When we went up north with Lorraine and Pascale we popped into an HMV and amongst the albums I came out with was Soul Mining by The The. My first ever The The album. What took me so long? Sitting outside with a drink later on Pascale filled me in a little on The The and mentioned the song ‘Uncertain Smile’ and said he wouldn’t spoil it but it was a rather good experience and meant a lot to him. I’m never a good one for going with other people’s music recommendations but in the gym I tried it anyway. It glides away very nicely for the first half and then, quite unexpectedly, a piano comes in and just blows your socks off. There’s about 3 minutes of ridiculous ivory tinkling and then the song fades away. And I played it twice more and by golly gosh Pascale – you were spot on. Thank you. I didn’t even mind that it was played by Jools Holland; in fact if anything he’s shot up in my estimation. I hope he’ll not let that go to his head.
So in celebration of all things keyboardy here are 10 more random golden moments when a piano or something remarkably similar has lit up a song. Shall we say in the last 50 years. These are not in order of preference, otherwise Abba would be somewhere else.
- Abba, Chiquitita (one of their albums and doubtless ABBA bloody Gold too). My favourite ABBA song (don’t tell me you haven’t got one too) and it’s almost all because of the piano and that lovely oompa-loompa chorus. The last 30 seconds or so are very special.
- John Cale, Dying On The Vine (Fragments From A Rainy Season). John Cale is apparently a classically trained pianist so it’s little wonder he knows what he’s doing here. In this live version he somehow sounds like 3 people playing at once and also keeps a perfect balance between delicacy and sheer brute force. Not many can do this. Cale can.
- Johnny Cash, When The Man Comes Around (American IV). The opening track from the last album he released before he died. It’s a truly awesome song and the death ring that underlines the chorus is an inspired touch. Nothing fancy (not that I could do it) but it really gets into you.
- Allen Toussaint, Cast Your Fate To The Wind (What Is Success compilation). Toussaint was a class act and got around a fair bit since he did the whole New Orleans piano man better than pretty much anyone else. In keeping with that this song is also a class act. It plays over the end credits of The Wolf Of Wall Street and is also a reminder than when it comes to soundtracks Martin Scorsese really knows his stuff.
- Van Morrison, Come Running (It’s Too Late To Stop Now Volumes II, III & IV). Nothing earth shattering but a charming example of just what a piano can bring to a song. If you’re not hooked within 2 seconds then you don’t deserve to have music in your life.
- Tobias Jesso Jr, Without You (Goon). Included to represent the piano ballad, in this case of the heartbreak variety. He sounds a bit like Lennon on this but you can’t have it all. A great song and I would bet you haven’t heard it. He went on to co-write the only world class song on Adele’s ’25’. No idea what he’s up to now though.
- The Zombies, Care Of Cell 44 (Odessey And Oracle). Straight out of the blocks and a little bit wonky but it underpins the whole glorious song. Even though it’s about a girlfriend in prison it should put a smile on your face.
- Nina Simone, Com’ by H’Yere-Good Lord (It Is Finished). You don’t have to believe in God, you just have to believe in Nina Simone. Her descending piano number locks in with a jaunty guitar and she takes this lovely gospel thing of hers onto a higher level than any God could reach. Praise be, etc.
- Steely Dan, Your Gold Teeth (Countdown To Ecstasy). Smooth, nice, genius. Not the best known of their songs but brilliant anyway. What music critics might call a ‘deep cut’. A keyboard rather than a piano but it doesn’t matter; it drives along seamlessly and the solo is Donald Fagen at his snide, hipster best, only before hipsters were synonymous with being a tosser.
- The Rolling Stones, Sister Morphine (Sticky Fingers). With the exceptions of Brian Jones and Ian Stewart the Stones never really could play the piano but they weren’t so proud that they couldn’t draft in some cracking session men to fill the space. Nicky Hopkins is the man to go to but his contributions are almost all so sublime that I can’t single one out, so here’s Jack Nitzche conjuring up a piano from a few hundred feet below hell. He doesn’t come in until half way but when he does it adds a scary underbelly to an already bible-black song and locks in with the rest. This is one of those songs that, despite really being written by Marianne Faithful, only the Stones could ever give justice to. Masterful. And somehow a bit funky too.
G B Hewitt. 30.08.2018