to buy the album, and maybe that’s what the producer had in mind. It’s a good song but it sounds shallow.

15th track: “Roy Rogers” – For those who do not know (including me), Roy Rogers was a western actor of huge fame in the fifties, with more than a hundred movies and a radio show that lasted nine years, and as expected, the song has this slow country ballad feel to it, going to the point of Elton trying a sort of accent. The lyrics are about a kid (or at least Elton John himself) imagining to be a TV cowboy after watching hours of Roy Rogers. The song also has a string background and the song is a surprise for those that didn’t expect really anything else out of this album.

16th track: “Social Disease” – This song has a kind of saloon feel… whoa, a strange side on this album, four songs of completely different styles and genres. This one works, perfectly. This is probably the best song on this side in my opinion, with some cool use of a saxophone solo, that even though doesn’t fit at all in the whole song, really makes it up for the cool factor. The lyrics are quite creative, but that can’t be argued anywhere, I think I probably said that every single song on this album has creative lyrics. This one is a great track and should be appreciated even more than Saturday’s Night’s.

17th track: “Harmony” – This, unfortunately, is a straight forward Elton ballad as many other he did. Not saying it’s bad: fuck, it’s a great outro for the album, but I was hoping a bit more after social disease. I don’t know if I got the lyrics right, but it is a straight forward love song with some choir type back vocals here and there. The songs reminds me a lot of the closing act of Tea for the Tillerman, having a catchy tune that leaves you with the feeling that the next one could be great (and is, his next album is also great).

So, how does it all hold up? Although it’s not perfect, it is one of the greatest albums ever released easily. With one of the most epics tracks ever, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, memorable ballads and some surprise songs, mostly “Social Disease” and “All The Young Girls Love Alice”. The first disc should be listened for “Wow” effect, with most of the more famous track, and the second disc, mostly side two, should be listened to get a glimpse of Elton’s range of messing with styles and genres. If you are a Elton John fan, if you haven’t already listened to this one, you should. If you are not a pop fan, you should still listen to it just to have an idea of what it was. If you are not a Elton John fan but likes a few pop now and then, listen to the singles, and, finally, if you are not into Elton John piano’s, stay the fuck away from this one.

This is JotaKa, signing off.

Follow me on twitter: @jotakapf

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2 Responses to Album in Depth: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

  1. Hi from an Elton fan for about forty years.
    Bernie Taupin definitely writes only lyrics and Elton John only melodies (there have been only a very few times when Elton has written some (“Border Song” last verse for example) or all (“Flinstone Boy”) of the lyrics, and Bernie never writes melodies).
    You’re right that “Grey Seal” was written & recorded earlier, although the version on this album is a re-recording- the original can be heard on compilations such as “Lady Samantha” and “Rare Masters”.
    Yes, on “This Song Has No Title” it’s Elton doing all the vocals. And all the keyboards, too- no band at all.
    Nice review, and totally agree re the title track and “I’ve Seen That Movie Too”.

  2. Alejandro Corona says:

    Some of these lyrics are heartbreaking….

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