Writer(s): Billy Joel (see lyrics here)
Released: November 2, 1973
First Charted: February 9, 1974
Peak: 25 US, 16 CB, 19 HR, 23 RR, 4 AC, 1 CL, 10 CN, 20 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 0.1 US, 0.5 UK, 0.6 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 192.1 video, 608.52 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
“Great songs tell a story and…‘Piano Man’ paints a vivid portrait of a specific place and time, every time you hear it.” UCR Joel crafted “an indelible mental portrait of the characters who inhabit a watering hole on a Saturday night.” UCR “You can almost see the haze of cigarette smoke and hear the clinking of glasses.” UCR
The song grew out of Joel’s six-month stint as a lounge pianist in which he “he pecked out standards for lost souls.” RS500 It was 1971 and he performed under the name Bill Martin at the Executive Room in the Wilshire district of Los Angeles. SJ He left his native New York City to perform under an alias in another state and get out of his recording contracts with Ripp and Paramount Records after two failed bands – the Hassles and Attila – and a solo album that bombed. SJ As he said, “It was all right…I got free drinks and union scale, which was the first steady money I’d made in a long time.” RS500
“Piano Man” referenced real people he met while working there – John the bartender, Davy who really was in the Navy, and real estate broker and wanna-be novelist Paul. He also sang about the “Hollywood types” who “put bread in my jar, and say, ‘Man what are you doing here?’” SJ
One of them was Clive Davis, the president of Columbia Records. Davis signed him SJ and the resulting Piano Man album featured the title cut which launched Joel’s career. He was “one of the biggest singers of the next 25 years” UCR and although he had bigger hits – including three pop chart-toppers – “few could be considered more beloved.” UCR
First posted 4/28/2020; last updated 7/24/2022.