“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is a ballad performed by musician Elton John. Lyrics for the song were written by Bernie Taupin and the music composed by John for his album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Its musical style and production were heavily influenced by 1970s soft rock. It was widely praised by critics, and some critics have named it John’s best song.
The song was released in 1973 as the album’s second single, and entered the Top Ten in both the United Kingdom and the United States. It was one of John’s biggest hits, and surpassed the previous single, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, in sales and popularity quickly following its release. In the US, it was certified Gold on 4 January 1974 and Platinum on 13 September 1995 by the RIAA.
The Yellow Brick Road is an image taken from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. In the movie, Dorothy and her friends are instructed to follow the yellow brick road in search of the Wizard of Oz, only to find that they had what they were looking for all along. The road leads to the Emerald City in the land of Oz, often referred to as a metaphor for “The road that leads to life’s fantasies” or “The road that leads to life’s answers.” The lyrics describe wanting to go back to a simpler existence after living what the narrator thought was the good life, but realizing they had simply been treated like a pet.
The Wizard of Oz was reportedly the first film that Elton John’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin had ever seen, and he used the imagery in the lyrics relating to his own life as his desire to “get back to [his] roots”.
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” received generally positive response from music critics. Janis Schacht of Circus describes it as “delicate and beautiful”. Allmusic writes that the song is “a vocal triumph” and a “pinnacle of its style”. In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it No. 380 in their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
In Canada, the single reached No.1 on the RPM 100 national singles chart on 22 December 1973 and held the position for one week, making it John’s third No.1 in the year 1973 in that country (following “Crocodile Rock” and “Daniel”). It entered the US charts at No. 62, the highest debut of that week and in seven weeks rose to the No. 2 spot (8 December 1973), where it stayed for three weeks. In Ireland, it reached No. 4; in the UK it peaked at No. 6.
The song’s flip side is a song called “Screw You”, though the US release re-titled the song “Young Man’s Blues” so as not to offend American record buyers.
Elton John – piano, vocals
Davey Johnstone – Leslie electric guitar, backing vocals
Dee Murray – bass, backing vocals
Nigel Olsson – drums, backing vocals
Del Newman – orchestral arrangement