Who Is the Song Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Written About?

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Song: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

Album: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Artist: Elton John

Writers: Elton John, Bernie Taupin

Label: MCA | DJM


Since Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John references The Wizard Of Oz, many interpret the song as referencing actress July Garland. The first thing to realize is that when you are interpreting the lyrics of an Elton John song, you are interpreting the lyrics of Bernie Taupin, so you have to think about what Taupin may have meant, not Elton John. Some of the references and imagery in the song are a bit too personal and it would have been odd for Taupin to make such specific references in a song about another person. Learning a bit about Bernie Taupin’s childhood makes the song fairly easy to figure out, though.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is about a person from the country who wants to bid farewell to the high life and the glitz and glamor associated with it. The Yellow Brick Road is the road that took the narrator on this journey away from his roots, and now, he has grown weary and even a bit resentful of it, and so, is saying goodbye to this road, and thus this life. He’s going back to the farm.

Bernie Taupin did indeed grow up on a farm. He grew up in the village of Anwick and the town of Sleaford, in the southern part of Lincolnshire, England. Although his father, Robert Taupin was an educated man who began his career as a stockman on a large farm near Market Rasen and Bernie’s early childhood was spent on a large farm that his father managed. Later, in 1959, the senior Taupin decided to try his hand at his own farm. So, all in all, Bernie was a farm boy, used to country life.

Certain lyrics in Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, although they may have more than one meaning, can clearly be applied to Bernie, himself. Some of the references could also be him speaking ‘to himself’ or could be about another person. One obvious choice would be Maxine Feibelman, Taupin’s first wife. Many of the early Elton John songs were written about Feibelman. She was the ‘seamstress for the band’ in Tiny Dancer and was also involved in Elton John’s stage costumes. However, while their marriage did go south, Taupin never seemed to have any bitterness toward his wife and even wrote a song, I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford) as an apology to her for the things he had done to ruin the marriage.

This was not Taupin’s only relationship during the time. Taupin himself has said that he and Elton John had a non-sexual love affair through the years. Some of the lyrics could easily be applied to Elton John, as he could be seen as the one responsible for introducing Taupin to this opulent and sometimes outrageous lifestyle, something that never suited the laidback and low-key Taupin.

The lyrics “I’ll take you a couple of vodka and tonics, to set you on your feet again” certainly seem like something someone would say to Elton during those years.

More likely, though, the entire song is about Taupin himself and the music business or his career. He has said that he hardly remembers even writing this particular song:

It’s funny, but there are songs that I recall writing as if it was yesterday. And then there are those I have absolutely no recollection of, whatsoever. In fact, I’d have to say that for the most part, if someone was to say that the entire Yellow Brick Road album was actually written by someone else, I might be inclined to believe them. I remember being there, just not physically creating.

There was a period when I was going through that whole ‘got to get back to my roots’ thing, which spawned a lot of like-minded songs in the early days, this being one of them. I don’t believe I was ever turning my back on success or saying I didn’t want it. I just don’t believe I was ever that naïve. I think I was just hoping that maybe there was a happy medium way to exist successfully in a more tranquil setting. My only naiveté, I guess, was believing I could do it so early on. I had to travel a long road and visit the school of hard knocks before I could come even close to achieving that goal. So, thank God I can say quite categorically that I am home.

At least one part of the song is definitely about somebody else. The part about ‘Mongrels who ain’t got a penny, Sniffing for tidbits like you’ is a reference to dogs owned by a girlfriend of Elton John, Linda. Bernie, apparently, did not like the dogs or did not like Linda.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Chart Success

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was the title of the album of the same name, released in September 1973. It hit the charts in October, going to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and retaining that position for three weeks. It also went to no. 1 for a week in Record World while charting well internationally, as well, including no. 1 in Brazil and Canada; no. 2 in Australia and no. 6 in the UK. The album spent 8 weeks at no. 1, selling 7 million copies. Elton John was already a superstar, but this album, propelled by Goodby Yellow Brick Road, made him a star all over the world and, it’s fair to say, is responsible for his mega-stardom today.

Recording Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a Scary Experience

Elton John and Bernie Taupin intended to record this sixth album in Kingston, Jamaica. If they were expecting a tropical paradise, they got, instead, a barbed wire fence around the studio, guarded by men with machine guns. The duo was too scared to even leave the hotel.

The album ended up being recorded in France, at the Chateau d’Hierouville, where Elton had recorded his last two albums.

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