The 10 Best Keyboard Solos Not Played By Emerson Or Wakeman
By Ralph Greco, Jr.
Far be it from me to make these lists easy. Uber fan as I am of knife-wielding Keith Emerson and cape-twirling Rick Wakeman, I thought it might be neat to compile a list of some fantastic keyboard moments — whether played on a Mellotron, synthesizer, organ or piano — not executed by the aforementioned giants of 70s progressive rock. As always with my lists, this is a wholly subjective accounting, but what follows are 10 of what I feel might be the very best moments of keyboard mastery.
2) Billy ‘I-died-much-too-soon’ Preston’s Fender Rhodes solo on “Get Back.” First of all, I am nut for that old Fender Rhodes sound. Back in the pre-digital age, before you could buy a keyboard for under $50 to reproduce a killer piano sound, all players had in the way of portable piano was the Fender Rhodes. Preston was truly the only musician of note to join the Beatles in the studio (certainly the only one ever to be seen playing with them) and he is represented in all his funky, afro glory banging out this great solo.
3) Tony Banks on Genesis’ “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.” Not really a solo, just a snippet of a beginning to a double album set that would see a lot of great moments from Banks. Still, this wild keyboard opening does illustrate what a great player he is. There are about a thousand amazing moments in the Genesis canon, but seeing as this opens “The Lamb,” I thought it rated inclusion here.
4) Billy Joel’s piano work on “The Ballad of Bill the Kid.” As with “Lamb,” this is not really a solo but an entire lesson in playing percussive piano. I know I could have picked Billy’s beginning to “Angry Young Man,” equally fun piano stuff that it is, but I like the staccato of the piano through the orchestration in “Billy The Kid.” Billy Joel, like Elton John, can really tickle the ol’ ivories when he wants to.
5) Steve Walsh’s organ solo on “Carry On Wayward Son.” In my humble opinion you could never say enough great stuff about Kansas. First of all, they sport one of the best rock drummers ever — again in my humble opinion — in Phil Ehert, but the Steve Walsh’s key tickling (counterpoint as it is to the guitar playing during the solo) really cuts through the mayhem of this FM opus. Secondly, I love Mr. Walsh’s blistering display in “Lighting Hands” from Point Of No Return (a faster solo to be sure), but I still think “Carry On” beats most for drama and placement, short though it might be.
6) Richard Tandy’s piano at the beginning of “Evil Woman” (and the heavy bass riff from his keys on the chorus). Listen to this keyboardist play his heart out at the start of the song and that nifty keys bass riff at the end of each line in the chorus. I’d argue that the piano opening on “Evil Woman” is one more the distinctive openings of a 70s rock song.
7) Rick Wright’s ‘Can-I-Play-Anything-Sadder?’ end to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Parts 6-10.” It is a Herculean task for me to pick one keyboard moment from this underrated giant, dwarfed as he has been by Roger Waters and David Gilmour. Of course, Wright truly wasn’t a soloist in Pink Floyd. One tends to forget how instrumental his writing and instrument were (plus his vocal, mixed most chilling with Gilmour on such classics like “Echoes.” I love what Wright plays at the end of “Shine On” — weird synth horns, less on virtuosity than on feel. I could have picked out his piano playing on “The Great Gig in The Sky,” his composition and voice on “Us and Them,” or any of a number of stellar moments on Animals. What Wright does at the end of “Shine On” caps off what might be the most melancholy recording ever committed to tape.
8) Mark Stein’s organ on “You Keep Me Hanging On.” Known as they were for performing inside-out remakes of popular songs of the day, I have to go with what is the Vanilla Fudge’s biggest hit. With a band that also boasts Tim Bogert, Carmine Appice and Vince Martell as members, it is hard to spotlight one ‘Fudge’ over the other. But for the purposes of this list, listen to what Stein is doing on his organ in this song,.along with those amazing vocals. I think it bears repeating what I have been saying for some time now: Vanilla Fudge is the greatest American rock and roll band ever.
9) John Lord’s solo in Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.” Overplayed as it is, Lord’s playing (more like abuse) on “Star” never ceases to amaze me. I love the balls of this guy, pushing his Hammond up front in a band as heavy on riffs and hard grooves as Purple (not to mention running around Ian Gillian’s screams). I love how every time Lord solos, you know Blackmore is challenged to respond.
10) What? You thought I’d get through this list without mentioning Sir Elton? How about his amazing piano at the beginning of “Pinball Wizard”? Yeah, I know we all remember those big shoes and the baked beans, but listen to this song and you’ll forget about Reg’s forays to dark side ala Disney. There is his tinkling piano at the beginning of “Levon” and all that great live stuff on 11-17-70, but I do think his work on “Pinball” is extra special.