This is another rocker from one of the most
important rock piano albums ever recorded (according to Keyboard
Magazine), 11-17-70. Can I Put You On was part of the little
heard Friends soundtrack that became a standard in Elton’s
early repertoire. The Elton John trio rocked on this tune
like nobody's business. In case you didn't know it, piano
trios are a real rarity except in the jazz medium. You look
across the history of blues and especially rock and you won't
find many. There's one good reason: it's damn hard to pull
Like many of their early tunes, this one features terrific
interplay between Elton, Dee and Nigel. This was just one
of many tunes that totally blew away audiences and propelled
Elton to superstar status.
Elton starts the song off with a gentle rollicking
pattern that gradually builds in intensity. The song's lyrics
come in and Bernie spins one of his patented story songs,
this one about hard working men trying to earn enough to
buy a few extra things for the family. As always, Bernie's
imagery is wonderful, bringing to life the gritty work conditions
in a foundry and especially the man with the trilby hat who
comes around on weekends.
Elton's melody is consistently interesting, featuring vocal
leaps and building to a climactic joyous chorus. The song
ends with a great sing-along section that the band jams over
for several minutes. Ultimately this song rocks out and it's
a shining example of a hard-pounding two-fisted approach
to rock and roll piano.
And for trivia buffs, Elton and his bassist Dee Murray
trip over each other several times in the song. For example,
in the intro, Elton establishes a 4-bar G-G-F-E pattern in
the left hand for the first 12 bars. When Dee comes in, he's
just plays a G throughout the entire 4-bar pattern. In bar
15, Elton hits the F, and it goes clunk against Dee's G.
So Elton immediately jumps back up to the G before going
down to the E. Check it out. It happens very quickly and
of course I've notated it exactly the way Elton plays it.
These little boo-boos give the song a kind of raw authenticity.
Song Structure Genius
While it may be tempting to dismiss this song as a simple showcase for rocking
out, a closer look reveals many of the elements that are associated with
Elton's genius. In particular we're going to look at how easily Elton modifies
traditional song structure in a musical way that seems so natural that it
goes by unnoticed. Observe.
You're presented with a set of lyrics from Bernie. The verse
consists of 4 lines with a simple A-A-B-B rhyming pattern.
As a songwriter, this looks like a setup for a traditional
16-bar verse, 4 bars per line. BUT NOT TO ELTON.
Here's the chord chart for the first verse. The first 3
lines use the 4 bars per line pattern as one would expect.
BUT IN THE 4TH LINE, Elton finds some musical and very natural
sounding extensions that result in a total of 7 bars! Astounding
and it happens so smoothly you don't even realize it. This
shows that even at a young age, Elton has a flexibility in
his musical thinking that goes way beyond your average songwriter.
G - G - F6 - F6
C/E - C/E - G - G
Am - C - Gm/C - Gm/C
G - Am - Am - C - C - F/C - F/C
Bernie next presents Elton with 5 or 6 lines (depending
on how you count the lines) that look sort of like a chorus.
Elton splits this into 2 sections, the first 3 lines representing
what is sometimes called a pre-chorus. Here he uses a straight
4 bars per line approach.
F - G - F - G
F - G - F - C/E
Am - Am - C/D - C/D
The 2 (or 3?) lines of the chorus are fairly short, but
Elton stretches out the last line to 5 bars, ending it with
a 2-bar F/C chord.
G7 - G7/B - C - C/D
G - C - C/E - F/C - F/C
At this point, one might also notice that none of these sections ends with
a resolving chord. Which brings up the question, What key are we in anyway?
The song is basically in G, but the chords are all from
the key of C. Elton doesn't give us a clear V to I resolution
anywhere in the song. One might conclude we're in the modal
key of G mixolydian which is probably the best answer. One
can definitely say that he keeps us off balance the entire
song through his use of the "slash" chords.
Those Elton Piano Riffs
If anything defines Elton's piano style, it's his piano riffs. ELTON IS A RIFFING
MONSTER and it makes his accompaniment incredibly rich and delicious to listen
to. By contrast, most piano players play chords in rhythmic patterns connected
by passing tones. This song has just too many variations of riffs to try
and catalogue, but lets look at a few. First this beauty.
The opening riff, a "9 to 3" resolution riff,
is usually played in a root-position triad. Elton however
opens it up, using the octave G and letting his right hand
thumb cover the 2 notes on the bottom. He resolves to the
3 with his 2nd finger and then into the open 5ths.
The 2nd bar shows a patented Elton voicing on a standard
blues riff. Elton puts a G on the bottom and a G on the top
of the chord. All of the riff work is done with the inner
voices, both in the left and right hand, as highlighted in
the red box. MOST PIANISTS play this type of riff from a
standard root position triad. You know that old standard
blues riff: G - G - G7 - C (2nd inversion). This is Elton's
Here's another example of the same inner voice riffing.
This time its a G - C(2nd inv.) - G7 - C(2nd inv.) blues
riff, reconfigured by Elton. Again, the riff work is done
with the left thumb and the right #2 finger.
This riff shows the interaction between right and left hand
to create a classic riff.