Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Elton John

Island Records, 1973

REVIEW BY: Michael Ehret


It’s hard to overestimate the impact Goodbye Yellow Brick Road had on me as a 14-year-old boy in a northern Indiana small town. I mean, look at how many times I’ve purchased it since. Twice in LP format after wearing the first one out, twice in cassette, and at least three times on CD.

In addition to being my first album, it was a double album -- which by itself made it seem so much more important. But it was also colorful; garish in a real cartooney way, and as such was the perfect first buy for a boy weaned on Looney Tunes (which I also still love).

The connection to my favorite movie of all time, The Wizard of Oz, and the “fact” that everything seemed steeped in symbolism only made it more attractive. And it was. Attractive and symbolic, I mean.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was Elton John’s seventh album and came in the second half of 1973 immediately after Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player and before 1974’s Caribou. GBYBR is the first major turning point of Elton’s career.

In the cover art, when Elton stepped off the street and onto the yellow brick road in his red, glittery platform shoes, he stepped away from his singer-songwriter beginnings and into pop music and didn’t look back. Sure he stumbled occasionally after that, but those shoes carried him to superstardom and beyond until he became an icon for my generation and eventually ended up recording songs for our children’s movies. Weird, eh?

And then there is the music.

These days, GBYBR fits onto one CD, but I still hear it in “sides.” And what an opening Side One was. From the eerie wind blowing and chimes sound opening of “Funeral for a Friend,” through the “I can name that song in one note” beginning of “Bennie And The Jets,” Elton impressed. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Funeral For A Friend” is the perfect example of using music to create, build, and sustain a mood. Then at 5:27 (or so) when “Love Lies Bleeding” kicks in -- well, it just doesn’t get any better than that folks for a rock and roll/pop song.

Immediately afterward, Elton and Bernie (and you have to mention lyricist Bernie Taupin whenever talking about GBYBR) immediately take things down a notch into one of their most effective, and enduring, ballads, “Candle In The Wind.” (I’m still working on forgiving Elton for the debacle of reworking “Candle” into that treacle mess, “Goodbye England’s Rose,” that was his tribute to Princess Diana.)

And let’s not forget the magic of “Bennie And The Jets.” Yeah, I discovered falsetto singing with that one -- wish I could still hit those notes, but I digress.

On Side Two we finally get to the magical title song, about the farm boy leaving the decadence of the Emerald City behind and returning to his plough (plow, if you’re not English) – a true Elton classic. As well as two songs that I love, “This Song Has No Title” and “Grey Seal.”

“This Song Has No Title” is the perfect introspection song for young boys eager to be on the road to becoming young men. “And each day I learn just a little bit more. I don’t know why, but I do know what for. If we’re all going somewhere, let’s get there soon.” It’s a song yearning for experiences – of any kind. “Grey Seal?” Who knows why I love it, but it is a great song.

But all is not glitter and sunshine on GBYBR. The flying monkeys, figuratively, make their appearance on Side Three and threaten to carry Elton off to the Wicked Witch of Pretension.

“Sweet Painted Lady” starts off OK (how can it fail with the line “Getting paid for being laid”?), but in the end it never amounts to more than an interesting melody. But “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1900-34),” “Dirty Little Girl,” and “All The Girls Love Alice” trap Elton in The Dungeon of Trite Songs. Fortunately he was still wearing his ruby platform slippers and he clicked his heels three times and came up with the redemption of Side Four.

After slogging through Side Three, listeners are treated to a sort of reprise of “Crocodile Rock” with “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock and Roll)” that rocks right into one of Sir Elton’s finest moments, and the album’s first single, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.”

After that you just skip over the next two songs, “Roy Rogers” and “Social Disease” and get to the glorious closer, “Harmony.” As Elton’s singing the lyric, “Harmony and me, we’re pretty good company,” you’re just nodding your head and thinking, “yeah. Yeah, you sure are.”

I can’t imagine that you don’t have this disc in your collection, but if you don’t, you should. Not only is it a turning point in Elton’s career, but it is one of the defining moments, musically, of the 1970s.

Rating: A

User Rating: A-


My favorite Elton John album. I even loved All the girls love Alice. I had a video of in my head.

© 2007 Michael Ehret and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.