15 Great Rock Piano Solos



61 years ago, Little Richard pounded the ivories on “Tutti Frutti”, and introduced Rock & Roll piano to the world. The piano has always taken a backseat to the guitar in Rock music, especially when it comes to solos, but there are some memorable exceptions.

I was specifically looking for solos, not just great piano bits. For instance, the Beatles’ “Martha My Dear” or Springsteen’s “Backstreets” have great, memorable piano bits, but they’re not solos. They are part of the song’s structure. Same is true for the piano part on Clapton’s “Layla”, which has the additional disqualifier of being boring and too long. Or maybe that’s just me.

In any case, what I’m looking for is piano vamping and improvising over a chord progression provided by other instruments. That’s what a solo is. And it’s acoustic piano only, no electric keyboards, that’s for another list. And only one selection per artist.

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Whew. Enough rules already. Let’s go cat go.

 

15. Elton John – Funeral For a Friend

Sticklers may quibble about whether this constitutes a solo, but as the greatest piano Rocker ever, Elton’s gotta be on this list. Let me know if there’s a better example of an Elton John piano solo that I missed.

 

14. Billy Joel – Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

Like with Elton, it’s hard to find a true Billy Joel piano solo, because he’s usually holding down the song’s basics instead. Here it comes in around 2:50 after the stupid oom-pah horns. Again, I’m thinking there’s a better Billy Joel solo that I’m forgetting.

 

13. Squeeze – Pulling Mussels From The Shell

Jools Holland gets the distinction of showing up twice on the list, but you just can’t ignore this solo which gives this so very British seaside saga some sexy New Orleans swagger.

 

12. Moody Blues – Go Now

One of the most poorly recorded records in Rock history, this distortion-laden track was considerably enlivened by Mike Pinder’s rollicking piano solo.

 

11. Rolling Stones – She’s a Rainbow

Nicky Hopkins was one of the greatest Rock pianists ever, most famous for his work with the Stones, but his superb playing is also found on records by the Kinks, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, and on “Revolution” by the Beatles. This is a structural piano bit, but there is also a section where he improvises too.

 

10. Carole King – I Feel The Earth Move

One of the greatest songwriters of all time channels her inner Jerry Lee and pounds out the Rock on this one.

 

9. Steely Dan – Fire In The Hole

The Dan used the keyboards of Donald Fagen and other great jazz players not so much for soloing – they tended to favor guitars and sax for the solos – but rather as elements of structure and texture. But this solo really shows Donald’s chops.

 

8. David Bowie – Aladdin Sane

The inspiration for this list, when I included it on a list of my favorite Bowie songs. Bowie’s long-time collaborator Mike Garson gives it the wild, free-jazz treatment.

 

7. Joe Cocker – Feelin’ Alright

Carol Kaye’s bass playing gives this track its special bounce, but long-time Brill Building producer and piano player Artie Butler sends it soaring alongside Cocker’s vocals.

 

6. Van Morrison – Moondance

Session guy Jeff Labes delivered a perfect light touch on this classic, sharing the solo with flute and sax.

 

5. Ben Folds Five – One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces

When you get drawn into a Ben Folds song by the distinctive voice and lyrics, you tend to not notice what a fantastic piano player he is.

 

4. Allman Brothers – Jessica

Another one of the greatest Rock pianists of all time, session man Chuck Leavell pulled out all the stops on this one, elevating the joyful vibe to stratospheric levels.

 

3. The The – Uncertain Smile

One of my favorite acts from the ‘80s with one of the dumbest names ever, Matt Johnson’s band released some beautifully written songs, but on this one the irrepressible Jools Holland seals the deal for greatness with his killer piano outro.

 

 

2. Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls Of Fire

He proved in 1957 that you don’t need a guitar to really Rock. Lustful if not more dangerous intentions delivered with wild abandon would also fit the bill just fine. Attitude is everything.

 

1. Beatles – Lovely Rita

George Martin cheated a bit on this one, as he tended to do, speeding up the tape of his solo in order to fit the song’s key and tempo. Still, it is short, sweet, skillful, and as on point as it could possibly be. Less is more. I’d even call it perfection.

I know I must have missed quite a few. I wanted to include something from Dr. John but I couldn’t find a real piano solo. I wanted to include the Stones’ “Melody” which had a great piano solo from Billy Preston, but couldn’t post two Stones tracks. What about another piano solo from Billy Preston, or anybody else that I missed? Please help, I’ve racked my brain enough already.

Photo: Ben Folds; credit: By Newted – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6647948

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4 comments on “15 Great Rock Piano Solos
  1. Love the piano solo on Skynyrd’s ‘Call Me The Breeze’! But ‘Jessica’ is number one for me. Great list.

  2. Pingback: 18 Great Rock Trumpet Solos | Rocknuts

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