Saturday, November 10, 1973

Elton John hit #1 with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Elton John

Released: October 5, 1973

Peak: 18 US, 12 UK, 15 CN, 13 AU

Sales (in millions): 7.0 US, 0.3 UK, 30.0 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: pop/classic rock


Song Title [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding [11:08] (2 CL)
  2. Candle in the Wind [3:50] (3/2/74, 6 US, 2 AC, 2 CL, 5 UK, 5 CN, 5 AU) *
  3. Bennie and the Jets [5:23] (2/16/74, 1 US, 37 UK, 15 RB, 1 CL, 37 UK, 1 CN, 5 AU, 2x platinum)
  4. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road [3:14] (9/29/73, 2 US, 7 AC, 1 CL, 6 UK, 1 CN, 4 AU, 2x platinum)
  5. This Song Has No Title [2:23]
  6. Grey Seal [3:58] (13 CL)
  7. Jamaica Jerk Off [3:39]
  8. I’ve Seen That Movie Too [5:59]
  9. Sweet Painted Lady [3:52]
  10. The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-34) [4:24]
  11. Dirty Little Girl [5:01]
  12. All the Girls Love Alice [5:08] (9 CL)
  13. Your Sister Can’t Twist But She Can Rock ‘N’ Roll [2:42]
  14. Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting [4:54] (7/7/73, 12 US, 2 CL, 7 UK, 12, CN, 31 AU, gold single)
  15. Roy Rogers [4:08]
  16. Social Disease [3:44]
  17. Harmony [2:45] (11 CL)

All songs written by Elton John & Bernie Taupin.

* Note: In the U.S. and Canada, “Candle in the Wind” didn’t chart until a live version was released in 1987.

Total Running Time: 76:12


4.477 out of 5.00 (average of 21 ratings)

Quotable: It “plays like a greatest hits album, overflowing with classic songs.” – Clark Speicher, The Review

Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is is “considered the high watermark of Elton’s reign of popularity,” CRS his “commercial and creative apex,” ZS “his magnum opus.” CS “John had successfully become the biggest hit-maker since The Beatles” CS and this “pretty much defines what made Elton John a superstar in the early ‘70s.” AMG However, this was also where his “personality began to gather more attention than his music.” AMG He “achieved superstardom with this effort and never matched its mastery again.” RV

This is “more musically ambitious than anything he attempted previously.” TM It “holds claim to a lot of brilliant, very pop-savvy music.” AZ “Its individual moments are spectacular and the glitzy, crowd-pleasing showmanship.” AMG “The grandiose rock is filled with an energy unlike any of his other works, giving us a new side to the piano man.” CS This is “piano glam rock at its finest, strutting a supersonic sound with prowess and ease.” CS

It “plays like a greatest hits album, overflowing with classic songs” RV which “remain standards more than 30 years later thanks to Bernie Taupin’s sharpest lyrics, John’s propulsive keyboard skills and vocals that leap into falsetto without losing any of their power.” TL The album “demonstrates the ease with which John and Taupin could write not only the hit singles, but the outstanding album tracks.” ZS

The Triumphs and Perils of a Double Album

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road has been called “Elton’s White Album.” ZS Like all double albums, though, there is the danger of being criticized as “overstuffed.” TL Critic Robert Christgau said, “This is one more double album that would make a nifty single.” RC Bill Shaprio echoed that sentiment, noting that there is “some strong material, as well as some pretty forgettable exercises.” BS “Edited down to one disc, this would easily be John’s recorded pinnacle.” BS

However, others would argue that this is a “stunning song cycle with no filler.” ZS The “flamboyant tour de force” ZS has been celebrated as “a recap of all the styles and sounds that made John a star.” AMG In a 1974 review for Circus magazine, Janis Schacht said “Elton John is back and stronger than he’s been on record in many a blue moon. The lush two-record set moves from mood to mood with no apparent effort and a great sense of timing, class and style.” JS A 1973 Billboard review said “John seems able to sing almost any type of material, from rock to country to Jamaican-flavored tunes.” BB In a largely negative review, Rolling Stone’s Stephen Davis acknowledged that the album mixes “straight ultramodern British music hall revue” SD with “plenty of rock synthesized flash and the inspection of the inner feelings of several different versions of Elton John persona.” SD

Bernie Taupin and the Lyrics

On the album’s lyrics, “Taupin ranges far and wide, but always on what he considers the ‘other’ side of the tracks, romanticizing your moderately seamy crowd.” NC “Bernie takes us into the mind of a tired sort of man who does his living vicariously, via Roy Rogers movies on the telly, …into bed with a prostitute…And so on.” NC

The Writing and Recording

The Rolling Stones had just recorded Goats Head Soup in Jamaica and encouraged Elton John to give the “relaxing tropical paradise” SF a chance. However, he and his crew “encountered hostile locals and faulty equipment.” SF “Too frightened to leave his hotel room (things were volatile...) and holed up in his hotel room with a batch of Bernie Taupin's lyrics, Elton wrote twenty-one songs in three days.” CG

Attempts to record in Jamaica were abandoned and then “an equally unsatisfactory spell in New York” CG followed. Eventually, they relocated to France at the Château d'Hérouville where he’d recorded his previous two albums. “Originally intended as a single album, by the time Elton John had finished recording tracks…it was clear -- to him at any rate -- that only a double LP would suffice.” HC

“Funeral for a Friend/Love Likes Bleeding”

The album opens “in a dark and stormy mood. The wind is howling. A lone church bell chimes in the distance, ushering in an eleven-minute faux-goth suite ‘Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.’” TM The first part is “an eight-minute instrumental prologue featuring grandiose and tasteless typhoon whooshings, booming ecclesiastic organ, [and] some stinging guitar.” SD It segues into “‘Love Lies Bleeding,’ a rocker with a soaring, handsome chorus.” SD

The “back-to-back blowouts” CS have been called both a “prog rock epic” AMG and a “Wagnerian-operalike combo.” RS500 “It’s as though the prodigiously talented pianist and his longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin, mean to bust out of the radio-bonbon business.” TM Critic David Prakel praises the song as a “stunner…in which he musters and commands every last musical talent and trick.” DP

“Candle in the Wind”

Of course, song two quickly announces that it will be “all over the map” AMG by immediately careening into the balladry of Candle in the Wind.” AMG The song “follows a fan as he tries to reconcile the myths and legends attached to Marilyn Monroe,” TM although it “took its title from a newspaper cutting about the death of Janis Joplin.” CG

In his 1973 review for Rolling Sone, Stephen Davis called it “prettily solemn and unbelievably corny, a necrophiliac erection.” SD In his review for Stereo Review, Noel Coppage asserts that “EJ has given it such a nice melody ans sings it with such emotional credibility that the words actually do begin to mean something.” NC

Despite any dismissivemness, the general public reveled in the song’s sentimentality. The original version was a single in the UK and a live version in 1987 was a top-10 hit in the United States. In 1997, the lyrics were revamped as a memorial to Princess Diana and it became the second-biggest-selling song of all time, only behind Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”

“Bennie and the Jets”

The third single from the album, this gave Elton his second chart-topper in America after 1972’s “Crocodile Rock.” “The cartoon-like tale of a female sci-fi rock band” CG “was a nod in the direction of Bowie’s Ziggy” TB and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s “about a mythical rock & roll band,” SD complete with “dubbed audience noise.” SD

“The heavy metal groupie immortalized in ‘Bennie and the Jets’…engages in ritualistic animal sacrifice,” TM not exactly your standard top-40 fare. The album marked “the moment when Taupin’s snarling outsider cynicism collides most spectacularly with John’s questioning melodies and dizzying etude-book piano arpeggios.” TM<./sup>

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”

This isn’t “a ‘concept’ album in the strictest sense, but Goodbye does have a recurring theme – disillusionment” TM as Taupin lyrically “is pursuing the many facets of a dying Hollywood.” JS The title track tells of a boy stung by the city he once viewed as an Oz.” TM The Circus magazine review asserted that “Elton finally has met his original potential” JS with songs like “the delicate and beautiful ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.’” JS It “harnesses the fantastic imagery of glam to a Gershwin-sweet melody.” RS500 Ballads like that and “Candle in the Wind,” “along with every other hit off this record, have since become staples in pop, turning the record into an early greatest hits collection.” CS

“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”

“Guitarist Davey Johnstone was a rare find when he joined the band” SD and this “omnipresent AM hit…ably testify to his power.” SD “The strutting rock and roll” RS500 of “this “Stonesy rocker” TB “easily finds itself in the top echelon of fist-pumping rock songs that get your blood boiling and your head banging.” CS As the lead single from the album, the song “about Bernie Taupin’s raucous teenage days” CG marked Elton’s fifth trip to the top ten in his native UK. Stateside, he’d already had five top-10s, but this one just missed the mark, landing at #12.

“Grey Seal”

“Grey Seal” was originally released as the B-side to Elton’s 1970 single “Rock and Roll Madonna.” He re-recorded it for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and It shows ““just how stacked this record really is.” CS “Grey Seal” and “This Song Has No Title…had gospel-tinged melodies and progressions.” TB

In his largely negative review, Rolling Stone’s Stephen Davis called this “a fine, fast numbrer, episodic and brilliantly-produced, one of the few large-production numbers here that succeeds all the way through.” SD


This song’s “downbeat melodicism” AZ “is a change of pace number. Haunting and subtle, it has great mid-sixties three-part harmony (natch) with backup vocals compliments of Davey Johnstone and Nigel Olsson. The song sounds as if it might have been recorded for the first or second Bee Gees’ LP, way back when they were a great band.” JS The “sunny, symphonic pop finale” BW is “a star track and a perfect end for a near-perfect album.” JS

Other Songs

Elsewhere on the record Elton shows off his rock side with “the fairground jive of Your Sister Can’t Twist.” TB Roy Rogers is “sentimental and sensitive without ever slipping into that dangerous songwriter’s trap of banality.” JS All the Girls Love Alice “proved to be a ballad of a teenage lesbian,” CG “possibly the earliest rock song to address lesbianism.” JT

There’s also “the ready-made nostalgia of The Ballad of Danny BaileyAZ which features “Bernie Taupin’s literary pretensions” AMG and “novelties [like] Jamiaica Jerk-Off…and everything in between.” AMG “All of this could only come from the man in the glittery glasses who knew no limits to where his piano could take him, and thank God for it.” CS

Notes: A 2003 Deluxe Edition adds “Whenever You’re Ready (We’ll Go Steady),” “Jack Rabbit,” “Screw You (Young Man Blues),” and an alternate version of “Candle in the Wind.”

Resources and Related Links:

First posted 3/21/2008; updated 4/12/2021.

No comments:

Post a Comment