Candle in the Wind
Live in Australia With the
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
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Live Solo Version
Key: E Structure: A-B-A-B-A-B

This version of Candle is a complete remake of one of the first songs I ever transcribed. Unfortunately that earlier version had numerous errors. We've probably all heard enough of Candle - no one actually requested it from me. Nevertheless, it is one of Elton's biggest hits and from a personal standpoint, I needed to get it right for the record. - Glen


Candle in the Wind has an astonishing track record, even by Elton's lofty standards. As a single, the song has been released 3 times: 1st in 1974, this version which was released in 1987, and finally the Princess Di version released in 1997. The amazing thing about it: each release was more successful than the previous.

Here I'm presenting the 2nd version, a version that has always fascinated me. When it was first released, I was intrigued because HIS PLAYING IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT FROM THE ORIGINAL! Alright, alright it's not such a big thing, but it was a revelation to me in 1987. I loved the original version of Candle, but it had not gotten all that much airplay back in 1974. By the way, you can find a transcription of the original from that excellent book The Elton John Keyboard Book that I frequently reference in these pages. It's the only other source of accurate transcriptions besides mine here at the café.

This version, with the new arrangement, skyrocketed up the charts and made it one of Elton's greatest hits. Was it the arrangement? Was it the timing? Who knows?

So lets take a look at what makes Candle work. Like most of Elton's great songs, it opens with a great piano riff. In this case, it's a simple 2-bar descending pattern, descending from the B (the V of the scale) down to E or the I. But there's magic in the way Elton handles this simple riff. Notice how his lines are built off the notes from a 4-note chord (a simple triad with one note doubled an octave higher). This is the essence of how Elton voices most of his piano playing.

Elton also liberally incorporates sus-chords or suspended chord resolutions. The first one is built off the A+9 chord or the added 9th (that's the B in an A major chord). It's called a 9-to-3 resolution since the B resolves to the C#, the 3rd in A major. The second riff is a true suspended chord, the E-sus. The term suspended usually refers to the use of the 4th (the A in an E major chord). It can also be called a 4-to-3 resolution. But no matter what you call them, they make simple chords much more interesting. All of these little chord lines and riffs are what make Elton so much fun to play. They also define his playing style.

After the intro, Elton launches into his arpeggiating style of playing. You may remember that the original version of Candle has a much more sparse and open approach to the accompaniment. Because of that open approach, the original is more dramatic, allowing the lyrics to really sink in while piano chords reverberate. With the approach he takes in this version, he's laying down a soft undulating bed of harmony to sing over. It's a more soothing gentle approach to the sound.

You can see again that Elton's lines are based on a 4-note chord, although there can be exceptions. He always anchors a finger, in this case the 5 of both the left and right hands. This keeps the lines legato and facilitates some of the riffs that he throws in. The left hand will usually play either an octave or, as in this case, an open 5th. You'll also notice that Elton frequently anticipates the next chord. The last note in this bar is a B, part of the E-major chord that appears in the next bar.

For me, the following riff is what really made this version of Candle stand out. It's the 2-bar turnaround that leads into the 2nd verse. Elton does a flourish on the E that didn't exist in the original and frankly may not of worked with the approach he had taken in the original. It may have of been too much with the understated accompaniment in the original. But with his arpeggiating style, it works to perfection. I believe by changing the accompaniment and adding this riff to the song, Elton really caught the attention of a lot of people who maybe hadn't noticed the song before.

Although the album is with the Melbourne Orchestra, the orchestra did not accompany Elton on this particular song. Midway through the song, what you hear is a whole bank of synthesizers that are being triggered by Elton's piano. What makes this sound so dense and full is that the piano is divided into zones that are triggering different sounds. ITS HARD TO BELIEVE THAT THIS MUCH MUSIC CAN BE GENERATED FROM ELTON'S FINGERS! It also makes it difficult to figure out exactly what the heck Elton is playing. I'm pretty sure though that he begins playing full chords in his left hand as in the following.

Besides creating a thick chunky sound to the piano, the strings and synth pads he's triggering are dense and rich. His left hand is triggering sounds that are an octave lower than these notes. This is what creates the huge sound you hear on the recording.

Candle is really one of the simplest songs Elton has ever composed, both structurally and harmonically. THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. It merely places a lot of emphasis on the other elements of the song. We've already discussed the wonderful elements of his playing, the underpinning of the song. On top of it, you've got the lyrics and melody. The lyrics of course are among Bernie's best. He takes an icon in Marilyn Monroe, and paints a remarkable portrait in just the briefest of verses. The title itself, Candle in the Wind, is an incredible symbol of Marilyn's life and, in a universal way, speaks to how fragile and precious all of life is.

So lets analyze this song. Careful, if you're skimming, you'll miss the whole analysis! The verse is just I - IV repeated through 8 bars. The G# bass adds a little tension to the 3rd and 7th bars, but that's about it.

|| E | A | E/G# | A | E | A | E/G# | A ||

The chorus is also 8 bars with a 2-bar turnaround. The focus shifts to the V of the scale, also known as the dominant. In the 6th bar, Elton introduces the only chord besides the basic I-IV-V of this song. The C#m is the relative minor of E and the vi-chord of the key. Because it shares 2 notes with the E, it can be viewed as a substitute chord for the E. It adds a little spice to the mix, but from an analytical point of view it serves the same purpose as the E.

|| B | E A | E | B | A | C#m | B | A | E | B ||

So then if we simplify this progression by replacing some of the chords with their functional harmonic equivalents, you get B-A-E, B-A-E, B-A. Pretty darn amazing, isn't it? As I mentioned, this is a darn simple song.

Oh, and let's not forget the song structure: Verse - Chorus - Verse - Chorus - Verse - Chorus

SONGS DON'T GET TOO MUCH SIMPLER THAN THIS!. But that's OK. Sometimes we have to sit back and admire how much beauty can arise out of such a simple little thing. A great artist like Elton can make it happen.