Since its discovery in the 1970s, the keytar has found itself draped around the necks of some of the biggest musical superstars to have walked the earth. Prince. Gaga. Wonder. Jarre. Rundgren. Jones (Howard). I. Am. (Will)...
And “walking the earth” is absolutely not an issue when you have a keytar - in fact, it’s essentially the whole USP of the thing.
In honour of this shackle-shattering, ground-breaking instrument (and also to promote my new album - Keytar Your Heart (opens in new tab) - which is out today), I’ve put together a list of the greatest keytar solos of all time (that I could find on YouTube).
In no particular order...
1. George Duke - Schooldays (Live in Tokyo, 1981)
This is a 20-minute version of a Stanley Clarke song that was, in all honesty, a little too long already. George doesn’t even put in an appearance until 04.40. Before that you just catch fleeting glimpses of him wandering around the stage, waving at people. To be fair, it looks like he’s having a brilliant time of it.
Things really kick off, keytar-wise, at around the 06.40 mark, when George steps into the spotlight and delivers a blistering solo on his Davis Clavitar (beautiful panelling), whilst simultaneously high- fiving and shaking hands with the front row of the audience. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Unfortunately, there are a few technical difficulties, and the keytar seems to momentarily cut out at 08.45, before packing up completely at 10.56 - prompting George to swear at it a bit and move onto the piano for the next seven minutes of the song.
2. Herbie Hancock - Chameleon (Live at Java Jazz Festival, 2012)
Another long one. In fact, despite this video being half the length of the previous clip, the whole song is essentially a ten-minute synth solo - so in terms of keytar-content, it’s actually more than double the running time.
This is jazz-funk pioneer, Herbie Hancock, playing his 1973 hit, Chameleon, on the Roland AX- Synth, which is around 20% louder than it needs to be, for some reason.
There’s a moment at 01:45 where Herbie seems to be struggling with the settings, despite having scrawled handwritten notes all over the body of the keyboard (one of the benefits of having a white keytar, I guess) - and the resulting patch he dials in sounds a little like the call of a carrion crow - but he quickly recovers and settles in to the remaining eight minutes of the song.
3. Edgar Winter - Frankenstein (Old Grey Whistle Test, 1973)
I realise you might have absentmindedly clicked on this list as a quick bit of escapism during a coffee break, and now we’re almost 40 minutes deep into clips of synthesizer instrumentals. For that I apologise.
This one’s not technically a keytar solo, as Edgar has just taken the keyboard section of an ARP 2600 (the big box of knobs behind him) and attached a long belt to it, but I’m including it anyway because it’s great.
Edgar occasionally whips out a saxophone or nips over to some timbales (all with a giant keyboard hanging from his shoulders), and there’s even a novelty bicycle horn solo towards the end, for what it’s worth.
At 06.10, it seems the weight of the thing gets a bit much and he has to put it down on the floor, where he sort of jumps up and down on it and punches it. Probably sick of carrying it tbh.
4. Adam and Rick Wakeman - Tudorock (Live at Hampton Court Palace, 2009)
If it wasn’t for Rick’s golden cape, Adam’s velvet tailcoat, and the fact that they’re clearly standing outside a large Tudor palace, you could be forgiven for thinking that Rick and Adam are just rehearsing this song in their living room. A very casual performance style - particularly in comparison to the previous artists.
This is a clip from a 2009 Rick Wakeman concert, in which he recreated his Six Wives of Henry VIII concept album in its entirety, with an orchestra and choir (and Brian Blessed, for some reason), in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. Needless to say, I was in attendance.
It’s a rare father-and-son keytar solo (or keytar duo, I guess). There’s a bit of an odd moment at 0.40 where there’s a slightly uncomfortable level of eye contact, but don’t let that detract from an otherwise fantastic performance. Please.
5. Belinda Bedeković - Tornado
You might have seen this clip of Croatian keytarist, Belinda Bedeković doing the rounds on the internet at some point in the last 10-plus years. The video went viral as a result of Belinda’s phenomenal finger speed, and unconventional playing stance.
Belinda has opted for a Yamaha KX-5, mounted on a fixed floor stand. In my view, this completely defeats the point of having a keytar, but it seems to work for Belinda, so it’s absolutely fair dos. It does enable her to get her right leg over the lower shaft of the keyboard at 03.15, which is undoubtedly an excellent bit of showwomanship.
She’s something of an enigma, and I couldn’t really find any information about her online. She did contribute some music for the 2006 Borat movie though, apparently.
But, yeah. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.
Thanks for reading.