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Category:    Home > Reviews > Rock > Multi-Channel Music > Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road SACD set

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

30th Anniversary Deluxe Super Audio CD two-set


Music: A+     DSD 5.1: A     Extras: B     PCM 2.0: B

Bonus DVD-Video (in triple-sets only): C+



If anyone trying to write off Elton John as a Rock Liberace, or an overly Pop Bowie, they were on shaky ground to begin with.  He was already cutting some of the most important records ever made, but had only done single albums.  When the news spread that he was doing a double album, anticipation was huge.  When the result arrived, it was an instant classic.  Goodbye Yellow Brick Road remains the biggest studio album of his career commercially and one of the greatest double albums ever made.


Its content is even more stunning years later, with John and his exceptional band going all out on an amazingly diverse set of 17 songs.  The music covers so much territory in John and lyricist Bernie Taupin’s attempt to do everything Rock N Roll is amazing.  You can break it down into music genres old and new, like Country, Reggae, ballads, outright Rockers, Glam Rock, storytelling, drama, and attitude.  The title song is a three-minute epic in the best Phil Spector tradition, complete with its own kind of Wall of Sound.  Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding is a masterwork in the great tradition of long (11:08 here) album Rock cuts of the time, and starting the set off with sends a message that this album is about listening to the music for people who want to hear great music, then it delivers.


Candle in the Wind is, in its original form, a tour de force statement about how cruel the world can be and was decades ahead of its time in laying blame on the media for out of control hatemongering and character assassination.  Though this original song is about just how painful the loss of Marilyn Monroe still is, the transformation of the song into one about Princess Diana is frighteningly accurate about what really killed her.  It really was no accident and this song’s point in the first place remains unchallenged.


Bennie and The Jets imagined an all-girl Glam Rock band, something that soon be emulated in look by Patti LaBelle and her vocal band LaBelle.  However, the song is a nearly-psychedelic work narratively, and even more so Science Fiction.  However, the ultimate point of this brilliant work is as a celebration of the other and persons so different, that we should always welcome them, applaud them, and love them the more they are different.  Note Elton’s vocal changes as the “crowd” gets more excited.


Grey Seal is a sly Rock response to Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz (1939) that this album constantly references with dark honesty.  It has its own existential truths to unearth as well.  I’ve Seen That Movie Too also achieves this by a knowing, sly deconstruction, as the character Elton sings as surprises his once intimate opponent by exposure as an unoriginal fraud.  The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909 – 1934) is more of a radio drama than a ballad, which brings us back to a sense of cinema.  Roy Rogers is about Rogers as movie star, not noting his singing cowboy side, as Elton seems to have taken that over.


Add just that up, and you can see that this is more of a concept album than it is ever recognized for being.  The concepts surrounding fame, identity, and wanting to escape into another world though another identity are pure Sgt. Peppers.  It is so naturalistic that this goes over many people’s heads, and the artwork certainly feels inspired by The Who’s original Tommy (1968, also in an incredible SACD set reviewed on this site when we return), and the music is often so epic that this set feels like a Rock Opera in itself.  Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting is absolutely inspired by The Rolling Stones, while Harmony is a tribute to The Beach Boys that works exceptionally well.


There are also the songs explicit about sex and sexuality that were groundbreaking here.  If Bennie and The Jets simply went further in challenging gender, Sweet Painted Lady (prostitution), Dirty Little Girl (taking advantage of a lower-class gal with a dose of misogyny), All The Girls Love Alice (Lesbianism, young gay girls as playthings, and even pedophilia), and You’re Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock N Roll) (sexual discovery) tell honest stories that only the power and honesty of the Rock genre could in this way, though there is much authentic Rhythm and Blues to be found on this and other vintage John works of the time.


Most artists go through an entire career of album-making without doing a tenth of what this set achieves.  The bonus tracks, of which there are four, offer flip-sides that did not make the original release and an actually interesting acoustic mix of Candle in the Wind that sounds great.  That says something about how great the record is, after being so over-exposed, that there is a version that makes it sound fresh again.


Prior to this set, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs had produced the best CD version of this album.  They fit the whole thing on one 24-karat Gold CD and it was pretty good.  The PCM CD tracks here have some clarity advantages over the MoFi copy long out-of-print, but it is not a major jump up from what the company achieved years ago on CD.  This is otherwise the best CD playback you will get of the album.


However, that is nothing as compared to the new 5.1 DSD High Definition sound mix, which is unbelievable.  Ace producer Gus Dudgeon did an incredible job of bringing the best possible elements together here and was Elton’s producer through his early glory days.  His brilliance and deep work with the musicians, engineers, and mixers shows great wisdom in musicality.  As Dudgeon is no longer with us, Greg Penny was tapped to do the remix and the result is one of the most revealing 5.1 mixes yet on SACD or DVD-Audio.


Like all great 5.1 remixes, it does credit to the singers and musicians, and only purists will complain.  For them, they can go to the CD-only tracks or get limited edition vinyl made possible by the labels going to the master tapes for these High definition editions.  Everyone can be happy now, without oversimplifying.  The fidelity is often stunning and will give you a new appreciation of John and company.  John’s voice in particular is remarkable and remarkably reproduced, all before he blew it out.  Piano, guitars and electronic music are exceptionally reproduced and integrated.  This is demonstration quality for this format, sounding better than so much badly produced and engineered garbage from today.


The bonus tracks sound about as good, but are the only bonus in the double set.  There is a more deluxe set with a third disc: a DVD-Video copy of the substandard Classic Albums installment of the classic, with poor sound and picture reproduction.  The program, even with its extras, atypically skips the making of certain tracks!  It has also been sold on its own, so it is not an exclusive by any means.  Get it at your own risk.


There is also a nice booklet, which reproduces the original album art, liner notes, and artwork, but has little new to offer, atypical of the kinds of information Universal Music has been stuffing in these sets.  The reproduction is still on high quality paper with fine color reproduction, but there is nothing like having this stuff 12” album-sized.  Oh well.  We’ll just have to settle for some of the best music, with some of the best sound reproduction we are likely to ever experience from a classic this important.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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