The greatest keyboard players pre-1980 revealed

Who is the greatest pre-'80s keyboard player?
(Image credit: D. Morrison/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. 

Naturally, the group needs a keyboard player, and we kicked things off by asking you to vote for your top pre-'80s maestro.

The era in question covers the golden eras of soul, funk, jazz, blues and gospel - and, of course, rock and prog - so it was always going to be a titanic battle, but we're pleased to announce that the results are now in.

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.

That's for another day, though - for now, let's reveal the greatest pre-'80s keyboard players, as voted for by you.

1. Rick Wakeman

Wakey was always going to be in the mix, so it's no great surprise to see him coming out on top. After starting his career as a session musician, he became a legend with prog titans Yes, before going on to release some truly bonkers solo albums. He's still active today, operating as both a musician and a colourful raconteur.

2. Keith Emerson

Just missing out on the top spot is another prog legend, who helped to bring synthesizers into mainstream consciousness on Emerson Lake & Palmer's Lucky Man. A true 'keyboard hero', he left everything on the stage whenever he performed.

3. Jon Lord

Rock organists don't come any greater than the appropriately named Jon Lord, who achieved God-like status with Deep Purple. He'll forever be associated with the Hammond B3, but he knew his way around a Minimoog, too.

4. Chick Corea

We said a sad goodbye to Chick Corea this year, but not before we'd enjoyed well over 50 years of his amazing talent. A jazz fusion legend, he was good enough to replace Herbie Hancock in Miles Davis's band, and could play a Fender Rhodes like no-one else.

5. Herbie Hancock

Speaking of Herbie Hancock, here he is, and not before time. After his stint with Miles, he formed the Headhunters, and gave us his supremely funky brand of '70s jazz fusion, releasing a bonafide electro classic - 1983's Rockit - for good measure.

6. Tony Banks

More understated than some of his prog contemporaries - which wasn't hard, to be fair - Banks' quality still shone through with Genesis, who he helped to turn into one of the biggest bands in the world. He could still solo with the best of them, though, and probably still can.

7. Stevie Wonder

To call Stevie Wonder a 'keyboard player' would be to undersell his enormous talent,  which puts him firmly in genius territory. A child prodigy, his '70s albums are the stuff of legend, with Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff - along with their T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer - helping him to cook up seemingly endless magic. And have you heard him play a Clavinet?

8. Rick Wright

It's fair to say that, without Rick Wright, Pink Floyd would have been a very different band, and almost certainly a worse one. Whether he was playing sustained organ passages or anthemic synth solos, he always seemed to judge the mood - and the song - perfectly.

9. Jean-Michel Jarre

Daft Punk may have shone a fresh light on French electronic music in the '90s, but Jean-Michel Jarre had blazed a trail long before that. His brand of melodic synth-based instrumental music was palatable enough to reach a massive audience, which is with him to this day.

10. Elton John

Although he's known as a singer/songwriter first, piano player second, in the case of Elton John, it's hard to separate the two. His distinctive playing style works in everything from ballads to full-on rock. Check out 17-11-70, his classic live album, if you don't believe us.


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