Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Turns 40
Next Monday (March 24th) will see not only the reissue of a classic but the 40th anniversary of one. It’s hard to believe it’s been four decades since the release of Elton John’s breakthrough record, but now that album that launched Elton into the stratosphere of rock superstardom is getting another airing.
With 17 tracks (if you count the opening ‘Funeral for Friend / Love Lies Bleeding’ as one), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was Elton’s first double LP and although it stayed at Number One for more than two months and has been certified platinum many times over, the album we know and love almost didn’t get made at all.
Go to Jamaica, they said…
Having taken the decision to record somewhere other than the 18th century château in France where they had completed the two previous albums, Honky Château and Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, Elton decided he wanted to make the next album in Jamaica. Kingston’s Dynamic Studios had been host to the recording of two of Elton’s favourite albums at the time, namely The Rolling Stones’ Goats Head Soup and Cat Stevens’ Foreigner, but when they arrived it wasn’t exactly what they were expecting.
First of all the studio staff were on strike and Elton, along with songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, had to cross a picket line just to get inside. The studio was surrounded by barbed wire and when they did get inside they found that the studio itself was, in Taupin’s words, “abysmal”. Equipment kept breaking, sometimes taking several days to get fixed, and the political unrest in the country at the time was being further exacerbated by the commotion surrounding the boxing match between Joe Frazier and George Foreman, due to happen in Kingston that month.
Several weeks in, with only one song recorded (a version of ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’ that was later abandoned) and running out of money, they decided to cut their losses and head back to Château d'Hérouville, where they completed the rest of the album in just 18 days, with Elton writing most of the music at an electric piano in the breakfast room. The song ‘Jamaica Jerkoff’ may be the only positive thing to come out of the experience.
The Hit Parade
Looking through the track list on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is a bit like reading through a Greatest Hits compilation: ‘Bennie and the Jets’, ‘Candle in the Wind’, ‘Harmony’, ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’… it’s not surprising that this is considered by many as his best work.
For some of the younger fans it may come as a surprise to learn that 'Candle in the Wind' was a song about Marilyn Monroe, but the association with Princess Diana has become hard to shift. Nevertheless, the reissue presents an opportunity to experience the song in its original context. Other highlights include ‘This Song has No Title’ which sounds like some of the better moments on The Beatles’ White Album, as well as the bluesy shuffle of ‘All the Girls Love Alice’ and, of course, the title track itself.
Of the 17 tracks on the LP, only four singles were released, mainly because Elton was in the middle of a prolific period during the early 70s where he would regularly knock out as many as two albums per year. By the time 'Candle In The Wind' was released, Elton had already finished Caribou and was ready to move on.
What’s in the box?
The 40th Anniversary reissue is available in a number of versions. At the top of the tree is the Super Deluxe Edition box set featuring a newly remastered CD of the album, a second CD featuring nine of the tracks being covered by the likes of Ed Sheeran and Emili Sande. Then there are two more CDs featuring a live performance from a Hammersmith Odeon gig in 1973, with the final in a 5-disc set being a DVD featuring a documentary about the making of the record, starring Elton, Bernie and others. If that’s not enough for you, the box set also includes a 100-page hardback book.
For those who are slightly less hardcore there’s a Deluxe Edition 2 CD set, a double gatefold LP on 180g vinyl and a standard edition CD.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: 40th Anniversary Edition will be available in hmv stores and our download store from March 24th