Here's a song that has stood the test of
time. In the lexicon of rock and pop, you just can't find
many instrumentals that have become more popular than this
one. For decades Elton has used it as a grand opening to
his shows. With its brooding polysynth tones and the dark
atmosphere it conjures up, it provides a dramatic background
for Elton's entrance. In the 1970's of course, the anticipation
of Elton's entrance was heightened as everyone strained to
see the latest outlandish costume that Elton would be wearing.
Since its original recording, Funeral has mostly been played
in combination with other songs; most frequently Loves Lies
Bleeding, but also with Tonight. However here we have a rarely
heard solo piano performance, with Funeral as a stand-alone
song, captured on Elton's Russian tour in 1979.
The recording is from a BBC broadcast on May 28th
from Moscow. Elton is accompanied by Ray Cooper,
adding his unique and dramatic percussion to the songs.
As a special treat, I've included
some variations in the piano score from the To Russia
video. We all know that Elton doesn't play songs exactly
the same way every time. At the suggestion of Lawrence,
I thought it would be fun to include some of these variations
in the score. In addition, I've included an alternate
ending to the song that allows you to transition to Love
Lies Bleeding. You can end Funeral the way Elton does
on this solo version, or you can play the transition
Funeral, like most of Elton's greatest songs, is broken
into 3 distinct sections. These sections can be thought of
as movements in a mini-sonata. Using the terminology of classical
composition, they are as follows:
- Adagio - a slower and highly expressive statement
of the main theme;
- Allegro - a fast paced statement of a new "B" theme;
- Marcato - a restatement of the "A" theme
in a funeral march style.
The sections don't change in tempo however as they would
in a classical composition, but rather the rhythmic focus
changes. Section 1 is oriented around a quarter note pulse;
section 2 is focused on the 16th note; and section 3 is oriented
around 8th notes. This gives the illusion of changes of tempo,
without the tempo actually changing.
BASIC APPROACH TO PIANO PLAYING
Funeral begins in a relaxed style as is appropriate for
its somber tone. The playing primarily focuses on the melody
with only a little bit of embellishment from the chord tones.
But it isn't long before Elton is filling it out with his
typical broken chord accompaniment style. As always, his
approach is based around a 4-note chord. His hand always
hovers over the 4-notes of the chord as he alternates between
playing chords and individual notes from the chord. Elton's
playing is always VERY VERY precise and rhythmic; a music
student should practice getting that metronome like precision.
Of course all of us love that thundering allegro section
with the pounding A's in the bass and galloping right hand. The
published sheet music is egregiously screwed up, I MEAN IT'S
REALLY SCREWED UP, in this section and I am really
happy to finally correct this long standing problem for you.
Why do they publish sheet music that is so wrong?
Elton does change the right hand part somewhat in other
performances, but personally I like this one. For me, the
most difficult part is switching the left hand to the E bass
in the 2nd bar. HEY I'M NOT THAT GOOD A PLAYER ANYMORE! So
what I do is just play the top E with my index finger and
forget about jumping to the full octave. NOBODY SAID
PLAYING LIKE ELTON WAS GONNA BE EASY!
In the 3rd section, Elton switches to a march format as
he revisits the opening melody. The melody actually gets
played in double time - you can see that the chords are changing
2X per bar rather than 1X. The "oom-pah" of the
march is supplied by the left hand playing in ragtime "stride" style.
At times Elton is just jumping between octaves.
As I study pop and rock harmony more, I discover that sometimes
a song just defies the normal conventions of harmony. How
else can I explain the chords from the first section of Funeral?
The first 3 bars follow the Circle
of 4ths. The G chord is followed by E, which is the V
of A (or Am). OK this is pretty standard and it gives us
the Am in bar 5. But next is a BbM7. My best estimate is
that this is a substitute for Dm - essentially a Dm with
a Bb bass (a Dm/Bb). This is followed by an E, a tritone
jump from the Bb.
|| A - - - | Dm - Dm/C - | G/B - - - |
E/G# - - - |
.| Am - - - | BbM7 - - - | E - - - | E - - E7 |
| A - - - | Dm - Dm/C - | G - - - | E/G#
- - - |
| Am - - - | BbM7 - - - | E - - - | Am - - - ||
So I'm led to conclude that Elton is using chords from both
the Am harmonic
minor scale and the mixolydian
the G chord). Of course, that conclusion only works if we
treat the Bb as a harmonic alternate of Dm and if we set
aside that Elton is jumping between Am and A. Explaining
all of this through conventional harmony gets to be pretty
The next section is a little easier as Elton romps through
a series of chord changes in intervals of 4ths. The 4th,
sometimes called the "amen" cadence, has always
been one of the strongest intervals in harmony. This leads
us back to an E chord, the V of Am.
|| G - - - | C - - - | Bb - - - | Eb -
- - |
.| C - - - | Fm - - - | D - - - | G - - - |
.| E - - - | Am - - - | D - - - | Em - - - | E - - - ||
The allegro section is quite simple harmonically since it's
just focused on the A-minor chord. After establishing this
motif over the course of 8 bars, Elton repeats it for 2 bars
on a G-major chord, then 2 bars on an A-major, and then finally
back to the E chord.
The marcato section restates the opening melody however
the melody is in double time. You can see this in the chord
chart. In the solo version of the song, this is where the
|| A - Dm Dm/C | G/B - E/G# - | Am - BbM7
- | E - E7 - |
.| A - Dm Dm/C | G/B - E/G# - | Am - BbM7 - | E7 - Am - ||
Of course, most of us are more familiar with no ending at
all. Instead of ending on the A, Elton usually begins an
intense dramatic build up that leads us to Love Lies Bleeding.
This is done with a throbbing A pulse in the left hand while
the right hand chords climb chromatically. It's a thrilling
way to build a climactic segue.
|| Bb/A - B/A - | C/A - Db/A - | D/A - Eb/A - | E/A -
F/A - | etc. ||
I've presented this as an alternate ending on the score.
Perhaps one day I'll get around to working on Love Lies. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this version of Funeral.