By 1973, Elton John’s career was exploding. It wasn’t as if success had eluded him prior to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; “Your Song” was a Top 10 hit late in 1970, and each of 1972’s releases, Honky Chateau and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player, yielded a pair of Top 10 hits with timeless classics like “Rocket Man,” “Honky Cat,” “Daniel” and the rollicking “Crocodile Rock.” However, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road had a 1-2 punch, literally, with the title track climbing all the way to No. 2 in October of 1973 and “Bennie And The Jets” taking the top spot the following February.
The expansive tracklisting makes for a CD-era 70+ minute listening experience. You can appreciate the varied approach that John and Bernie Taupin brought to the studio with the balladry (“Candle In The Wind,” surprisingly not a US-charting song), the ballsy (“Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”) and the busy (“Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)”) even if the results led to a less-than-cohesive album on the whole. As with many Elton John albums, there are hidden gems to be found like the biting “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” with its lush orchestral underpinning that takes center stage near the song’s end or mile-a-minute “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘N Roll)” with its Danny And The Juniors-like “ah ah”s and Beach Boys-like “ooh wee ohh”s. It’s Happy Days on crack, and it’s the perfect lead-in to “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” which narrowly missed out on Billboard’s Top 10 (No. 12) in August 1973.
Along with all the material released on the album, B-sides abounded. To get them, however, you’ll have to spring for the Super Deluxe Edition, which boasts 4 CDs and a DVD and includes tracks like “Jack Rabbit,” “Whenever You’re Ready (We’ll Go Steady Again)” and the kiss-off “Screw You (Young Man’s Blues).” Alternate versions of “Grey Seal” adorn the set with a piano demo which has been previously released and the original version from 1970. Additionally, a Christmas single from 1973 is included, featuring “Step Into Christmas” and “Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who’d Be A Turkey At Christmas)”. The best of-the-period studio track is the guitar-laden version of “Candle In The Wind,” also previously released, that makes one appreciate even more the talent that John could bring to a ballad beyond his comfortable piano backing. Strangely, two tracks from 1975 close out the bonus material: his contribution to the soundtrack of Tommy and the chart-topping single for “Philadelphia Freedom.”
Nine tracks from the album are covered by modern artists and included on the second disc of both the deluxe and super deluxe editions. Ed Sheeran chimes in with his take on “Candle In The Wind” that straddles the line of pop and country. Although it’s sweet with its acoustic guitar take on the song, Sir Elton demonstrates the heights an acoustic version can attain with better results. With other country takes, The Band Perry tackles “Grey Seal” and peppers it with a banjo intro and fiddle, and Hunter Hayes gives a polite, if somewhat uninspired take on the title track. The highlight of the batch is Imelda May’s honky-tonk rendition of “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘N Roll),” which absolutely soars. Guitars swirl throughout; horns add a nice element during an instrumental bridge, and May ends the track with an emphatic yowl.
Fans will have a number of options to explore the album again or for the first time. This week sees a release of the download, single-CD remaster, a 2-CD deluxe edition and the previously mentioned 4-CD/1-DVD super-deluxe edition that includes a documentary entitled Elton John And Bernie Taupin Say Goodbye To Norma Jean And Other Things, a 100-page hardback book and two CDs’ worth of live tracks recorded at Hammersmith. A standard vinyl release as well as a limited-edition yellow vinyl release hits shelves on April 8. Audiophiles will undoubtedly want to explore the Pure Audio Blu-Ray album being released on April 15.