Hunting the Horny Backed Toad

Here’s an interesting post at Kill Zone Blog, in which the author of the post, Garry Rodgers analyzes the lyrics of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

Here’s the chorus:

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse
I’m going back to my plough

Back to the howling old owl in the woods
Hunting the horny back toad
Oh, I’ve finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road

And here’s the post:

I asked Rita, “What do you think the significance of hunting the horny back toad is?”

Oddly, I never wondered that. Unlike the Rodgers, I know what a horned toad is: it’s a lizard, so more properly called a horned lizard, in the genus Phrynosoma. It’s found in the American Southwest. When upset, it can produce a secretion of blood from its eyes. They can squirt the blood some distance. I’m not sure why that is helpful. It’s assumed it startles predators. I am not sure this seems plausible to me. I guess I’d believe it if I saw a horned toad scare off a bobcat that way, but offhand it doesn’t seem likely that tiny jets of blood would bother a bobcat. Or certainly a coyote. Particularly not if the coyote is hungry. But who knows?

Anyway, back to the song. That is an odd line. The desert habitat of the horned toad is not known for woodlands with owls. It’s a desert.

My suspicion deepened that the horny back toad must be some kind of metaphor or simile or symbol described through figurative language.

Yes, that seems pretty likely!

The rest of the post is a fairly deep dive into figurative language:

But I wasn’t that familiar with was figurative language sub-categories, and it kept me hunting for the toad in the rabbit hole. I leaned there’s a big world out there in semantic stuff that supports figurative language…

I like the word Metonymy — substituting a name to shift focus. I wasn’t familiar with that one.

Rodgers eventually reaches this conclusion:

What if Bernie Taupin simply had writer’s block and struggled with something to rhyme with “road” and the word “toad” suddenly popped into his mind? Then Bernie grabbed a random owl to go along with it, added some adjective and adverb figurative descriptors that had to work with the phonology of his lyrics and made Elton John’s voice flow?

And I laughed and posted this here.

That seems pretty likely! The songwriter reaches for simple/nature images and picked a couple just about at random because they fit the rhythm of the lines and rhymed appropriately and there you go. That seems to me a lot more likely than a deliberate decision to include a lizard of the genus Phrynosoma for some figurative reason!

It’s a kind of fun post, with a bonus link to a good cover of the song, so click through if you’ve got a minute.

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2 thoughts on “Hunting the Horny Backed Toad”

  1. Britney Spears was singing “baby baby hit me one more time” to a pop beat in an early hit. Not my generation so I only saw it in a Netflix doco about pop music and songwriters. How weird was that?

  2. This is exactly what drives me nuts about Elton John songs: they all have lines like this that make no sense, even though the lyrics generally sound like they’re telling a story, so I feel like I’m missing something because I don’t get it. (I don’t mind other singers with weird lyrics because the whole song is just all images and I don’t feel like it’s supposed to make sense.) And his songs are so earwormy, and inevitably it will be the nonsensical parts of the lyrics that get stuck in my head.

    But I really like Sarah Bareilles!

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