Billy Joel has had so many beloved hit songs that are instantly recognizable that it’s impossible to cite any one song as his “signature” tune. However, when many people hear Joel’s name, they think of his enchanting song, “Piano Man.”
Joel acknowledges the song’s widespread appeal and usually lets the audience sing the chorus during his live concert performances. “Piano Man” is storytelling in song at its best. Although the basis of the song may seem simple, the detail and heart in it is unique, especially for a pop song. The story behind the song is just as telling in many ways.
“Piano Man” is more than just a concept song. It’s actually based on Billy’s own experiences when he worked as a lounge singer and piano player at the Executive Lounge in Los Angeles, California. He had just moved from New York City to Los Angeles, and he was trying to get out of a record deal that he really wanted to leave in favor of signing with Columbia Records. As he was waiting it out, he performed at the lounge under the name of Bill Martin.
When he appeared on “Inside the Actors Studio” in 1999, Billy confessed that all of the characters in the song were based on real people, either his friends or strangers that would come into the lounge. He revealed that his first wife, Elizabeth Weber, was the inspiration for the character of the waitress who was practicing politics. (Joel fans may also know that she was the inspiration for his song, “Just The Way You Are,” which was written as a gift to her.)
The song was considered to be too long at its running time of 5 minutes and 38 seconds. They cut it for a single, but it was later released in its original version on several of his albums. It has often been praised and included in many ways in pop culture. It can be downloaded for the video game “Rock Band 3.” “Rolling Stone” named it as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time.