Rock & roll and the piano have long had an uneasy relationship.
With apologies to Jerry Lee Lewis, the genre has from its beginnings been driven almost exclusively by the combination of guitar and drums.
If the piano or keyboard play any role in most rock songs, it’s usually a complementary one. Yet there come those times when the ebonies and the ivories are exactly what a song needs to make it great.
The songs I list below are defined by and driven by piano — not synthesizer or keyboards — and, as usual, reflect something about my age and tastes. So here are my top five piano driven rock songs:
5. Layla, by Derek & The Dominoes. While the piano isn’t exactly the locomotive of this song, it sure is the caboose. A long and daring one at that. Is it killer rock song or tender ballad? Yes.
4. The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys, by Traffic. If you’ve got 12 minutes, you can listen to the original version. If you’re pressed for time, here’s a modern rendition by Steve Winwood, the song’s original vocalist.
3. The End Of The Innocence, by Don Henley. Piano comes courtesy of Bruce Hornsby (more on him later). Video, vocals, lyrics, and staying power — all from Henley himself. Unfortunately, the original video is not available on YouTube, so enjoy Henley performing at the 1990 Grammys, complete with Japanese subtitles and shoulder length hair.
2. Your Song, by Elton John. It’s a little bit funny, I know . . . an Elton John song on this blog. But this one is simply gorgeous.
1. The Way It Is, by Bruce Hornsby. Underrated and underplayed these days. Love the piano’s peaceful refrain that belies the singer’s anger. I’d love to do this in church sometime.