Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

So imagine you are in one of those dueling piano bars they have in just about every major city…you know, Howl at the Moon, Big Bang, whatever.  And it’s the weekend, so it’s pretty crowded.  There is a bachelorette party front and center shouting requests, and some frat boys in the back who only know the words to the Billy Joel songs.  And there are a bunch of tourists wearing ugly vacation shirts.  Everybody is singing along, and as the night goes on the songs get somewhat more suggestive, until everyone is pretty drunk and it gets downright raunchy for awhile.  Then, it slows down and everybody starts to gets sentimental, until suddenly you look around and the only people left in the bar are a couple of overweight guys in Steelers jerseys demanding one last chorus of “Tiny Dancer”.  That is this album in a nutshell.  Or maybe it’s just my experience with dueling piano bars.  Either way, it fits.

So I’ve never been Sir Reginald Kenneth Dwight’s biggest fan.  That’s not to say I dislike him either.  He’s one of those artists you don’t have to seek out to know the bulk of his songs because his stuff is always on the radio.  Actually, I had two Elton compilations in my collection prior to buying this album on Ebay for $2.50 (one of them is the compilation that the Evil Empire sold while I was working there in high school).  But rock history will always link Elton John and Billy Joel together as the two “piano guys” in rock and roll.  And while I give props to Elton for being the more talented piano player, and by far the more flamboyant rock personality, I was brought up on a steady diet of late 70s/early 80s Billy Joel, and I give Billy the credit for being the better songwriter.  Not to take anything away from Sir Elton, but I just realized when I was doing my background research on this album that he only writes the music…his long term songwriting partner Bernie Taupin writes all his lyrics.  Actually, my favorite Elton moments are his collaborations with other artists…the pinball wizard scene in the movie version of “Tommy”, his vocals and piano on John Lennon’s “Whatever Get You Through the Night”, and of course the groundbreaking moment when he played piano with Axl Rose on “Novemeber Rain” at the MTV Music Awards (it always comes back to the Guns, folks).

As for this album, there are some great singles here.  “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” has that Beatelesque sing-a-long quality of a megahit.  “Candle in the Wind” was a classic even before he remade it for Princess Di in the late 90s.  Add in “Bennie and the Jets” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and you have a list of hits that ranks up there with the best of ’em.  There is a lot of filler here two though, which makes me wonder why this had to be a double album.  But there are moments of grandeur in the instrumental half of “Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)” that make me wish he had done it with a full orchestra instead of with a synth.  And similarly, “This Song Has No Name” starts to go in amazing places, but just never quite gets there.

Other lists: “Candle in the Wind” is #356 and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is #390 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Elton is #38 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #49 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

My favourite track: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”

Honourable mention: “Candle in the Wind”

Quote: “So goodbye yellow brick road, where the dogs of society howl.  You can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plough.”