Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
Blue Moves
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Studio Version
Key: Bb (Gm) Structure: A-A-B-A-B-A-B

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:

Gm/F Gm7 3rd inversion F13
Gm/E Em7b5  
Gm/Eb EbM7  
Gm/D 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 of Bb.

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 appreciate.

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.