Piano Man (song)
|Single by Billy Joel|
|from the album Piano Man|
|B-side||"You're My Home"|
|Released||November 2, 1973|
|Format||45 rpm single|
|Recorded||September 17–20 and 26, 1973, Los Angeles|
|Genre||Piano rock, soft rock, folk rock|
|Length||5:38, 4:30 (Single)|
|Billy Joel singles chronology|
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"Piano Man" is the first single released by Billy Joel. It was released in November 1, 1973, and has been on several albums. Billy Joel's first major hit and his signature song, the song peaked at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1974.
Song background 
"Piano Man" is a fictionalized retelling of Joel's experience as a piano-lounge singer at the Executive Room in Los Angeles, and Joel has stated that all of the characters depicted in the song were based on real people. Joel had moved from New York to L.A. to record his first album, Cold Spring Harbor which was unsuccessful, in large part because of the mastering error by the album's producers at Family Productions, the first label that signed Joel. After this bad experience, Joel wanted to leave his contract with Family Productions for Columbia Records, but the contract that he'd signed made this very difficult. So Joel stated that he was "hiding out" at the bar, performing under the name Bill Martin, while lawyers at Columbia Records tried to get him out of his first record deal. Joel's own personal feelings about the failure of his first album and his professional frustrations at this time are expressed in the failed dreams of the characters in his song.
The verses of the song are sung from the point of view of a bar piano player who focuses mainly on everyone else at the bar: an old man, John the bartender, the waitress, businessmen, and bar regulars like "real estate novelist" Paul and US Navy sailor, Davey. Most of these characters have unfulfilled dreams, and the pianist's job, it seems, is to help them "forget about life for a while." The chorus, in bar-room sing-along style, comes from the bar patrons themselves, who plead, "Sing us a song. / You're the piano man. / Sing us a song, tonight. / Well, we're all in the mood for a melody, / And you've got us feeling all right." The song's style and subject are highly reminiscent of fellow Long Islander Harry Chapin's story-songs.
When originally issued as a single, the song was deemed too long by Columbia Records executives (5 minutes and 38 seconds), so two verses were cut in half and spliced together for the release as a 45, clocking in at 4 minutes and 33 seconds. A promo 45 had an even shorter edit, clocking in around 3 minutes. These single edits were also remixed - bringing out a lot of the instrumentation like acoustic guitars and harmonicas. Later, Billy Joel's song "The Entertainer" refers to the editing of the "Piano Man" single by commenting, "It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long / If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit / So they cut it down to 3:05." The single mix (4:33) has only appeared on one CD to date: the European release Piano Man: The Very Best of Billy Joel.
Billy Joel wrote and originally performed the song in the key of C Major. It has a 3/4 time signature and begins with a jazzy piano solo before moving into its famous piano and harmonica introduction. The verses and subsequently the chorus feature a descending walking bassline in C that ends with a D - G turnaround. Instrumentally, Joel's 1973 version features piano, harmonica, bass, accordion, mandolin, drums and vocals.
Joel acknowledged on Inside the Actors Studio in 1999 that each of the characters in the song was based on a real person, either a friend of his or another stranger at the bar. For instance, Joel claimed that "the waitress practicing politics" was actually his first wife, Elizabeth Weber. Joel also criticized the fact that the verses and the chorus of the song both use the same chord sequence and a similar melody, stating that the melody "doesn't go anywhere [musically]." Nevertheless, it should be noted that Joel also included minor harmonic variation and a different melody in the song's bridge section.
Track listing 
7" US single (1973) 
- "Piano Man" - (4:30)
- "You're My Home" - (3:08)
7" US single re-issue (1973) 
- "Piano Man"
- "The Entertainer"
Music video 
A promo for this song was shot in 1973, at the height of the song's popularity. It depicted Joel as a bar act performing the song, and shows a typical American bar as a setting. A new video was shot in 1985, with new extras, and was more or less the same as the original.
When released in 1974, the single fell considerably short of the top 10 (Billboard #25) and at the time was only a moderate hit, not played often on the radio during the next 3 or 4 years. However, after the 1977 release of Joel's album "The Stranger" and Joel's quick, subsequent rise to superstardom, the song would soon become one of his most well-known and loved songs, a big radio hit, and is considered Joel's signature song, partially due to its title. Today it remains popular, and ranks as Joel's #1 song on the iTunes Store as of July 2011[update]. The song is so well known that during Joel's concerts, he usually lets the audience sing the chorus. In concert, Joel often performs "Piano Man" as a finale.
"Piano Man" was ranked #421 in the 2004 list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Chart positions 
|Australian Singles Chart||20|
|Canadian Singles Chart||10|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||25|
|U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks||4|
|Irish Singles Chart||83|
Other Versions 
- Billy Joel: The Life and Times of An Angry Young Man (p. 73) by Hank Bordowitz
- Billy Joel: The Life and Times of An Angry Young Man by Hank Bordowitz
- The Billy Joel Keyboard Book (2nd Edition), page 67. Hal Leonard.
-  'Rocket Man' Meets 'Piano Man'
- "Piano Man" Music Video on YouTube / ⒞1985 Sony BMG channel
- "Piano Man" Lead sheet - at wikifonia.org