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Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Recovered

As I have already done with albums by Bruce Springsteen, Carole King, David Bowie and many Beatles albums, here’s another track-by-track covers mix. Except there are some songs on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road for which no covers seem to exist, so I have filled gaps with three live performances by Elton John himself, from his Hammersmith Odeon concert on 22 December 1973. One song had to be omitted altogether, for lack of any alternative versions.

In 1973 there was no indication that one day Elton John would become one of the leading Friends of Dorothy, but he unintentionally hinted at the yet-to-be-invented codeword with the metaphors in the title and on the cover of his double album.

The album’s title, also the name of the lead single, seems to be at odds the artwork on the cover. Both, song and cover, take their imagery from The Wizard Of Oz, in which the yellow brick road played as much a central role as any thoroughfare ever did in the movies. Where the song tells of disillusion at the end of that bright road, the cover promises the beginning of an escape from reality as Elton– spangly mauve platforms instead of ruby slippers – steps into a poster and on to a yellow brick road.

The poster is on a tatty wall, covering a previous poster (the font of which suggests that it might have advertised a music hall), with chimneys in the background telling of a drab existence, quite at odds with Elton’s flamboyant get-up.

The cover was drawn by the illustrator Ian Beck, who was 26 at the time. Beck has since illustrated magazines, greeting cards, packaging and a few children’s books. He has also written a few novels.

Beck came to LP cover design through John Kosh, whose credits included the Abbey Road cover. They shared a studio at 6 Garrick Street in London’s Covent Garden when Kosh arranged for Beck to do illustrations for an LP cover he was designing for Irish folk singer Jonathan Kelly, Wait Till They Change The Backdrop.

Elton John bought that album on strength of the cover, and wanted the same graphic for his new album. Beck told him that this was not possible but offered to create new artwork for the cover.

He was given tapes of the songs (which included future classics like Benny And The Jets, Saturday Night Is Alright For Fighting, Candle In The Wind and the title track), and typed lyrics sheets, and began working on a concept. His friend, fashion illustrator Leslie McKinley Howell, stood in as a model for Elton John in polaroids which Beck took (hence the long legs) in preparation for his watercolour, pastel, and coloured crayon pencils artwork. The piano on the front cover and the teddy bear at the back were placed there at the request of Elsie, as Beck only later realised Elton was known to his staff.

It was the last LP cover Ian Beck designed, though this had nothing to do with his experience of creating the iconic sleeve for one of the great double albums in a decade of many double albums.

The album is regarded by many as Elton John’s finest work. It is indeed filled with many great songs, too many to be released on single, and too many to find inclusion on retrospectives. Songs like Sweet Painted Lady (a song Paul McCartney might have written), I’ve Seen That Movie Too, This Song Has No Title, Roy Rogers and Harmony could have been hits (and Harmony was intended to be the album’s fourth single release); now they are remembered only by fans of the album.

1. Dream Theater – Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding (1995)
2. Sandy Denny – Candle In The Wind (1977)
3. Paul Young – Bennie And The Jets (2006)
4. Sara Bareilles – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (2013)
5. Elton John – This Song Has No Title (Live) (1973)
6. The Band Perry – Grey Seal (2014)
7. Judge Dread – Jamaica Jerk-off (1977)
8. Elton John – I’ve Seen That Movie Too (Live) (1973)
9. Bridget St. John – Sweet Painted Lady (1974)
10. Elton John – The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-1934) (Live) (1973)
11. Emeli Sandé – All The Girls Love Alice (2014)
12. Imelda May – Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll) (2014)
13. The Who – Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) (1991)
14. Kacey Musgraves – Roy Rogers (2018)
15. Jesse Malin – Harmony (2008)
Bonus: Diana Ross – Harmony (1976)
Hickoids – Bennie & The Jets (2011)


More Recovered albums:
Blue (Joni Mitchell)
What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye)
Tapestry (Carole King)
Darkness On The Edge Of Town (Springsteen)
Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (Bowie)
Every Beatles album

More Cover Mixes
Previous great album covers
More CD-R Mixes

  1. The Rumblecat
    May 9th, 2012 at 13:14 | #1

    What an excellent job – that cover AND your background information. Thumbs up!

  2. JD
    May 9th, 2012 at 16:01 | #2

    “covering a previous poster (the font of which suggests that it might have advertised a music hall), . . .” Actually, take a closer look at “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m the Piano Player” and you’ll see where that poster comes from . . .

  3. Dane
    May 10th, 2012 at 00:41 | #3

    Great article, and thanks for sharing these covers. Love Elton’s earlier stuff.

  4. May 10th, 2012 at 06:03 | #4

    Fantastic stuff. It’d be silly hyperbole to say “Harmony” is Elton John’s finest song. But it’s certainly up there. (And nice “Take Me to the Pilot” part in the Who cover…)

  5. Rhod
    May 11th, 2012 at 22:12 | #5

    Thanks for the great share, an album with many highlights but I still think Honky Chateau is his best.



  6. Big Joe
    August 7th, 2012 at 14:41 | #6

    Great background and so well written, thank you.

  7. Lisa
    July 11th, 2013 at 15:50 | #7

    Without wanting to sound all Brooklyn Hipster here, I was a huge Elton John fan from the release of his eponymous LP through Caribou, and Yellow Brick Road was an obsession for me when it came out, largely due, yes, to the cover/inside art and the album tracks … and yes, my favorite songs (which are still on my selective iPod shuffle) are/were Sweet Painted Lady, This Song Has No Title and Harmony. (Back in the early days of American Idol, there was a great auditioner named Terrence Gaines (sp?) who sang SPL as his audition song and it was one of the best auditions in history of the show IMHO.) I actually created a needlepoint pillow of the cover. No idea where it is now.

  8. halfhearteddude
    July 11th, 2013 at 17:35 | #8

    You need to find that needlepoint pillow and let e post a photo of it!

  9. December 5th, 2013 at 20:40 | #9

    Very groovy.

    Do you – or any commenters here – by chance know where a collector might grab a copy of the Yellow Brick Road cover art? I’ve been chasing this item for years, without success. The closest I’ve come is an early Rolling Stone magazine _2-colour_ front page promoting the “coming soon” LP by Elton. (Rolling Stone at that time could not afford full cover anything, hence the {rather disappointing} 2-color GYBR cover.)

    Along the way one individual told me that posters were never produced for this one LP, for foggy reasons. This sounds unlikely to me, as rock music posters were a huge business in those days.

    Will pay good $$ for such full-color poster.

  10. December 5th, 2013 at 20:43 | #10

    @Alex I don’ think that’s silly hyperbole. I’m a lifelong huge UJ fan too, and Harmony is my top pict too.

  11. gebis61
    July 17th, 2019 at 16:48 | #11

    what’s the password; Thank you

  12. halfhearteddude
    July 17th, 2019 at 22:48 | #12

    It’s always: amdwhah

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