by Kevin Burton
If I say “yellow’ you’re going to think about the sun and all things happy, right? Not too many menacing references from the color yellow.
The sting of a yellow jacket maybe. But we have no flying insects on Flying Colors, just great songs with yellow in the title.
We’re going to go with the sunny theme for our bonus track, “Soak Up The Sun,” by Sheryl Crow, although this list isn’t entirely sunny.
Here we go, the best of yellow:
8 “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” by Dawn, featuring Tony Orlando. This song was first offered to Ringo Starr. But the Apple Records rep who heard it called it “ridiculous” according to Wikipedia. On one level it is. But this was a great premise for a pop song and became the Billboard song of the year for 1973.
Thanks to this song, the yellow ribbon is now an international symbol of freedom and solidarity, displayed for the 1981 return of the American hostages from Iran and for countless others.
7 “Bright As Yellow,” by The Innocence Mission. I have no idea what lead singer Karen Peris is talking about but I like the way she sings it. The band took a minimalist approach. It’s uncomplicated, almost like a demo. I would love to hear what Jefferson Starship would do with this track.
6 “Yellow Dog Blues,” by Bria Skonberg. The Wall Street Journal says she is “poised to be one of the most versatile and imposing musicians of her generation.” She is “a millennial shaking up the jazz world,” according to Vanity Fair. Hers is by far the best version of “Yellow Dog Blues” I could find. Bria Skonberg, someone to watch for sure.
5 “Yellow River,” by Christie. Is that lyric on the chorus stolen from the Beatles’ Penny Lane (Yellow River is in my mind and in my eyes)? The song by the British band Christie hit number 23 in the US in 1970. Because of that time frame, you think it’s about a soldier going home from the Vietnam War. But that couldn’t be because the lyric says “put my gun down, the war is won.” Author Jeff Christie said the song was actually about the US civil war.
4 “Big Yellow Taxi,” by Joni Mitchell.
“I wrote ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ on my first trip to Hawaii,” Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times. “I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart… this blight on paradise.”
3 “Mellow Yellow”, by Donovan.
Paul McCartney can be heard as one of the revelers heard late in the song. But that is not him whispering “quite rightly.” That is Donovan himself. The song went to number 2 in the US in 1966. If you want to know what the song is about (and maybe you don’t) focus on verse four and the “electrical banana.”
Brief note before the top two:
Thumbs Down: “Love And A Yellow Rose,” by The Guess Who. Just enough good rocking to remind me of their great stuff, but it’s mixed with some weird musical patterns. Trying to copy the Beatles I think. This does not work.
Thumbs Down, “Yellow Balloon” by Jan and Dean. Maybe if Herman’s Hermits did this song I’d love it because of their British accents. As it is, this sounds like bad bubblegum.
Bonus track: “Soak Up The Sun,” by Sheryl Crow.
On to better things and the top two:
2 “Yellow Submarine,” by The Beatles. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote certain songs with a limited musical range to accommodate the vocal skills of Ringo. He pulls off the song just fine, even the final high note which he was nervous about attempting.
1 “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” by Elton John. Billboard said the song’s “sonic impression is still strong and haunting” and the “blending of voices with strings on the bridges is beautiful.”
In terms of sheer songcraft this could be the peak of the dynamic partnership between lyricist Bernie Taupin and Elton John. If you’re sniffing for tidbits like this in today’s music, forget it.
How about that? Two weeks in a row with Elton John topping the list. If I left out your favorite yellow song, please list it in comments below.