Philadelphia Freedom
None - Single Only
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
- The Classic Years
63 KB
68 KB
1.1 MB
1.1 MB
Live Solo Piano Version
Key: Bb Structure: A-B-C-A-B-C-C
Sponsored by Paul Ochs

One of Elton's masterpieces, Philadelphia Freedom was released during Elton's golden era when everything he touched turned to gold. It was originally released as a single. Although it was recorded about the same time as Captain Fantastic, it didn't fit into the autobiographical concept album. However it was later included on the 1995 re-release of the album.

The original recording of Philadelphia featured the orchestra arrangements of Gene Page (d. 1998), one of the great Motown arrangers who gave 100s of songs their classic R&B / soul sound. This solo arrangement leaves out many of the characteristic riffs which are played by the orchestra. This includes the famous opening riff with its single-note string pulse and descending horns followed by a flute flourish. When he plays in the band, Elton typically reproduces the original orchestral arrangement with Guy Babylon covering the orchestra parts with his keyboards.

This particular version, like many I've featured lately, comes from Elton's 1999 solo tour, with the performance recorded on October 15/16, 1999 at Madison Square Gardens.

Of course its normal to make changes or leave certain things out in a solo piano arrangement. With this arrangement, Elton decides to transform Philadelphia into a little more bluesy sounding tune. The following figure shows the basic blues figure that Elton uses throughout the song when he's not singing. It features a pulsing left hand and a right hand pattern built on the Bb blues scale.

In this particular performance, Elton doesn't cut loose much during the blues sections. I've heard other performances from the 1999 solo tour in which he adds more riffs and improvised flourishes. Maybe you can find your own blues licks to add into this version.

Elton maintains a rocking left hand pulse throughout the song, as shown in the following figure. But don't feel like you have to rigidly follow what's written down on the sheet music all the time. Depending on what's going on in the right hand, sometimes I find myself playing just straight quarter notes. Elton switches it up all the time too. After all, IT'S ROCK AND ROLL, not classical music! Do whatever feels good to you.


Philadelphia Freedom is a fairly lengthy song, even without the extended blues sections Elton adds into this live version. The basic song structure incorporates an A-section (verse), a B-section (pre-chorus) and a C-section (chorus). Each of these sections is approximately the same in length. The A and B sections are 16 bars, the C section is 18 bars.

There are plenty of interesting things going on in Philadelphia. The song stays within the framework of the root key of Bb, but each of the 3 sections are fairly independent of each other. Each of them uses a different harmonic logic. Look at the following overview of the harmony.

Harmonic Transition

A Section

Bb Static; very little chord movement

B Section

Bb Shift to the subdominant key of Eb; 1st half works on the I, IV, V chords of Eb, Ab, and Bb; the 2nd half features chromatic descending chords that eventually return to the Eb.

C Section

D Back to the root chord; 1st half ends with a secondary dominant, the III (D chord); 2nd half uses circle-of-fourths and diatonic progressions through various minor and major chords.


What gives Philadelphia Freedom a lot of its unique sound are chord structures and chord progressions that Elton doesn't use too often. Take a look at these chromatic chord progressions. In most of his music, when Elton moves the bass chromatically, the chords themselves are not chromatic, but rather inversions built from the circle-of-fourths. In this song, he uses straight major and minor chromatic chords to move from point A to point B. The first example is from the A section.

This example is from the B section where Elton travels chromatically from Ab to Eb.

Elton uses a lot of cluster chords in Philadelphia and incorporates them into his riffs. Cluster chords usually involve grabbing one or more of the notes that fall in between the notes of the triad.

As always, I've tried to give you some insight into Elton's particular genius at the craft of songwriting. It is my great pleasure to share a classic like this one for all of you aspiring musicians and fans like. Enjoy!