♫ Piano Man ♫

I last played this one over two years ago, so I don’t feel too guilty for reduxing it tonight, as I am just too exhausted to go in search of new material.  Tomorrow night, I promise!  I debated  between this one and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” that has a terrific saxophone solo I just love, but this one won the coin toss. 


In 1972-1973, Billy Joel worked at the Executive Room bar in Los Angeles as a piano player using the name “Bill Martin”.  He was in dispute with his then-recording company and took the job to pay the bills while waiting for his lawyers to straighten things out back in New York.  The song Piano Man tells of a number of different characters that were based on real people Joel met while playing in the lounge.

“It was a gig I did for about six months just to pay rent. I was living in LA and trying to get out of a bad record contract I’d signed. I worked under an assumed name, the Piano Stylings of Bill Martin, and just bulls–ted my way through it. I have no idea why that song became so popular. It’s like a karaoke favorite. The melody is not very good and very repetitious, while the lyrics are like limericks. I was shocked and embarrassed when it became a hit. But my songs are like my kids and I look at that song and think: ‘My kid did pretty well.'”

His ‘kid’ did pretty well indeed!  Piano Man peaked at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1974. 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 place of him. In 2016, the Library of Congress selected Piano Man for preservation in the National Recording Registry for its “cultural, historic, or artistic significance.”

Piano Man
Billy Joel

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday
The regular crowd shuffles in
There’s an old man sitting next to me
Makin’ love to his tonic and gin

He says, “Son, can you play me a memory
I’m not really sure how it goes
But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man’s clothes”

La la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum

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 feelin’ alright

Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there’s someplace that he’d rather be
He says, “Bill, I believe this is killing me”
As the smile ran away from his face
“Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place”

Oh, la la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum

Now Paul is a real estate novelist
Who never had time for a wife
And he’s talkin’ with Davy, who’s still in the Navy
And probably will be for life

And the waitress is practicing politics
As the businessmen slowly get stoned
Yes, they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it’s better than drinkin’ alone

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 got us feeling alright

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the manager gives me a smile
‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been comin’ to see
To forget about life for a while
And the piano, it sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say, “Man, what are you doin’ here?”

Oh, la la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum

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 got us feeling alright

Songwriters: Billy Joel
Piano Man lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

27 thoughts on “♫ Piano Man ♫

  1. One of his best. I like songs that tell stories – Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and John Mellencamp spring to mind as others who do this well. Billy Joel’s take on history – We Didn’t Start The Fire – is a fine song too.

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    • I, too, like songs that tell a story. You know what? I started out to play “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, but decided on this one instead, for I thought it was a bit too … too depressing.

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      • Clive, Jill, I love these storytelling songs as well. Springsteen’s “The River” needs to be played, discussed and explained in every freshman high school class. Clive also did a piece on Cat Stevens who had a number of story telling songs – “Father and Son” is my favorite of these. Keith

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      • And this one isn’t? All those sad, lonely people looking for companionship, that strikes me as sad. The best song I know of this sort is Waltzing’s For Dreamers, by Richard Thompson – a real heartbreaker!

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          • Not dark, but still a sad commentary. I’m a big fan of Richard Thompson, ever since his early days (1967) in Fairport Convention. Do you know Dimming of the Day, by Bonnie Raitt? He wrote it, amongst many other great songs.

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            • Having hung out in some of those smoky piano bars at one point in my life, I guess to me this is just a commentary of how life is sometimes. Most … not all, but most people move on from that stage, but for those who don’t, it is a sad life. The title, “Dimming of the Day” did not ring any bells, so I listened to the song on YouTube and the version I heard also had Richard Thompson singing the song with Bonnie! It was pretty good, actually! A bit too country, but still pretty good.

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                  • Odd that, I’ve never thought that. Maybe it’s Bonnie’s influence and voice? The original dates back to when RT sang with his then wife, Linda, who takes the lead vocal. I definitely don’t hear country in that! It’s on their album Pour Down Like Silver if you are feeling bored and want to check it out.

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                    • I think that’s exactly what it was … no matter what she sings, she brings a hint of country to it! Feeling bored? I don’t remember what that feels like, for the last time I was bored was when I was ten years old! However, I will check it out anyway! 😉

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    • Ahhhh … so you had heard if before, eh? I’m glad to have added to your knowledge, then! We shall see about the weekend, for granddaughter Natasha and I get our second dose of the Pfizer vaccine tomorrow, which I hear can make you quite ill for a day or two. xx

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  2. Jill, I can see why Joel is not as high on the song, as we his fans are. But, it tells a series of vignettes throughout, plus setting the scene of the regular bar crowd that surrounds the “piano man.” Keith

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