The greatest '80s and '90s keyboard players revealed

(Image credit: Michael Putland / Getty)

We recently began our epic GOAT Hunt: the search to put together a fantasy band line-up made up entirely of the players who are considered the Greatest of All Time. 

Having found your top pre-'80s keyboard maestro, we moved on to the next era and asked you to vote for the greatest player of the '80s and '90s.

This was the era when synths broke into the mainstream, as a new generation of musicians got their hands on them, and electronic pop took over the charts.

You could argue that keyboard proficiency took a back seat to programming skills and the ability to write a hook, but there was still room for the virtuosos to flex their fingers.

Here's your top 10, but that's not the end of it, as the top five keyboard players from each era will eventually face-off to vie for the honour of being included in our final GOAT line-up.

We're getting ahead of ourselves, though - let's get down to the business at hand and reveal the greatest '80s and '90s keyboard players, as voted for by you.

1. Vangelis

Given that you lot recently voted the CS-80 synth sound from the main Blade Runner title theme as the greatest of all time, it's probably no surprise that the man who created it has come in at number one here. Vangelis bestrode the '80s synth scene like a Greek colossus, and it's hard to argue with his victory.

2. Greg Phillinganes

If you wanted a top session keyboard player in the '80s, your first call was always to Greg Phillinganes. He worked with Michael Jackson and The Jacksons for three decades - both live and in the studio - along with countless other soul, pop and rock artists. He's still at it today, lending his finger skills to John Mayer on recent '80s-tinged single Last Train Home.

3. Mark Kelly

Mark Kelly took a chance when he joined Marillion back in 1981. After all, progressive rock wasn't just dead, it had been mercilessly executed by punk rock and its corpse set ablaze by the music press. Kelly stuck to his guns and his Minimoog solos, though, and the band actually grew their audience throughout the decade.

4. Vince Clarke

You certainly wouldn't call Vince Clarke a showman, but there's nothing wrong with letting the music speak for itself. And speak it most certainly has; Clarke's countless hits - with Depeche Mode and Yazoo through The Assembly and onto Erasure - are part of pop music history.

5. Nick Rhodes

Few of the players on this list can also claim to be pop heartthrobs, but Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes most certainly can. This isn't to belittle his supreme hitmaking abilities, though, and he's also a true lover of analogue synth gear. "My three Jupiters and my Moog have been on almost every album," he told MusicRadar earlier this year, "and I still like to play my keyboard parts by hand."

6. Jan Hammer

Even if Jan Hammer had done nothing other than compose the theme to TV's Miami Vice, his place in synth history would be assured, but that's just one of his many achievements. There have been plenty of other soundtracks, too, not to mention collaborations with rock royalty such as Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger and Carlos Santana.

7. Howard Jones

Another '80s synth hero who was also a bonafide pop star, Hojo had hits on both side of the pond with the likes of What Is Love?, New Song and Things Can Only Get Better. In fact, he was big enough to get a spot on the bill at Live Aid in 1985, and was also involved in the legendary synth medley at the 1985 Grammy Awards

8. David Paich

Not only the keyboard player in Toto - with whom he wrote the likes of Rosanna, Hold The Line and Africa - Paich has also had a huge career as a session player with the likes of Michael Jackson, Don Henley, Steely Dan, Elton John, Cher, Aretha Franklin, The Bee Gees and Neil Diamond. That's quite a CV.

9. Thomas Dolby

If you were a synth fan seeking a 'proper' musician in the '80s, you probably gravitated towards Thomas Dolby. His groundbreaking 1982 LP The Golden Age of Wireless pushed him to the forefront of electronic music, and he continues to be fascinated by all things tech. And yes, he was named after the noise-reduction process. 

10. Martin Gore

Gore taught himself to play the keyboards in the '70s, and enjoyed a musical diet of Kraftwerk, The Human League and OMD. Little wonder, then, that he would go on to become a synth lover, and the main songwriter in Depeche Mode, who've sold more than 100 million records.


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