Elton John: Beyond the ‘Yellow Brick Road’

Elton John released his landmark double album  on October 5, 1973: fifty years ago. Elton’s seventh album, the blockbuster LP was stuffed to the brim with top-quality songs, all from the pen of Elton John (music) and Bernie Taupin (lyrics). The pair churned out the songs – 20 of which are featured on the album – in a matter of weeks.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road would go multi-platinum in four countries (Australia, United Kingdom, U.S. and New Zealand) and would spawn no less than four hit singles. “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” the album’s title track, “Bennie and the Jets” and “Candle in the Wind” all soared into the UK Top 40, and all but the last of those reached the upper number in the U.S. charts as well. (“Candle in the Wind” would eventually become a hit Stateside when Elton re-recorded it in 1987 as a tribute to Princess Diana.)

But Elton’s and Bernie’s prolific nature was so remarkable that during the period in which they were writing for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the duo came up with several more songs. Left off the album, three of those would be released as b-sides to singles form the album. The other two holiday-themed tunes would form two sides of a November 1973 single. Here are five relative obscurities from Elton John’s creatively fertile Goodbye Yellow Brick Road era.

“Jack Rabbit”
When MCA Records released a single of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” – the first single off Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – they placed not one but two songs on the flip. The first, “Jack Rabbit” is a bouncy slice of pop country, similar to (but more upbeat than) many of the songs on the similarly-themed Tumbleweed Connection album from 1970. The non-LP track would eventually resurface on an expanded CD version of 1973’s Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player, released in 1995. “Jack Rabbit” also played over the ending credits of the 2017 action film Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

“Whenever You’re Ready (We’ll Go Steady Again)”
The second song on the b-side of the “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” showcases Elton’s rollicking barroom piano style, with a vintage rock ‘n’ roll character. As strong a tune as anything on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the exuberant “Whenever You’re Ready” underscores the fact that Elton and Bernie were at the top of their game in ‘73. Like “Jack Rabbit,” The song appeared as a bonus track on the Don’t Shoot Me deluxe CD in 1995 as well as the 30th Anniversary release of GYBR in 2003.

“Screw You (Young Man’s Blues)”
A lyrical and thematic cousin to Harry Nilsson’s 1972 “You’re Breakin’ My Heart,” “Screw You” adopts a similar perspective. The ensemble playing and excellent production and arrangement that were hallmarks of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road are all in evidence here as well.

“Step Into Christmas”
Pointedly arranged and produce to evoke memories of Phil Spector’s early ‘60s productions, “Step into Christmas” was written to become a holiday standard. It largely succeeded, charting in the U.K. twice (1973 and 2019), earning Double Platinum status. The song was successful stateside as well, reaching #1 spot on the Billboard Christmas singles chart. The tune has appeared on many compilations over the years.

“Ho Ho Ho (Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas)”
With a spare arrangement slightly reminiscent of “Bennie and the Jets,” this b-side is designed to have a jolly, informal feeling, with lots of chatter in the background and massed munchkin-esque chorus vocals. A somewhat slight tune, it nonetheless helps make the point that Elton John and Bernie Taupin could create charming tunes without even breaking a sweat.