Piano Man (song)

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"Piano Man"
Billy Joel Piano Man single.jpg
German vinyl single
Single by Billy Joel
from the album Piano Man
B-side"You're My Home"
ReleasedNovember 2, 1973 (1973-11-02)
RecordedSeptember 1973
  • 5:40 (album version)
  • 4:30 (single version)
  • 3:05 (SP radio edit version)
Songwriter(s)Billy Joel
Producer(s)Michael Stewart
Billy Joel singles chronology
"She's Got a Way"
"Piano Man"
"Worse Comes to Worst"
Music video
"Piano Man" on YouTube

"Piano Man" is a song written and performed by American singer-songwriter Billy Joel. As his first single in North America, it was included on Joel's 1973 album of the same name and later released as a single on November 2, 1973. The song is sung from Joel's point of view as a piano player at a bar, reminiscing about his experiences there and the people he encountered. "Piano Man" is based on Joel's real-life experiences as a lounge musician in Los Angeles from 1972 to 1973, which he had decided to pursue in an effort to escape his contracted New York City-based record company at the time, Family Productions, following the poor commercial performance of the album Cold Spring Harbor. Joel describes various characters, including a bartender named John and a "real estate novelist" named Paul, all based on real-life individuals.

Joel's first major hit and his signature song, "Piano Man" peaked at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1974.[3][4] Following Joel's breakthrough as a popular musician with the release of The Stranger, it became one of his most well-known songs. It is now a highlight of Joel's live shows, where he usually allows the audience to sing the chorus. In 2015, the Library of Congress selected "Piano Man" for preservation in the National Recording Registry for its "cultural, historic, or artistic significance".[5]


Song background[edit]

"Piano Man" is a fictionalized retelling of Joel's own experience as a piano-lounge singer for six months in 1972–73 at the now defunct Executive Room bar in the Wilshire district of Los Angeles.[6] In a talk on Inside the Actors Studio, Joel said that he had to get away from New York due to a conflict with his then recording company and hence lived in Los Angeles for three years with his first wife. Since he needed work to pay the bills, but could not use his better known name, he worked at the Executive Room bar as a piano player using the name "Bill Martin" (Joel's full name is William Martin Joel).[7]

Joel has stated that all of the characters depicted in the song were based on real people.[8] "John at the bar" was really the bartender who worked during Joel's shift at the piano bar. "Paul is a real estate novelist" refers to a real estate agent named Paul who would sit at the bar each night working on what he believed would be the next great American novel. "The waitress is practicing politics" refers to Joel's first wife Elizabeth Weber, with whom he moved to Los Angeles from New York in 1972 and who worked at The Executive Room as a waitress while Joel played the piano.[9] 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 had 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.[10]


The verses of the song are sung from the point of view of a bar piano player who focuses mainly on the "regular crowd" that "shuffles" into the bar at nine o'clock on a Saturday: an old man, John the bartender, the waitress, businessmen, and bar regulars like "real estate novelist" Paul and naval serviceman 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 pianist makes money when the patrons "sit at the bar, and put bread in my jar, and say, 'Man, what are you doin' here?'" 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." As for the lyrics, Joel has observed that with their five-line grouping, they were more in the form of a limerick than a typical poem.[11]


Cash Box said that the "soft, tender narrative tune, reminiscent of that material being spun by Harry Chapin, is going to attract a ton of folks looking to sink their teeth into an equal blend of music and lyric".[12] Record World described it as "a lengthy (4:30) story song that is reminiscent of Harry Chapin's 'Taxi' in style and sound."[13]


It was first released as a single on November 2, 1973, and then 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 (at 5:37) by Columbia Records executives. Two verses were cut in half and spliced together for the release (at 4:33). A promo 45 contained an even shorter edit (at 3:16), which also removed the 4th verse and final chorus. These single edits were remixed – bringing out the acoustic guitars and harmonicas. Joel's followup "The Entertainer" refers to the editing of it 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."


Joel wrote and originally performed the song in the key of C major. It has a 3
waltz time signature and begins with a jazzy piano solo before moving into its piano and harmonica introduction. The verses and 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 guitar, acoustic guitar, accordion, mandolin, and drums.

Joel regretted 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, 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]

The first music video for this song was released in 1973. It features Joel portraying Bill Martin, a bar act performing the song, and shows a typical American bar as a setting. A new version of the video was shot in 1985, with new extras, and a much more crowded bar scene.[citation needed] The original video used an alternate take of the song but it was at the same length as the album version, while the new video used said album version.


The single broke into the Billboard Top 40 in April 1974 at #30,[14] going on to ultimately peak at #25, making it Joel's first top 40 hit. In Canada, the song peaked at #10, and established Joel as a star there.

Initially, "Piano Man" was a moderate hit in the US. However, following the 1977 release of Joel's album The Stranger, the song became one of his best-known and best-loved songs.[15]

During the first Face to Face tour featuring Elton John and Joel, ads promoted the event as "Rocket Man meets Piano Man".[16]

"Piano Man" was ranked #421 in the 2004 list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Ultimate Classic Rock placed it at #63 in its "Top 100 Classic Rock Songs" list.[17]

"Piano Man" was selected as one of 25 sound recordings in 2015 to be preserved by the Library of Congress National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[18]



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[30] Gold 45,000double-dagger
Germany (BVMI)[31] Gold 250,000double-dagger
Mexico (AMPROFON)[32] Gold 30,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[33] Platinum 600,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[34] 5× Platinum 5,000,000double-dagger

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ "200 Greatest Soft Rock Songs". Entertainment.expertscolumn.com.
  2. ^ Church, Joseph (2019). Rock in the Musical Theatre: A Guide for Singers. Oxford University Press. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-19-094349-3.
  3. ^ Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. April 20, 1974. p. Front cover. Retrieved October 8, 2016 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ "Billy Joel: Chart history". Billboard. Archived from the original on June 3, 2016. Retrieved October 8, 2016.
  5. ^ ""Piano Man," "I Will Survive" and Wilt Chamberlain's 100-Point Game Receive Designation". Library of Congress. March 23, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  6. ^ Joel, Billy. "Billy Joel Interview". CBS This Morning (Interview). Interviewed by Charlie Rose. YouTube. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  7. ^ "Major 7th chords: a talk with Billy Joel". The Actors Studio, USA. 1999.
  8. ^ Bordowitz, Hank (March 1, 2011). Billy Joel: The Life and Times of An Angry Young Man. p. 73. ISBN 9781617130786. Retrieved January 1, 2018.
  9. ^ Getlen, Larry (January 26, 2014). "How Billy Joel Became 'The Piano Man'". New York Post. Retrieved January 17, 2016.
  10. ^ Bordowitz, Hank (2005). Billy Joel: The Life and Times of An Angry Young Man. Billboard Books. ISBN 9780823082506.[full citation needed]
  11. ^ "Billy Joel – Q & A with the Press Club, 2015". YouTube. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  12. ^ "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. November 10, 1973. p. 16. Retrieved December 11, 2021.
  13. ^ "Hits of the Week" (PDF). Record World. November 17, 1973. p. 1. Retrieved March 20, 2023.
  14. ^ "How Billy Joel Pushed Forward With 'Piano Man'". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved April 23, 2021.
  15. ^ "No. 63: Billy Joel, 'Piano Man' – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved April 23, 2021.
  16. ^ "Rocket Man". plantcity2.tbo.com. Archived from the original on September 23, 2012. Retrieved July 1, 2018.
  17. ^ "TOP 100 CLASSIC ROCK SONGS". Ultimateclassicrock.com. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  18. ^ "Billy Joel 'Piano Man' to Be Inducted in Library of Congress National Recording Registry". Billy Joel Official Site. March 23, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  19. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 156. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  20. ^ "Item Display – RPM – Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Archived from the original on January 10, 2016. Retrieved October 8, 2016.
  21. ^ "Item Display – RPM – Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  22. ^ "flavour of new zealand - search listener". Flavourofnz.co.nz. Retrieved April 23, 2021.
  23. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–2001. Record Research. p. 127.
  24. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 Singles, April 27, 1974". Archived from the original on February 21, 2017. Retrieved April 23, 2017.
  25. ^ "IRMA : Irish Charts – Singles, Albums & Compilations". Archived from the original on January 5, 2007. Retrieved October 8, 2016.
  26. ^ Steffen Hung. "Billy Joel – Piano Man". Dutchcharts.nl. Retrieved October 8, 2016.
  27. ^ "Archived copy". Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on January 15, 2022. Retrieved April 23, 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  28. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1999). Pop Annual. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. ISBN 978-0-89820-142-0.
  29. ^ "National Top 100 Singles for 1976". Kent Music Report. December 27, 1976. Retrieved January 15, 2022 – via Imgur.
  30. ^ "Danish single certifications – Billy Joel – Piano Man". IFPI Danmark. Retrieved October 1, 2021.
  31. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Billy Joel; 'Piano Man')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie. Retrieved December 22, 2022.
  32. ^ "Certificaciones" (in Spanish). Asociación Mexicana de Productores de Fonogramas y Videogramas. Retrieved October 6, 2021. Type Billy Joel in the box under the ARTISTA column heading and Piano Man in the box under the TÍTULO column heading.
  33. ^ "British single certifications – Billy Joel – Piano Man". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  34. ^ "American single certifications – Billy Joel – Piano Man". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved November 20, 2021.

External links[edit]