This month marks the 35th anniversary of the release of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It was his seventh studio album and certainly his most commercially successful.
Recorded throughout May 1973 at the 18th century Chateau d’Herouville, Pontoise, Paris it went on to outsell any of his other work that has been released during his forty year career.
Elton had already recorded both Honky Chateau (1972) and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player the following year at the French studio. Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, T.Rex, and Cat Stevens had also used the chateau to record. It was very familiar territory and it brought out the best in everyone concerned.
Arriving on the scene with Empty Sky in 1969 his albums had steadily shown increases in worldwide sales. The excellent and sometimes overlooked Tumbleweed Connection, Elton’s country album from 1970, continued that trend. Madman Across The Water (1971), and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player (January, 1973) helped propel him even further into the super league.
All of this set the scene for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The sprawling double vinyl with its memorable and highly distinctive album cover represents one of Elton’s finest moments. It went to number one in the US, UK, most of Europe and Australia.
It also produced several successful singles, the title track itself, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”, “ Bennie And The Jets”, and “Candle In The Wind”. The last of which was later re-released having been performed by Sir Elton at the funeral of Princess Diana.
Every song on the album was accompanied by an illustration. Each song tells a story through the lyrics of Bernie Taupin. The album starts with an epic two part “Funeral For A Friend” which blends into “Love Lies Bleeding”. Expertly produced by the late Gus Dudgeon, it featured Davey Johnstone’s guitar, the late and highly innovative Dee Murray on bass, and drummer Nigel Olsson.
The cast of characters appear one after the other. Marilyn Monroe in “Candle In The Wind”. A rock band in “Bennie And The Jets”. The sailor’s favourite diversion “Sweet Painted Lady”. There’s the young sixteen year old ‘yo-yo’ lesbian call-girl in, “All The Girls Love Alice”. Even western hero “Roy Rogers” makes an appearancea.
There is a mateus swilling drunk in “Social Disease”, a “Dirty Little Girl”, a rocking sister in “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n Roll)”, and a switchblade carrying biker in “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”. “The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-1934)” has the hero being gunned down by ‘some punk with a shotgun’. It all comes to a romantic end with the love song that is “Harmony”.
The rest of the tracks are all highly individual as well. “Jamaica Jerk Off” is a sunny beach soaked reggae feel good song. “Grey Seal” was actually written nearly four years earlier but the re-worked version recorded here fits superbly. “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” is classic Elton John supported by a drawing of Clark Gable.
The title track is another typically Elton ballad and should feature in any collection of his work. The only song on the album without an accompanying drawing is understandably “This Song Has No Title”.
Elton John was destined to follow this with Caribou in 1974, Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, Rock Of The Westies (both 1975), before another double album appeared with 1976’s Blue Moves.
As successful as all these were they didn’t quite live up to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The album has everything. Great artwork, superb cinematic lyrics, and of course captures Elton John at his song writing zenith.
So, here we have it. A legendary musician produces a legendary album and it was released an unbelievable thirty five years ago this month. So get out your stack heals, spray them with glitter, and step out on the yellow brick road. Okay, a bit extreme. Best to just play the album instead.
Drop in on Sir Elton at his official website,Powered by Sidelines