American Triangle
Songs From the West Coast
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Studio Version
Key: C-minor Structure: A-A-B-A-B-C-B

American Triangle is a magnificent piece of work in my judgement. Harrowing, dramatic and stately are words that come to my mind as I listen to this song. The lyrics paint a picture of stark images contrasted against John Ford like western scenery. Elton's singing is passionate. And it's made all the more poignant by the fact that it's based on the sad but true-life murder of Matthew Shepard.

You don't find many pop songs set in minor keys but this is one and it serves the song well. American Triangle is in C-minor, the relative minor of Eb and as you know, one of Elton's favorite keys. The intro is a descending diatonic progression that most musicians should recognize. The slash chords facilitate the melodic bass line movement.

|| Cm - G/B | Cm/Bb - Fm/Ab | G7/F - Cm/Eb | Ab - Bbsus ||

But just as importantly, Elton's intro is a carefully crafted, elegant phrase that is played over classic harmonies. The right hand melody line "sings" over the softer harmony voices. In bar 4, Elton uses a familiar little Bb riff to modulate up to Eb and begin the song.

The bridge, where the music stops entirely except for some very darkly voiced piano chords, is one of the most dramatic musical moments Elton has ever created. Personally the voicing reminded me of Beethoven and it's played with a classical reverence. Elton's singing brings out the passion in Bernie's lyrics. A great moment.