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"
Released 1974
Format 7"
Recorded Devonshire Sound, Los Angeles
Genre Rock, Folk rock, country and western
Length 3:03 (single)
4:16 (album)
Label Family 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"
"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]

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). "Dolly Parton Makes Big Splash With Little Sparrow". ABC News. Retrieved 2014-03-27.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  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.