Elton John‘s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was released in 1973, and I was released in 1979, so I don’t consider it an exaggeration to say I have loved this song my entire life. It’s one of those tunes I didn’t quite understand as a kid, but got to me anyway. Because that’s what the best songs can do: get you in your gut even if your brain can’t figure out why.
Like the Kinks‘ “Waterloo Sunset” or the Beach Boys‘ “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” hints at what kind of place the adult world might turn out to be. Heart-stirringly lovely, but a little lonely, a little bitter. Songs like this are fascinating mysteries when you’re a child. You receive clues only by living, by enduring the small heartbreaks and disappointments of adult life. Some songs retain their mysterious quality even after you’ve grown up enough to piece together their meaning; revisiting these songs decades later is kind of a hobby of mine. This one never lets me down.
Here’s the “Top of the Pops” version, in which Elton sings along to the studio track (which is fine for our purposes, because the melody’s sigh-to-cry brilliance is most evident in the studio version.) Dreamy production, and a voice that even Sir Elton can’t summon anymore:
[As an aside, nothing in this clip contradicts my belief that Dominic Monaghan should play Elton in a biopic. To be clear, I think such a flick would be terribly ill-advised, but if the inevitable happens and Hollywood puts one in production, they must call this man. Now, we know from “Lost” that he can’t sing. But there’s something essentially Elton-y in his face and speaking voice.]
Here’s a version with the world’s finest backing band, the Muppets. Shamefully, it omits the verse containing the “vodker and tawnics” line, but is otherwise perfect. Is it just me, or is this exactly what childhood looked and sounded like?