Originally released in 1989, Elton chose
his 1999 solo tour to perform Amazes Me for the first time
on stage. This particular version was performed at the Roanoke,
The entire Sleeping With The Past album is dedicated to the soul pioneers of
the 60s and 70s. On the studio version, Amazes is performed in a gospel style.
Elton's piano is understated and the song features gospel-style backing vocals
and an absolutely searing Davey Johnstone guitar solo.
BUT IN THIS VERSION, Elton seems to ditch the gospel style
soon after the intro and just go with his patented pop style
of playing. I can only speculate that he was uncomfortable
with the sparseness of the original arrangement in the context
of playing solo. For me it's a little disappointing that
Elton didn't put more effort into staying in the gospel genre.
Make no mistake, Elton knows how to play gospel!
The lyrics are sparse but, like so many of Bernie's lyrics, highly evocative,
painting a picture in one's mind. The title of the song is restated continuously,
driving home the spiritual reverie that is at the core of this song. Bernie
places the title at the end of all but one of the lines of the verses and
at the beginning of each line of the chorus. It's also restated at the end
of the bridge section. The second verse consists of the same line repeated
twice. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes people accuse Bernie
of being lazy. He only has two verses to write yet he ends up repeating himself.
The song uses a verse chorus structure with an added bridge. In contrast to
the studio version, Elton leaves out the guitar solo section that occurs
right after the bridge (dubbed the C section above). Elton instead goes straight
from the bridge to the final chorus.
The song is in Eb and uses a 6/8 meter. 6/8 gives you a
tuplet feel or, if you prefer, a waltz feel that is standard
with the slow gospel style. But in contrast to a straight
3/4, 6/8 has a primary beat on 1 and a secondary beat on
4, giving you a sound that is more like 1-and-a-2-and-a.
The following figure shows the intro which is a great example
of pure gospel style piano playing.
Most of this song relies on the crucial Eb-G/B-Ab progression.
Now THIS is a deeply American rooted chord progression which
finds itself in many different styles of music such as jazz
and blues in addition to gospel. HOWEVER, I've typically
heard the bass walked up, i.e. Eb-G-Ab, with the crucial
half-step climb to the Ab. G is a iii-major, a chord which
doesn't occur naturally in the key of Eb. Harmonically the
G is sometimes referred to as a dominant approach chord,
a harmonic embellishment that anticipates or is used to approach
Elton treats this progression a little differently, walking
the bass downward through the B-natural bass. All I can say
is that this is some kind of an Eltonism thing, giving a
traditional progression his own little twist.
As mentioned before, after the gospel intro, Elton shifts
into what I call his "Mozart" style of playing. I call it
the Mozart style because he plays 16th notes in a broken
arpeggio style that's reminiscent of the left hand patterns
found in Mozart. Now this style is familiar territory for
Elton despite my disappointment that he doesn't stay in gospel
mode. The key aspect of this style is that Elton undulates
and syncopates his arpeggio patterns pretty much at will,
keeping the accompaniment interesting rather than repetitive.
The following figure shows the Mozart style from the chorus.
The bridge shifts into Db and walks around the circle of
5ths (Db-Ab-Eb-Bb). Elton adds some rarely heard left hand
work as shown in the following example. The left hand pattern
used on the Db is VERY TYPICAL for a cocktail pianist or
a new age pianist, people who often work in a solo format.
But for Elton, this is definitely a rarity. It adds some
dramatic intensity to the bridge.
Ultimately Amazes Me is a curious and delightful little
treat. While not a major song, it illustrates many of the
great elements that go into Elton's work. I hope you enjoy