fri 19/07/2024

Reissue CDs Weekly: Elton John | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Elton John

Reissue CDs Weekly: Elton John

The full story of a classic on belated 40th-anniversary edition of 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'

Along the yellow brick road, Elton John performs a classic written in 30 minutes


Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick RoadElton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road box set

“Elton John plays cricket as he plays piano; dressed to kill and as if his life depends on it.” The commentary on the film included in the box-set version of this reissue of 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is hugely over the top and rococo, and treats its subject as a form of showbiz Moses. Brian Forbes’s 45-minute Elton John and Bernie Taupin say Goodbye to Norma Jean is crammed with eyebrow-raising moments, but none more so than when John declares he writes songs in just 30 minutes. “It takes me on average about half-an-hour per song,” he says.

Initially, it seems a boast. Then, members of his band and producer Gus Dudgeon say the same. Later, John is caught on camera during the album’s recording sessions doing exactly what he says he does, spontaneously creating “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-1934)”. In 1973, Elton John was more than on a roll. He was spewing music like ectoplasm.

The result was Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the double album which took him to the stage of the Hollywood Bowl and global fame. The afterlife of its “Candle in the Wind” hangs heavy over this reissue as does it release date. To meet the 40th anniversary, it would have to have been issued last October rather than this month.

elton johnAs is standard nowadays, the reissue spreads across formats and packages. A single CD of the album is accompanied into the shops by a double-disc set which adds nine newly recorded covers of songs from the album and tracks from a BBC-taped Xmas 1973 Hammersmith Odeon concert. The top banana is a five-disc box set with the whole Hammersmith show spread across two CDs which also includes a bunch of single-only tracks, demos and outtakes on disc two as well as the DVD of Forbes’s film. There are also two double albums: one on yellow vinyl. Considering original copies can be found in good shape for under £10 (as can original 1973 yellow-vinyl pressings) and that these new ones use the digital remaster, the new vinyl is for completists only. The pointlessness of digital sound on analogue media is implicit.

However, on CD the new remaster by Bob Ludwig does bring a fresh perspective. The sound is very dry and verges on the dense. It raises the question of whether the original album and its attendant singles had top-end EQ applied during mastering to make the songs stand out on radio. This new version is akin to the removal of a layer of superfluous varnish. Even a song as (over) familiar as “Candle in the Wind” has a power to draw the ears in.

elton john benny and the jetsThe new cover versions assembled as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Revisited are less alluring. Ed Sheeran’s opening “Candle in the Wind” is toe-curlingly sincere, too sub-sub James Taylor, and glutinous. “Bennie and the Jets” by Miguel featuring Wale is plain embarrassing. The marketing reasons for tacking these onto the album are unfathomable. Everyone knows the album and its songs are classics. Does redoing them restate that? Of course not.

Real gems come with the energised, frenzied Hammersmith live show, demos and outtakes, especially a naked, piano-vocal only “Grey Seal”. The book is also splendid. The in-depth essay on the album, its evolution and its songs includes interviews with both John and Taupin. The photos of the costumes are great too.

Despite the distracting new cover versions, the five-disc box set is the one to get. If vinyl is needed, buy a second-hand original and then move on to the new remaster on CD.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

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