Dee Murray is a giant of the bass guitar many people do not rate as being among the best of all time, but I certainly do. His playing on the holiday single “Step Into Christmas” by Elton John is nothing short of impressive as he finds many inventive ways to make very simple chord changes sound exciting and new.
After duplicating the guitar melody 8vb (4-8), the bass playing in the Verse is very rhythmic, and scalar. This is perhaps to simulate a swift sleigh ride through the snow. Occasionally, he features the blue note in D, (F♮) (10, 51, 93), to reference the opening guitar melody and give a more bluesy-tinge to the cheerful mood of the verse.
The Pre-Chorus has much more open, florid playing to contrast the relative “tightness” of the verses. Murray often opts to play 5ths as color tones (22, 54, 58, 104-106) and short, counter-melodic fills (53-57) perhaps to foreshadow the bass’s coming role in the Chorus.
The Chorus features a carved, compositional idea for the bass. The Ds on the first 2 beats are most frequently followed by a bluesy, chromatic climb (E-F-F#) over 3&4 (31-32, 35-36, 62-63, 66-67, 110-111, 115-116) which works as a counter-melodic, call & response to Elton John’s vocal. Between these bars he often plays a “filly” passage over the G and A chords just to keep the part “swift” and continuous (33-34, 65-66, 113-114).
The “End” of the song is the full unleashing of Murray’s ideas he has introduced thus far. Despite the seeming “busy-ness” of this section, many of the notes are roots, 5ths, and 8vas simply strung together with scales and rhythmic syncopation (133-37,141-48). This part might seem difficult at first glance, but the note selection is usually very intuitive and fits well on the fingerboard.
Murray is not only a virtuosic player but also a great bassist of compositional form as demonstrated in “Step Into Christmas”. This is something I think all players can appreciate. I hope you enjoy woodshedding this transcription with the new basses you all (hopefully) received for Christmas. Merry Christmas!
Download the transcription and follow along with the video: