4 Classic Non-Springsteen Songs Featuring E Street Band Pianist Roy Bittan

Happy Birthday to longtime E Street Band keyboard player Roy Bittan, who turned 75 on July 2. Born in Queens, New York, Bittan joined Bruce Springsteen’s famous backing band in 1974, in time to record the Boss’ breakthrough third album, Born to Run.

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Bittan is known by the nickname “The Professor,” apparently because he was one of the only E Street Band members with a college degree. Although he’s primarily a pianist, Roy also has played organ, synthesizers, and harpsichord on Springsteen recordings, as well as contributing backing vocals. In 2014, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the E Street Band.

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Besides appearing on most of Springsteen’s albums, Bittan has long been an on-demand session player. He is featured on many noteworthy recordings by various artists, including quite a few well-known hits. In honor of Roy’s birthday, here’s a look at four memorable tunes not recorded by Springsteen that feature the talents of “The Professor”:

“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” – Meat Loaf (1977)

Bittan played piano and keyboards throughout Meat Loaf’s hugely popular 1977 debut album, Bat Out of Hell. Jim Steinman, who wrote of the songs on the record, sought out Bittan because he was a big fan of his work with Springsteen.

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Among the tracks that featured Roy was “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.” The tongue-in-cheek ballad was the biggest chart hit from the album, peaking at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The song eventually was certified platinum by the RIAA for sales of more than 1 million copies in the U.S. Bat Out of Hell itself has sold more than 14 million copies in the States.

“Ashes to Ashes” – David Bowie (1980)

Bittan played piano on “Ashes to Ashes,” a popular song from David Bowie’s 1980 album, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). The tune is a sequel of sorts to Bowie’s classic early hit “Space Oddity,” and revisits the 1970 song’s character Major Tom.

“Ashes to Ashes” topped the U.K. singles charts. The tune wasn’t a hit in the U.S., but it received a lot of airplay on rock radio.

Bittan wound up playing on the song because Springsteen was recording his album The River at the same time Bowie was making Scary Monsters on the same studio. Roy played his part on a grand piano that the album’s co-producer, Tony Visconti, ran through a flanger effect.

“Leather and Lace” – Stevie Nicks and Don Henley (1981)

Bittan played piano on five tracks on Stevie Nicks’ 1981 debut solo album, Bella Donna. He also co-wrote one of the tracks with Nicks, “Think About It.”

Among the popular tunes featuring Bittan was “Leather and Lace,” Stevie’s hit duet with the Eagles’ Don Henley. The song, which was written by Nicks, peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100.

Bella Donna, meanwhile, became Nicks’ first and only solo album to top the Billboard 200 chart.

“Total Eclipse of the Heart” – Bonnie Tyler (1983)

Bittan lent his talents to Bonnie Tyler’s epic 1983 power ballad “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” The tune, which became one of the iconic songs of the 1980s, was written and produced by Steinman.

“Total Eclipse of the Heart” spent four straight weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 in October 1984, and also topped the singles charts in the U.K. and many other countries.

In addition to Bittan, the track featured E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg and veteran rock guitarist Rick Derringer.

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