For a time that should be so festive, a lot of music and music news from this time of year has been downbeat, or reflected the theme of “the end of the innocence.” From the Altamont concert 53 years back to the Eagles superb album Hotel California, which really first seemed to bring up the concept that Don Henley would use as a title years later (“The End of the Innocence”) to, of course the senseless killing of John Lennon 42 years ago today. Yet another tie to that theme, Elton John‘s great single which peaked at #2 in the U.S. this day in 1973 – “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
It was the theme song off his rather-epic double album released that fall, and the second single released from it. Elton doesn’t specifically make mention of the song in his biography, Me, but does say that recording the album was “torturous”, with a botched go of it in Jamaica resulting in lots of work being scrubbed and relocating to the Chateaux d’ Herouville in France, where he’d done Honky Chateau previously. He said the album “took off in a way none of us expected…it kept selling and selling and selling…songs about sadness and disillusion.” Sell it did, to the tune of some 30 million copies to date, in no small part due to the title track.
Elton wrote the great piano melody of the song while Bernie Taupin penned the lyrics with some input from the singer. Elton was already growing weary of the star lifestyle and was perhaps yearning for a simpler life or time. Taupin was a huge fan of the movie Wizard of Oz and of course therefore likened it to Dorothy on her trip down the Yellow Brick Road. At first strange and fun and exciting, full of wonderful new characters but then wearying and frightening, leaving her just wanting to go back to Kansas and her old routine life. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
With one of the best soft-rock melodies of the decade and words reflecting one of literature – and life’s – great themes, it’s little surprise the song resonated then and still. While it was blocked from the top of Billboard by songs by The Carpenters and Charlie Rich, it went to #1 in New Zealand and Canada, where it was his third chart-topper of that year alone. It’s remained one of his most requested songs on radio and in his concerts and is on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 greatest songs of all-time. And of course, one thinks it’s special to Elton too. He named his lengthy farewell tour (he’s currently midway through) the “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour.”
How good, and popular is the song? Ben and Jerry’s put out an ice cream for it at one time named “Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road”, with profits going to Elton’s AIDS Foundation. A song with an ice cream – now that’s a hit!