There’s Nothing More '80s Than A Keytar

There’s Nothing More '80s Than A Keytar

devo, 1981
DEVO, 1981. Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage.

Shoulder pads, big hair, double denim… there are some images that instantly scream '80s. When it comes to musical instruments, there’s nothing more evocative of that era than the keytar – a late ’70s innovation that made the new decade’s emerging sound more portable. As synthpop and new wave made their presence felt, a number of keyboard players strapped on a keytar and got out from behind their banks of synths. Musicians like Prince, Jean Michel Jarre, Howard Jones and Thomas Dolby were regular keytarists, while these music videos show off a number of other performers who took advantage of the new guitar/keyboard amalgam.

“Girl U Want” by Devo

Released: 1980

Their energy dome hats might not have taken off in the same way, but Devo were ahead of the curve when it came to keytars. The early adapters featured the instrument in the music video for the lead single from Freedom Of Choice

“Rockit” by Herbie Hancock

Released: 1983

The Godley & Creme-directed music video for his electro hit didn’t highlight Herbie’s keytar proficiency, but he made up for it at the 1984 Grammy Awards (above) by busting one out during his live performance. At the following year’s Grammys, Herbie was involved in a keytar-heavy synthesizer jam with Stevie Wonder, Thomas Dolby and Howard Jones.

“Miami Vice Theme” by Jan Hammer

Released: 1985

One of the names most associated with keytars in the ’80s, the Czech-born musician brought the instrument to prominence in his role as composer for one of the decade’s biggest TV series: Miami Vice. And in the music video for the cop show’s theme tune, Jan can be seen with his PROBE keytar, a model he’d helped develop.

“Funky Town” by Pseudo Echo

Released: 1986

Like all musical trends, the keytar found its way to Australia, with James Leigh from synthpop band Pseudo Echo one of the musicians most associated with the instrument locally. He’d already been wielding one for some time before the band released their cover of the Lipps Inc. track, but it was James’s use of the keytar in the video for “Funky Town” that is an enduring image of the decade.

“Sugar Free” by Wa Wa Nee

Released: 1986

The late Paul Gray is another of Australia’s best-known keytarists, and he took things to another level by combining his keyboard playing with slick dance moves in the video for Wa Wa Nee’s third single, “Sugar Free”. Like "Funky Town", the song was a hit internationally as well, proving Australians were no slouches when it came to the keytar.

“Touched By The Hand Of God” by New Order

Released: 1987

As part of their transformation into rock stars in the tongue-in-cheek music video for “Touched By The Hand Of God”, the synthpop band’s Gillian Gilbert teamed a pointy keytar with knee-high boots. She looked the part, even if it wasn’t her usual keyboard of choice.

“My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown

Released: 1988

The New Edition member-turned-solo star featured a keytar in the music video for his US chart-topping single, although it was played by a member of his backing band. Bobby himself opted for another classic piece of ’80s equipment: the head microphone, as favoured by Madonna and Janet Jackson (but that’s a story for another time).

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