It's been a good last year for pop legend Elton John. His first studio album since 2006, "Diving Board", was released in September and he's gearing up to make his first ever American festival appearance in June at Bonnaroo 2014. Now John's 1973 breakout double album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" is getting the deluxe box set treatment from Universal Music Enterprises. Releasing Mar. 25, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" follows the formula of Universal's deluxe box treatment of The Who's "Tommy" in November with a box filled with goodies to celebrate the album's 40th anniversary.
The box set starts with a remastered version of the album itself. Like many artists with such a celebrated career, it's easy to see John as a collection of hits on classic rock radio, but one listen through to this version of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" is a stark reminder of just how much of a juggernaut this album was. Just the hits alone would be considered a good career for most artists. The title track, "Candle in the Wind", "Bennie and the Jets", and "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" have all so entered the cultural consciousness that they read like a greatest hits album. But the underrated album tracks like "All the Girls Love Alice" and "Grey Seal" are the songs that really shine here. The remaster is exactly what you want a remaster to be, giving the album a sound that will stand up to modern high fidelity systems without losing the charm of the original.
While the remastered edition of the album is definitely worth a purchase, it is the extras that makes this Super Deluxe Box Set worth its $56 purchase price. The first disc of extras is evenly split between cover versions of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" songs and a collection of B-sides and outtakes from John himself.
While some of the cover songs work better than others, the diversity of artists willing to participate in the project is a testament to Elton John's wide reaching legacy. When pop idols like Miguel and Ed Sheeran join singer-songwriters like Emeli Sande and John Grant and even country superstars like The Band Perry and Zac Brown Band to cover your songs, you've officially reached full density of influence. The highlight of the covers comes from Irish rockabilly crooner Imelda May who sizzles on "Your Sister Can't Dance (But She Can Rock and Roll)" and, surprisingly, Fall Out Boy, who turn in an energetic rendition of "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting."
The B-sides and outtakes are an excellent peek into Elton John's creative process. We get to hear not one but two alternate takes of "The Grey Seal", one a piano demo and one the original 1970 recording. You also get two Elton John holiday offerings, "Step Into Christmas" and "Ho Ho Ho (Who'd Be a Turkey at Christmas)". But the real gem among the outtakes is a achingly sparse acoustic guitar take on "Candle in the Wind." Taken away from the lushness of John's piano accompaniment, the song's lyrics burn that might brighter.
But if there's one true reason to buy the Super Deluxe Edition of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", it's for the 2-disc recording of a 1973 concert at Hammersmith. Not only do you get to hear many of the best songs from "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" getting their first year of road testing, but you get a whole host of other Elton John standards like "Crocodile Rock", "Your Song", and "Rocket Man." This was Elton John at his creative zenith and this crystal clear live recording proves why he has remained one of rock's most popular live acts for over 40 years.
Throw in a DVD version of Bryan Forbes' documentary "Elton John and Bernie Taupin Say Goodbye to Norma Jean and Other Things" and a 100 page hard cover book with photos, memorabilia, and a new essay, and you have a deluxe box set that truly lives up to its name.