Elton John’s double LP Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was released following a long string of successful albums (Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player; Honky Chateau; Madman Across the Water; etc). Arguably his best work, the album has more cinema than your local theater.
The eleven minute opening track “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” is very much a microcosm of the album itself. The track starts out quietly then crescendos into bleeding guitar and organ solos, only to fall back again before exploding into Elton John’s vocals describing how “the roses in the window-box have tilted to one side/everything about this house was built to grow and die,” a fittingly descriptive and picturesque beginning to an album whose central theme is the Hollywood movie industry.
This theme holds through on tracks like the Marilyn Monroe-inspired “Candle in the Wind,” title track “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “I’ve Seen That Movie, Too,” and the melancholic “Roy Rogers.” The album is perhaps best known for “Candle in the Wind,” which –although it wasn’t released as a single – has become a staple on classic-rock radio and an enduring symbol of stars that have died before their time.
Also present on the album is a darker, more sexual undercurrent in the songs “Sweet Painted Lady,” “Dirty Little Girl,” and “All the Girls Love Alice.” “Sweet Painted Lady” follows the “pretty young ladies” who are “getting paid for being laid,” promising that you “won’t need a gutter to sleep in tonight.” I’m not sure it’s a story that most listeners could connect with (or even Elton himself!), but it’s got a great tune to it.
“Alice” tells the story of a girl with a case of “Momma doesn’t love me blues” that gets her “kicks in another girl’s bed.” “Come over and see me” the narrator pleads, but “wait until my husband’s away.” And poor Alice winds up dead in the subway. Quite cinematic.
John and company use much musical diversity, from the glam of “Bennie and the Jets,” John’s trademark piano ballads (“Grey Seal”, “Roy Rogers”), to straight-up rockers like “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fightin’” and “Your Sister Can’t Twist But She Can Rock and Roll.”
Like most double albums, one complaint about Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is that there’s some filler. “Jamaica Jerk-Off” would have been better as the gimmicky b-side to a single, and “The Ballad of Danny Bailey” adds little to an album already full of descriptive song-scripts.
Still, as albums go, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is much more of a “best picture” than a B-film. It’s Elton John at the peak of his most productive, memorable period, and with the exception of his Greatest Hits album, the one where every fan not familiar with John should begin.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Author: Ryan King
Ryan King began covering music in 2004 for the Arrow, the student newspaper at Southeast Missouri State University, eventually becoming Managing Editor at that publication. He is also the former Music Editor for OFF! Magazine, an alternative publication published by the Southeast Missourian. Ryan began writing for The Music Universe when launched, but has stepped away to focus on law. He may appear from time to time for reviews.