15 Great Rock Keyboard Solos

keithemerson1In honor of the late great Keith Emerson (pictured), I decided it was time to tackle a list of great Rock keyboard solos. In the past I’ve made lists of more unusual occurrences like piano solos, flute solos, and trombone solos, and they required some digging.

But you don’t have to look very hard to find great keyboard solos from the Sixties and Seventies. They were everywhere. From the Eighties onward, significant solos of any kind became kind of rare, so please remind me of any great keyboard solos that I might have missed. I’m sure there are many.

As always the criteria is solos only, meaning keyboard improvisation over a chord sequence, and not keyboard-based songs or keyboard elements of a song’s structure. And I am looking for either real virtuosity, or else memorable solos that were essential parts of big songs.

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Since I’ve already covered the piano, I am including all electronic keyboards, including electric piano, organs and synths. And to make it more fun, only one listing per band.


15. Santana – Evil Ways

From 1969 this was Santana’s very first hit. Lead singer Greg Rolie performed the memorable Hammond organ solo in the middle, while the generous bandleader saved his own solo for the extro.


14. Deep Purple – Hush

Another choice might have been “Lazy”, but either way, you got yer archetypal Rock keyboarding from the classically-trained band leader Jon Lord.


13. Sugarloaf – Green-Eyed Lady

In the early Seventies even one-hit wonder bands often featured top-notch musicianship. The band’s songwriter and lead vocalist Jerry Corbetta was a pretty talented guy who also knocked out this classic solo.


12. Steely Dan – Black Cow

Again, without any clear-cut favorite, there’s any number of Steely Dan tracks that qualify. You might choose instead Donald Fagen’s cheesy organ solo in “Do It Again”, but I’ll opt for Victor Feldman’s precocious Fender Rhodes take on this one.


11. Genesis – Robbery, Assault And Battery

This is kind of an obscure track, but I figured all the prog giants should be on the list, since there’d be no prog if there were no keyboards. Tony Banks was often too busy holding those complicated Genesis songs together to solo.


10. Pink Floyd – Shine On You Crazy Diamond

Hard to pick Richard Wright’s best or most memorable solo out of Floyd’s catalogue, so we’ll go with quantity on the whole 9-part “Shine On” suite, where he delivers some killer synth noodling.


9. The Doors – Riders On The Storm

Some people might prefer Ray Manzarek’s solo on “Light My Fire”, but I think his electric piano solo here is better played, better sounding and less repetitive.


8. Edgar Winter – Frankenstein

No mention of Rock synth solos is complete without this bad boy. While strapping a synth around your neck never really caught on as a Rock move, the sound Winter developed on this track turned out to be hugely influential.


7. Argent – Hold Your Head Up

Rod Argent is the only person who gets two credits on this list, and justifiably so. Arguably the second-best Rock keyboardist ever, and you could also argue his keyboard highlights are more memorable than Keith Emerson’s.


6. The Beatles – In My Life

19 seconds of brilliance from the late, great George Martin. Technically it was recorded on a piano, but because it was sped up it doesn’t sound like a piano, so I’m gonna call it electronic FX and argue it belongs on this list. The (only?) other Beatles song that qualifies would be “Get Back”.


5. The Zombies – Time Of The Season

Maybe my personal favorite keyboard solo ever, it still thrills every time I hear it. Rod Argent gets two cracks at it, in the solo and in the extended outro, and catches fire in both. With Hugh Grundy’s fabulous drumming and Argent careening wildly on the keys, it’s like riding a runaway train.


4. The Band – Chest Fever

From the opening riffs to the wild solo, “Mad Professor” Garth Hudson owned this song, yet he never got the songwriting credit he deserved. The song was exhibit “A” in the group’s dispute with Robbie Robertson over songwriting royalties.


3. Yes – Roundabout

Scores high marks on both memorability and virtuosity. Not only is Rick Wakeman’s solo incredibly complex and powerful, but talk about four virtuoso musicians meshing together so well, I don’t think Yes ever surpassed this moment.


2. The Animals – House Of The Rising Sun

This song changed the world when it arrived in July 1964. It’s been called the first folk-rock hit or the first blues hit on the pop charts, and it signified that a new generation was ready for some heavier shit than Pop had been offering. Alan Price, who recorded some great solo material in the 70s, reeled off what was to be the first real Rock keyboard solo ever, and it remains a memorable thing of beauty.


1. Emerson Lake & Palmer – Karn Evil 9

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. I considered “Lucky Man”, which certainly has a memorable and virtuosic solo, but this epic track contains like a dozen keyboard solos within, including some fantastic stuff on piano, that best illustrate the incredible range and talent of Keith Emerson. It’s funny how playing an instrument at a very high level of accomplishment was held in higher esteem back then than it is now. It’s almost like bringing a jazz sensibility to Rock, and I’m optimistically thinking it may be slowly making its way back to the Rock music scene.

So there’s a lot more keyboard solos out there. Which big ones did I miss?

Photo credit: By Gorupdebesanez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

15 comments to “15 Great Rock Keyboard Solos”
  1. It’s cheesy as hell, but Inna-gadda-davida and its monstrous organ solo was required listening for years. When it popped up as a church hymn (In the garden of eden) on a Simpsons episode, anyone over about 12 years of age were laughing their asses off.

    • You’re right, Jim, that was one of the most famous keyboard solos ever, but I find the song unlistenable these days. Same goes for another big solo in Vanilla Fudge “You Keep Me Hanging On”. Some music just doesn’t age as well, and I’d rather just leave that stuff off the lists.

    • ”Tis a tragedy the short but superb keyboard riff in The Allman Bros ‘Jessica’ fails to find it’s way onto any keyboard list. The song is a combination of unsurpassed elite keyboard and guitar riffs.

  2. Maybe” you keep me hangin’ on’ doesn’t stand the test of time, but the live version of break song has a kickin’ organ solo.Emerson was the man though.

  3. Bland and mellow song, but Tony Banks in “Follow you Follow me” always makes me wonder, how would it have sounded in a guitar? Meh, leave it that way! Thanks for posting this list, and keep them coming!!

  4. ELO – From the Beginning
    Led Zeppelin – All of my love
    Head East – Never been any reason

    I play keys and these have always been my favorite to play live and trust me, they were not easy at all to learn, yet super fun and rewarding afterwards when playing them live.

  5. Moonight Feels Right…..has a xylophone solo to die for…and a moog synth solo with great lines. I am trying to find the sheet music but none have the solos. What elese is new…

  6. Cool list I like it….. Rick Wakeman and Richard Wright being two of my favourites…. but one often overlooked and under-rated band is ‘CARAVAN’ and their Keyboard virtuoso is brilliant !! He plays plenty of solos and I’d say he’s on a par with any of these great Keyboard wizards!

    P.S I’m a huge Floyd and Yes fan… but I’d probably still have to put ‘House of the Rising Sun’ keyboard solo at the top of my list….

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