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
the kind of incredible audio experience rarely captured in
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
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
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
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
Harmonically what makes this song really standout is the
Ebm7-F-Ab-Gm7, specfically this is the aeolian mode,
that leads to the chorus. Elton punches bouncy Gm7 chords
up and down the
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
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.