Piano rock

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Piano rock is a style of rock music which features the piano, with the latter typically replacing rhythm guitar as the lead instrument, as opposed to majority of rock subgenres.[1]


Various American rock and roll performers had, as early as the 1950s, started prominently featuring the piano in their musical output.[2][3] One of the earliest references to this term include Jerry Lee Lewis' 1957 rockabilly number "Pumpin' Piano Rock"[4] Notable of the present day critics to have used the term; is Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic; while describing soft rocker Elton John's "sensitive" musical output. [5] Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone also applied the term to refer to Coldplay's musical style vis-à-vis The Fray's then-new album Scars and Stories, the latter being the subject of his review.[6]

The term consists of the name of the dominant instrument, i.e. "piano", along with the tag associated with the music in which it is featured, i.e. "rock". This same nomenclature is not uncommon throughout the history of rock music. For instance, in the 1960s when various rock acts began to use ragas in the rock context, "raga rock" was conceived. In the same vein, when the use of synthesisers became considerably popular in rock music, "synth rock" originated.[7]

As so, it was only feasible that the rock subgenre in which the piano features more prominently than any other instrument involved possesses the tag "piano rock".


Over the years, numerous rock musicians have approached the prominent inclusion of the piano into rock music in various ways. Earlier on in the mid-20th century, in the early stages of rock and roll, performers such as Little Richard showcased a frantically charged piano-pounding style[8] on numbers such as "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally". In the same vein, many of the latter's contemporaries including the likes of Dr John[9] and Bob Baldori[10] - emulated his charisma while performing piano-oriented three chord rock and roll.

As years went by, in the early 1970s, English singer-songwriter Elton John introduced a somewhat new kind of earnest meditative rock characterised by an elegant church-influenced piano playing style.[11] The likes of Billy Joel continued after the same pattern and fielded hit singles including "Piano Man" that went on to peak at No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the month of April 1974.[12]

Gradually in the 1980s, with the invention of synthesizers, the latter became more widely incorporated into the popular rock music of the day as compared the piano. This period saw musicians such as progressive rock maestro Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer),[13][14] along with other musicians in this subgenre[15] produce heavily layered synthetic keyboard-infested music, unlike the earlier stripped-down piano rock.

With the decline of Britpop in the late '90s,[16][17] many post-Britpop bands most notably Coldplay resorted to melodic indie-influenced anthem rock[18][19] and in so-doing they unconventionally incorporated sonically softer musical instruments such as the piano (or the organ in some cases[20][21]) as opposed to the grungy guitar as the rhythm instrument. This new brand of soft rock became increasingly popular for its grandness and anthemic nature.

The latter trend is also presently prevalent among piano rock acts, with the exception of a few bands inclusive of October Fall—a piano-driven pop punk fit.[22] Other musical variations among artists in this rock subgenre are dependent on their individual artistic palettes, with the prominent use of the piano as the lead instrument being the universal factor.



Prior to the distinct classification of piano-fueled rock, there existed a number of artists who had been at its forefront for a while, including Little Richard,[23][24] Jerry Lee Lewis,[25][26] Elton John,[27] and Fats Domino.[28]

As a distinct rock genre (mid-'90s onwards)[edit]

With the influx of numerous piano-driven acts onto the rock scene, such as Coldplay in 1996[29] and Keane in 1997,[30] it became increasingly necessary to classify this type of music—as had always been the case for most divergent musical trends in popular culture.[31]

Mainstream success[edit]

Various piano rock bands, mostly from the UK, experienced exceptional commercial success from the late '90s to the mid-2000s—with Coldplay[32] leading the way. With their first two albums Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head, they treated their then newly acquired global fan base to piano-oriented hit singles such as "Trouble",[33] "The Scientist" and "Clocks".[34] Consequently, both albums were commercially successful and went on to attain a multi-platinum status in the United States and in several countries allover Europe.[35] Other bands that capitalized on this trend style include fellow British rockers Keane, who have, since their debut album Hopes and Fears, been famously known as "the band without guitars".[36] With their eccentric piano-driven delivery, they have sold over 10 million albums to-date.[37] In America, Denver quartet The Fray were the more successful lot, with three of their four albums debuting in the top twenty of Billboard top 200.[38] Other American rock bands that fared commercially well in this subgenre include Jack's Mannequin, Something Corporate,[39] and October Fall.

Notable artists[edit]


See also[edit]


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  39. ^ "About Something Corporate". mtv.com. MTV. Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
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  41. ^ "The Ultimate Tribute to the Great Artists of Piano Rock". kingsof88.com. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  42. ^ "Top Artists tagged as 'piano rock'". Last.fm. Retrieved 21 November 2015.