Piano Man (song)

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"Piano Man"
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 Soft rock, folk rock
Length 5:38, 4:30 (Single)
Writer(s) Billy Joel
Producer(s) Michael Stewart
Certification Gold (RIAA)
Billy Joel singles chronology
"Piano Man"
(1973)
"Worse Comes to Worst"
(1974)
Piano Man track listing
"Travelin' Prayer"
(1)
"Piano Man"
(2)
"Ain't No Crime"
(3)
A sample of Billy Joel's "Piano Man" from Piano Man

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"Piano Man" is the first single released by Billy Joel. It was released on November 2, 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.[1]

Overview[edit]

Song background[edit]

"Piano Man" is a fictionalized retelling of Joel's experience as a piano-lounge singer for six months in 1972 at the now defunct Executive Room bar in Los Angeles, located near the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue. Joel has stated that all of the characters depicted in the song were based on real people.[2] Joel had moved from New York to L.A. to record his first album, Cold Spring Harbor which was marred by a 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.[3]

Content[edit]

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, Davy. Most of these characters have broken or unfulfilled dreams, and the pianist's job is to help them "forget about life for a while," as the lyrics state. The chorus, in bar-room sing-along style, comes from the bar patrons themselves, who say, "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.[citation needed]

Releases[edit]

It was first released as the second track on Joel's Piano Man album and was later released on several greatest hits collections.

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.

Composition[edit]

Billy Joel wrote and originally performed the song in the key of C Major. It has a 3/4 waltz 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, and drums.

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]."[citation needed] Nevertheless, it should be noted that Joel also included minor harmonic variation and a different melody in the song's bridge section.

Track listing[edit]

7" US single (1973)[edit]

  1. "Piano Man" - (4:30)
  2. "You're My Home" - (3:08)

Music video[edit]

A promo for this song was shot in 1974, at the height of the song's popularity. It depicted Joel as a bar act (Bill Martin) 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. The original video used an alternate take of the song (but it was at the same length as the album version), while the new one used the standard album version.

Popularity[edit]

When released in 1974, the single fell considerably short of the top 10 in the US (Billboard #25). "Piano Man" fared better in Canada, where it peaked at #10, and established Joel as a star there. (From 1975-80, every one of Joel's charting singles peaked higher in Canada than in the US, except for songs that reached #1 in both markets.)

Because "Piano Man" was at the time only a moderate hit in the US, the song was not played often on American 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. It has been, since '77, a big "oldies" 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 February 2014. 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.

During the first Face to Face tour featuring Elton John and Joel, ads promoted the event as "Rocket Man meets Piano Man".[4]

"Piano Man" was ranked #421 in the 2004 list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

This song was released as downloadable content for Rock Band 3, along with 11 of Joel's other songs.

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1973–1974) Peak
position
Australian Singles Chart 20
Canadian Singles Chart[5] 10
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 25
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks 4
Chart (2013) Peak
position
Irish Singles Chart[6] 83
Chart (2014) Peak
position
Dutch Singles Chart[7] 56

Other Versions[edit]

In 1980, the Spanish singer Ana Belén performed a Spanish version of the song entitled "El Hombre del Piano" whose lyrics were translated by her husband, the Spanish singer Víctor Manuel.

"Weird Al" Yankovic performed a parody of "Piano Man" entitled "Ode to a Superhero" (detailing the plot of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man) on his 2003 album Poodle Hat. To parody the song, Yankovic had to get permission directly from Joel, whom he earlier spoofed in "It's Still Billy Joel to Me" (which was never put on any Yankovic album), per the results of a minor 1996 controversy surrounding another Yankovic parody, "Amish Paradise".

Finnish singer Ari Koivunen performs a cover of "Piano Man" on his 2007 album Fuel for the Fire.

On the May 18th 2010 episode of Glee, Neil Patrick Harris and Matthew Morrison performed this song together. The song was later covered in full by Darren Criss's character Blaine Anderson in the episode "Movin' Out".

On the episode of Castle "Last Call" that was aired on December 6, 2010, Nathan Fillion and a couple other members of the cast sing the song as they walk out of the precinct at the end of the episode.

Colton Dixon performed a cover of "Piano Man" on American Idol in 2012 during the top 10 performances.

References[edit]

External links[edit]