An Early Punk Primer: Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Album, 1973.
Above Photo: Elton John levitates onstage in 1973.
An early Punk primer for me, that is…
Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album gets an honorary mention in my 1970s-1980s Punk, New Wave and music memoir, Bombed Out! because I really liked it when it came out. I was only 12, mind you, but it captured my imagination and it was the first time I’d really heard what a bass guitar sounded like and how it contributed to the structure of songs.
I’d bought the album, taped it and returned it by post – along with many others – to an LP Club where you could take albums on approval and send them back within X days if you didn’t like them, so long as you bought a certain number each year.
Apparently Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics for all the songs on the album in two and a half weeks and Elton John composed most of the music in just three days when he was staying at the Pink Flamingo Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica.
Production on the album was started in Jamaica in January 1973, although three things meant that it wasn’t recorded there.
There were technical recording difficulties in the studios, there was increased bustle and disturbance in Jamaica due to a boxing match between Joe Frazier and George Foreman which was due to take place in Kingston, and thirdly, violent political unrest caused by Jamaica’s dire economy economic situation at the time.
Instead, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was recorded in two weeks at the Château d’Hérouville in France, where Elton John had previously recorded two other albums – Honky Château and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player.
The songs on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road mostly revolve around the theme of nostalgia and an older American culture as seen through eyes of films, but it was the lyrics to two songs in particular that caught my attention.
I remember being surprised but not quite believing it, when I realized ‘Sweet painted Lady’ was about a prostitute and ‘All The Young Girls Love Alice’ was about a lesbian.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is now regarded as Elton John’s best and most popular album and it remains his best selling studio album, getting to Number 1 in the UK and the US and many other countries around the world.
I like a lot of tracks on the album, but my favourites were ‘Love Lies Bleeding’, as that was the one I first became conscious of an unusual sound, which I subsequently worked out was the bass guitar. I’m sure my more musical friends will correct me, but I believe the bass played by Dee Murray on the track is a Rickenbacker. (It starts at 4 minutes 47 below).
I also really liked ‘The Ballard of Danny Bailey’ and ‘I’ve Seen That Movie Too’.
Listening to all three tracks never fails to take me back to the early 1970s – a time and a place I comprehensively describe, both musically and socially, in the pages of Bombed Out!
Below are You Tube links to the three tracks (Love Lies Bleeding starts at 4 minutes 47)
This is the Ballard of Danny Bailey. I hadn’t thought of it before, but ‘Punk’ even gets a mention in the first line of the song!
And finally, this is ‘I’ve Seen that Movie Too’