Take Me To The Pilot
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Live Album Version
Key: C Structure: A-B-C-A-B-C-A-B-C-outro

Take Me To The Pilot has been a signature song in Elton’s concerts for most of his career and its easy to understand why. It’s a raucous, high-energy and joyous romp on the piano. The live version of the song has always contrasted markedly from the more polite studio version released on the Elton John album.

Elton first toured the U.S. as a trio, something that is almost unheard of in the context of pop/rock; with guitar bands yes, but not with the piano as the lead instrument. After recording the Elton John album, he formed a touring band with veterans Nigel Olsson and Dee Murray. The interplay between the 3 musicians on this version is the kind of incredible audio experience rarely captured in a recording.

This song still to this day represents the finest example of what is usually called Elton's funky style of playing. Elton's funky style incorporates elements from New Orleans funk, classic blues and the early rock and roll style of Jerry Lee and Little Richard. The piano playing features punchy 6ths and 7ths in the left hand with syncopated stabs in the right. Characteristic of the funk sound, the emphasis is as much or more on the 1 and 3 of the beat, rather than the traditional 2 and 4 of rock. The playing is full-handed with 8 or 9 notes being played in some of the more dense passages.

The basic harmonic pattern is a simple 2-bar C-F-G-C featured in the chorus and extended solo. Elton though liberally employs 9ths and slash chords over the G. He incorporates a phenomenal number of different inversions, voicings and rhythmic variations of the standard C-F-C7-F riff throughout the song. The right hand is packed with pull-offs and accidentals. This is Rock & Roll piano playing of the highest caliber and should be required learning for advanced students of the genre.

Right from the start, we see the basic elements of this style. The 2-bar intro features Elton's 9-b3 to 3 crush or resolution riff (in the 2nd beat over the E bass). This riff is a hallmark of Elton's. Also of note is the fantastic left right interplay between Elton's hands which he maintains throughout the song.

With this simple intro, he launches into the first verse and it is just rippling with advanced chord structures. For instance, bars 5 and 8 he plays an Am to F in 2 completely different ways. The Am chord features 2 different approaches to quartal voicing (1a and 1b), i.e. a chord sructures built on 4ths in the traditional method of jazz piano voicing. The F is also handled differently both times. The first time uses Elton's 9-b3 to 3 riff (2) and the less familiar 3-4 to 5 riff (3).

Harmonically what makes this song really standout is the modal climb Ebm7-F-Ab-Gm7, specfically this is the aeolian mode, that leads to the chorus. Elton punches bouncy Gm7 chords up and down the piano and then does an aeolian-based chord descent that ends with a C7 to F chord riff. The overall effect is powerful.

The chorus is a beefy two-handed affair as shown in the following example. THIS IS NOT FOR THE TAME OF HEART! While the bassline suggests a C-F-G-C pattern, the 9ths, the 6ths, the slash chords, the riffs all create a far more complex sound. And then check out the little C-F-C7 riff at the end. Most people play this riff using a straight root C chord. But Elton's voicing gives it a thoroughly unique character.

Take Me has always been one of the few songs in which Elton tears through a solo, and it is just an absolute classic. His left hand backs down to using some simple open voicings while his right hand moves through blues scale runs and chord riffs. Elton, Dee, and Nigel also do some great “talking” back and forth with their instruments. This interplay is just magical.

One of my favorite parts of this solo is the following little run. Again, Elton is playing fairly lightly at this point. In the 3rd bar, he ends it with one of the all time classic blues licks, an octave up down blues roll that signals that things are going to start heating up.

This song is a real treasure. Hope you enjoy it. It's definitely one for you advanced pianists.