10 Best Piano Songs
Our countdown of the 10 best piano songs recognizes that while guitars and drums often get all the glory in pop music, it’s the power of a well-written piano riff that can truly make a song great.
Singles like Coldplay‘s ‘Clocks,’ Alicia Keys‘ ‘Fallin” and Vanessa Carlton’s ‘A Thousand Miles’ are known for their piano work, and they aren’t the only ones. Artists like John Legend, Lady Gaga, Adele and Ben Folds have also given the baby grands of the world a place to call home.
Have a listen to what we think are some of the best piano songs in pop music, and we think you’ll agree that the classical instrument is sometimes best used on a modern concert stage instead.
'Waiting Outside the Lines'
You probably heard Greyson Chance's cover of Lady Gaga's 'Paparazzi' when video of the 13-year-old piano prodigy singing it at a school music festival went viral on YouTube in 2010. His debut studio single, 'Waiting Outside the Lines,' shows the kid doing what he does best: tickling the ivories while singing in pitch-perfect tune.
'How to Save a Life'
'How to Save a Life' was the title track from the Fray's debut album and a huge hit, spending 58 consecutive weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. The Fray's frontman Isaac Slade, who wrote the dark piano-driven song, said it was inspired by his experiences working as a mentor at a camp for troubled teens.
The story behind this bouncy top piano song, Sara Bareilles' first single, 'Love Song,' is a pretty simple one: her record label asked her to write a "marketable love song." And marketable it was -- the 2009 track went to No. 1 on two U.S. charts and was nominated for Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Lady Gaga says her reasons for writing 'Speechless' were twofold -- first, to convince her father to undergo necessary open-heart surgery, and second, to remind her young fans to appreciate their parents. This ballad, which comes in at No. 7 on our Top 10 Piano Songs, didn't climb the charts as many of her others have, but it's become a staple in her live shows.
Ben Folds co-wrote 'Brick' about his high school girlfriend undergoing an abortion, but in interviews he's been quick to say he's not taking a political stance -- simply explaining what the experience felt like for him. Regardless of the sad subject matter, listeners around the world loved this melancholy yet beautiful piano song.
'A Thousand Miles'
Listening to the upbeat tempo of Vanessa Carlton's signature piano song, 'A Thousand Miles,' you'd probably never know it was penned about the loss of her grandfather. But that's okay -- it wasn't meant to be literal, she said, but just inspired by "a love that so consumes you that you'd do anything for it."
Critics praised 'Ordinary People' for its raw emotion and simplicity, and Grammy voters rewarded John Legend with their 2006 award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. The piano man said the song is about the compromise required in relationships -- and that even then, there's no guarantee things will always work out.
Unless you've been in a coma for the past couple years, you know the songs on Adele's smash album '21' were about the break-up of a relationship -- and 'Turning Tables' was no exception. It isn't the most popular track from '21,' but the ballad, which comes in at No. 3 on our Top Piano Songs list, still went gold and cracked the Top 100 after Gwyneth Paltrow performed it on 'Glee.'
Even those of us who aren't Coldplay fans will begrudgingly admit that 'Clocks' is a great track. The lyrics are cryptic and don't make much sense, but never mind that -- it's the piano melody that shines. 'Clocks' won the 2004 Grammy for Record of the Year, and the intro riff is still so beloved that it's been sampled in scores of other songs.
'Fallin',' released in 2001, was Alicia Keys' first No. 1 single, and what a splash it made -- it picked up three Grammys and later nabbed spots on several lists ranking the best songs of the decade. The theme is pretty universal -- the ups and downs of a relationship -- with Keys saying, "Sometimes you're completely head-over-heels in love with someone, and sometimes you can't stand that person." It's for these reasons and so many more that 'Fallin'' tops our list of best piano songs.