Elton John was my generation’s Beatles, and his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was like our version of Sgt. Pepper’s. I was 10 years old when Elton’s first double-album was released in 1973. It was the first record I saved up my allowance for and has remained a favorite for 40 years now. In honor of this milestone, it has been super-sized for the new five-disc Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition).
The first CD contains all 17 songs of the original double-LP. Incredibly, this was John’s second release of the year, the first being Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player from January ‘73. GYBR captures not only Elton, but all of his collaborators at their peak. The first of these is lyricist Bernie Taupin, who sketched out odes to such topics as Westerns with “Roy Rogers;” Marilyn Monroe with “Candle in the Wind;” and even lesbians with “All the Girls Love Alice,” among the many great tunes.
It is hard to imagine “Bennie and the Jets” without the applause and “live” setting, but that is the way it was initially recorded. The track was missing something, and nobody could figure out quite what to do with it. Then one night, while Elton was sleeping, producer Gus Dudgeon came up with the idea of adding the audience effects. When the drowsy pianist heard it the next morning, he knew they had a hit.
Then there is the Elton John Band, which was adored by fans almost as much as Elton himself. The EJB featured Davey Johnstone (guitar), Dee Murray (bass), Nigel Olsson (drums), and Ray Cooper (tambourine). There were a lot of factors that contributed to his fall from grace in the late ‘70s, but I always blamed it on the decision to disband the Elton John Band. There was a certain magic between these musicians that could never be duplicated.
They are really firing on all cylinders here, beginning with the instrumental “Funeral for a Friend”/ “Love Lies Bleeding.” The total time is 11:09, making it the longest song on any Elton John album, yet the time just flies as this piece roars through your speakers. GYBR is full of hits, including the title track, “Bennie and the Jets,” “Candle in the Wind,” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” There are also some great album tracks, including “Harmony,” “Jamaica Jerk Off,” “Grey Seal,” and “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll)” among them.
The first nine songs of the second CD are a tribute to GYBR from current artists. I was impressed with Fall Out Boy’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” The Band Perry’s “Grey Seal,” and The Zac Brown Band‘s “Harmony,” but all nine are pretty good. The remaining 10 tracks on the disc are rarities. These include non-LP hits such as “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Pinball Wizard,“ as well as the holiday songs “Step Into Christmas,” and “Ho Ho Ho (Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas?).”
The real treat of this set is the December 1973 concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, which is on the third and fourth discs. The show was broadcast over the radio on Christmas Eve that year, and it is incredible. The group performed 18 songs, and they are neatly split with nine on each CD. The mix is great, with 10 tunes from the album, plus older favorites such as “Rocket Man,” “Daniel,” “Crocodile Rock,” and “Your Song.” At 10, I may have been old enough to buy a record, but not to attend a concert. At least now I now know what I was missing, and it was something special indeed. The group was absolutely on fire that night, and from what I have heard, throughout the tour.
The fifth disc is actually a DVD, titled Elton John and Bernie Taupin Say Goodbye to Norma Jean and Other Things (1973). It is a documentary by Bryan Forbes, and that is all I know. The label was kind enough to send me a download of the music, but the documentary was not included. Oh well. I imagine it would be very interesting all these years later, as John was still drug-free at the time, and had not come out. The package also includes a 100-page book, which is quite spectacular, even in the PDF format that was sent to me. The book is filled with pictures, and also features a lengthy essay from Alexis Petridis.
I still have that old triple-paneled double-album that I bought back in 1973, and it is in surprisingly good condition. It is one of about six LPs that I never bought on CD, and did not ditch my turntable for. GYBR served me well there, because just about everyone I know now regrets getting rid of their vinyl when compact discs came around.
Even though I was sent the music and PDF, I think it is finally time to actually buy the CD. And there is no better version than the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition), which does a magnificent job in honoring one of the greatest records I have ever heard.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00I480SI4]