Without a doubt, Bennie is one of Elton's
most idiosyncratic songs. The song kind of careens from a
weird march into a pop-sounding verse and then
somewhere later it breaks out into a bluesy solo. The lyrics,
which really don't make much sense at all, can only conjure
up images for those
who are halucinogenicly inspired. Meanwhile Elton delivers
the song as if he's a musical Ringmaster presenting Bennie
at a 3-ring circus.
And you know what? IT ALL WORKS! In
fact it works spectacularly. It's one of Elton's greatest hits,
a staple at all of his shows and one that the whole
audience usually sings along with.
Among all the versions of Bennie out there, this one is fairly
unique. Sometimes referred to as the "In the Mood" version,
it features a lengthy jam that breaks into the old Glenn Miller
swing tune "In the Mood." Elton breaks into some incredible
woogie playing that shows off his piano virtuosity.
You aren't gonna believe it!
As both a pianist and fan, Elton's solo tour
in 1999 continually impresses me as one of
career. It's my privilege to share this classic music with
Elton has always been famous for his piano intros, and this
one is no exception. While not a "riff" in the
way we usually think of riffs, it is nevertheless a piano
is instantly recognizeable and in fact can only be used
for this song. That's right. Think about it. You can't
play a major 7th chord like this for any other song now.
the piano vocabularly and reserved it exclusively
The studio version starts off with a single F-Major7 (FM7),
before launching into the slow "march" in GM7. The
tempo turns out to be perfect for the kind of strutting and
for the glam-rock subjects in the lyrics. The song is in the
key of G. Since Maj-7th chords don't exist side by side in
classical music theory, the whole step drop
to F represents a temporary key shift. Whole step drops from
I to bVII however are so common in rock and pop, that we no
longer think of it as a key shift. The basis for this is
the blues or from the mixolydian
mode, both of which allow
a wholestep down from the I.
Of course, Elton doesn't just play straight Maj-7th chords.
Throughout the song, you'll see lots of little variations,
giving the chords some shifts and movements that keep things
For the verse, Elton shifts into more of a pop style
using his standard arpeggiation style on the piano. As I've
explained many times on these pages, this involves playing
various patterns from the notes of a 4-note chord. He generally
plays the chord on the quarter note beat, and the patterns
on the 16th notes.
We start with a simple ii
- V - I chord progression, as seen in the following
This is a standard cadence straight out of the circle
of 4ths. After that, rather than shift to the relative
minor chord of Em, Elton uses the E7. This is a dominant
7th chord which doesn't naturally occur in the key of G.
of this chord is to lead us back to the Am chord, hence
it acts as a dominant
V chord. As a result, the E7 is usually
referred to as the "V of ii."
Elton follows this up with some variations. You can see
|| ii · V · | I · VI7
(V of ii) · |
| ii · V · | vi · · · |
| ii · iii · | IV · · · ||
In the 2nd pass, instead of going to the I-chord (G), he goes
to the relative
minor (vi or E-minor). In the 3rd pass, he moves diatonically
up the scale. Note that the iii (B-minor) is the relative minor
of D, the V of the scales.
The chorus takes us in another direction in this crazy song.
Elton shifts into a swing
rhythm and his playing
goes from his standard arpeggiation style into his funk style.
It's most evident when he yanks off this riff on the C7th.
Of course we're all familiar with the following non-improvised
solo that had it's roots back in the original studio recording
of Bennie. Elton has always played this bit with only slight
changes. It's built off the chords to the verse and it's
got a memorable bluesy swing feel to it.
Later on, Elton launches into a blues based jam based on
the G7 and F7 chords. Elton has an astonishing vocabulary of
blues lines and licks that he draws from. In keeping with the
general character of this song, he infuses this
solo with a great sense of playfulness. But make no
mistake. He's executing this playful solo with razor sharp
precision. You can hear the snap in his left hand rhythm -
precise as a metronome. The phrasing of the right
hand lines comes from short legato
that end with one or more stacatto notes or a chord stab. The
grace notes sort of whipsaw into the chords or lines. I've
tried my best to show this with articulation symbols
in the notation, but listening to the original will be your
And finally, Elton breaks into some serious boogie woogie.
You gotta have chops to pull this off.
As always, I hope you find as much enjoyment in these songs
as I do, documenting the greatest songwriter pianist of our