Not the Pazz and Jop 1973 – #5

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

In the early to mid-1970s, no artist’s album covers entranced me like Elton John’s. I distinctly remember looking at “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” at the local Woolco or whatever department store that was with a sense of awe. The covers were playful and mysterious, and thus very inviting. You wanted to know what was in the grooves of such a package.

Of course, though I never owned any of his albums from that period, I probably knew Elton’s songs better than any other contemporary artist at that time. First, he was all over the radio. Plus, pretty much every K-tel collection in my bin had a track of his: “Crocodile Rock” (my least favourite of his songs from that era), “Daniel”, “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting)”, “Philadelphia Freedom” (okay, maybe this is my least favourite), “Island Girl” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” all had regular spins in my bedroom. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” remains an all-time favourite song. By 1977, I was buying 45s, and Elton’s artistic peak was over, so I didn’t listen to him much after that. But the songs from that era remain masterful, undimmed by time.

There are a ton of hits, and it’s always nice to revisit those. The title track is one of my favourites of his, “Saturday Night” still kicks serious ass, and even Katherine Heigl can’t ruin “Bennie & the Jets”. It’s also nice to hear “Candle in the Wind” in its original form, without the nonsensical treacle of the post-Diana version. 

The best part for me of listening to these older albums is discovering the songs that weren’t singles. The album’s two-part opener, “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”, goes from a mournful, stirring extended buildup into one of the rockingest songs Elton ever put to wax. Other tracks that I really liked include “Grey Seal”, the heartbreaking kiss off “I’ve Seen That Movie Too”, the rolling melody and music hall piano of “Sweet Painted Lady”, “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-1934)”,and Bernie Taupin’s fantasies of the American west brought to life in “Roy Rogers”. “All the Girls Love Alice”, with its fuzzy guitars, solid backbeat, jarring piano and tempo switches, is a song I first heard a few years ago, and while it has great energy, it’s best not to listen too closely to the lyrics if you don’t want to get seriously bummed out.

Time has not been kind to Elton (it never is to any of us, of course): the music (mostly) stopped being great around 1977, and he largely became a parody of himself (though this was at least used to great effect in “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”). I stopped paying much attention to him a long time ago. The excellent biopic “Rocketman” (so, so, sooooo much better than the insanely overrated “Bohemian Rhapsody”) shows what great showpieces these songs are for Elton’s over-the-top persona, and it was a reminder of how much I used to love his music. It’s been a real joy listening to this album over and over in recent weeks, and if you’ve forgotten how really great he once was, I suggest you do the same. Elton will not disappoint you.