Top 5 Songs for Piano - Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers, The Band, Elton John, Clapton's Derek & the Dominos
Why is it that the 5 songs I most enjoy playing on piano were written in that brief period between 1970-1974?
The best songs, like these my favorites, touch a nerve and transport us to a deeply felt, musical emotion.
Wistful, searching, reflective. Resigned, aching, accepting. Worn but wiser, seizing life’s sorrow and joy. These are my top five.
Written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon
Performed by Derek & the Dominos (Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Duane Allman)
An achingly beautiful tale of regret and hope, Clapton’s haunted masterpiece was written as he realized he’d fallen in love with his best friend’s wife. From Duane Allman’s scorching intro and slide guitar, to Clapton’s desperate vocals and Jim Gordon’s heartfelt piano solo, this one gets me every time.
1971: Moonlight Mile
Written by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Performed by the Rolling Stones
Written in 1971 when the Stones were still stretching to new creative peaks, Mick Jagger's evocative lyrics take us inside the somber existence of life beyond the stage. Lead guitarist Mick Taylor, taking a song sketch started by Keith Richards, turns the song and his own virtuoso performance into an unforgettable six minutes captured on vinyl.
The sound of strangers sending nothing to my mind.
Just another mad, mad day on the road.
I am just living to be lying by your side.
But I’m just about a moonlight mile on down the road…
Oh I am sleeping under strange, strange skies.
Just another mad, mad day on the road.
My dreams are fading down the railway line.
I’m just about a moonlight mile down the road.
1972: Little Martha
Written by Duane Allman
Performed by the Allman Brothers Band
While living in Macon, Georgia in the early 1970’s, the Allman Brothers often frequented the local cemetery, imagining the lives and stories behind the names etched on ancient tombstones. Duane wrote this instrumental song for a 12 year old girl, Martha Ellis, whose tombstone he came across at Rose Hill Cemetery. Wistful, free, and joyful, it resonates even more knowing that Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident two weeks after recording Little Martha, at the age of 24.
1973: Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Written by Elton John & Bernie Taupin
Performed by Elton John & his band (Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson, Davey Johnstone, David Hentschel)
Back when Elton John was still new to his success he put out the double album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, in 1973. Double albums were a bit of a risk, as they cost more than most kids’ allowance and required a substantially larger body of quality work to fill. At 11:07 in length, Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding took the listener to new heights and remains Elton John’s masterpiece.
Swirling gusts of wind and a deep, majestic church organ solemnly lay down the opening bars, music for a friend lost. Elton’s piano comes in and takes us on the complicated journey of both celebrating a life and letting it go.
Funeral for a Friend segues into the defiant Love Lies Bleeding, where Elton picks up the pace and dares his ex-love to move past their unhappy ending: "It doesn’t seem a year ago from this very day, you said ‘I’m sorry,honey, if I don’t change the pace; I can’t face another day'. And love lies bleeding in my hand. Oh it kills me to think of you with another man…You’re a bluebird on a telegraph line; I hope you’re happy now.” On the solo, the catchy riff pulls back from the edge just before careening over the precipice.
1974: Endless Highway
Written by Robbie Robertson
Performed by the Band (Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson & Garth Hudson)
After being plucked, in 1960, from a series of local Toronto bands at the age of 15, Robbie Robertson, with the other young members soon to follow, joined Ronnie Hawkins’ group The Hawks which became Canada’s best, most electrifying bar band. Commuting between Arkansas & Toronto in Ronnie Hawkins’ white Cadillac convertible, The Hawks worked incessently.
Bob Dylan recruited the seasoned group to back him on his 1965/66 world tour as he morphed from folk troubadour with Blowin’ in the Wind, to electric warrior. Facing angry crowds, interested only in their acoustic hero, Dylan & The Band, as they became known, faced boos from the crowds each night as they toured the US, Europe and beyond, nailing masterpieces such as 'Like a Rolling Stone'.
Returning to the US exhausted, Bob summoned the Band to upstate NY for laid back basement jam sessions while he recuperated from a motorcycle injury. The Band emerged with their first album, “Music from Big Pink”, in 1968 featuring their hit The Weight, and their second album, the masterpiece, “The Band” in 1970. By 1974, after fourteen years on the road, the disenchanted, world-weary Robbie Robertson wrote Endless Highway.
Although the version released in 1974 on the live album "Before the Flood" plays at a moderate beat, the lyrics hint at the somber crossroads Robbie was fast approaching, looking into his past and staring down an uncertain future.
Take a silver dollar, put it in your pocket. Never let it slip away. Always be a man, not a boy gone astray…
I sing by night, wander by day. I’m on the road & it looks like I’m here to stay.
You’re gonna walk that endless highway. Walk that highway ‘til you die.
All you children going my way, better tell your home life sweet, sweet goodbye.
Robbie Robertson left the Band in 1976, leaving it fractured, never to return.
Live version of Endless Highway featuring Rick Danko on vocals
Early version of Endless Highway with Richard Manuel on vocals
While my playing’s not much compared to these artists, I enjoy indulging my creativity, playing these five at home. Melody-driven pieces work best on piano; a melodic track like "Little Martha", released with only guitar parts laid down, still translates well to piano. Other great songs, like Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" or Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Crossfire", are just better suited for the guitar.
Either way, I’ll take these five songs from the 1970s anytime, with or without my piano.
Which of these 5 songs do you like the most?See results without voting
Here's where you can purchase these songs & albums
Eric Clapton/Derek & the Dominos
Allman Brothers Band, includes Little Martha
Bob Dylan & the Band, includes Endless Highway
Allman Brothers Band
Rolling Stones, includes Moonlight Mile
Here's where you can find sheet music and song books
Note: this is for guitar, not piano
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