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
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.
ORIGINAL STUDIO VERSION
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
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
LIVE SOLO VERSION
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
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!