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Piano Man
Song

Piano Man

Billy Joel
Album:
Piano Man

Song Meaning and Background of Piano Man by Billy Joel


The song is performed from Joel's perspective as a piano player at a pub, reflecting on his memories of those encounters and the people he met. "Piano Man" is based on Billy Joel's actual experiences working as a lounge musician in Los Angeles from 1972 to 1973, a career choice he made in an effort to leave his then-hired New York City record company, Family Productions, in the wake of the album Cold Spring Harbor's underwhelming sales.


The characters Joel describes are all based on real-life people, including a barman named John and a "real estate novelist" named Paul.


The song's verses are sung from the perspective of a piano player in a bar who primarily concentrates on the "regular crowd" that "shuffles" into the establishment at nine on a Saturday: an elderly man, John the barman, the waitress, businessmen and regulars like "real estate novelist" Paul and naval serviceman Davy. The pianist's role is to let these folks, many of whom have unmet or broken goals, "forget about life for a while," as the song's lyrics put it. The customers who "sit at the bar, put bread in my jar, and say, Man, what are you doin' here?" are the ones that pay the pianist.


"Piano Man," which became Joel's anthem and first big hit, peaked at number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1974.


Lyrics of Piano Man by Billy Joel


It's nine o'clock on a Saturday

The regular crowd shuffles in

There's an old man sitting next to me

Making 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."

 

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 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 a 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."

 

Now Paul is a real estate novelist

Who never had time for a wife

And he's talking 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 drinking 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've 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 coming 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 doing here?"

 

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 alright

Release Date

1973

Songwriter/s

Billy Joel

Producer/s

Michael Stewart

Label/s

Columbia

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