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Top 10 Greatest Piano Performances in Rock
You can find list after list of the greatest guitar solos in rock, but what about piano? Many rock groups feature the piano prominently. This list is not counting down the most skilled piano performances, but simply the most tasteful. No artist will be used more than once, because the list could easily be filled with 10 Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen songs.
Although it may be best remembered for the terrible screech saxophone solo, this 1973 single has a great piano. Just try to get that main hook out of your head. As if that weren’t enough, the opening is nothing short of rockin’. Ian Hunter is paying tribute to rock piano greats like Little Richard with his playing here.
Just listen to the bounce of that jazzy piano. This song has a aura to it like none other, mainly due to the piano, flute and Morrison’s haunting vocals. Jeff Labes’ freestyle piano solo on this is simply beautiful.
There is absolutely nothing bad you can say about this song. Everything from Doug Gray’s vocals, to the gorgeous flute is perfect. Then, there’s Paul Hornsby’s piano solo. It doesn’t deviate much from the melody of the song, but it’s so perfect. The feeling he puts into every note of it is simply incredible.
It would be a crime to talk about piano in rock without mentioning the Professor, Roy Bittan. Bittan has been playing with Bruce Springsteen since 1975, and he has a prowess at the keyboard like few others in history. I think that this song, more than any other, showcases that. Just listen to the build-up in the opening. He starts with some tender chords, but as he goes on, the piano climaxes to the perfect level of power to match Bruce’s vocals. And that’s saying something.
I guarantee you that this is one of the eeriest songs you will ever hear. That’s only appropriate though, because it was based on “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” a similarly eerie song. Jim Morrison’s vocals sound like something creeping up on you, getting closer with every line. Ray Manzarek’s Fender Rhodes playing sounds like rain falling on the darkest night of the year. His solo takes you to another place, a place you probably don’t want to be for too long, but it’s okay for the few minutes you are there.
Like I said at the beginning, you could make a whole list of Billy Joel’s best piano performances. However, this one tops them all. That 56 second opening is one of the most glorious things you will ever hear. His timing is absolutely perfect, and the soul he pours over the piano is amazing. That’s not to under-value the rest of the song; the whole thing is incredible. The piano leads the song, accompanied by some strings and later that swirling sax solo. Joel was going for a whole Ray Charles vibe her, and man was it a success.
This is a unique selection, because the song goes for almost four minutes before the piano kicks in. The song starts as a slow, acoustic number, until it builds into stinging mid-tempo rock, led by Chris Robinson’s gruff vocals. He sings about angels, devils and letting your love light shine. Then, the guitar fades out, and is replaced by a gospel piano. Every single note is perfect. Robinson’s vocals soon re-enter, even more soulful than before, and are soon followed by a female gospel choir. The song eventually re-builds to where it was before and the piano goes away, but the few moments it is there is just what this song needs to bump it up from very good to incredible.
This song would probably be number one if it weren’t for the fact that the piano solo is really an entirely different song. The first half of “Layla” is hard rock, propelled by the guitars of Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. Then, it turns into a gorgeous piano piece, written by and performed by drummer Jim Gordon, and later accompanied by Allman and Clapton on guitar. The piano movement is so beautiful, but since there is not a prominent piano in the first half of “Layla,” I can’t really make it number one.
Best known for their 1998 hit song “The Way,” Fastball classic rock sounds never fail. In 2000, they followed up their hit album “All the Pain Money Can Buy” with “The Harsh Light of Day” and this was the lead single. Just listen to that piano, from the sweep at the beginning, to the bouncy chords throughout. The mere eighteen second introduction is pure perfection. Oh, and did you know who that is on the piano? Although he’s not in the video, that’s guest musician Billy Preston. Yes, the Billy Preston who played with the Beatles on Let it Be.
Somehow, Billy Powell never even comes close to topping lists of greatest pianists in rock. It’s just not right. Take almost any Skynyrd song: “Call Me the Breeze,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” etc., and just listen to the way he plays. He can solo like none other. The beauty of “Tuesday’s Gone” is that it winds, but never once drones. The whole song sounds like a train pulling away from a station, leaving everything behind. The piano solo is like that one memory that is gently trickling away as you move onto a new life.