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Funeral For A Friend
ALBUM
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
DATE
1973
13 KB
434 KB
7.2 MB
ARRANGEMENT
Live Solo Piano Version
Moscow, Russia
DATE
28-May-1979
Key: Am Structure: || A-A-B | C-D | A-A ||
Sponsored by Lawrence Wilson
 

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.

SONG VERSION

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 section.

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:

  1. Adagio - a slower and highly expressive statement of the main theme;
  2. Allegro - a fast paced statement of a new "B" theme; and
  3. 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.

HARMONIC ANALYSIS

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 mode (hence 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 difficult.

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 ending occurs.

|| 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.