Release date: 5 October 1973
UK chart peak: #1
Running time: 76:20
Singles: Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting (#7), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (#6), Bennie and the Jets (#37), Candle in the Wind (#11)
Widely considered to be Elton John’s greatest work, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was recorded at the Château d’Hérouville (where his previous two albums were also recorded) in May 1973, turning into a double LP when writing proved to be particularly fruitful. The record also reached the top spot in Australia, the USA & Canada, and the top 10 in Denmark (#4), Italy (#5), Norway (#5), Spain (#8) & Sweden (#7). Working titles for the album were Vodka and Tonics and Silent Movies, Talking Pictures.
Amongst other things, glam rock was just getting going in 1973, with Slade’s Sladest occupying the top spot in the album charts and The Sweet’s single Ballroom Blitz charting highly around the time of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road‘s release. Also performing well in the album stakes were Goat’s Head Soup by The Rolling Stones, Bowie’s Hunky Dory, Hello by Status Quo, Perry Como’s And I Love You So, Sing It Again Rod by Rod Stewart, and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s I’m A Writer Not A Fighter. Plus, in the singles charts around September & October 1973 you could find releases as varied as Eye Level (Simon Park Orchestra), Monster Mash (Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers), Nutbush City Limits (Ike and Tina Turner), Joybringer (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band), and Spanish Eyes (Al Martino).
At this point in his career, Elton John had found a rich vein of form – alongside lyricist & friend Bernie Taupin – bursting with creativity, and at the beginning of a run of high-charting records such as Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, and Caribou.
I’ve put off and put off listening to this record for one reason or another, but by God was it worth the wait! Things don’t get the tag of ‘masterpiece’ for no reason, and this album more than earns that accolade. Firstly, its four singles are possibly some of Elton John’s most recognisable tracks – even if one of them is more well known for its 1997 update. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is my favourite Elton track as much for the magical quality of its music as the resonance of its lyrics; after only listening to the Rocketman version for a while, Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting has far more bite & kick than I remember (aptly), sneaking in towards the end of the album and making sure you stay on high alert for the final trio of tracks.
And what a stonker of an album opener: the 11-minute epic (and live favourite) Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding). Now that’s how you make people sit up and take notice!
Up-tempo numbers Grey Seal and Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n Roll) are fun highlights, but The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-34) is a real hidden gem. The perfect combination of storytelling lyrics (recounting the tale of a John Dillinger-esque gangster) and clever musicianship; as well as an evocative melody & lush vocal harmonies, Nigel Olssen’s drums are also worthy of a mention – particularly the snares cracking like gunshots almost out of nowhere in the background.
The Greatest Show
Recording for this album was squeezed in between punishing tour schedules; early in 1973 John completed a comprehensive UK winter tour, before tackling the United States of America (from Albuquerque to Honolulu, San Diego to Baltimore). He then returned to play the UK again – including a Christmas residency at the Hammersmith Odeon – in support of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, before heading over to Japan & Australia in the early months of 1974.