Review: Elton John-Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

This is kind of difficult to review because, though it is generally highly-regarded, I’ve heard some of it too much to think objectively about it. I can’t go to the grocery store without hearing “Bennie and the Jets” on the radio. “Candle in the Wind” has been destroyed due to Princess Diana dying. I remember watching EJ play that on TV when Princess Di’s funeral was on, and eventually you couldn’t escape it when you turned the TV on, and I’ve been sick of it ever since. I will say, however, that I disapprove of the rewrite and the original is better. It doesn’t matter that Bernie has said that it’s about the culture of celebrity worship and the way that people who die young are idolized and become legends; there’s still the fact that the original mentions Marilyn Monroe and that makes making it about other people kind of facepalm-inducing.

But never mind all that, I think I was trying to review the album itself. It is a double album so it’s really fucking long, which will probably be reflected in this review. Apparently “Funeral for a Friend” and “Love lies Bleeding” were originally separate songs, but then sort of merged because they fit together so well. FFAF is the best fucking instrumental EJ has ever written. I had formerly thought this was because of the guitars, but, having heard the late ’70s piano and drums-only versions since then, I think it’s just a fucking good song. It is enhanced by the guitars, certainly. “Love Lies Bleeding” is also one of his better ’70s songs. I’ve already mentioned “Candle in the Wind” and “Bennie and the Jets” and I’m just going to skip those. I’ve probably heard “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” a few thousand times too many, also, but it’s still worth praising heavily, I think. This is a very fucking pretty song. This is probably why this album is considered his best. It certainly starts off very well.

I’ve heard people calling “This Songs has no Title” and “Grey Seal” “filler material,” but that is bullshit. These are probably not Bernie’s finest moments, lyrically; but I think Elton managed to put some decent music to them, anyway. This version of “Grey Seal” is also vastly superior to the version of it included on the bonus disc of the deluxe version reissue of “Elton John.” If I recall correctly, Bernie says some interesting things about this album on the “Classic Albums” documentary, which I have the DVD of. I also enjoyed the fact that Bernie says he didn’t even like Marilyn Monroe all that much, because you could certainly get a different idea from the all the early ’70s pictures of Bernie and Elton posing with that naked centerfold of Marilyn.

“Jamaica Jerk-off” is a bit obnoxious. I’ve read that it’s not actually about what it sounds like it’s about, but I’ve never been interested enough to figure this out either way. It would at least be funny if it were about masturbation, perhaps; but if it not, it’s just sort of annoying. But on the other hand, this is why this is a good album: it is very diverse, possibly more diverse than anything he did before or since. And it had fucking better be, considering how long it is. I like “I’ve seen that movie too,” but not enough to discuss it at length. “Sweet Painted Lady” is fucking fabulous and one of the best songs on here, I think.

“The Ballad of Danny Bailey” is one of my least favorite songs on the album, though I don’t dislike it as much as a I used to. He and Bernie did the telling stories about the Old West shit a lot better on Tumbleweed Connection. I’d be tempted to call this filler material, but I sort of feel like it’s not bad enough to say that about it. “Dirty Little Girl” is also somewhat obnoxious, but also catchy enough I can’t say anything bad about it, and breaks up the monotony of some of the slower songs that come before it. “All the Young Girls Love Alice” is a fun song about a lesbian that gets murdered, which is noteworthy because I don’t think there were a whole lot of popular music about lesbians in those days. This, along with “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting)” sort of suffer from a sort of irritating guitar tone. That’s not because of the time period, either, because these are the only EJ songs where the guitar tone annoys me (along with “The Bitch is Back” on Caribou). I think they’d be vastly improved with a somewhat less trebly guitar tone.

“Your Sister Can’t Twist” is definitely my least favorite song on here. It’s a retro-ish sounding sound with some Beach Boys-type backing vocals. It’s not quasi-retro in an endearing way like “Crocodile Rock,” it’s just kind of obnoxious and I always skip it, unless listening to it on vinyl. On that note, I think I’ve spend more money on this particular album than any other album by anybody, mainly thanks to the 2014 yellow vinyl remaster (also more expensive than regular remissues due to the yellow vinyl and because it’s a double album with a trifold cover, etc.), as well as the super deluxe box set (hardcover book, 4 CDs, 1 DVD of the Goodbye Norma Jean documentary). It pisses me off that this is the only ’70s album that got a super deluxe version, but not as much as the fact that Blue Moves, Caribou, and Rock of the Westies didn’t even get the regular deluxe reissues. But that’s neither here nor there. I sold my deluxe version of this because I had the aforementioned super deluxe version, the original vinyl release, and the yellow vinyl.

“Roy Rogers” probably also ranks among his more memorable ’70s songs, though the live versions were vastly superior. “Social Disease” is also makes the list of really obnoxious EJ songs, and I don’t see why people are so fond of “Harmony.” It’s ok, but there are certainly better songs on here, like anything on the first half. The first half is better than the second half, but the drop in quality isn’t bad enough to make the second half not worth listening to.

While I could certainly understand why this might be considered EJ’s best album and why it’s the only one with the box set and colored vinyl remaster, etc., and it probably has some of his best individual songs on it, it is certainly not my favorite of his albums. If I had to recommend only one EJ album to someone, it would probably be this, though.

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