Rick Wakeman's 10 favourite '70s rock songs

Rick Wakeman in the 70s
Rick Wakeman in the 70s (Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Imasges)

Navigating a way through the interminable doldrums of lockdown can be a fraught, tedious process, but who is this caped crusader skating over the horizon? It's our old prog-rocking chum Rick Wakeman with a fistful of classic rock gold from everyone's favourite decade.

“I never left the seventies,” the keyboard legend admits, “It was such an explosive era for music.” And as if to prove it, Wakeman (who released his personally-curated 60-track, triple-CD collection 70s Rock Down: The Ultimate Rock Anthems in 2020) has chosen his top ten examples of exactly what it was that made the seventies so great.

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Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall

When I was living in Switzerland there was a wonderful pub in Montreux called The White Horse and every musician that worked at Queen's Mountain Studios spent their lives there.

It was a phenomenal place. Absolutely buzzing in every respect. It had a jukebox and that was where I first heard Another Brick In The Wall. I went straight over, put it on multiplay and waited for people to complain. Nobody did. Everybody loved it... It's very unFloyd.

The Faces - Stay With Me

Another Swiss memory. Where I lived was halfway up a mountain in a place called Les Monts-de-Corsier and my car journey down the winding road to the studio took exactly the same length it took to play Stay With Me

I absolutely love the Wurlitzer electric piano on it. Ian McLagan was a great player and a very under-rated player. One of the hardest things for keyboard players is playing the right thing, and he had the knack of playing the right thing.

Argent - Hold Your Head Up

Rod (Argent) is a good friend, and I'm not just picking people because they're my mates, I'm picking this because it's brilliant. The organ solo in Hold Your Head Up is, for me, one of the finest organ solos on a record. 

It's brilliantly put together, and from an era where you couldn't go back and correct notes and redo things. It's a true solo. A little work of art, so it has to go in. It's just brilliant, so good.

Free - All Right Now

Another track that has to go in because of a solo. Paul Kossoff's guitar solo's really good, but what I really love is, as the solo finishes and you come back into the chorus again, there's probably the simplest drum break you ever heard. 

Most drummers would do something absolutely ridiculous at the end of a solo like that, but not Simon Kirke. He just did a really simple da-dum da-dum da-dum-dum-dum. Simple, but brilliant.

Stealer's Wheel - Stuck In The Middle With You

They were on the same label as me. A&M Records; the last of the truly great independent labels, because (label co-founder) Jerry Moss encouraged a real diversity of music. A&M was the equivalent of jazz label Blue Note or classical label Deutsche Grammophon. 

If you bought something on A&M you were pretty sure it was going to be good. The production levels had to be very, very high and Stuck In The Middle With You, a simple song, is totally unique.

The Moody Blues - Question

The Moody Blues were such a great band both live and as songwriters. They were also one of the first real users of the Mellotron, the famous I-can't-keep-it-in-tune instrument that all keyboard players have, but they used it really well, and although they employed it most famously on Nights In White Satin, they used it here in a way that nobody had ever used it before. A good melody, a great song and a unique use of the dreaded Mellotron.

Deep Purple - Black Night

A phenomenal solo from Jon Lord. Not a synth lover, but he loved his organ and electric piano. He got a load of different guitar effects and built this long string that went from his amp to both the Leslies and his cabinets so he could create a really unique organ sound that would cut through while doing a solo. 

Being great friends we discussed it at length and Jon said “I just wanted to see what I could do with the instrument rather than just do what it did”. He did that right up to his dying day. An absolute genius.

Status Quo - Rocking All Over The World

Rick Parfitt and I used to get into serious trouble together, I was living in Surrey at the time and we'd go out to a very dodgy snooker hall in Putney, then on to very dodgy clubs until the early hours of the morning, then come back and tell everyone we'd been working hard on music. 

He was a good lad, I loved Rick to bits. Quo produced fantastic stuff with the limited chord progressions they used, some amazing things that nobody else did, and there's a real art-form in that.

Alice Cooper - School's Out

Alice has always managed to come up with songs with a broad appeal. School's Out was a classic example; a song that mums and dads liked and were quite happy for their kids to listen to despite the fact he went on stage with snakes up his rectum and God knows what else. 

I mean, even though he'd be a good person to have around at Halloween, he speaks well and writes good tunes that are very relatable. I've got a lot of time for him, he's great.

The Rolling Stones - Brown Sugar

The one thing every kid playing music in their room wants to hear is their parent shouting “Turn that bloody racket off!” up the stairs. It's the seal of approval. Music is the first thing any kid owns: parents choose their clothes, school, what they do, eat, where they go, but their music? That's theirs. 

There must have been millions of parents who shouted “Turn that bloody thing off” as the Stones played on Dansette Majors and kids fist-pumped the air in their bedrooms thinking 'Yes! Thank you!'. Brown Sugar encapsulates that feeling.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.