Published on July 14, 2016
“Piano Man” is the first single released by Billy Joel. It was released on November 2, 1973, and has been included on several subsequent albums. Joel’s first major hit and his signature song, the song peaked at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1974. In 2016, the Library of Congress selected “Piano Man” for preservation in the National Recording Registry for its “cultural, historic, or artistic significance.”
“Piano Man” is a fictionalized retelling of Joel’s experience as a piano-lounge singer for six months in 1972 at the now defunct Executive Room bar in Los Angeles. Joel has stated that all of the characters depicted in the song were based on real people “John at the bar” was really the bartender who worked during Joel’s shift at the piano bar. “Paul is a real estate novelist” refers to a real estate agent named Paul who would sit at the bar each night 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, with whom he moved to Los Angeles from New York in 1972 and who worked at The Executive Room as a waitress while Joel played the piano. Joel had moved from New York to L.A. to record his first album, Cold Spring Harbor which was marred by a mastering error by the album’s producers at Family Productions, the first label that signed Joel. After this bad experience, Joel wanted to leave his contract with Family Productions for Columbia Records, but the contract that he had signed made this very difficult. So Joel stated that he was “hiding out” at the bar, performing under the name Bill Martin, while lawyers at Columbia Records tried to get him out of his first record deal.