A Piano Man Is Born

In 1973, Billy Joel released his breakthrough album, Piano Man, which contained the hit single and title track, “Piano Man.” It eventually hit as high as #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and it’s still one of the best known rock songs of all time.

The song immediately conjurs up images of the stereotypical piano player/lounge singer, performing in a bar full of lonely people looking for a few songs to cheer them up. But what made it appeal to so many people, even to this day?

How “Piano Man” Struck A Universal Chord

I believe several factors contributed to the longevity and popularity of the song.

First of all, the melody is very simple, which makes the song very singable. In fact, it’s so simple that without someone to sing the lyrics, it almost sounds like a child could have written it. But there’s more to the melody than that – it kind of sounds like on old German drinking song, don't you think? It doesn’t even need lyrics – part of the song is just, “La da da di dee da…” But when you add in, “Sing us a song, you’re the piano man…,” I don’t know about you, but it makes me want to gather ‘round the piano, raise a mug of beer, put my arm around the guy next to me, and just sing along. Now that's a song that's going to last forever!

Then there are the Piano Man lyrics. Again, there’s nothing magical about them, is there? The whole song is just one big description of a particular setting – there’s no big story, no development, just a description of the bar, the people, and the piano. The lyrics are so well done, can’t you just feel yourself sitting in that bar, listening to the piano, and “sharing a drink they call loneliness”?

Finally, I think there’s something even bigger than the melody and the lyrics – it’s a kind of coming together, or sharing in the human experience through this song. I don’t want to get too “out there” with this, but be honest – don’t you feel some sort of connection with the people in the song – who, by the way, are fictional versions of actual people – and even a connection with people who simply know the song? Sure, there are other songs that do that, too, but “Piano Man” does it through the piano, in a way that pays tribute to the instrument, the musician, and the listeners. And as a piano lover, that certainly puts the song at the top of my list, and - I'm guessing - probably yours, too, if you’re even just half the fan of the piano that I am. Heck, I think there's a time when "we're all in the mood for a melody."


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