Ranking the 5 Best Songs on Elton John’s 1973 Double Album ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’

Elton John released so many killer albums in the ’70s that it’s very difficult to pick just one as the clear-cut best. How about two albums, then? Two, as in the masterpiece double LP Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which represented an absolute pinnacle for John, his co-songwriter Bernie Taupin, and his incredible band.

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With 17 songs worth of greatness from which to choose, coming up with the best five songs is an unforgiving task. But we’re going to rise to the occasion and do it anyway. See if you agree.

5. “Roy Rogers”

Taupin’s obsession with Americana colored a lot of John’s output in the ’70s. In the case of “Roy Rogers,” he writes from the perspective of an everyday Joe whose weariness and frustration with the frantic pace of life only eases when he’s watching cowboy movies on the late show. The details suggest Taupin had been there, done that many times himself. As for John, he sings the whole thing with tongue somewhat in cheek, as many British artists of his generation did when it came to country-flavored material. But he honors the sentiment just enough to strike a lovely balance.

4. “Candle in the Wind”

Here’s Taupin paying tribute to another silver screen icon much different than Roy Rogers, needless to say. It’s easy to forget the restrained, level-headed, original version of this song, considering how it was repurposed many years later. That later version was so earnest and serious, as the death of Princess Diana demanded. But in the original take, Taupin comes at it as a fan who doesn’t kid himself about some of the rougher aspects of Marilyn Monroe’s life. That only makes it that much sweeter that he holds onto his devotion all these years after her death, because he loves the human more than the icon.

3. “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”

John likely knew how some fans and critics saw him, considering he first became famous for the soft stuff. He must have figured that any rockers he released as singles would have to be pushed to the hilt. And he was lucky he had a band that could handle that stuff with no questions asked. Taupin here concentrates on delivering great one-liners: I am a juvenile product of the working class / Whose best friend floats at the bottom of the glass. From there, it’s up to John to deliver with just the right mixture of toughness and charisma, and he’s more than up to the task.

2. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”

John’s love of The Band can be heard in the descending piano chords that set the song in motion. On face value, Taupin’s lyrics tell the tale of a bumpkin who gets corralled into a relationship with a rich woman. She treats him more like a curiosity than a partner in a relationship. Of course, it’s easy to hear Taupin’s shyness and willingness to retreat from the limelight in the story. But again, none of that works if John can’t convince you. And he does it by tapping into the underdog status that seemed to cling to him, even when he was at his most glamorous and successful.

1. “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”

This album-opening song suite seems to bring all of John’s many talents under one roof, so to speak. The piano-and-synthesizer open is stunning for the way it gives us a beautiful overview of his melodic genius, as the instrumental segues from majestic to bereft to capture the emotional upheaval of a funeral. He then charges without hesitation into the vocal part of the song, with his band sticking with him every step of the way as they tackle the uptempo hard rock. Just for good measure, he sings the stuffing out of the tortured lyrics. A tour de force, and the rest of this incredible double album was still to come.

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Photo by Douglas Doig/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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