Sorry may be the best of Elton's melancholy ballads. He doesn't have many of
them and most of them are wonderful, but this one is a stand-out to me. You
can feel the pain right through your speakers as the words and Elton's delivery
just ache. Reportedly Elton wrote the music before the words, something he
rarely does, and also reportedly he wrote many of the key phrases before
bringing Bernie in. More than 25 years after it's release, the song still
can be heard on the radio on a regular basis. Ray
Charles had been covering
the song for several years and recorded a duet with Elton in 2004 shortly
before his death, once again revitalizing interest in it.
The arrangement features strings, bass, accordion and vibes
from Ray Cooper. It gives the song a cabaret feel. Let's
take a look at the music itself.
The music for Sorry hinges on 2 descending chord patterns. These patterns really
illustrate some key harmonic issues. So let's take a look at them. First
up is the intro. Like many of Elton's greatest songs, it's has a distinctive
piano hook. The solo piano plays a lonely, quiet and expressive pattern that
perfectly sets the mood for the song.
The pattern uses a series of what are commonly called "slash" chords
- the name being derived from the "/" symbol in
the chord which indicates the bass note. You won't find the
slash chord in classical harmony, but the term has become
standard in popular music because it accurately represents
exactly what's being played. I find it fascinating that the
song STARTS with the Gm/F, NOT a Gm. The F gives it an off
balance feel right from the start.
Naming chords is part science, part art. Theoretically you
can come up with a lot of different names for a given chord,
but ultimately the purpose is to accurately convey what's
being played. Let's look at some different possible names
for these chords:
||Gm7 3rd inversion
||Gm 2nd inversion
Now technically, you probably wouldn't want to call the
first chord an F13. With extended chords, you typically expect
to see the 3rd or the 5th from the root of the chord (A or
C in the case of F). My point is though, that while the chord
names in the 2nd column are accurate, the 1st column is much
easier to read and understand.
From the descending pattern, we move to circle-of-4ths pattern.
Here's the verse, using the chord numbers from the home key
vi (Gm) - ii (Cm) - V (F) - I (Bb)
NOW THIS IS A GREAT LESSON FOR BEGINNING SONGWRITERS! Going
from the intro to the verse, Elton uses the 2 principal ways
of building a harmonic pattern. The first is the diatonic method, moving in scale tones. You can move diatonically
either up or down and you'll create a pleasant harmonic pattern.
The second method is the circle-of-4ths, where the chords
are a 4th apart from each other. (There is a technical reason
why the circle sounds good, but we won't go into that here.
Just accept it.)
The chorus uses another diatonic descending pattern, again
as shown by the series of slash chords.
Once again, this pattern avoids hitting the root of any
chord. By using the 3rd or 5th in the bass, the harmony has
a more uneasy feel to it. If your ears aren't experienced,
the difference is very subtle. I encourage you to check out
the difference for yourself. Play Eb with an Eb in the bass
- it's got a solid, resolved sound to it. Play it with the
G in the bass, and you get a different feel, like it wants
to move somewhere else. Elton has used this device extensively
in his work. He's certainly not alone in using it, but its
a very important concept for the advanced fan of Elton to
Sorry is a short little song. For the most part, it can
be played from a chord chart as Elton mostly just hits chords
on the quarter note pulse. There are a few little riffs in
it, riffs such as the C-riff in the middle bar above. Most
of these should be familiar to the listener as coming from
the Elton library of riffs. He's got about a million of them.
But aside from all this academic analysis, Sorry is a beautiful
song, a classic Elton number. It combines lyric and melody
in an amazing way that reaches out and touches your emotions.
I hope you enjoy this latest addition to the Music Café.