"Grey Seal" is one of a select few Elton songs which exist in two released versions. Originally written in 1969, and issued as the flip side of his "Rock and Roll Madonna" single in January of 1970, lyrically it's very much in the anti-Higher Education (a la Roger Waters' "Another Brick in the Wall" years later), anti-authoritarian, vaguely sci-fi mode that Taupin seemed to find himself in in those early days (a la Empty Sky's "Hymn 2000"), with lines like these:
On the big screen they showed us a sun
But not as bright in life as the real one
It's never quite the same as the real one
I never learned why meteors were formed
I only farmed in schools that were so worn and torn
All very yearning and searching for meaning and truth in that late-60's early 70's youth-must-be-served way.
Musically, the original version is more restrained and conventional when compared to the 1973 remake, which speeds the tempo up and takes advantage of Davey Johnstone's studio prowess as the lanky guitarist serves up soul-brother wah-wah guitars and jazzy flourishes in the breaks between verses. Elton plays frantic triplets ("Pinball Wizard" style) on a regular piano instead of the somewhat dinky-sounding electric piano of the original. The first version's ending is somewhat different; Elton sings scatted vocals over strings and vibes and the song works towards a faded-out conclusion, but the remake features the whole band vamping towards a frenetic finish, with minimal string accompaniment.
Don't know why they chose to redo it and add it to the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album; maybe they felt like they needed another track to pad the running time, who knows. I haven't read anything about it one way or the other. The new version is, I think, an improvement but the song itself, in either rendition, just isn't that strong.
Lyrics and samples of both versions