Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’s title track is a gorgeous lament about fame, a celebrity’s dream of normalcy. The song addresses Elton John’s popularity in lyricist Bernie Taupin’s opening words: “When are you gonna come down? When are you going to land?” The rocket man was anxious about his trajectory.
Ironically, 1974’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road marks the beginning of Elton John as a sequin-suited showman. The double-LP featuring “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”—as well as blockbusters “Bennie And The Jets,” “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” and another meditation on celebrity, “Candle In The Wind”—catapulted John to superstardom. The four-disc “super deluxe edition” just released provides valuable context for that ascent.
The album isn’t flawless—reggae novelty “Jamaica Jerk-Off” and the shrill “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ’N Roll)” are two lowlights—but Goodbye Yellow Brick Road remains impressive. Songs like the exuberant “Grey Seal” and the heartbreaking “This Song Has No Title” stand ably alongside the hits. The reissue’s bonus tracks are revealing: A 1973 live performance is raucous fun, and demos and B-sides provide insight to John’s songwriting process (a breathtaking acoustic mix of “Candle In The Wind” gives the song the intimacy it deserves). The nine covers by The Band Perry, Fall Out Boy, and others, however, are awful.
In the set’s incisive essay by Guardian rock critic Alexis Petridis, John describes himself as a “lost little boy” upon the record’s release. “[W]ith the costumes,” he said, “I wasn’t just living out my fantasies onstage, I was trying to be someone else.” That vulnerability is everywhere on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, an insanely confident effort that, 40 years on, still surprises in its sensitivity. Sequins and all.