Tuesday, 1 March 2016

"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by ELTON JOHN (2014 Universal 'Single CD' Reissue - Bob Ludwig Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...




"...Dogs Of Society Howl..." 

I hesitate to think of the number of times Elton John's 1973 magnum opus "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" has been reissued on CD since 1984 – what is it by now – 6 thousand or 6 million. But all numeric puns aside – this 2014 Universal/Mercury version with a brand new and comprehensive BOB LUDWIG Remaster is way out in front of them all. And I'd argue that the 'single disc' variant at under a fiver is all the audio love you'll ever need...

Fans will know that there's the Deluxe Edition with an Extra Disc of the whole album re-interpreted into modern day duets – and a 5-disc Super Deluxe Variant that gives us previously live shows, the duets set and DVD stuff too. But is all that fluff actually necessary - especially when you have to pay a pretty penny for it? I'd argue no - sometimes less is more. Let's get to the Norma Jeans, Bennie and His Jets and some sociable Fighting on a Saturday Night...

UK and US released 24 March 2014 – "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by ELTON JOHN on Universal/Mercury 375 858-9 (Barcode 602537585892) is a '40th Anniversary' single disc CD Remaster of the original 17-track 1973 double-album and plays out as follows (76:11 minutes):

1. (a) Funeral For A Friend (b) Love Lies Bleeding [Side 1]
2. Candle In The Wind
3. Bennie And The Jets
4. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road [Side 2]
5. This Song Has No Title
6. Grey Seal
7. Jamaica Jerk-Off
8. I've Seen That Movie Too
9. Sweet Painted Lady [Side 3]
10. The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-34)
11. Dirty Little Girl
12. All The Girls Love Alice
13. Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n' Roll) [Side 4]
14. Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting
15. Roy Rogers
16. Social Disease
17. Harmony
Tracks 1 to 17 are his 9th album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" – a double-LP set released October 1973 in the UK on DJM Records DJLPD 1001 and in the USA on MCA Records MCA2-10003. All tracks were written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin – David Hentschel (Dave Henschel) was the Engineer and Gus Dudgeon Produced. Del Newman did Orchestral Arrangements on Tracks 4, 8, 9, 10, 15 and 17. The core band was Elton John on all Keyboards and Lead Vocals, Davey Johnstone on All Guitars and Backing Vocals, Dee Murray on Bass and backing Vocals and Nigel Olsson on Drums and Backing Vocals. David Hentschel plays A.R.P. Synth on "Funeral For A Friend" and "All The Girls Love Alice". the 2LP set "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" hit the No. 1 spot on both the UK and USA LP charts in October 1973.

The 12-page booklet features the same layout as the Gus Dudgeon 1995 remaster in that it reproduces the inner tri-gatefold of the original vinyl double album with Ian Beck's lovely artwork as well as David Larkham and Michael Ross's illustrations and lyrics. There's no liner notes per say and basic credits. Long-time tape supremo BOB LUDWIG has handled the new 2014 Remaster. Fans will know that the 2003 DELUXE EDITION double had stunning remasters from Andy Strange, Chris Bellman and Tony Cousins – so is this version any better? I don’t know if better is the word – more 'equal too'. I like both - but there's something about this new go at it that sounds just that little bit more nuanced...

1973 was a huge year for Elton. Along with Bernie Taupin his lyricist – their collaborative songwriting mojo seemed to be not just on fire but blazing. His 8th album the beautifully and elaborately packaged "Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player" with the big hits "Daniel" and "Crocodile Rock" had gone to No. 1 in both Blighty and The States in February - and no sooner had the public drawn breath then they were hit with his double-album meisterwerk in October 1973 – "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (another Number 1 winner). It opens with the eleven-minute magnificence of "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" – a two-part almost Prog monster that rocks, rolls and sweeps for the whole of its brilliant duration. It proved such a winner with fans that DJM Records couldn't resist actually releasing its eleven minutes as the A-side to a 12" Single EP in September 1978 in a unique Picture Sleeve (DJT 15000). The hero of the hour is surely Davey Johnstone and his stunning axework that seems to be everywhere in your speakers. It's followed by the album's most iconic song "Candle In The Wind" – a love song and homage to the sad demise of Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe – later reprised by Elton to reflect the world's sadness at Diana Spencer's loss in 1997 – another princess taken too soon. There's real warmth in this transfer and the song is still touching. The 'live' feel to "Bennie And The Jets" comes over like a football anthem – those punched piano riffs are in your face and threatening to smash the cocktail glasses over the hotel waiter's head.

Another hero of the album is the Jazz sleaze shuffle of "I've Seen That Movie Too" – here in gorgeous Audio (Drums, Bass and Piano all shining) – the whole thing elevated into a thing of musical beauty by Del Newman's complimentary string arrangements. Its cleverly followed by another forgotten Elton sweetie - "Sweet Painted Lady" - and to this day I don't know whose playing the Accordion or Tuba (all part of Del Newman’s strings)? The transfer of "Danny Bailey..." gives more muscle to those Backing Vocals and Strings - while Davey's lowdown and snotty Guitar sound on "Dirty Little Girl" gives the 'hasn't had a bath in years' tune real anger and attack. Speaking of Blistering Guitar parts – the sexually knowing "All The Girls Love Alice" rocks like a mother – Davey ripping it up while David Hentschel bottoms the chorus with that clever ARP Synth fill. The faster-than-anything-else bubblegum pop of the souped-up "Your Sister Can't Twist..." sounds utterly amazing but actually leaves me cold. You can't say the same of the 'belly full of beer' rocker "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" leaping out of your speakers like a boot boy intent on damaging private property (what a tune this is).

Side 4 winds down with "Roy Rogers" – the dynamic duo's obsession with all things Wild West surfacing once again. The overall soundstage is full and incredibly alive – those strings and pedal steel wrapping themselves around Elton's vocals. The twittering birds and bulldog barks of "Social Disease" start to increase in Volume as the song progresses – and again the Remaster is fantastic - highlighting Elton's Piano and Davey's Banjo plucking. It ends on the surprisingly upbeat "Harmony" and there's amazing clarity on the Acoustic Guitars and those layered backing vocals.

Re-listening to 1973's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" in its entirety in 2016 and you're struck by its track-after-track brilliance – a genuine 1970s Classic Rock LP masterpiece. My only fidget would be that there's a truly gorgeous 'Acoustic Mix' of "Candle In The Wind" on the 2003 Deluxe Edition that would have made the most perfect singular additional Bonus Track on here – ending the whole thing on a reminder of just how touching Elton’s songwriting chops were/still are (but alas).

"...Never knowing who to cling to when the rain set in..." - Elton sang sadly on "Candle In The Wind". Well if you're in a nostalgic mood - start your journey back down the Yellow Brick Road right here. And remember - this gorgeous Audio '40th Anniversary' trek won't cost you a flight to Vegas or a night at Caesars Palace either...but I suspect it'll feel just as good...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is CLASSIC 1970s ROCK - an E-Book with over 250 entries and 2100 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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