In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in celebration of the newly remastered Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, we’re picking our favorite Elton John songs.
Like any good Eltie, I like a lot of Elton John’s slower songs. “Your Song” practically makes me tear up, and that “Tiny Dancer” scene in Almost Famous? Forget about it. Listening to the new, remastered, 40th-anniversary edition of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road reminded me that, while John does schlock well, he also wasn’t always afraid to turn out a real rock ’n’ roller.
Take “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting),” for instance. Yellow Brick’s first single, “Saturday” is a glam-rock epic written around a drunken night out. The narrator’s out to “get about as oiled as a diesel train,” a mood reflected by the song’s blistering guitar line. Initially banned from some radio stations for fear it would cause violence, the song’s about youthful rebellion, Hulk-style drunken transformations, and absolutely hedonistic revelry. In short, it’s about all the stuff we’d never, ever associate with modern Elton John. Sure, the guy likes to throw money around and, since he’s British, could probably handle a pint or two, but the very idea of John getting so lit that he’s prowling a bar “looking for a dolly who’ll see me right” seems absolutely foreign—never mind the assertion that the two noises he likes “are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike.”
What’s great about 1973 John, though, is that he can take on all manner of personas. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was released just as the singer sort of fell off the wagon, favoring costuming and showmanship over actual songwriting, but “Saturday Night’s Alright” is a perfect blend of the two: It’s John playing a role, acting out, and putting out an excellent song all in one fell swoop.