Friday, November 9, 1973

Billy Joel’s Piano Man released

First posted 5/9/2011; updated 9/21/2020.

Piano Man

Billy Joel

Released: November 9, 1973

Peak: 27 US, 98 UK, 26 CN, 14 AU

Sales (in millions): 4.0 US, -- UK, 5.5 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: pop/rock singer-songwriter


Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. Travelin’ Prayer (8/17/74, 77 US, 36 CL, 31 AC)
  2. Piano Man (2/23/74, 25 US, 1 CL, 4 AC, 10 CN, 20 AU, sales: 3 million)
  3. Ain’t No Crime
  4. You’re My Home (1981 live version: 100 AU)
  5. The Ballad of Billy the Kid (17 CL)
  6. Worse Comes to Worst (6/29/74, 80 US, 42 CL)
  7. Stop in Nevada
  8. If I Only Had the Words to Tell You
  9. Somewhere Along the Line
  10. Captain Jack (11 CL)

Total Running Time: 42:51


3.490 out of 5.00 (average of 11 ratings)

About the Album:

After failed albums with the Hassles, Attila, and his solo debut, Billy Joel left the east coast for Los Angeles, where he worked as a lounge singer for six months. Thanks to touring and hustling, he landed a contract with Columbia and recorded his second album. “Never mind Movin’ Out – Twyla Tharp should make a Broadway musical out of Joel’s second album, in which a scrappy Long Islander goes West, meets banjo players and decides he wants to be rock’s equivalent of Aaron Copland.” DB

The resulting Piano Man album showed inspiration from James Taylor and Elton John, specifically the latter’s Tumbleweed Connection, both musically and lyrically. AMG With the exception of You’re My Home, a love letter to his wife, he abandoned the more introspective fare of Cold Spring Harbor “for character sketches and epics.” AMG

This is especially notable in the title cut, which became one of Joel’s signature songs. He he offered a fictionalized version of his job as a lounge singer, but rather than focus on himself, he focused on the patrons who inhabited the bar. The song reversed Joel’s fate, reaching the top 40 in the U.S. and putting him on the map.

He still had weaknesses as a lyricist; as evidenced by “mishaps [such] as the ‘instant pleasuredome’ line in ‘You’re My Home’” AMG and “his narratives are occasionally awkward or incomplete” AMG but he “makes it clear that his skills as a melodicist can dazzle.” AMG

He “may have borrowed his basic blueprint from Tumbleweed Connection, particularly with its Western imagery and bluesy gospel flourishes, but he makes it his own” AMG “thanks to his indelible melodies and savvy stylistic repurposing.” AMG Songs like The Ballad of Billy the Kid, which is about more than just the outlaw, showcase how no one other than Elton John “merged such playful grandiosity with so many hooks.” DB

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