Bennie And The Jets
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
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875 KB
6.5 MB
Live Solo Piano Version
Madison Square Gardens
Key: G Structure: A-B-A-B-A-B-C
Sponsored by Daniel

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 boogie 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 the greatest achievements of his career. It's my privilege to share this classic music with you.

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 statement that 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. Elton has removed it from the piano vocabularly and reserved it exclusively for Bennie.

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 preening that one can imagine 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 interesting.

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 example.

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. The function 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 the pattern.

|| 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 lines 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 best guide.

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 times.