Travelin' Prayer

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"Travelin' Prayer"
Travelin' Prayer label.jpg
Single by Billy Joel
from the album Piano Man
B-side"Ain't No Crime"
RecordedDevonshire Sound, Los Angeles
Length3:03 (single)
4:16 (album)
LabelFamily Productions/Columbia
Songwriter(s)Billy Joel
Producer(s)Michael Stewart
Billy Joel singles chronology
"Worse Comes to Worst"
"Travelin' Prayer"
"The Ballad of Billy the Kid"

"Travelin' Prayer" is a single written and performed by singer Billy Joel, and released as the 3rd single from his 1973 album Piano Man. The song is described as an urgent, banjo-fueled gem.[1] It reached number #77 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #34 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1974. It was a slightly bigger hit in Canada, where it reached #61.

The country-flavored song has been covered by both Earl Scruggs and Dolly Parton. Parton's version is particularly noteworthy, having been awarded a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance in 1999.

Lyrics and music[edit]

Joel wrote "Travelin' Prayer" about two years before it appeared on the album.[2] The song has four verses, the first of which is later repeated, and two instrumental breaks.[3] The lyrics offer a prayer that the singer's lover be protected until she returns to the singer.[3] The song has elements of country music, and is taken at a brisk pace.[3] Instrumentation includes honky-tonk piano, banjo, bass, violin and drums, the latter of which are played with brushes.[3] Joel plays mouth harp during the second instrumental break.[3] Author Ken Bielen sees the song as being influenced by a traditional Irish blessing for an easy return home.[3] Bielen also notes that the song fits with a trend during the period in which religious images were often used in popular songs.[3] Author Hank Bordowitz describes the song as a "pop-grass on-the-road-again song."[2] Bordowitz particularly praises the banjo playing of Eric Weissberg.[2]

Cover versions[edit]

"Travelin' Prayer" was covered by Earl Scruggs Revue in 1973 on the album Rockin' Cross the Country.[4] Billboard Magazine rated it as one of the "best cuts" on the album.[5] It later earned Dolly Parton a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, when she covered it in 1999 on the album The Grass Is Blue.[6][7] CMJ noted the song as a "recommended track."[8]

Parton has stated that she "always loved Billy Joel's 'Travelin' Prayer', which [she] thought lent itself to pure bluegrass."[9] The CMJ New Music Report confirmed that Parton's arrangement transforms the song into a "legitimate bluegrass tune."[8] Allmusic critic Philip Van Vleck agrees that it works as a bluegrass song.[10] Author Ken Bielen notes that "Parton recognizes the roots music element" of the song.[3] Bielen notes that Parton's version begins with a slow violin introduction that lasts almost a minute, but the rest of the song goes at "pedal to the metal" speed.[3] In addition to the violin, Parton's backing instruments include banjo, dobro, mandolin, guitar and bass guitar.[3]

Holly Dunn covered the song in her Across the Rio Grande album in 1988 though the song was not released.

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1974) Peak
Canadian Singles Chart[11] 61
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[12] 77
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks[13] 34


  1. ^ "Song of the Day: 'Travelin' Prayer,' Billy Joel". 2011-11-07. Retrieved 2014-01-31.
  2. ^ a b c Bordowitz, H. (2006). Billy Joel: The Life & Times of an Angry Young Man. Random House. pp. 74–75, 238. ISBN 9780823082483.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bielen, K. (2011). The Words and Music of Billy Joel. ABC-CLIO. pp. 27, 130. ISBN 9780313380167.
  4. ^ "Rockin' Cross the Country". Allmusic. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
  5. ^ "Billboard's Top Album Picks". Billboard Magazine. June 1, 1974. p. 48. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
  6. ^ Graff, G. (February 13, 2001). "Dolly Parton Makes Big Splash With Little Sparrow". ABC News. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
  7. ^ "Dolly Parton awards". IMDB. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
  8. ^ a b "Dolly Parton: The Grass is Blue". CMJ New Music Report. November 1, 1999. p. 28. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
  9. ^ Bessman, J. (September 25, 1999). "Parton Sings Bluegrass for the Fans". Billboard Magazine. p. 34. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
  10. ^ Van Vleck, P. "The Grass is Blue". Allmusic. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
  11. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2014-01-31.
  12. ^ "Billy Joel - Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 2014-01-31.
  13. ^ "Billy Joel - Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 2014-01-31.