Song Lyric Sunday – 5 September 2021 – Piano Man

Jim Adams’ Song Lyric Sunday gives us the chance to share familiar, and sometimes not so familiar, songs. This week the prompt is to find a song that may include, or reference, one of the following: Carnival, Festival, Gala, or Jamboree.

If you fancy sharing one of your favourite songs you can find out how to participate, and also listen to all the great entries, here.

Today, I’m featuring Billy Joel and his signature song Piano Man.

Piano Man is a semi-autobiographical tune and is one of Billy Joel’s most famous. It tends to make us feel nostalgic, as if we were sitting in that very bar listening to the great man.

Billy Joel wrote ‘Piano Man’ for the album of the same name, released in 1973. He was just 24 when he wrote it.

The song is a fictionalised version of Billy’s own experience as a piano-lounge singer which he did for six months in 1972–73 at the Executive Room bar in the Wilshire district of Losaway.

As he needed work to pay the bills, but couldn’t use his well-known name, he worked at the bar as a piano player under the name ‘Bill Martin’ (his full name is William Martin Joel).

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.'”

Some Facts about the song:

  • The verses of the song are sung from the point of view of a bar piano player, who focuses mainly on other people at the bar, who arrive at 9 o’clock on a Saturday. These include:
  • An old man, John the bartender, the waitress, businessmen, and bar regulars like ‘real estate novelist’ Paul and US Navy sailor, Davy.
  • Most of the characters have broken or unfulfilled dreams, and the pianist’s job is to help them “forget about life for a while”.
  • The pianist makes money when guests “sit at the bar, and put bread in my jar, and say, ‘Man, what are you doin’ here?”.
  • The chorus comes from the bar patrons themselves, who say, “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 all right.”
  • Billy has said that all of the characters depicted in the song were based on real people.
  • “John at the bar” was actually the bartender who worked during his shift at the piano bar.
  • “Paul is a real estate novelist” is about a real estate agent named Paul who would sit at the bar working on what he believed would be the next great American novel.
  • “The waitress is practicing politics” refers to Joel’s first wife Elizabeth Weber, and who worked at The Executive Room as a waitress.
  • “Davy” was inspired by David Heintz. His daughter Lisa told Songfacts: “He met Billy Joel in a pub in Spain in 1972 while he was in the Navy. He married while he was in the navy, had three children. He passed away in 2003 of ALS. It really hurts when I hear this song played on the radio and they leave this part out.”
  • Believe it or not, but it was never a hit in the UK at all!
  • In the US, it reached number 25 in the US, and number 10 in Canada.
  • It wasn’t until the success of his 1977 album The Stranger that the song began getting played more on radio and became one of his signature songs.
  • Today, it remains popular, and ranks as his #1 song on iTunes and Spotify.

Piano Man

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

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Billy JoelPiano Man lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

30 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday – 5 September 2021 – Piano Man

  1. Great choice, Peter. I have always loved Billy Joel’s music and this song is a particular favorite of mine. I loved hearing this today. I always loved a good piano bar but I am not sure there are many remaining.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for doing such a great job of explaining this song Peter and although I did know it was based on his life, I learned a lot form your post. This is a wonderful song because of the inflection that Billy Joel puts into it. The harmonica and the piano also mesh very well together.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful song choice, Peter! And I greatly enjoyed reading the facts you shared! Thank you! 🙂

    I first heard Mr. Joel sing when I was a young girl…and I’ve been listening to him ever since! We are both more well-seasoned these days, but we’re, also, spicier, too! 😉 😀

    He has so many songs that have been in what I call The Soundtrack of My Life. When I hear certain of his songs I have a rush of memories, senses, and feelings…where I heard the song the first time, who I with when I heart it, etc….even the temperature of the day/night, the smells, the emotions, etc. 🙂

    I still love going on YouTube and watching his music videos from the 1980’s! 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Song Lyric Sunday – 5 September 2021 – Piano Man – MobsterTiger

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