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Billy Joel: 'Piano Man' 'could've been about anywhere'

Billy Joel performs at Nassau Coliseum on Dec.

Billy Joel performs at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 11, 1977, and, yes he performed "Piano Man," fourth in the setlist. Credit: Michael Tapes

Billy Joel song of the day: Piano Man (from the 1973 album of the same name)

Billy Joel's breakthrough hit, the signature song that gave the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer his nickname, is actually about his time spent in Los Angeles, playing in a piano bar called The Executive Room while some of his music industry troubles got sorted out.

"Piano Man" is an anthem about the power of music, its ability to help us all "forget about life for a while." But it also captures the failed dreams of the bar patrons that they want to escape. Joel includes himself among them, challenged by a patron, "Man, what are you doing here?" as he probably wonders about that himself.

The universality of "Piano Man" touches a chord with people, far more than its chart peak of No. 25 in 1974 would suggest. People still relate to it, which is why it can work on "Glee," why thousands link arm in arm in stadiums to sing it at his shows around the world, and why thousands more will raise a glass and sing it at closing time in bars across the country. When life is tough, we're all in the mood for a melody.


"It was written about L.A., about a piano bar. But L.A. is not really a bar town and it's really not a piano bar town. This was kind of an odd place. It was a place where people came to drink their troubles away after they lost at the track, so it was kind of an anomaly for Los Angeles. It could have been anywhere, really. It could've been about anywhere where they have a guy sitting at the piano singing to the leather banquettes."

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