Can I Put You On
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Live Trio Version
Key: G Structure: A-B-C-A-B-C-B-C

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 off successfully.

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 unique variation.

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.