The John DeBella Show

The John DeBella Show

The John DeBella Show

Billy Joel, "The Piano Man"

Billy Joel released Piano Man in 1973 without knowing how iconic the title track would become.

The song “Piano Man” is a classic that reminds so many people of a particular group of friends or a period of their lives that they can look back on happily in the sense of good memories and sadly in the sense of longing for the past.

The emotional classic never fails to invoke some kind of nostalgia whenever it’s played. Some listeners might interpret the lyrics with a sense of joy because of a group of people gathered in an old, smoky bar. Others might focus more on the authentic sense of sadness and loneliness that Joel sings about.

Almost everyone knows the bar glass sway of the members of the audience from the song’s official video.

Chris Epting, the author of If There’s a Bustle in Your Hedgegrow: 50 Lyrical Lines That Helped Define the 1970s, shared the story behind the lyrics of “Piano Man” during an appearance on the John DeBella Show.

Joel played regularly in a piano bar in Los Angeles called the Executive Room during the early 1970s.

“A lot of characters in the song ‘Piano Man’ actually were people who literally circled that bar at the old Executive Room, which was really nothing more than one of these small cocktail lounges,” Epting said.

His talent pushed the bar patrons to ask Billy Joel, “Man, what are you doing here?”

Joel’s success on the big stage for decades has confirmed their appreciation for a talented artist, as he has become one of the best-selling musicians in history.

The song introduces five characters that transport its listeners inside a smoky, rundown bar with an incredible sense of authenticity. The powerful lyrics, the fading harmonica, and the feeling of nostalgia have helped “Piano Man” withstand the test of time.


  • The "Old Man Sitting Next to Me"

    “There’s an old man sitting next to me
    Making love to his tonic and gin
    He says, Son can you play me a memory?
    I’m not really sure how it goes
    But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete
    When I wore a younger man’s clothes.”

    Billy Joel characterizes an old man who might not be so sharp anymore. His longing for the past sets the tone for theme of the song.

  • John at the Bar

    “Now John at the bar is a friend of mineHe gets me my drinks for freeAnd he’s quick with a joke, or to light up your smokeBut there’s some place that he’d rather be.”

    The bartender might seem like everyone’s favorite person on the surface, but the song reveals that there’s “some place that he’d rather be.” John’s lofty dreams of becoming a movie star are hardly uncommon for some people just fighting to make ends meet.


  • Paul the Real Estate Novelist

    “Now Paul is a real estate novelistWho never had time for a wife.”

    The idea of someone who is married to a job is emotionally authentic and appealing in a genuine sense, regardless of how sad it might be.

  • Davy from the Navy

    “And he’s talkin’ with Davy, who’s still in the navyAnd probably will be for life”

    The idea of Davy and Paul having a casual conversation at the bar escaping from the bigger picture of life is surprisingly heartwarming.

  • The Waitress Who's Practicing Politics

    “And the waitress is practicing politicsAs the businessmen slowly get stoned”

    Like John at the bar, the waitress is hustling around to earn her living while also chasing higher aspirations in life. It’s as relatable of an idea as any.

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