Friday, November 08, 2013

Weekend Listomania's Greatest Hits: Special Baby Let Me Bang Your Box! Edition

So the other day, somebody who I won't mention -- but whose initials are Shady Dame -- wondered if I was going to put up a new Weekend Listomania ever again.

I had no cogent answer for her, but I thought it might be fun to post this one -- from April of 2008 -- and see what the responses would be. I've personally changed my mind on one or two of the entries, so we'll see what you guys think after all this time.

In any case...go to it, if you don't mind going to it. -- S.S.


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?


watertiger said...

What? No Billy Preston?!

Anonymous said...

Hello, please remain seated,

Very fun stuff...okay, just a few off the top of my head:

Loving Cup - Stones...what an intro, huh? Thank you, Mr. Hopkins.

Racing in the Street - Springsteen - the professor at his best (imo)

I Want You to Want Me - Holmes Brothers - recently featured on Burnin' Wood blog

One Love...Bob Marley...simple, elementary...incredibly effective.



Anonymous said...

thanks for What'd I Say but where's Mess Around by Ray?
Where's Superstition by Stevie Wonder?

Sal Nunziato said...

"Oh You Pretty Things"-played by Rick Wakeman on Bowie's "Hunky Dory."

"Lady Stardust"- played by Mick Ronson on Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust."

Maybe not the best examples of "piano-driven," but man those two intros alone have stayed with me since day one.

Shriner said...

The opening to "Saturday In The Park" by Chicago always gets my air-keyboard hands a-movin'

Brooklyn Girl said...

Steve Winwood's riff on "Feelin' Alright" --- completely hooky.

Roy Bittan's opening on "Thunder Road" ---provides a beautiful counterpoint to Bruce's singing.

And people here may think Billy Joel is just too pop, but the man can play --- "Only The Good Die Young", "Allentown", "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" --- some of the best riffs ever written.

steves said...

No fair!
You rigged this contest so "Bridge Over Troubled Water" couldn't win.

Dave said...

Easy one for me -- Aretha Franklin's piano intro and throughout the track on "You Send Me." I'm trying to think of another song besides "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" that ever had two such spectacular versions.

cthulhu said...

Just warning you, I'm gonna bend the 4-minute rule a little bit here...

Warren Zevon's incredible lead piano on The French Inhaler - hilariously sly, and what chops! Hell, you could fill the whole category with Zevon: Frank and Jesse James, Roland, Accidentally Like a Martyr...

Two of Nicky Hopkins' finest on one disc: Getting in Tune and the soaring work on Song is Over; the bit leading into the final verse is still spine-tingling over forty years later.

Steve Winwood's solo on on Empty Pages; might be a Rhodes, but if so, it's a very restrained Rhodes sound - but the solo swings like a mofo regardless. Unfortunately the no-organ rule prevents me from mentioning the jaw-dropping B3 solo on Every Mother's Son; maybe next week?

Aimee Mann's Medicine Wheel; great dynamics, terrifically poignant song.

The acoustic and electric piano parts on the moving Dreams from Joe Walsh; one of my favorite (and atypical) Walsh songs ever.

Anonymous said...

Ignoring your four-minute rule, the "Best Piano Part On A Post-Elvis Pop/Rock Record" for me is this:

Phil Cheese said...

I like a lot of other Sir Paul piano too such as Let It Be, Lady Madonna, Long And Winding Road, and Maybe I'm Amazed.

Jeff in Denton TX said...

This artist is pre-Elvis, but the song isn't:

Anonymous said...

I don't know if these are necessarily the Best Piano Parts etc, but they are ones that I find very enjoyable after many listens. Like a previous poster, I'm bending the four-minute rule a bit:
1) David Sancious on Bruce Springsteen's "It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City: Sancious has amazing technique and feel and I especially love his playing on the instrumental fade-out on this song.
2) Nils Lofgren on Neil Young's "Tired Eyes": Lofgren is a talented and versatile guitar player but I think he has even more personality on piano. Again, amazing feel - his lovely, barrelhouse-inspired playing in the background of this song add a
near-prettiness to Young's grim, stream-of-consciousness tale of dope murder, from the TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT album.
3) Brian Jackson on Gil Scott-Heron's "Lady Day & John Coltrane".
From Gil's early 70s masterpiece PIECES OF A MAN, this tribute to jazz giants Coltrane & Billie Holiday not only boasts a propulsive drum track from session ace Bernard Purdie but also a funky-yet-sensitive electric piano solo from Gil's collaborator Jackson. And if it actually was played on a Fender Rhodes, I don't give a shit.
4)Burton Cummings on the Guess Who's "Bus Rider": Burton doesn't play a solo on this track, but I like what he plays the couple of times the piano answers the lead guitar work, and I like his general rhythmic feel here.
5)Elton John on "The Ballad of Danny Bailey": From what is arguably his best album, 1973's GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD - Elton's piano solo near the end of the track is simple and repetitive, but it sticks in my head - in a weird way, it's sort of the keyboard equivalent of Jimmy Page's guitar solo on Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop".
(The orchestral arrangement on this song, by Del Newman, is gorgeous).
By the way, Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" wouldn't qualify for this list since the lead instrument on it IS a (super-funky) clavinet, not a piano.
J. Lag

wardo said...

I'd like to swap "Street Fighting Man" for "Monkey Man". Also, John Paul Jones' solo on Led Zeppelin's "Somethin' Else" (BBC session) is pretty funny. While we're at it, the original "Nut Rocker" by B. Bumble and the Stingers.

Steve S. said...

I've long had a soft spot for the piano intro on the Madness song "Disappear."

Anonymous said...

Three more for the piano list:
1) CHUCK BERRY- Nadine.
IMHO, this is, for several reasons, one of the coolest-sounding rock-n-roll records ever made and one of the reasons is the rhythm piano work (and what rhythm!), which I assume is by long-time Berry accompanist Johnnie Johnston. I like the way he's busier on the second and fourth verses and more laid-back on the third.

2) STEELY DAN- Fire In The Hole.
From their first album "CAN'T BUY A THRILL" (1972), this track features sprightly and (as one would expect) well-thought-out piano work by Donald Fagen.

3) NRBQ- Magnet
You could probably do a whole Top Ten on the great parts Terry Adams has played, on various keyboards, on NRBQ records over the years. I like this one because it has some of their trademark loopy, playful charm and, as with many of their tracks, showcases their ability to sound loose and tight at the same time. I prefer the remixed version on Rhino's (now sadly deleted) two-CD anthology.
J. Lag

buzzbabyjesus said...

I agree with many of the selections already mentioned. I nominate Ian McLagan's terrific playing on The Faces best song, "Too Bad".

Feral said...

Gotta throw this out there, one of my fav piano intros is from the title cut of "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway". Tried for years to replicate it without success until I finally saw a video clip of it being played live. Once I saw Tony Bank's crossed hands technique I realized how it was done and worked it out.

John Fowler said...

Late Late to this Listomania - which I'm pleased to see back, BTW - but I must suggest

The Replacements - Androgynous off of Let It Be, of course.

The swingy, rough piano throughout is the perfect accompaniment to Paul's voice on this - 'Tomorrow who's gonna fuss?'