Friday, April 18, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special Baby, Let Me Bang Your Box Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental amanuensis Hop-Sing and I are off to join communist harpy Hillary Clinton in rural Pennsylvania -- specifically, at the old farmhouse where they shot the original Night of the Living Dead -- for the first annual "I'm Not Bitterfest '08!!!" Apparently, there'll be a lot of bowling, a quick visit from the Pope, and many shots of Crown Royal between shots at small furry animals involved. Could be a hot one!!!

In any case, as a result, posting by moi will necessarily be somewhat fitful for a few days.

But until then, as always, here's a fun project for you all to contemplate:


By which we mean the most melodic, the most effective, or the most inventive. It can be a solo, an entire part as played through the length of a song, or simply a riff -- whatever gets you off.

But, and at the risk of belaboring the obvious, it has to be played on a piano. No synths, organs, or even clavinets need apply, although by piano we do mean of both the acoustic and electric varieties. On the other hand, if somebody nominates anything played on the shimmering Fender Rhodes (as we used to say in the '70s) I'm gonna take a hostage blah blah blah.

Oh, and one other totally arbitrary rule: The record said piano part adorns has to come in at under four minutes in length, which is pretty much the limit of my attention span where these things are concerned. This, of course, has the virtue of eliminating almost any dreaded prog rock I can think of, although it also means I can't include two of my personal faves, Bruce Springsteen's gorgeous piano-driven "Incident on 57th Street" (sorry, David Sancious) and Traffic's ridiculously infectious "Glad" (forgive me, Stevie Winwood).

Hey, life's a trade-off.

Okay, that said, here's my totally top of my head Top Ten:

10. Bruce Hornsby and the Range -- The Way It Is

From the YouTube comments: "Does anyone know if he was famous before 2pac used the tune?"

Sigh. Incidentally, there are many reasons that Sean Hannity will someday burn in hell, but high among them is the fact that the odious racist fuckwit has the gall to use this passionately anti-racist song as a lead-in on his radio show.

9. The Chiffons -- One Fine Day

One of the greatest opening riffs in rock history, played here by its auteur, Carole King. It's so good, as a matter of fact, that a decade later the Raspberries were moved to recycle it on twelve-string guitar for the intro of their equally epochal "I Wanna Be With You."

8. A three way tie --

The Beatles -- Tell Me What You See


The Beatles -- You Like Me Too Much


The Beatles
-- In My Life

Don't know which Beatle is playing the brilliantly simple mini-solos on the first tune but it's a perfect part, and heard in tandem with Ringo's quasi-Phil Spector drum fill, it's pretty breathtaking. Apparently that's Paul and George Martin on "You Like Me" (one of George Harrison's best early songs), and then it's all Martin on the "In My Life" solo, which (note to aspiring pianists) is actually in the key of C although the track itself is speeded up so that it plays in B flat.

7. Ben Folds Five -- Philosophy

Punk rock for sissies. I like the sound of that. Odd to think, though, that Folds may well turn out to have been the last great piano man in rock history.

6. The Moody Blues -- Go Now

This is, of course, the kickass r&b-inspired early Moodies featuring the great Denny Laine, not the Justin Hayward-led ensemble responsible for such over-ambitious albums as The Moody Blues Cure Cancer. Incidentally, the arrangement here is lifted pretty much note for note from the original version by Bessie Banks; Mike Pinder's trenchant piano solo, however, is totally his own invention.

5. Johnny Cash -- Hurt

I'm not sure who's actually playing the piano here -- the video suggests it's the Man in Black himself, although from what I can tell from the album credits it could be Benmont Tench, Roger Manning or even(!) Billy Preston -- but whoever it is, it's brilliant. In fact, that droney thing may be even cooler than John Cale's similar octaves on the Velvet's "All Tomorrow's Parties."

4. Nina Simone -- My Baby Just Cares For Me

This after-the-fact video is so hilariously apt that you can almost miss the fact that Nina's solo is as perfectly constructed as any in the entire history of jazz OR pop/rock.

3. The Rolling Stones -- Street Fighting Man

The late great Nicky Hopkins, of course. He played on just about everything good out of England or San Francisco in the mid-to-late Sixties, including the Beatles' "Revolution," the sort of spiritual flip side of this one. Which is, you'll have to admit, one hell of a hat trick.

2. Ray Charles -- What'd I Say

IIRC, this was the first time a Wurlitzer electric piano had been heard on a pop single. In any case, the sound of the thing sold this record almost as much as Ray's brilliant (and subsequently endlessly imitated) minimalist funk phrasing.

1. The Zombies -- She's Not There

There's more sheer drama and atmosphere in the ten or twenty odd seconds of Rod Argent's solo here than can be found in the entire ouevre of countless keyboard-dominated prog bands I could mention. Simply brilliant, and for this, if for no other reason, I can forgive him for "God Gave Rock and Roll To You."

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?


TJWood said...

I was hoping that "In My Life" would still be available, but no such luck. I was going to go with the Billy Preston solo in "Get Back", but Wikipedia informs me that he's using the (in this case, not that shimmering) Fender Rhodes there. That leaves me with "Sexy Sadie", with Paul playing the piano arrangement that Radiohead appropriated in part for "Karma Police" from OK Computer

It is early, but we do have to get a Procol Harum choice in there--let's go with "Conquistador", which I think comes in at just under the 4:00 mark, although there might be a better PH choice out there.

Finally, I'll go with "These Eyes" by the Guess Who. Like Rod Argent, Burton Cummings is using the Hohner Pianet on this track.

Anonymous said...

First thing that comes to mind is Steve Nieve's playing for many an Elvis Costello record, one of the best being Shipbuilding. Elvis also worked with the legendary Allen Toussaint lately, who's bound to have a few mentions.

Dude, RIP Danny Federici.

Anonymous said...

Coolest thing about "Street Fighting Man"? Brian Jones on the sticks, just for the chorus. Completely makes the track.

My two favorite piano records:

"Rag, Mama, Rag" by the Band. Long live Garth Hudson!

And it's not just the greatest piano record ever made. It's the greatest single rock and roll record of all time - "Good Golly, Miss Molly" by Little Richard. There can be no debate. Nobody has ever out-rocked this record.

dave™© said...

I see someone already beat me to Elvis and the great Steve Nieve, but I'm still gonna nominate "Man Out of Time." Just majestic!

dave™© said...

And yeah, I think in honor of Danny
Federici, I'm gonna sneak "Incident on 57th Street" in here. That's a sterling piano job from David Sancious, to be sure, but it's Federici's organ that makes that song...

danny1959 said...

"Shot with His Own Gun" by Elvis Costello? "I Don't Like Mondays" by The Boomtown Rats?

steve simels said...

I am frankly devastated about the death of Danny Federici. Wonderful, wonderful musician, who contributed to Springsteen's sound in incalculable ways. Met him a couple of times, and someday when it's appropriate I'll tell you guys a hilarious story about my first ex-wife and how, shall we say thanks to Danny, we got 8th row center seats to see Bruce at the Palladium during the "Darkness" tour.

This is very, very sad. Those guys deserve to be immortal.....

Anonymous said...

Anything by NRBQ but especially the intro to "RC Cola and a Moon Pie" with its cool descending bass line...Terry Adams is the bomb! and he's in all my "fantasy all-starr band" lineups (yes as in Ringo).

Anonymous said...

For the weekly Procol Harum entry, I nominate "Wreck of the Hesperus" from A Salty Dog...

TMink said...

Paul's piano intro to While My Guitar Gently Weeps is transcendent. He channels the One Fine Day intro in a minor key, and then the piano just disappears for the rest of the song. It is simple, but haunting.

Elton on Tiny Dancer (or was it Tony Danza?) is also spare and memorable. Your Song works that was as well. Man Elton really pulled a Rod Stewart in going from rocker to who cares in my grand playlist.

Billy Joel got it on Summer, Highland Falls.

And I completely agree re Steve Nieve, especialy the sets he did with Elvis and the piano, all killer stuff, and just about anything that Ben Folds ever did.


Wendy said...

"Baby, Let Me Bang Your Box"????? Paging Robin Byrd ...

Such sad news about Federici. There is so much wonderful keyboard work on Bruce's songs ... I can't imagine how they'll ever replace him. I can't really find anything to nominate here since most of his songs are more than 4 minutes long (damn you, Simels!) but if I could, Bittan's opening piano work on "Thunder Road" sets that song up perfectly.

Anonymous said...

Billy Joel got it on Summer, Highland Falls.
Yep. Bought a lot of forgiveness for what came after with that track.

I would've gone with Late by Ben Folds with its pitch perfect tribute to Elliot Smith.

Hmmm. I'm sure there are more. Time to shuffle the iPod and see what happens.


The Kenosha Kid said...

Lily Allen - Knock em Out - don't laugh, check it out. Apparently a Professor Longhair sample.

[Items deleted due to "four minute rule." I can't put down Backstreets, even if it is Danny Federici? You suck!]

INXS - Mystify

The Kinks - David Watts

Led Zeppelin - Fool in the Rain

How long does Piss Factory clock in at? Is that Lenny Kaye?

David Rasmussen said...

Which Randy Newman song has the best piano part? That would take me days to figure out. Rednecks era? I Love LA era? Something from Toy Story or Ragtime?
How about:God's Song?

Also, I have to nominate my favorite Ben Folds song, Boxing. The only video I found was a cover version.

John Koerner/Willie Murphy Running, Jumping, Standing Still (1969) is another favorite.

David Rasmussen said...

Max Crook (with Del Shannon) doing the number one hit on the day I was born:
Runaway. (I actually saw this live for free at the Iowa State Fair in advance of a George Thorogood grandstand show!)

I am not sure that Del Shannon has been or can be topped.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of being taken hostage to that Pennsylvania thing, I nominate:

96 Tears-? and the Mysterians

I used to deliver his mail on Bondy Dr. in Clio, Michigan, when he was transforming from Rudy Martinez.


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I second Johnny Fingers on "I don't like MOndays"

How about a shout-out for Tony Banks' intro on "Firth of Fifth"?

Noam Sane said...

That Nina Simone solo - you are so right about that. Note-perfect, beginning to end. Kills me every time.

Terry Adams' "RC Cola" intro solo came to mind immediately (that version is on the "Peek-a-Boo" set). Every solo that guy takes is a lesson in how-to. But Anon beat me to

I'll vote for Greg Phillinganes' piano break on Donald Fagen's cover of "Ruby Baby" from The Nightfly. A true thing of beauty.

MBowen said...

The Loud Family, "Still It's Own Reward", Paul Wieneke, piano - A simple nine-note descending pattern played on a tack piano doubled with a toy piano, it's a perfect little hook. Another great track from the best band of the 1990s.

Nick Lowe, "I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass", Bob Andrews, piano - Each line ends with a totally non-sequitur piano bit that works brilliantly.

Mister Pleasant said...

~*Neon Serpent*~ said...For the weekly Procol Harum entry, I nominate "Wreck of the Hesperus" from A Salty Dog...

Yes yes yes! That would be my top choice. Also missing so far is Mott the Hoople's "All The Way From Memphis".

And Elvis Costello's "Trust" and "Imperial Bedroom" albums are chock-full of great Neive piano parts, some of which have already been mentioned here.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

To be honest the first piano I heard in my noggin upon reading this Listomania was the intro to Steve Earle’s “Goodbye’s All We Got Left to Say.” The piano in Earle’s songs often tends to function like another rhythm guitar, which can be pretty understated but pretty cool. And here’s a link to I Ain’t Ever Satisfied, which comes in at a sweet 03:58.

B Northcut said...

too many to narrow down plus I'm so late who cares but some that haven't been mentioned:

Joe Jackson - Steppin' Out

Aretha Franklin- Say a Little Prayer

Carole King- anything off tapestry- I feel the Earth Move is an easy one

Joni Mitchell- Blue, A Case of You, River, etc

Rickie Lee Jones- Living it Up, We Belong Together, to name but two off of Pirates (a fucking amazing album)

At the risk of getting laughed off the board, Carly Simon's earlier stuff (not just the album covers!)

steve simels said...

MBowen said...

Nick Lowe, "I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass", Bob Andrews, piano - Each line ends with a totally non-sequitur piano bit that works brilliantly.

I can't believe I forgot that.

Astoundingly brilliant -- abstract salsa piano, which I don't think anybody else ever did. Andrews is one of the greats..remind me to link to the post I did about him and Garth Hudson last year. A hilarious and still rather sad story....

steve simels said...

And yes -- Johnny Fingers on "I Don't Like Mondays."

TMink said...

Virgo, you are SO right about early Carly, I still enjoy those records quite a lot.


Anonymous said...

What? No Ian McLagan? Take anything he did on "Nod's As Good As a Wink." If you don't love his electric piano sound like you love a devoted canine, then you really need to look deeply within.

As for Phantom Dan, words cannot express...

RJ Eskow said...

That piano solo on "In My Life" isn't a Beatle. It's George Martin.

Well, OK, so it's SORT OF a Beatle.

steve simels said...

marktrude said...
What? No Ian McLagan?

Uh...good point. "Tin Soldier" might just be the coolest electric piano stuff ever.

Oh, and it's a mark of how out of fashion he is critically that I didn't even think of Leon Russell on Dylan's "Watching the River Flow,'" which is just flat out astounding.

Feral said...

I'm a week late - so sue me.

Piano intro to Jeff Beck's cover of "I'm Going Down" (Bob Tench I believe)

Piano intro to Long John Baldry's "Don't Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie..."

I love the counterpoint piano bits in The Clash's "Rock the Casbah"

The piano intro to Genesis' "Lamb Lies Down on Broadway"

Any of the inimitable stylings of Dr. John.

I could go on for hours...

Anonymous said...