Cold Spring Harbor, Billy Joel's debut solo album, failed to make a strong impression upon its release in 1971. Worse still, it was released with a curious mastering gaffe that sped up songs and altered the pitch of Joel's vocals. Frustrated and seeking a change in scenery, Long Island native Joel packed his bags for Los Angeles. There he took any and every gig he could find as a lounge singer/pianist (performing under the name Bill Martin). From these long L.A. nights of cigarette smoke and boozy requests, however, came the inspiration and images for "Piano Man" – the title track of Joel's 1973 album for Columbia Records and one of his signature songs. It stands as a classic of the Seventies singer/songwriter movement. Playing expressive piano, reaching into his upper vocal range, Joel rues his own failings while finding hope and even humor in his interactions with the bar's patrons and staff. An old man, a waitress, Paul the "real estate novelist," Davy "who's still in the Navy" – listeners can imagine them all joining in on the song's indelible 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 all right. The song reached Number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April 1974 and spent 14 weeks on the chart. Joel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.
Listen to and learn the stories behind the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's unique app. This app features clips of more than 500 songs, each with cover art, and fascinating artist and recording notes. The searchable list of songs is also divided among decades and artists, so finding and hearing exactly what you want is easy. It's perfect for trivia buffs, music lovers and fans of rock and roll. Click here to learn more!