ELTON JOHN-GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD.

ELTON JOHN-GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD.

Although critical acclaim and commercial success were constant companions for Elton John between 1970 and 1978, one year stood out, 1973. During 1973, Elton released two of his most successful albums. The first of these two albums was Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player which was released in January 1973. It reached number one in the UK and US Billboard 200. This resulted in Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player being certified triple platinum in America. However, this was nothing compared to the commercial success Goodbye Yellow Brick Road enjoyed. Everything it seemed had been leading to this.

The Elton John story begins in June 1969, when Elton released his debut album Empty Sky. It failed to chart in the UK, but reached number six in the US Billboard 200. Empty Sky hinted at Elton John’s potential. However, nobody was prepared for what happened next.

As the new decade dawned, Elton John was released to critical acclaim in April 1970. It reached number five in the UK and number four in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in the first gold disc of his career. Your Song became the most successful single of Elton’s career. Released in 1970, it reached number eight in the US Billboard 100. This resulted in Elton’s first platinum disc. It certainly wouldn’t be his last. Far from it.

Six months later, Elton released his second album of 1970, Tumbleweed Connection. Just like his previous album, Tumbleweed Connection won critics over. On its release in October 1970, it reached number two in the UK and number five in the US Billboard 200. Having sold a million copies, it was certified gold. Elton’s career was well underway. This success would continue in 1971.

Just like 1970, Elton released two albums. His first album of 1971 wast the soundtrack to Friends. Released in March 1971, it reached number thirty-six in the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. Then seven months later, Madman Across The Water, became the most successful albums of Elton’s career.

Madman Across The Water was released in November 1971. Critics hailed it one of Elton’s finest hours. It reached number forty-one on the UK and number eight in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in Madman Across The Water being certified double-platinum. That wasn’t the end of the commercial success. One of the singles from Madman Across The Water, Tiny Dancer, reached number forty-one in US Billboard 100 and was certified platinum. By now Elton John was one of the most successful solo artists of the seventies.

This commercial success continued in 1972. Honky Chateau was released in May 1972. It reached number two in the UK and became Elton’s first number one in the US Billboard 200. Certified platinum, Honky Chateau saw the Elton John success story continue. Things would get even better in 1972.

During 1973, Elton released two of his most successful albums. The first of these two albums was Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player which was released in January 1973. Two of the singles added to Elton’s collection of gold and platinum discs. Crocodile Rock was released in 1972, reaching number five in the UK and gave Elton his first number one in the US Billboard 100. This resulted in another platinum disc for Elton. Then Daniel reached in number four in the UK and number two in the US Billboard 100. For Elton this resulted in another gold disc. Surely things couldn’t get any better for Elton?

It did. Nine months later, in October 1973, Elton John returned with what was his Magnus Opus, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road which was recently rereleased by UMC. This was no ordinary album. Far from it. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a double album featuring seventeen tracks. Critics hailed Goodbye Yellow Brick Road an instant classic. It surpassed the success of Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player, reaching number one in the UK and US Billboard 200. This became Elton’s first album to be certified platinum. Over the Atlantic, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was certified platinum eight times over. That wasn’t the end of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’s commercial success. There was the small matter of the singles.

In total, a quartet of singles were released from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting reached number seven in the UK and number twelve in the US Billboard 100. Then Goodbye Yellow Brick Road reached number six in the UK and number two in the US Billboard 100. This became Elton’s fourth single to be certified platinum. The final single was Candle In The Wind, which reached number eleven in the UK. Three years later, Bennie and The Jets was released as a single, reaching number thirty-seven in the UK and number one in the US Billboard 100. Belatedly, this gave Elton another platinum disc. However, in 1973, three hit singles, including one that was certified platinum and an album that was certified platinum eight times over, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was Elton John’s most successful album. However, for Elton John this success had been a long time coming.

For Elton, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was the result of over eleven years hard work. He’d come a long way since 1962, when aged fifteen, he played piano in pubs for £35 a week. Back then, he was Reg Dwight. He then got a job in a publishing company, running errands. During that period, he was a member of the band Bluesology.

It was in 1964, Reg Dwight and some friends formed Bluesology. They went on to become the go-to backing band for some of the biggest American soul acts of the sixties. Bluesaology backed everyone from Doris Troy, The Isley Brothers, Billy Stewart and Major Lance. Then in 1966, Bluesology became Long John Baldry’s support act. It was during that time Reg Dwight became Elton John.

This was in tribute to Elton Dean Bluesology’s saxophonist and Long John Bawldry. Little did anyone know, a musical legend had been born.

Having been a member of Bluesology, the newly christened Elton John auditioned to become the lead singer of two bands. Both would go on to enjoy successful careers. Not with Elton as lead singer though. He failed the audition. This proved a blessing in disguise.

If Elton had become the lead singer of King Crimson or Gentle Giant, he’d never have answered the advert he saw in New Musical Express. The advert was for a staff songwriter for Liberty Records. Elton got in contact with Ray Williams, who was the A&R director for Liberty Records. He hired Elton John and inadvertently, the legendary Elton John and Bernie Taupin partnership had been born.

On his first day at Liberty Records, Elton was given a pile of lyrics written by Bernie Taupin. Elton’s job was to write the music. Once he’d written the music, Elton mailed it to Bernie. Soon, the pair formed a successful partnership and in 1968, were hired by Dick James for his DJM Records.

At DJM Records, Elton John and Bernie Taupin gained a reputation as being able to write songs quickly. Give them an hour, and Elton and Bernie could come up with a song. Much of the material they wrote was AOR. They then had to try and convince artists to record these songs. For two years, Elton and Bernie spent their working days doing this. Little did they realise, they were honing their songwriting partnership.

Whilst working as staff songwriter, Elton John was still working as a session musician. One of the biggest hits he played on was The Hollies’ He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother. However, before long, Elton’s success would surpass that of The Hollies.

That was the case by October 1973, when Elton John released his Magnus Opus Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It was Elton John’s seventh album since 1969s Empty Sky. Throughout that time, the songwriting team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin were becoming the most formidable songwriting partnership in music. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a musical coming of age for Elton and Bernie. 

By 1973, Elton and Bernie had been working together since 1968. The previous five years saw Elton and Bernie grow and mature as songwriters. They knew each how each other worked, so were able to work quickly. Bernie spent just over three weeks writing the lyrics. Elton worked even quicker, spending just three days writing the music during his stay at the Pink Flamingo Hotel, Kingston, Jamaica. He was in Jamaica partly, to watch the Rolling Stones record Goat’s Head Soup. However, considering he would begin recording what became Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in Kingston, maybe Elton was checking out the studios?

Recording of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road began in Kingston, Jamaica. The working titles were variously Vodka and Tonics and Silent Movies, then Talking Pictures. Elton’s band included bassist Dee Murray, drummer and conga player Nigel Olsson and Davie Johnson who played banjo, acoustic, electric, steel and slide guitars. Ray Cooper added tambourine, David Hentschel played ARP synth and Leroy Gomez played saxophone on Social Disease. Backing vocalists included Dee Murray, Davey Johnstone, Nigel Olsson and Kiki Dee. Elton played piano, electric piano, organ, Farfisa organ, Leslie piano and mellotron. With the band settled in Jamaica, things didn’t work out well.

The decision to record in Kingston wasn’t the best idea. There were no end of problems. First of all the sound system and studio piano were playing up. Then there was the political unrest that was sweeping Jamaica. To top it all, preparations were taking place the boxing match between Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Quickly, it became apparent that recording an album was going to be almost impossible. So Elton and his band headed to France.

Their destination was the Château d’Hérouville, an eighteenth century chateau. This was familiar surroundings for Elton. He’d recorded 1972s Honky Château and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player there. So, once Elton and his band were settled in the Château d’Hérouville, producer Gus Dudgeon manned the mixing board throughout May 1973. During that period, eighteen of the twenty-two tracks that Elton and Bernie had penned were recorded. Once recording of what became Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was finished, Elton John’s career was transformed.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was released to critical acclaim and reached number one on both sides of the Atlantic. Certified platinum in the UK and certified platinum eight times over in the US, Elton John never surpassed the commercial success of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Since then, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is seen as a classic and features on the Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 best albums of all time. Quite simply, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road deserves its place in any self-respecting record collection.

You’ll realise from the opening bars of Funeral For A Friend and Love Lies Bleeding. The two tracks are transformed into a grandiose, atmospheric and evocative rock epic lasting a mammoth eleven minutes. What were originally two separate tracks become one. Both tracks are recorded in the key of A and segue together seamlessly. Following Funeral For A Friend and Love Lies Bleeding is Elton’s heartfelt and poignant homage to Marilyn Monroe. A truly timeless track it’s a sympathetic and beautiful portrayal of an icon. Bennie and The Jets, which portrayed a fictional band, who fall for the greed, avarice and excesses of the music industry in the early seventies. This brought to an end the first side of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

It’s a case of Elton picking up where he left off on first side of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. He doesn’t disappoint with the title-track. Inspired by the Wizard Of Oz, Elton delivers one of his best vocals on the album. Tender, beautiful and melancholy, describes his vocal on this fusion of soft rock and AOR. When the singles was released, it gave Elton one of the biggest singles of his career.

Among the other highlights of side two are the cinematic and dramatic This Song Has No Title. Here, Elton paints pictures that unfold before your eyes. Grey Seal has a slightly rockier sound, while the reggae tinged Jamaica Jerk Off is very different to the rest of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Having said that, it’s not short of hooks. One of the real highlights of side two is the wistful and beautiful, I’ve Seen That Movie Too. Elton and his piano take centre-stage, where they belong, as they breath life and meaning into the lyrics.

Sweet Painted Lady, which opens side three is another beautiful ballad. Elton’s vocal is both needy and full of guilt on this poignant track. On The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-1934) Elton becomes a storyteller. You’re spellbound as the story unfold. It’s dramatic and with a cinematic quality, and shows why Elton and Bernie were such a successful songwriting team. Dirty Little Girl and All The Girls Love Alice see a return to the rockier sound that Elton showcased on Grey Seal. They feature blistering performances from Elton, who storms his way through the two tracks.

Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n Roll) sees draw inspiration from the rock ’n’ roll he grew up listening to. It’s a barnstorming performance from Elton and his tight, talented band. From there, Elton launches into the anthemic Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting). It was another of the singles from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and has become an Elton John classic. Again, Elton relishes the opportunity to kick loose and enjoys the rockier style. After this, the style changes on the wistful, piano lead Roy Rogers. Then on Social Disease, Elton fuses Americana, country, folk and pop. Closing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is Harmony, another ballad. This is an underrated and quite beautiful song that’s often overlooked when people discuss Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John’s Magnus Opus.

The word classic is often overused word. Not in the case of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. This was Elton John’s seventh album, but his first double album. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was an ambitious Magnus Opus. Featuring seventeen tracks, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road oozes quality. That’s the case from the opening bars of Funeral For A Friend and Love Lies Bleeding, right through to the closing notes of Harmony, the music is variously beautiful, melancholy, hook-laden, heartbreaking, heart-wrenching and joyous. Throughout Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton toys with your emotions during this fusion of musical genres.

Primarily, pop and rock shines through. There’s also a nod to the Laurel Canyon sound, via diversions via Americana, country, folk and even reggae. Whether it’s Elton John the balladeer, or when he kicks loose and finds his rocky side he’s equally at home. Backed by a band that includes some of the top session musicians, and produced by Gus Dudgeon, little did anyone realise they were in the process of recording one of the greatest albums in musical history.

That’s no exaggeration. Released to critical acclaim, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was hailed a classic. Since then, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road has found its way into Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 best albums of all time. It deserves its place on that list. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road also deserves its place in any self-respecting record collection. For anyone yet to discover the delights of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, now is the time.

That’s where the recently released Deluxe Edition of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road comes in. It’s a double album. Disc One features a remastered version of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The sound quality is stunning. This is how remasters should sound. Then on disc two of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road there are demos, out-takes and cover versions. This includes cover versions by Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sandé, Fall Out Boy, Hunter Hayes, John Grant and the Zac Brown Band. However, the main event on disc two are the demos and out-takes. They’ll be essential listening to anyone whose interested in Elton John’s music.

There’s no doubt, that Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, belongs in any self-respecting record collection. It’s a stonewall classic. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was Elton John’s Magnus Opus. Although critical acclaim and commercial success have been constant companions during Elton John’s career, never again did he match the success of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which sold eight million copies in America alone. That’s eight million reasons why Elton John’s seventh album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is a true classic that every music lover should own.

ELTON JOHN-GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD

Elton

 

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