Razor Face
Madman Across the Water
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Studio Version
Key: C Structure: A-A-B-C-A-B-C

With Razor Face, Elton turns to a New Orleans style sound for a song that could have easily fit into the Tumbleweed album. He puts it behind Bernie's lyrics which, in a few brief lines, describe a broken down booze-hound with the evocative nick name of Razor Face. The lyrics are really quite sparse here. I suppose the reference to a "truck stop inn" gives the lyric kind of an American reference. But its really Elton's music that turns this into an homage to an American character.

With out a doubt, this is a band song with Elton's piano playing a support role. It has a highly produced sound to it much like the other songs on Madman. But while he's not out front in the mix, Elton's playing is filled with Eltonisms, those non-stop riffs that are distinctly Elton's trademarks. The song gets really tasty support from Elton's studio band of Roger Pope, David Glover and Caleb Quaye who supplies a fabulous guitar riff in the chorus.

There's an accordion player listed in the credits, but the really scary presence on this song belongs to Rick Wakeman, credited with playing the organ. You have to listen carefully, but during the chorus you can here the keyboardist from Yes pulling off some of his trademark fleet fingered organ runs. The all-out solo at the end of Razor Face, although it sounds like a accordion, I swear must also be Wakeman. We'll discuss this later.

There are many aspects that contribute to the overall New Orleans character to the sound besides the obvious use of an accordion. We can start with the simple intro, with its gentle emphasis on the C7 chord, resolving to an F. Note that Elton uses an E in the bass, which minimizes the harmonic movement to the F.

The use of C/E chord is part of an overall harmonic strategy designed to avoid playing the tonic. The song is in the key of C, but you rarely get a firm landing on a C. The intro sets the stage for this with its C7/E-to-F pattern that would seem to be a V-to-I in the key of F. This is only a temporary flirtation with F.

(Also a note to pianists. I find the middle-C on the 2nd downbeat of the F a little unnatural to play. It's definitely there and serves as kind of a pivot note for the syncopated F-riff. Personally I prefer to leave it out.)

Part of the brilliance of the Madman album comes from Elton's harmonic vocabulary that expands the notion of what we consider to be pop music. The following chord layout of the verse shows how the song moves all around using diatonic harmonies while avoiding the tonic. The diminished flatted-three chord (Eb°7) provides a nice chromatic bridge between the Em7 and the Dm7 and contributes to the overall New Orleans character of the sound.

|| I | IV | vi7 | ii7 | iii7 | biii°7 | ii7 | iii7 |

| IV | vi - I | IV | IV | I | IV | vi9 | vi9 | vi9 | vi9 ||

This is a 16-bar pattern, not the standard 8 of pop music, and Elton extends it 2 bars with a cluster chord built around A-minor. This cluster chord gives you the sound of tension or confusion in the sonic landscape. It resolves nicely into the G major chord that kicks off the chorus. Elton uses this cluster chord device several times on the Madman album including on the title song and Indian Sunset. He voices this cluster chord a little differently each time he hits it. The following example is from the end of the 2nd verse where he plays a series of suspended chords (you might call them quartals) built from the chord tones of Am9.

For most of the song, Elton uses his standard syncopated rhythm style of chord playing. One of the great joys of Elton's playing is his riffing. These riffs, consisting of passing tones or suspensions, put color and movement in Elton's playing that are cornerstones of his unique style. This is Elton!

Without a doubt the all out jam at the end of Razor Face is an amazing bit of music. I dare say most people don't even remember it. What you get is well over 1-minute of Elton, his guitarist and Rick Wakeman going at it simultaneously. Although Elton stays in the background, this is an absolutely stellar example of his funky solo style. THIS IS PURE ELTON AT HIS BEST!

This is not soloing in the jazz sense of playing a horizontal line. Elton has this funky riffing vocabulary built around the blues style. What makes it "soloing" is the infinite variations that he weaves in his solo sections. You'll never find him repeating himself per se. It's more like improvised riffing interspersed with blues runs.

This section of the song took me a long time to transcribe (particularly the Rick Wakeman solo). That gave me plenty of time to hear the subtleties of Elton's playing which are pretty well buried in the mix. Here's something we find Elton doing occasionally. This is an example of 2-handed parallel voicing. The F stays constant on the top while the movement happens in the lower voices. This is very much like jazz comping. But I guess if you're reading this, you already know that ELTON IS JUST SIMPLY AN AMAZING PIANIST!

The midi file contains Rick Wakeman's solo - 100% accurately transcribed. I haven't put it to notation because this song has taken me just too long to finish. Its filled with 16ths, 32nds, and triplet-32nds. THIS GUY IS NUTS! Unbelievable work. Sorry but it's time for me to move on.

Hope you enjoy this song as much as I have!