On October 23, 1976, Led Zeppelin made their US television debut. Also on this day in 1993 Meat Loaf had his first UK No.1 hit with “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That),” which became a No.1 hit in 28 countries, including his first in the US, a fame not even any of the hits from “Bat Out Of Hell” achieved. And on this day in 2015, Adele released “Hello,” which broke the Vevo record by achieving over 27.7 million views within 24 hours. So what do these seeming disparate artists have in common? They are all featured in today’s playlist “Piano Man,” honoring great piano performances in rock and pop.
As you may remember from by bio on the blog, I grew up in the 70’s taking organ (yes organ) lessons, so keyboardists have always been near and dear to my heart. The first concert I ever attended was Billy Joel. At that concert I heard the song “Prelude/Angry Young Man,” but back then there was no internet, and I didn’t own albums, so the way I found the song was by starting my album collection buying Billy Joel albums until I finally stumbled upon “Turnstiles”, which contains the song, as well as 3 other greats included on the playlist, “Summer Highland Falls,” “New York State Of Mind,” and “Miami 2017.” For “Prelude” Billy said he wanted to play the piano more as a percussive than string instrument, as it it both, with hammers striking strings to create sound. Watching the video, you’ll agree he achieved his goal:
Originally conceived to feature unbelievable piano performances in rock and pop songs, the playlist eventually evolved to spotlight songs prominently featuring piano or with unforgettable piano riffs that have become classics. It led to the creation of a sister playlist, if you will, of great keyboard songs over the years. Each progresses though the years, both starting with none other than Ray Charles, with his almost ragtime piano pounding in “Mess Around” and his electrifying keyboard playing in “What’d I Say.”
While many might think the lists will be dominated by Billy Joel and Elton John, and make no mistake, I had to limit myself in their selections, there are many other equally accomplished keyboardists who tickle the ivories with astounding prowess, including the likes of:
Billy Preston, who has backed several hall of fame artists, many featured on these playlists, including Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles.
Carole King, who has had several memorable piano backed hits, but has written several such songs for other artists, including The Shirelles, The Drifters, The Chiffons, and James Taylor.
Steve Winwood, starting his music career at just 15 years old with The Spencer Davis Group, continuing on with Traffic and his solo work, though also a quite accomplished guitarist who can keep up with former partner from “Blind Faith” days Eric Clapton.
Ray Manzarek, creating sounds of the 60’s with Jim Morrison and The Doors. For those of you who haven’t seen Oliver Stone’s “The Doors” with Val Kilmer, do yourself a favor and watch it. The rock biography ranks up there with “Ray,” “The Buddy Holly Story,” and “La Bamba.”
Greg Rolie, with his latin 60’s sound with Santana, and classic rock work with Journey.
Keith Emerson, perhaps beyond compare for his speed and styling ranging from classical to psychedelic to progressive rock with Emerson Lake & Palmer. Check out about 1:15 into “Karn Evil 9”:
Rick Wakeman, with his hard-driving anthem-like progressive rock keyboards in Yes.
Tony Banks, with his progressive rock keys with Genesis. He and his guitarist partner in the early band, Steve Hackett, are underrated in regards to their exceptional musicianship, both among my favorites. Check out from 7:00 to 8:30 or so of their epic contribution to psychedelia “Supper’s Ready.” You definitely have to make an investment in listening to a song over 23 minutes long, a whole side of vinyl, which I still own.
John Paul Jones, the oft-forgotten member of Led Zeppelin, providing solid rock keyboards as a backdrop to Page’s incomparable guitar work, Plant’s shrilly vocals, and Bonzo’s crushing drums maintaining the rhythm.
Richard Wright, for his ethereal psychedelic keyboards with Pink Floyd.
Billy Powell, with his boogie woogie piano work complementing the southern rock guitars of Lynyrd Skynyrd, perhaps one of my favorite unsung keyboard heroes.
Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, teaming up to provide classic piano and keyboard riffs for Supertramp.
Dennis DeYoung, more known for his vocals, but also providing keyboards for Styx. Check out the classic Styx video of “Too Much Time On My Hands” side by side with Jimmy Fallon and Paul Rudd’s version – too great. Also check out Jimmy Fallon’s cover video of Extreme’s “More Than Words” with Jack Black (I’ll be featuring this song and video in an upcoming blog on Great Acoustic Guitar Intro songs – stay tuned!). So talented!
Roy Bittan, most known for providing his keyboard chops for Bruce Springsteen, including his iconic piano work on several “Born To Run” songs featured here, but also working with Bon Jovi, David Bowie, Chicago, Dire Straits, Stevie Nicks, and Meat Loaf, including his “I’d Do Anything For Love” featured on the playlist.
Jerry Harrison, with his innovative new wave pitch bending keyboard work with the Talking Heads.
Bruce Hornsby, following somewhat in the mold of Billy Joel and Elton John, check out his cover of “Madman Across The Water” on this list, a true piano giant, standing at 6’ 4”!
I even threw in a few “one hit wonders”, with Michael Martin Murphy’s “Wildfire” and Al Stewart’s “Year Of The Cat.” Many may not have ever heard the piano interlude to “Wildfire” as DJs often would cue up the song to start at it’s well known guitar and twangy keyboard intro. Both songs feature some great piano work, not to mention memorable melodies and lyrics.
Interestingly almost 25% of they playlist’s songs were released in just 2 years, 1970 and 1971, I guess somewhat of a musical nirvana for piano rock. It is closely followed by 1973-1977, a 5 year period containing 35% of the playlist songs as well. Definitely a great time to be a piano player in a rock band.
So many of these are among my favorite piano and keyboard songs. I’m sure I may have left a few of your favorites off. Let me know, and I can add them. Comments are not only welcomed but encouraged. Let’s dialogue about great music.
I hope that this music and my blog truly serve as a “revival: a new presentation of something old,” a springboard to return to the music of your youth, or perhaps to find artists you want to discover anew. Rediscover the passion of music in your life.
Live in the moment
Enjoy the moment
Love the moment
Listen to the MUSIC!