This morning's entry is a two-fer: not only is it the latest "How I Got Here" entry featuring kindie musicians talking about albums that influenced them as musicians, but it's also a world premiere video. That's right, Michael Rachap, the mastermind behind the wonderful Readeez series of videos (they're not just sing-alongs, they're read-alongs, too), offers up his thoughts on Elton John's classic double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and offers up his latest Readee, "Haircut" (perfect for the newly shorn or long-unshorn). Check that new video out at the end of the essay. And for the rest of his Readeez, check out the Readeez Digital 2.0 Bundle.
At this point, you're probably saying, "j-j-j-j-j-just get on with it," so without further ado...
I was ten years old when Goodbye Yellow Brick Road came along and rocked my pre-pubescent world. Today, nearly four decades and countless spins later, it's still among my greatest sources of inspiration and musical pleasure.
Though this lavish, over-the-top double album is credited to Elton John, it is decidedly a team effort: musicians, lyricist, producer, engineers, art directors, illustrators and photographers, all at the top of their games.
The record is nothing if not ambitious. Side One opens with the maximalist "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding." (Honestly, who kicks off their album with a funeral?) But unlike other early-70s Big Important Rock Songs ("American Pie," "Roundabout," "Stairway to Heaven"), "Funeral" doesn't supply a clean, conflict-resolving ending. Instead, when genius producer Gus Dudgeon finally draws the curtain and fades out at the 11:08 mark, the band is rocking ever harder, approaching Maximum Warp, threatening to leave the galaxy.
I like to think that in some alternate universe somewhere, Elton and the boys are still playing the coda to "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," thrilling an arena filled with lucky aliens and/or angels.
My first crush on this album was most likely for "Bennie And The Jets," a big ol' hunk of ear candy if ever there was one. And of course the title track went on to become a soft-rock standard (and a staple of my college summer-job lounge act). The piano player in me also adored (and copied) Elton's technique on keyboard-driven songs like "Grey Seal" and "Harmony."
In fact, this 17-track opus tramples all sorts of genre boundaries. There's glam. There's synth-heavy prog-rock. There's '70s singer-songwriter balladry, retro '50s 3-chord boogie—plus that "Other" category Elton and Bernie seemed to specialize in ("All The Girls Love Alice"—ehrm…okay).
Then there's the sublime "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting," which rocks as hard as anything AC/DC ever did.
Beyond its many musical lessons, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road's biggest impact on my creative future may have been visual. The LP's tri-fold jacket delivered all the lyrics, decorated—you might even say "illuminated"—with stylish multicolor typography and superb illustrations. In retrospect, this "words-plus-music-plus-pictures" formula seems to be what I landed on as the foundation for Readeez.
Yes indeed, friends: This isn't just a double album—it's more like an album squared. To be fair, it does harbor a few clunkers. There's also some misogyny, and plentiful Adult Themes. Nearly all of which went right over my ten-year-old head.
Four sides of Elton & Bernie, plus Nigel Olsson, Dee Murray, Davey Johnstone and Ray Cooper, masterfully written, played and produced, wrapped up in a dazzling, lapidary package.
I can't recall such a yummy aural/visual combo, before or since.
Not for nothing did Rolling Stone rank Goodbye Yellow Brick Road among its top 100 Albums of All Time.
Me personally, I'd say "Top Five."
And here it is, the premiere of the latest Readee, "Haircut!"
[Photo credit: Courtesy of Readeez]