Pop Culture

Celebrate the inventor of the piano with these delightful riffs

The instrument's inventor, Bartolomeo Cristofori, was born 360 years ago today.

Alicia KeysAlicia KeysIf it weren't for Bartolomeo Cristofori, artists like Alicia Keys woudn't have been able to write piano epics like "Empire State of Mind." (Photo: Kevin Winter / Getty Images for NARAS)

Not many people know who invented the piano, but as Vox points out, if it wasn't for Bartolomeo Cristofori, musicians such as Billy Joel and Alicia Keys would be playing on harpsichords instead. What separated Cristofori's first pianos, back in 1720, was the creation of a hammer-and-damper structure that helps a player regulate the volume at which he or she plays. Previous instruments plucked at strings, making volume regulation impossible.

It's why on the Google doodle that celebrates Cristofori's birth, the volume can be adjusted, allowing users to see an animated Cristofori either tinkle the keys or pound on them with abandon.

In celebration of the inventor's 360th birthday, here are songs with piano riffs that would have sounded different coming from a harpsichord.

'Empire State of Mind' by Alicia Keys


This is the solo version of Keys' soulful piece, not the duet with Jay Z that has supplanted Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" and Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" as the Big Apple's unofficial theme song. It doesn't get any better than watching Keys at the piano, an instrument she's been playing since she was 7.

'Come Home' by Yael Naim


Most of Naim's songs are slow and contemplative, but, like her hit "New Soul," others just put a smile on your face. This one is about her family always wanting her to come home despite the independent life she's living.

'Prelude/Angry Young Man' by Billy Joel


Yes, we could have put "New York State of Mind" here, but the prelude to "Angry Young Man" features Billy's best piano work of his career. And, judging by this clip from his Shea Stadium concert in 2008, he had the chops to play it well into his 50s. Joel still plays the demanding prelude now, during his monthly residency at Madison Square Garden.

'Love Song' by Sara Bareilles


Evoking Billy Joel and Ben Folds, Bareilles' biggest hit is a jaunty kiss-off to her record label, who wanted her to write a sappy love song for her debut album.

'Cornflake Girl' by Tori Amos


In concert, Tori Amos pounds on the keys like her life depends on it. If it weren't for Cristofori, she wouldn't have made such intense songs like "Cornflake Girl."

'Jackson Cannery' by Ben Folds Five


It's mindblowing to think that the first Ben Folds Five album came out 20 years ago. It was a refreshing blast of old-fashioned piano rompery combined with more modern lyrics. The style makes sense since Folds studied both Joel and Elton John's songs. Here's the first single from that debut album, "Jackson Cannery," from a 2013 concert special. Despite the fact that Folds went solo in the early 2000s, the three guys still have pretty good chemistry.

'Candle in the Wind' by Elton John


There's the original version from the '70s and the version he did in tribute to Princess Diana. But this version, recorded live in Australia, is the one we like the best. And it's the version that made the song a hit back in 1988.

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