Meaning of Piano Man by Billy Joel & The Story Behind

The creative path of the composer and singer Billy Joel is amazing and admirable. William Martin Joel is one of the most commercially successful American artists, whose collections of the best songs have been distributed in huge circulations over the years. Interestingly, the first single “Piano Man” made the star of the future owner of two dozen Grammys and an honorary member of all kinds of halls of fame.

Piano Man song story

In 1972, Billy moved from New York to Los Angeles to hide from the representatives of the label with which he signed an unprofitable contract. In the “City of Angels” difficult financial situation forced Joel to get a job as a pianist in the Executive Room bar on Wilshire.

It was a program that I ran for about six months to pay my rent. I was living in Los Angeles and trying to get out of a bad record deal I signed. I worked under an assumed name, “Bill Martin’s Piano Stylings”…

Metro, 2006

According to Billy Joel, all of the characters were real people he came to know while performing in a bar:

John was a bar owner and Paul was his real estate agent who wanted to write the great American novel, and Davey was a guy who was in the Navy. This is a true story, and when I spoke to the public, I said: “I have to make a song,” and everything worked out. Even the girl in the song that says “And the waitress is practicing politics, as the businessmen slowly get stoned” was my first wife. She also worked there as a waitress., 2010

All the characters in the song were real people. John at the bar was a guy named John, and he was behind the bar. Davy was in the Navy… and probably still is. And the waitress was actually my first ex-wife. [Elizabeth Weber]… She served cocktails there for a short time while I played the piano … “Old man making love to his tonic and gin” – well, there is a bit of poetic liberties here. In fact, he didn’t make love with his gin and tonic because that would be pretty vulgar.

1994 Harvard speech

Lisa, Joel’s daughter, spoke about David Heintz, who is referred to as Davy in “Piano Man”:

He met Billy Joel in a Spanish pub in 1972 while in the Navy. He married while serving and had three children. In 2003, he died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It really hurts me when I hear a song on the radio from which this part is cut.

Release and achievements

“Piano Man” was Billy Joel’s debut single. The record was released in November 1973. It climbed to number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Billy recalled:

“Piano Man” was not a hit record. It was a hit with the DJs. In other words, it wasn’t for sale, but it was in the early seventies. Progressive FM radio was still working in those days. Disc jockeys could put on the air whatever they wanted.

The success of the song was a surprise for the author:

I have no idea why this song became so popular. It looks like a karaoke hit. The melody is not very good and very monotonous, while the lyrics are like limericks. I was shocked and embarrassed when it became a hit. But my songs are like my children to me, so I looked at her and thought: “My baby did a good job.”

Metro, 2006

The song became the second track on Billy Joel’s self-titled album and was later included on several of his best-of compilations.

“Piano Man” is listed as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone readers. It is also included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll” list.

The music video for Piano Man features Joel as Billy Martin playing in a traditional American bar.

Interesting Facts

  • Any musician who is going to play the piano in an American bar should definitely know “Piano Man”, as he will be constantly asked to play it.
  • Piano Man is mentioned in the song Tiny Dancer by Elton John.
  • Elton John and Billy Joel’s joint concerts were advertised with the inscription “Rocket Man meets Piano Man” (“Astronaut meets the Pianist”).

Piano Man Lyrics 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
The regulars pull up
An old man sits next to me
Making love with his gin and tonic 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” He says, “Son, sing me one song.
I don’t remember exactly how it is played,
But she is sad and sentimental.
I know her completely
When he wore youth clothes”Chorus:
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
Sing us a song, because you are a pianist
Sing us a song tonight
We are all tuned to listen to music,
And you cheer us up 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 John at the bar is my friend
He pours me free
He is quick to joke and gives a light,
But he would like to be somewhere else 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”
And the smile flies off his face
“I’m sure I could be a screen star,
If I could get out of here”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
Who never got a wife
He chats with Davy, who is still in the Navy.
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
While the businessman slowly gets drunk
Yes, they drink together a drink called “loneliness”
But it’s better than drinking alone Chorus 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 manager smiles at me
‘Cause he knows they came for me
To forget about your life for a while And the piano 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?”
And the microphone smells like beer
And they sit at the bar tip me
And they say: “Boy, what are you doing here?” Chorus

Song quote

I think it’s a decent song. Almost nothing changes in it. When it’s played on the piano in the instrumental version, it gets really boring because it’s the same thing over and over and over again.

Billy Joel,
interview with Howard Stern, 2014

…an old, long song about a guy in a depressing piano bar.

Billy Joel, Entertainment Weekly, 2015

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