These Iconic Keyboard Riffs Turn 50 in 2021

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Image credit: Oleg Kuzmin/Unsplash

Elton John, Carole King, Marvin Gaye and other musical legends started bringing pianos, organs and synthesizers front and center in 1971.

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Keyboard and guitars share an interesting spot in the modern band in that both play rhythm and lead, sometimes at the same time.

Check out these riffs that put keyboards front and center and still resonate with music fans today.

Art Rock

Art Rock was known for sounds featuring a wide array of keyboards, and musician Rick Wakeman was responsible for many of these sounds. He worked with guitarist Steve Howe to release two albums in 1971 and also collaborated with David Bowie.

Earl Van Dyke

He was the lead keyboardist for Motown Record session musicians The Funk Brothers during the ‘60s and ‘70s, and he played keyboards on Marvin Gaye’s 1971 album “What’s Going On.”

Billy Preston

A gifted singer, he was also known for his keyboard work. In 1971, he released “Outa-Space,” a chart-topping radio hit. His sound would evolve, inspiring other keyboardists into the late ‘70s.

Cat Stevens

British artist Cat Stevens released “Morning Has Broken,” adding in a touch of flair on the keyboard inspired by guitar sounds.

David Bowie

The iconic singer released his fourth album “Hunky Dory” in 1971, featuring lots of keyboard on tracks like “Life on Mars?” and “Changes.” 

The Doors

In 1971, The Doors released their sixth album, “LA Woman,” which included the hit “Riders on the Storm.” It was the final album to feature singer Jim Morrison before his death on July 3, 1971.

The Beatles Going Solo

After the Beatles broke up, the band members embarked on solo careers. John Lennon released his “Imagine” album in 1971, a year after Paul McCartney announced the band’s breakup.

Elton John

1971 saw Elton John release a soundtrack to the movie “Friends,” a live album “11-17-70,” and at the end of the year “Mad Man Across the Water.”

Carole King

As a solo artist, Carole King was known for her second album, “Tapestry,” which featured the track “You’ve Got A Friend.” The veteran writer also composed another version of “You’ve Got A Friend” for James Taylor.

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Rob Reinhart, Host, Rob Reinhart’s Essential Music and Acoustic Cafe

Rob Reinhart is host of WDET’s “Essential Music,” “CultureShift” and the syndicated program “Acoustic Cafe,” heard on 125 stations around the country, and stations from Greece to New Zealand. He’s voted in 10 presidential elections: 4 wins, 6 losses.

rreinhart@wdet.org Follow @RobReinhart

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