10 best piano pop songs you need to know

22.12.2021 Ben Maloney Piano

Ten great piano pop songs coming right up. Putting other styles to one side didn’t doesn’t make the selection process any easier. So many classics have been sung at the keys over the years and across the genre by countless iconic singers and players.

The selection of music below tries to do right by this breadth and diversity. At the same time, it offers a body of work that’ll help you to be a better pianist, whatever kind of pop music you’re looking to engage with.

You’ll also find links leading you straight to premium editions of each song, most of which have chord symbols as well as regular staff notation. From there, it’s only a few clicks to the rest of nkoda’s piano sheet music collection, in which you can find a world of pop songs that probably deserved to make the cut too. 
 

Best pop songs to play on piano
 

  1. ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel
  2. ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ by Carole King
  3. ‘Golden Lady’ by Stevie Wonder
  4. ‘Someone Like You’ by Adele
  5. ‘Feeling Good’ by Nina Simone
  6. ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon
  7. ‘Your Song’ by Elton John
  8. ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush
  9. ‘Clocks’ by Coldplay
  10. ‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA

1. ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel

There aren’t many better songs to start with than one that’s about playing piano itself. It also happens to be a truly beautiful number, showcasing Billy Joel’s unrivalled ability to combine evocative lyrics, beautiful melodies and accomplished piano-playing. 

‘Piano Man’ was first released as a single in 1973 before appearing on the album of the same name, released soon after. Inspired by Joel’s own experience as a lounge pianist in Los Angeles, the song paints a moving portrait of lost souls drawn to a bar, who find some solace in the music played by the ‘piano man’ of the title.

After a jazzy flourish to open the track, Joel plays through his iconic waltz-like chord progression, throwing in a few tidy licks here and there. Nothing too fancy, but Joel plays it all with his trademark finesse. Besides, anything extravagant would seem out of place in a song that tells a story about a smoke-filled drinking hole in a lonely corner of town.

2. ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ by Carole King

Tapestry was Carole King’s breakthrough release. It cemented her reputation as one of the most talented artists of her generation, and is frequently cited as one of the greatest studio albums of all time. Of its back-to-back anthems, ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ is perhaps the standout track.

King is another master of the songwriting craft, a genius when it comes to combining music and lyrics. Before her solo success, she made a living writing songs for other artists. At some level, ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ harks back to this earlier work of hers. It’s concise, simple, and such a catchy tune. It’s not easy to put a song like that together.

The song’s inspired a range of covers over the years, by the likes of Dusty Springfield and James Taylor. But none of them quite has the spark of King’s original, and they certainly don’t feature the same lyrical piano-playing that marks so many of her finest numbers.

3. ‘Golden Lady’ by Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder is a remarkable musician. It’s widely known that he’s overcome the challenges brought by blindness to become one of the finest pianists in pop-music history. But few realise that he’s a gifted multi-instrumentalist too, playing most of the parts on many of his great early recordings. 

‘Golden Lady’ belongs in this category, featuring a band full of Stevie Wonders performing together on a bona fide classic. Even so, the piano remains at the helm of the groove the track lays down. Wonder works through a wide range of chords on it, demonstrating a colourful harmonic language that’s typical of his jazz-influenced work.

Look to the end of the song to hear a perfect example of Wonder’s technical proficiency as a songwriter. You’ll hear him repeating the chorus as the song fades out, but with each repetition he’s shifting the key, playing and singing higher each time. It’s hard to execute it smoothly in composition as well as performance, but he manages to do both effortlessly.

4. ‘Someone Like You’ by Adele

While her landmark album 21 was coming together, Adele was inspired to write a piece of music inspired by the difficult breakdown of a long-term relationship. Together with her songwriting collaborator Dan Wilson, she set about describing her experience in music. 

The result was ‘Someone Like You’, one of the most emotionally charged compositions ever recorded. The track is sparsely arranged, featuring only Adele singing and Wilson accompanying on piano. His part features semiquaver arpeggios in the right hand with a descending gesture in the left.  

In ‘Someone Like You’, we once again have a song that’s unassuming and straightforward in concept. But if anything that just makes it more powerful, more direct. It also makes it a great one to play and sing at the keyboard, even if you’re a beginner. Might be hard to hit some of those high notes, though.

5. ‘Feeling Good’ by Nina Simone

It’s a little-known fact that Nina Simone first aspired to be a concert pianist. Her career took her towards jazz, blues, R&B and soul, but there was always a part of her that hoped to play more classical music. In fact many of her recordings feature fusions between classical compositions and the pop styles that she’s renowned for. 

In 1965 Simone released I Put a Spell on You, which featured one of her most popular recordings - ‘Feeling Good’. It’s an unmistakable tune. After a vocal solo in her distinctive contralto register, Simone and her band enter. She’s playing rolling triplets at the top of the keyboard, doubling the choppy descending bass with her left hand. 

‘Feeling Good’ was first written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for a 1964 British stage musical, but it was Simone’s recording that launched the song to immortality, and it’s her arrangement that’s transcribed in the Faber Music edition here.

6. ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon

‘Imagine’ has become one of the great musical anthems, one of the most frequently performed and covered songs of all time. The 1971 work captures John Lennon’s legendary ability to write powerful and memorable music - something that he’d been doing since the earliest days of his tenure with the Beatles so many years before. 

Lennon’s original inspiration for the lyrics of ‘Imagine’ came from the work of his wife, Yoko Ono. By imagining a world brought into unity through the removal of borders and material possessions, it outlines a proposal that has captured the minds and hearts of listeners all over the globe for decades.

Foregrounding the piano in another uncomplicated arrangement, the verse opens by trundling between two chords, C and F, while before moving through more adventurous harmonies going into the chorus. Despite its great depth, it’s a really accessible piece, and that just might be why it’s been played so much over the years.

7. ‘Your Song’ by Elton John

It’s been over fifty years since Elton John’s masterpiece came into the world. Even so, ‘Your Song’ still sounds fresh, and still manages to connect with music-lovers with a directness that is rarely matched in music. From the moment those opening arpeggios sound, you know you’re listening to something special. 

Like the majority of Elton John’s songs, ‘Your Song’ was co-written with lyricist Bernie Taupin. Released at the beginning of John’s career in 1970, it was one of his breakthrough hits. It’s a love song, pure and simple, whose words are so thoughtful that they almost apologise for being forward. 

And of course it’s marked by John’s skilful piano-playing, which articulates the song’s chords in arpeggios that puts the piece among the more difficult ones to play on this list. This classic number’s also been covered many times, by names as big as Rod StewartEllie Goulding and Lady Gaga

8. ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush

It’s safe to say that Kate Bush is one of the most intriguing musicians going. Every aspect of her art is distinctive, from her unique vocal delivery to her surreal music videos. While all these things can certainly be said of ‘Wuthering Heights’, the song’s also marked by an iconic piano part.

Remarkably written when Bush was just eighteen years old, ‘Wuthering Heights’ is inspired by the eponymous novel by Emily Brontë. Naming the book’s characters, the song’s lyrics refer to their famous romance. But, true to form, Bush is still able to put her signature spin on proceedings.

Matching the brighter timbres of the chimes, the strings, and her own voice, Bush exploits the piano’s higher range melodically. Underneath she plays striking harmonies - solely major chords in the first verse, moving to the unrelated key of E-flat minor in the second, and settling on a G-flat major chord for the chorus. Truly fine composition.

9. ‘Clocks’ by Coldplay

Yet another unmistakable piano introduction kicks off Coldplay’s ‘Clocks’. It’s one of the  landmark recordings the band made en route to becoming one of the most celebrated artists of the modern era. 

The second single from their 2002 album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, ‘Clocks’ was released to great acclaim and continues to win the highest plaudits. There can be little doubt that the piano hook is the track’s finest asset, supporting both verse and chorus. It’s built on arpeggios that shift between E-flat major, B-flat major and F minor.

A distinctive feature of the piano part is its rhythm, which breaks down the bar into two triplets and a duplet by putting the emphasis in unexpected places. It might sound complex, but it isn’t. When you’re playing, just feel the groove and you’ll settle in. You should check out this great Faber arrangement for piano and mixed chorus.

10. ‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA

Perhaps no list of pop songs is truly complete without some ABBA. Kings and queens of the genre, the group have put their name to more incredible songs than most artists. But if piano pop is the order of the day, then there’s really only one to include - ‘Dancing Queen’.

The popularity of this track is too widespread to explain easily, but so much of its appeal has to stem from its celebration of the sheer joy of dancing, which is what music is about for so many people. But music’s also about great piano-playing, and ‘Dancing Queen’ has plenty of that thanks to Benny Andersson.

His piano might not be front and centre, but Andersson chips in with just the right thing at the right time. Take that first piano gesture, descending from the high register. It’s iconic, and it’s moments like that that take the song to the next level. Above anything else it’s just a fantastic song, and playing it on the keyboard is unbeatable.

Your next steps for pop piano music


With ten of the best here, there’s loads of quality music to engage with. No doubt you’ll be familiar with much of it, but hopefully there are one or two new finds to get excited about. 

So settle down to some listening, and use the sheet music to see how these great artists put their music together. If you’re a pianist, you’ve now got ten more classics to add to your repertoire. 

But in truth they only scratch the surface. There’s a lot more pop piano sheet music to discover on nkoda. From Alicia Keys to Leonard Cohen, and Ed Sheeran to Louis Armstrong, the app has all bases covered. 

On the other hand, if you want to keep up the reading momentum, there’s a lot of similar content available on the blog. Check out the other piano-song countdowns based on genre: classical, jazz, rock, blues and country

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