Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, Elton John became one of the biggest stars of the glitz n’ glamour fueled ‘70s, racking up seven consecutive number one albums and scoring at least one Top 40 hit every year until 1996. Following his 1972 U.S. breakthrough Honky Chateau, which spawned the hits “Rocketman” and “Honky Cat,” John released two back-to-back albums, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player and the now-classic Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which displayed the singer’s talent for crafting infectious pop/rock ditties that evoked a diverse span of genres ranging from mellow piano music to full-out rock n’ roll. The double-album begins with the dirge-like, 11-minute “Funeral For A Friend,” which opens with a foreboding organ that later gives way to swirling prog-rock guitars, piano, and psychedelic keyboards. The complex song is instantly juxtaposed by the album’s second track, the simple “Candle In The Wind,” John and perennial songwriting partner Bernie Taupin’s famously sentimental homage to Marilyn Monroe. (The song would later become the fastest selling single in history after John revised it as an ode to the late Princess Diana in 1997.) Accentuating Goodbye‘s impressive diversity is the smooth, lounge-y “Bennie And The Jets,” with John’s high reaching falsetto giving the track a cabaret feel. The album doesn’t shy away from John’s signature subversion either: “All the Girls Love Alice” is a masked sweet ballad that’s really about a teenage lesbian who does “favors” for older women, while the hit “Sweet Painted Lady” is a jaunty song about prostitution: “Getting paid for being laid/Guess that’s the name of the game.” From the catchy title track and the orchestral “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” to songs like “Grey Seal,” with its high-adrenaline rush of pounding piano keys and won’t-leave-the-head-for-days hook, it’s the balance between melancholic ballads (where John’s vocals and strong narratives take center stage) and the pure rock n’ roll tunes that makes the album work as a whole. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is such an epic, varied display of emotional depth and soul it should be classified as some sort of operetta.
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