This album is just chock full of quality
music. But by 1972, Elton had so many hits from several albums
dominating the radio at the same time, I think Don’t
Shoot Me was largely overlooked except for its huge 2 singles:
Daniel and Crocodile Rock. It’s not overlooked by serious
Elton fans however who rank this one up there among perhaps
the top 5 of Elton’s albums. I know its about number
5 in my book.
Blues for Baby shows just how sophisticated Elton's songwriting
Buckmaster's orchestral arrangements had become
since their earlier collaborations. At 5:47, it is too long
by pop standards, a standard that Elton had frequently begun
to ignore. And although it uses a classic A-B-A-B structure,
the entire song is built around a 5-bar riff, giving it a
uniquely different feel from most songs.
The song opens with solo piano playing the motif that is
the basis for the song. I honestly had difficulty deciding
what meter to use in notating the song: Was it 5 4-beat bars
or 4 bars with 5 beats? I don’t know the right answer,
but I decided to stay with a standard 4/4 meter because the
song breaks into 4/4 a little later.
The song is in the key of G major. The verse however stays
largely in the sub-dominant key of C, which builds a very
strong sense of anticipation. It works beautifully, keeping
us harmonically suspended until the chorus when it finally
resolves to G. Elton uses a slash
chord in the main riff,
D/C, a chord which is relatively common to keyboardists.
Slash chords work real well when they're used with a pedal
tone in an alternating triad pattern. Here's the 5-bar riff
from the intro.
The intro is 10 bars in length. This is repeated for the
beginning of the verse and then it shifts up to a pedal tone
F for another 10 bars.
Elton then shifts us into a standard 8-bar 4/4 pattern that
leads to the chorus. He repeats an abbreviated version of
his motif however within the 8-bar pattern, providing a beautiful
transition both structurally and harmonically to the chorus.
The verse ends up being 35 bars in length.
With its strong 8-bar feel and its strong basis in the root
key of G, the chorus takes us on another harmonic journey.
I-IIIm-IV-I is followed by I-V-IIIm-VIm. The last section
of the chorus, rather than resolving back to G, cuts back
to the intro after 6 bars.
With its off-beat meter, its extended length, trademark
melodicism and harmonies, this song encapsulates much of
Elton John's genius.
Let me add a few words about the arrangement. In their early
days, I felt Buckmaster sometimes overwhelmed the very simple,
simple little tunes Elton was constructing. But by the time
we get to Madman and Don’t Shoot Me, Elton’s
music had grown much more sophisticated, and Buckmaster’s
orchestral arrangements became a more complimentary part
rather than a dominating part of the songs.
The strings, flutes and french horns are used to great effect
in Blues For Baby, building to a dense and exciting climax.
Davey Johnstone’s wah-wah
guitar work is also a really
great touch to this tune. MY ONLY complaint today is the
Sounded great in its day, but the sitar is an instrument
that will be forever associated with the 60’s. Just
the sound of it kind of time-warps you back to hippies and
flower children. Fortunately, it’s used to a minimum
and therefore doesn’t date Blues for Baby too badly.