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Keyboards Maketh Songs – 100 Keyboard Classics

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100 Keyboard Classics

We’re taking on another impossible challenge, but this one is one that is just a little different. There are countless lists of the greatest guitar solos, but we thought it was about time that the keyboard players got a look in – the pianists, the Hammond organ players, those men behind the Mellotron, the fellow on the Fender Rhodes; those that plunk away on the keys.

It all started last week with a discussion prompted by Billy Preston’s defining solo on The Beatles, ‘Get Back’. It’s a great song, even without Preston’s piano, but when he comes in, it somehow defines the song. So we thought we’d come up with a playlist of tracks where the keyboard makes the songs just so much better.

In so doing it includes most of the most famous pianists et al, from the rock era, there’s Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, Elton and Keith (Emerson of course). There’s Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Leon Russell, Fats Domino, and Stevie Winwood – all singers that have accompanied themselves.

There’s also those lesser known lights – session players like, Nicky Hopkins who is featured on The Rolling Stones’ ‘2000 Light Years From Home’ playing piano (it’s Brian Jones on the Mellotron), Hopkins also plays the piano on Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Wooden Ships’, there’s Victor Feldman on Steely Dan’s ‘I Got the News’, and Dave Greenslade on Chris Farlowe’s ‘Handbags and Gladrags’.

In case you’re wondering why George Harrison is included it’s because off David Foster’s brilliant playing on ‘The Answers At the End’, likewise it’s Al Kooper playing Hammond on ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, Leon Russell on Cocker’s, ‘Delta Lady’ and John Hawken on The Straws’ ‘The Life Auction’

We’ve picked a whole bunch of classic numbers that you all will instantly know, on which the keyboard plays a more than significant role, sometimes, like on, Toto’s ‘Hold the Line’ where it becomes the song, as it does on Spirit’s ‘Fresh Garbage or Rod Argent’s brilliance on ‘Hold Your Head Up’. But we’ve equally picked some hidden gems that we think deserve to rank up there among the best. Take a listen to Barry Walsh’s beautiful playing on Gretchen Peters’ ‘Bus to St. Cloud’, or Jon Cleary on ‘When you Get Back’.

At the bottom of our list are 10 cast iron classics on which the keyboard is king. Among them are a couple that my cause some controversy, including Carole King’s exceptional playing, without which the song would simple not be the classic that it is (Spooner Oldham’s playing on Aretha’s version is pretty fine too).

Rick Wakeman’s exquisite piano on Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars’ and of course the beautiful coda to Derek and The Dominoes,, ‘Layla’ that’s played by the band’s drummer, Jim Gordon.

Anyway, these are our 100 Keyboard classics…let’s hear what you think should be included.

Allen Toussaint Southern Nights
Ambrosia How Much I Feel
Argent Hold your Head Up
Atlanta Rhytm Section Imaginary Lover
Barclay James Harvest Mockingbird
Ben Folds Still Fighting It
Billy Joel Scenes from An Italian Restaurant
Billy Preston Outa Space
Blind Faith Sea of Joy
Bob Dylan Like a Rolling Stone
Bob James Angela )The Theme from Taxi)
Bon Jovi Runaway
Booker T & The MGs Green Onions
Boz Scaggs Harbor Lights
Bruce Hosnby The way it Is
Camel Never Let Go
Chris Farlowe Handbags and Gladrags
David Bryan Memphis Lives in Me
Deep Purple Highway Star
Deep Purple Hush
Dire Straits Telegraph Road
Donny Hathaway The Ghetto
Dr John Right Place Wrong Time
Elton John Your Song
Elton John Idol
Fats Domino Blueberry Hill
Focus Moving Waves
Genesis Firth of Fifth
Genesis AbaCab
George Harrison The Answer’s At the End
Gretchen Peters On A Bus To St Cloud
Guns N’ Roses November rain
Isaac Hayes Theme from Shaft
Jefferson Airplane Wooden Ships
Jimmy Webb Galveston
Joe Cocker Delta Lady
John Lennon Imagine
Jon & Vangelis I Hear You Now
Jon Cleary When You Get Back
Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger This Wheels on Fire
Laura Nyro Stone Soul Picnic
Led Zeppelin Your Time Is Gonna Come
Leon Russell A Song For You
Little Richard Tutti Frutti
Lynyrd Skynyrd Tuesday’s Gone
Motley Crue Home Sweet Home
Mott the Hoople All the Way To Memphis
Night Ranger Sister Christian
Pink Floyd Us and Them
Procol Harum A Whiter Shade of Pale
Queen Love of my Life
Queen Bohemian Rhapsody
Quicksilver Messenger Service The Hat
Ray Charles What’d I Say
Robert Glasper Experiment Afro Blue
Sir Douglas Quintet She’s about a Mover
Spencer Davis Group Gimme Some Lovin
Spirit Fresh Garbage
Squeeze Tempted
Steely Dan I Got The News
Steely Dan Ricky Don’t Lose That Number
Steppenwolf Magic Carpet Ride
Stevie Winwood Talking Back To The Night
Stevie Wonder Living For The City
Styx Come Sail Away
Supertramp Breakfast in America
Supertramp Dreamer
The Allman Brothers Dreams
The Animals The House of The Rising Sun
The Band I Shall Be Released
The Band Chest Fever
The Beatles Lady Madonna
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown Fire
The Crusaders Streetlife
The Doobie Brothers You’re Made That Way
The Doors Riders on the Storm
The Doors Light My Fire
The Nice America
The Rolling Stones Sympathy For the Devil
The Rolling Stones 2000 Light Years From Home
The Strawbs The Life Auction
The Who The Song Is Over
Thunderclap Newman Something In The Air
Toto Hold The Line
Traffic Empty Pages
Van Morrison Moondance
Vanilla Fudge You Keep Me Hanging On
X-Japan Endless Rain
Yes Roundabout
Yes Somethings Coming

Check out or Spotify Playlist here…

10 of The Greatest

Carole King (You Make Me feel Like) A Natural Woman
The Beatles Get Back
Billy Joel New York State of Mind
David Bowie Life on Mars
Derek and The Dominoes Layla
Little Richard Good Golly Miss Molly
Elton John Funeral For a friend/Loves Lies Bleeding
Donald Fagen Maxine
Jerry Lee Lewis Great Balls of Fire
ELP Take a Pebble

66 Comments

66 Comments

  1. Gene Davis

    January 30, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    No Dave Baby Cortez (Dave Clowney) The Happy Organ/Rinky Dink both classics …..otherwise a pretty good list Little Richard should be on there for Good Golly Miss Molly too and Jerry Lee Lewis for Over the Rainbow

    • uDiscover

      January 30, 2016 at 10:37 pm

      Thanks, Gene, good shout

  2. Eric Priebe

    January 30, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    I like your list of very good songs made better with the piano. I did some quick research and thought I would add these three songs Below.
    The Isley Brothers “Summer Breeze”. Yes there is a fantastic Guitar solo at the end but the piano is really jamming throughout.
    Also Neil Young’s “Helpless” version with CSNY features him playing a really nice piano.

    Finally, Steve Winwood plays a nice piano throughout Blind Faith’s “Well All Right” and ends the song with a wonderful solo.

    • uDiscover

      January 30, 2016 at 10:38 pm

      Eric, great choices. Helpless, especially!

  3. Robert Barnett

    January 30, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    Del Shannon Runaway for a generation this was as good as rock and roll keyboard could get and set the standard for others to follow

  4. Andreas Papadakis

    January 31, 2016 at 12:23 am

    I know it is not easy to satisfy everyone, but come on guys, you should have named the list “100 Pop/Rock keyboard classics” or something… I mean, could you make such a list without including guys like George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer, Chick Corea, or Joe Zawinul? We’re talking about 5 incredible musicians and game changers here.

    As for other popular songs not included on the list, I would like to have seen the following:
    1) Rush – “Tom Sawyer”
    2) 2Pac feat. Dr. Dre – “California Love” (featuring Roger Troutman on the talkbox keys)
    3) Dream Theater – “Home”
    4) Rufus & Chaka Khan – “Tell Me Something Good”

    At least I’m happy you included Stevie Wonder, Toto, Steely Dan, Deep Purple, and Queen, even though I don’t completely agree with the song choices.

  5. Rob

    January 31, 2016 at 12:45 am

    Common guys. What about any Moody Blues song with the Mellotron. They introduced the world to the instrument.

  6. harry

    January 31, 2016 at 1:40 am

    And don’t forget “Lazy” by Deep Purple

  7. Sledge Hammer

    January 31, 2016 at 2:41 am

    I am glad Steve Winwood is on the list, but I would argue that “Valerie” is pure keyboard pop gold. Timmy Thomas’s “Why Can’t We Live Together” is nothing without the Hammond. Billy Joel’s “Pressure” is an all-time great keyboard riff. Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” and “I Was Made To Love Her” could be on the list. I am glad somebody mentioned Del Shannon’s “Runaway”…everybody can hum along with that. That Musictron solo alone should put that song in the top ten. If I had to pick two songs by the Doors that should be on the list it would be “Crystal Ship” and “Break On Through.” When I think of Carole King, I automatically think of “I Feel The Earth Move.” Hall and Oates couldn’t make the cut? The Bee Gees should have “Run To Me”, “Lonely Days”, or “Words” on the list. Seems like you could have added a lot more R&B songs on the list. And as much as I don’t like Eddie Van Halen playing keyboards, you guys could have given him some credit for his work on the keys throughout the years. Just my two hundred and fifty cent’s worth.

  8. stephen

    January 31, 2016 at 6:52 am

    Roy Bittan? Thunder Road, Jungleland?

  9. Richard Hill

    January 31, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Wot no synths!

    • Colin

      February 11, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      I agree. No synth? Jump, Are Friends Electric….and where is Dave Brubeck?

  10. Angie

    January 31, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Great list, for sure. I’d lie to leave props for “Message To My Girl” by Split Enz and “Bad Company” by Bad Company.

  11. Barry

    January 31, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    Honestly blown away to be on this list as the pianist on the Gretchen Peters classic, “On A Bus To Saint Cloud”. Hard to believe it’s been twenty years since it was recorded, and I’m currently on tour in the UK with her, still playing that great song.

    So many of my heroes are on this list. The reason I became a musician is because of so many great sixties performances from Ray Manzarek (RIP), Steve Winwood, Felix Cavaliere, Garth Hudson and Al Kooper. A few of my own personal favs I could have included would be The Band’s “Rag Mama Rag”, Michael Mcdonald’s “What A Fool Believes”, and The Allman Brothers “Jessica” or “Southbound”. Love reading the comments above, like “Runaway” – good choice!

  12. NIchka

    January 31, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    Thank you very much for great useful information!!!!

  13. Bharat Sharma

    January 31, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Good List !

    Surprised to see less from Nicky Hopkins – IMHO, he was the best when it came to those 88’s

    Also, Uncertain Smile from The The features some exceptional piano playing from Jools Holland !

  14. Gary

    January 31, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    The Guess Who/Burton Cummings, These Eyes, Rain Dance, Albert Flasher and on and on.. Paul McCartney, Maybe I’m Amazed?

  15. Russell

    January 31, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    Cool to see some top keyboard players represented like Keith Emerson, Steve Winwood, Tony Banks, Rick Wakeman and the late great Richard Wright. And obviously there’s a huge list of keyboard-driven songs that couldn’t make the list once you set a numeric limit. But some of the songs I would’ve liked to see a shout out for….

    Emerson, Lake & Palmer “Hoedown” that was Emerson’s signature tune in concert!
    Traffic “Glad”
    Van Halen “Jump”
    Moody Blues “Have You Heard/The Voyage”
    The Zombies “Time of the Season”
    Ambrosia “Holding On to Yesterday”
    Small Faces “Afterglow of Your Love”

    Good list though. Thanks for the article.

  16. kevin

    January 31, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    In a more laid back vein I think CROWDED HOUSE ,DON’T DREAM IT’S OVER should be included.

  17. Flávio

    February 1, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    King Crimson, “Ladies of the Road” with Keith Tippett on piano is a must!

  18. Torbjørn

    February 1, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    No songs frome SAGA?

  19. Arnie

    February 3, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Iron Butterfly – In A Gadda Da Vida , if Sir Douglas Quartet She’s About A Mover made that list you’ve opened up the doors to about everything. 96 Tears, Standells Rari, whatever

  20. Mactrooper

    February 8, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    Nah, I won’t trust any list about keyboards that doesn’t feature at least one Van Halen song, no matter how well put that list ;-P

  21. Edwin

    February 8, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    Who put this together? Just as examples: Nothing from UK (Night After Night), Asia (Only Time Will Tell or a dozen other), Emerson Lake and Palmer (Trilogy and every other one), Saga (Humble Stance or pretty much anything), Bruce Springsteen (Hungry Heart), Yngwie Malmsteen (Far Beyond the Sun and a dozen more; there is more than just guitar in there), or the Moody Blues (Blue World and a dozen others)? Never Let Go is the best you can cite from Camel (Lady Fantasy and the rest)? Hold the Line the only thing from Toto (Child’s Anthem, Turn Back, Change of Heart)? Come Sail Away the only from Styx (Suite Madame Blue, Sing for the Day, and a ton more)? This list really does not denote much thought put into it.

  22. Vincent Monisstere

    February 10, 2016 at 4:32 am

    How could you forget Morning Has Broken Not positive but I think Rick Wakeman played on as well as Changes by Bowie. Also Jerusalem by ELP Almost forgot Fanfare for the Common man again ELP.

  23. Vincent Monisstere

    February 10, 2016 at 4:35 am

    How could you forget Morning Has Broken Not positive but I think Rick Wakeman played on as well as Changes by Bowie. Also Jerusalem by ELP Almost forgot Fanfare for the Common man and Hoedown again ELP.j

  24. Vincent Monisstere

    February 10, 2016 at 4:39 am

    How could you forget Morning Has Broken Not sure but I think Rick Wakeman played on. Also Jerusalem Fanfare for the Common man and Hoedown by ELP.

  25. Laura Russo

    February 10, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    The missing songs that comes to mind are The Eagles’ “Desperado,” and Garth Brooks’ “The Dance.

  26. Nipper Nips

    February 13, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    Hey,
    What’s wrong with the editors? The band name is “Strawbs” and NOT “Straws.” Sheesh.

    BTW, this list will always generate push back. In the event, where’s anything from the 1973 through 1976 Gino Vanelli catalogue? (e.g. People Gotta Move.) Rarely anything BUT keyboards and drums on those recordings and backing GV’s vocals.

    Regards,

    Nipper

  27. Ian Newing

    February 17, 2016 at 10:17 pm

    What about the great Floyd Cramer (On The Rebound, Last Date) or Nut Rocker by B Bumble and Walking in Memphis by either Marc Cohen or Cher.

    • Betty Parsell

      October 29, 2016 at 10:08 pm

      ANYTHING BY FLOYD KRAMER!!! He was and is the greatest!
      Betty

  28. Christine Anderson

    February 17, 2016 at 10:31 pm

    How about OMD’s “Maid of Orleans” with a “bagpipe” melody throughout consisting of the “female choir” and the “3-Violins” presets from a Mellotron?

  29. German

    February 18, 2016 at 12:31 am

    No Pet Shop Boys? It’s a Sin, Always on My Mind, Suburbia…?

  30. theresa prentiss

    February 18, 2016 at 7:25 am

    I have always loved bridge over troubled water..also sentimental journey…i am trying to teach myself classical piano…eight years into it all i have learned is the first part of moonlight sonata…i sorta play fur elise….i love when a rock band incorporates classical piano…starting of with toussaint is pure genius…..ty for this guys..fantastic bit of info..

  31. Manuel Seixas

    February 18, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Old Loves die Hard – Triunvirat – Jurgen Fritz (or anyother song of the album…)

  32. Julio Otermin

    February 18, 2016 at 8:56 am

    What about Santana Band? From 1969 ? You’ve got a lot of them. Thanks

  33. Nicolas

    February 18, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    What about Walking in Memphis, L Cohen?
    Supertramp is there, but not Crime of the century
    Cocker: You are so beautiful
    Simon and Garfunkel bridge over troubled Water
    Don Henley: New York Minute
    Tom Waits: Martha
    Otherwise good list. Thanks!

  34. Dmytro

    February 18, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    Uriah Heep?

    • Greg

      February 20, 2016 at 8:35 am

      Uriah Heep now were talking .Throw in a bit of Hawkwind and Deep Purple

  35. Armando

    February 18, 2016 at 11:51 pm

    Yeah, rick wakeman, Jon Lord, Keith Emerson and Ray Manzarek are were the best

  36. Tammy

    February 19, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    ABBA-S.O.S and ABBA-Intermezzo No.1 as an ABBA fan Benny Andersson finger work is always amazing BUT on these two especially he is a master of the keyboard.

  37. Raimund

    February 20, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    ABBA – Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)

  38. Rod

    February 25, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Definitely Lazy by Deep Purple 🙂

  39. GOLDY McJOHN

    February 27, 2016 at 12:15 am

    GUESS WHAT GROUPI PLAYED IN ???

  40. Greg

    February 27, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    How can this list not include ‘Uncertain Smile’ by The The with Jools Holland’s piano? Serious oversight.

  41. Jim

    February 28, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    I have yet to see Sly and the Family Stone Dance to the Music on the list or comments. You Might Like to Hear From My Organ, I said Ride Sally Ride now. So much great musec in each of their songs, Listen through the horns.

  42. Dennis Mallory

    February 29, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    I would include on any such list, EBB TIDE, performed by Earl Grant on the Hammond Organ!

  43. Trevor Ley

    March 2, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    Always thought the Hammond solo on Santana’s “Evil Ways” was iconic. Guess it would have been Greg Rolie on the keys.

  44. Ralph

    June 23, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    Great list. Another vote for “Uncertain Smile” by The The. Only the album version, I think.

    And what about the album version of “Don’t get fooled again” by The Who? How come that’s not been mentioned yet??

    Keep up the good work 🙂

  45. A Composer

    July 22, 2016 at 3:53 am

    C’mon, 100 greatest WITH NOTHING FROM JIM STEINMAN and Meat Loaf? Can’t be!

    Think about “Bat out of Hell”, “I’d do anything for love”, “Heaven can wait”, for instance

    Something’s missing here.

  46. Bernardo

    July 22, 2016 at 11:58 am

    Maybe “Right Now” by Van Halen is missing, but it’s pretty much complete 😉

  47. Sergey

    July 22, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    Where is Emerson? Outside 100? Poor boys…. forgive them Lord, they don’t understand what they’re doin’

  48. Colin

    July 27, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Gimme some Lovin; – Spencer Davis Group

    Honky Cat – Elton John

    In My Life – The Beatles

  49. Alun Williams

    September 12, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Good to see “Empty Pages” listed (genius keyboard solo), but what about “Light My Fire” or “Riders on the Storm”?

  50. Lyle

    November 20, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Glad to see Quicksilver mentioned. The Hat is good, but Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder is much better.

  51. Mark

    November 21, 2016 at 11:31 am

    How could the list not include the great Ray Manzarek?

    • Richard

      November 21, 2016 at 11:43 am

      It does…

  52. Oxshottphil

    November 22, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    What price Close to the Edge by Yes. Wakeman’s contributions were always pivotal. p.s. Whenever Coldplay becomes “classic”, the list will have to be re-written (Clocks: The Scientist: Speed of Sound: etc)

  53. Dee Reilly

    November 24, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    First off, let’s start with the errors. Bruce Hosnby? Focus: Moving waves is the album title. There is no individual track entitled “Moving waves”. Little Richard: It’s Tutti Frutti, not Tutti Fruit. Mott the Hoople; It’s All the way “from” Memphis. Allman Brothers could be contested as; Dreams {I’ll never see}.As far as omissions go, Bob Mayo’s solos on “Frampton comes alive”. Substituting The Nice for anything from the ELP catalogue. The Gabriel era of Genesis is somehow overlooked. Kansas “Song for America”, or Kerry Livgren’s solo on the live ‘Two for the show’ album. Neither one of the Steely Dan tracks mentioned has a solo in it. How about “Your Gold Teeth” from the “Countdown to Ecstacy” album?

  54. The Lone Cadaver

    November 24, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    Pretty Things Singapore Silk Torpedo
    Quicksilver Edward the Mad Shirt Grinder
    Quicksilver Spindrifter
    Deep Purple Burn
    Genesis Supper’s Ready
    Genesis Cinema Show
    Camel Rhayader/Rhayader Goes To Town
    Caravan Nine Feet Underground
    King Crimson Cat Food
    And about 50 others which were left out

  55. Lino Terlati

    November 25, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    Nothing by Todd Rundgren????Not a great list

  56. MikeB

    January 12, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Rain, Rain, Rain by Doug Sahm and 96 Tears by ? and the Mysterians

  57. Harillion

    February 20, 2017 at 9:34 am

    What about Marillion’s Market square heroes, Assassing or Just for the record? And The final countdown (Europe) is missing too…

  58. Chris

    June 16, 2017 at 7:22 pm

    What?! No synth pop?! If there was ever a genre that was defined by “keyboards” it’s the early 80’s era synth pop music. So the total absence of Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, Ultravox, Howard Jones, etc is a major grievance. The absence of any Uriah Heep (July Morning and Circle Of Hands should have been there) is also unforgivable.

    Also, you picked the wrong Genesis songs. Something like Entangled, The Lady Lies, or In That Quiet Earth would have been better choices.

    For Pink Floyd, Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Welcome To The Machine would have been better choices. Also, Raving And Drooling, the original, unreleased arrangement of Sheep, had some great synth work on it, too.

  59. CarolL

    September 11, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    No Rennaisance with John Tout. And the Strawbs Hangman & the Papist belongs on this list because of Wakeman’s keyboards setting the heightening emotions in the song. And no Edgar Winter Group? Frankenstein? No Moody Blues (Nights in White Satin)?

  60. David Rosoff

    March 9, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    I agree with many of the additions already mentioned, especially:
    -Del Shannon “Runaway”
    -Iron Butterfly “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”
    -? & the Mysterians “96 Tears”
    -Cat Stevens “Morning Has Broken”
    -Emerson, Lake & Palmer “Fanfare for the Common Man”
    -Marc Cohn “Walking in Memphis”
    -Elton John “Honky Cat”
    -The Zombies “Time of the Season” &
    -Howard Jones (especially “No One Is To Blame”)
    & I would add:
    -Chris Montez “Let’s Dance” (which I would compare with “Runaway” in importance to my childhood)
    -Elton John “Crocodile Rock” &
    -Billy Joel “Piano Man”

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