Top 100 Album Review: #91 – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John (1973)

Rip-Roaring Rock, Start to Finish

Rollingstone Magazine’s ranking: #91/100
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

I came of age in a post-album era. iTunes purchases were only .99 per song, and we picked apart an artist’s catalog like making our plates at a buffet.

I wonder what this has done to our musical palate: we don’t give ourselves time to give any songs a chance, never mind giving a whole album with a variety of lyrics and tunes an opportunity to impress us.

I only knew about Elton John via his greatest hits. But, that kind of leaves me with no idea of who Elton really was as an artist. I feel like it has been said that we get to know an artist through their “B-Side” (which is a reference to the other song that was sold with a single when it was a physical 45RPM vinyl disc), so I was blissfully unaware of anything beyond “Crocodile Rock” and such.

Elton John was born in 1947 and has had an illustrious career starting with his first album in 1969 (Empty Sky) culminating throughout the years to make him the 5th best selling artist of all-time, having 50 (FIFTY) top 40 hits and releasing 30 studio albums. So we know Elton can write a hit, and many of them, but how does his album work hold up?

Extremely well. 

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”  is the seventh studio album by Elton John and has 17 tracks clocking in at 1:16 hours of music. The tracks are far reaching, kicking off with an 11 minute rock-ballad instrumental that starts eery and ephemeral then segues into a rock-and-roll jam that oscillates between a classic rock feel with subdued piano breaks called “Funeral for a Friend/ Love Lies Bleeding.” The story goes that Elton imagined what music he would want to have played at his funeral and wrote it.

This rock ballad sets the tone for the entire album: epic, layered songs juiced with a rock-and-roll feel. I feel like these kind of compositions are what’s missing from today’s music. It is a song with little hope of being monetized due to its length (though it would receive decent airplay even as a non-single) and made on a whim of a strange idea.

Elton John: National treasure and endangered species.

The album has its share of hits that have been burned into our collective consciousness: “Candle in the Wind,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting),” and the titular song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Seeing them in their original habitat has brought all of those songs down to reality for me; instead of just being abstract rotations on the local rock n’ roll station, I see how they were pieces of an entire project.

The magic in this album are all the between songs you might not have necessarily heard making this such a complete album. The songs run such a gamut of subject and composition that each track brings a titillating “what’s next?”

“And tell me, grey seal How does it feel to be so wise? To see through eyes that only see what’s real Tell me, grey seal.”

“Grey Seal,” a song warning of fake experiences, our lack of knowledge and a call for help from aquatic life.

“Social Disease,” a country-twanged song about simple, white-trash living as we get “bombed for breakfast, bombed for dinner time tea.”

“I’ve Seen That Movie Too,” a slower, sad, love song about those that think they can trick us, as if we haven’t seen this before.

“Sweet Painted Lady,” a song for all the prostitutes out there, as Elton reminds you there is a place in the world for a women like you.

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is considered Elton’s best (opinion) and most popular (fact) album. I would have to agree. I simply loved this album, from beginning to end, and have found so many good songs to add to my Spotify 70s playlist. I would suggest if you’ve been pigeon-holed like me away from albums, give this one a look.

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