As a pop pianist and singer, I often get asked for listening lists. There is so much great music out there that it can be hard to know where to start. This article was requested by a bunch of my followers, so here are what I consider to be the 10 Best Pop Piano Songs of all time.
I would much rather write an article on the 100 best pop piano songs of all time, as I have AT LEAST that many, but this was a good start. Wherever possible, I tried to source live performances that you might not have seen before.
I also limited my selections to songs that feature the acoustic piano, rather than electronic keyboards or Fender Rhodes. There are some amazing pop piano performances here! Let's get started...
Elton John - Tiny Dancer
As a piano bar performer, this was one of my most requested songs of all time. I usually played it at least 2-3 times every single night. Tiny Dancer is a classic song written by Elton John with lyrics by his lifelong collaborator Bernie Taupin.
One of the best portrays of this song was in the movie Almost Famous, where everyone in the tour bus joins together and sings it. In the hundreds of times I have performed this song in piano bars, I have yet to play it without someone singing along!
Billy Joel - Vienna
I find it almost impossible to pick a favorite song by Billy Joel. I bounced around between She's Only a Woman, Pianoman and the song And So It Goes. Vienna stands out to me because of the structure of chords he uses. They are almost classical sounding, and even though his piano performance is relatively simple, there is so much richness to his performance.
Let it Be - The Beatles
Let it Be by the Beatles is one of the first songs I teach all of my piano students how to play. The chords are very simple, but the message is extremely profound. I have played this song hundreds (maybe thousands) of times and I can never tire of it. Here, Paul McCartney plays beautiful pop piano accompaniments with the band backing him up. Pure magic!
Carole King - I Feel the Earth Move
I Feel the Earth Move was first featured on Carole King's iconic Tapestry album. I find this song to be such a magical piece of the early 1970s - a representation of that time in the Women's Liberation movement AND that funky, acoustic sound of the times.
Every song on the Tapestry album is amazing, but this one really stands out as a piano feature. Check out this live performance that King does for the BBC. She plays totally solo and show us that she doesn't even NEED the band.
Simon and Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water
Bridge Over Troubled water by Simon and Garfunkel has a piano treatment that sounds like a hymn. It almost sounds like it was written in another time - not in 1970 when it was released.
This performance is part of the 2009 concerts that Simon and Garfunkel did at Madison Square Garden. After years of not getting along, they managed to pull it together to perform this incredible work.
Marc Cohn - Walking in Memphis
If you have never hear Marc Cohn before, this is a great way to listen to him. Walking in Memphis has such an iconic piano accompaniment, that many of us Piano Bar performers have played night after night. The song takes us on a trip to Memphis to follow the ghost of Elvis Presley to his old haunts. (pun intended)
I Can't Make You Love Me - Bonnie Raitt
I Can't Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt is one of the most iconic pop piano recordings of all time. In my opinion, this song is the perfect picture of what is available in pop piano accompaniment. What many people don't realize is that this piano part was recorded by solo artist and pop pianist extraordinaire Bruce Hornsby. I was excited to find this live performance of Raitt with Hornsby.
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Bruce Hornsby - The Way It Is
Speaking of Bruce Hornsby, I would be remiss if I left out this masterpiece of pop piano. The Way It Is was released on his 1986 album by the same name.
This song is not only an incredible showcase of pop piano stylings, but is also an anthem to the need for poverty awareness and Civil Rights.
Hornsby has had an incredible career winning the Best New Artist Grammy and even touring with the Grateful Dead for over 100 shows.
Billy Preston - Nothing from Nothing
When I think of Billy Preston, I think of pure joy! Preston was a pianist wunderkind who has the unique distinction of being one only two non-Beatle musicians (along with Tony Sheridan) to be given a credit on a Beatles recording at the band's request.
He was a top session musician with everyone from the Everly Brothers to The Rolling Stones and had an amazing solo career in his own right. This performance makes me smile from ear and features THREE different keyboard instruments.
**While he plays electronic keyboard in this version, on the original recording he plays acoustic piano, which is why I included it in this list.**
REM - Nightswimming
Nightswimming by REM features one of the most iconic piano accompaniments. Recorded on their 1992 Automatic for the People album, it is a longform circle that continues to repeat while Michael Stipe sings his story over it.
The melancholy of this song and the fact that it features acoustic with very slight interjections from the orchestra meant that I had to include it on this list.
Natural Woman - Aretha Franklin
No list of pop piano songs would be complete without a performance by Aretha Franklin. Many people don't realize that in addition to being one of the greatest singers of all time, she was also an extremely accomplished pianist. Throughout her entire career she played piano in concert and on recordings - I often think of her as I do Ray Charles: a true pianist who was also an outstanding singer.
I was so happy to find this recording, which was part of the concert for Carole King who was winning the Presidential Medal of Honor. As soon as she starts to sing, King bursts into tears and you can see President Barack Obama also openly crying. Pure magic.
Which pop pianist should I include on my next list? Who is your favorite?
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