Crocodile Rock - Excerpt
Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player
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Version 1: Studio Version;
Version 2: Live Solo Version MSG
Key: G Structure: A-A-B-B-C-A-A-B-B-C-A-A-B-B-C-C

We've always known that Elton changes the way he plays a song over time. And I think many of you know that when Elton plays solo, he has to beef up the arrangement somewhat from what he might play when he has the whole band backing him up.

So this time I thought it would be fun to compare two versions of the classic hit Crocodile Rock. First looking at the piano for the original studio version, and then contrasting it with the live version from Elton's incredible solo tour in 1999.

And note: THESE ARE ONLY APPETIZERS! Not the full versions. Just enough for all you students of Eltonology to understand the basic concepts at work.

First of all, you can find a complete transcription of the original studio recording of Crocodile Rock in that most excellent book, The Elton John Keyboard Book, from Hal Leonard Publishing. Generally speaking, I don't like to compete with already published transcriptions. B-U-T-T-T-T, I have some major problems with their transcription of this particular song.

The fact of the matter is, the piano is REALLY REALLY HARD to hear in the original recording. And if the piano is hard to hear, the left hand is almost impossible. There are a lot of differences between my version and their version. I hate to say it Hal, but for the 18 bars I'm presenting here, I THINK MY VERSION IS MORE ACCURATE!

The original recording is dominated by a Farfisa Organ, an organ that has been popular for decades because of its cheesie sound. It was one of the few portable keyboards available for bands in the early 1960s. Crocodile Rock is a tribute to the bubble gum and dance craze songs from that era, and the farfisa really captures that throwback sound.

Harmonically, Crocodile uses one of the oldest and strongest pop chord progressions of all time - the I - vi - IV - V. Its been the basis of countless popular songs and it certainly helps to create that very retro 60s sound for Crocodile. You'll find it in the intro and during the "La, la-la-la-la-la" parts.

Elton's piano is mostly providing rhythmic jabs behind the farfisa. You'll notice in the following example though that he tosses in a descending walking pattern to transition from the E-minor to the C. This is a typical little ornament for this type of music. Then in the next bar, he goes back to his rhythmic jabs, or "chord banging" as I sometimes call it, alternating between the left and right hand on the C chord. Nothing fancy here!

During the verse, Elton switches to a variation of the intro progression, a I - iii - IV - V.

The main thing to notice here, is how the piano takes a fairly reserved role throughout the song. In terms of technical difficulty, the playing may seem a little easier. But, much like the role of a rhythm guitar, the emphasis is on how the piano supports the arrangement in terms of the overall harmonic landscape as well as the rhythmic propulsion of the song.

I've given you about 45 bars of the live version, a VERY generous helping indeed for an appetizer on the café menu. This takes you all the way through the chorus – I may complete the entire song at a later date.

Playing Crocodile Rock solo requires Elton to replicate the farfisa part in his playing. To give the song some rock and roll punch, he takes a big 2-handed approach, pounding octaves in the bass and 4-note chords in the right hand. You might also notice how he extends the 3 intro chords, allowing him to ham it up for the audience.

And, like most of Elton's playing, this song is packed with beefy piano riffs. Check out what he does on the C-chord in the next example, and the G chord a couple bars later. It's this kind of stuff that makes Elton's playing so rich and so much fun to play. His inventiveness never ceases to amaze me.

I think it's easy to see the vast difference between the two versions - and therefore it makes a nice case study for all of us music students majoring in the science of Eltonology.

Now go home and study. Class is dismissed!