Saturday, November 2, 2013

piano man

Billy Joel had his breakthrough success with this album composed and recorded while he was trying to escape a bad record deal.  Joel had signed with Family Productions and recorded his debut album 'Cold Spring Harbor' with label owner Artie Ripp, who made an error in the mastering that sped up the songs.  Joel recalls:   "I got a job after I did the 'Cold Spring Harbor' album, I dropped out of sight. I had to get out of this horrible deal that I’d signed. I signed away everything – the copyrights, publishing, record royalties, everything. My first child. I gave it all away, and I said, “I’ve got to get out of this deal,” and I hid in L.A. and I worked in a piano bar under the name Bill Martin. This was down in the Wilshire district. It’s not a real bar town, L.A. Long Island has a pub on every corner. It’s a pub culture, every corner there’s a bar...Some people think I did it for years. I worked in this piano bar for six months. I needed to make some money. I made union scale. I got tips. I mostly played the major seven chords."

A live version of 'Captain Jack' became an underground hit on the east coast and led to a record deal with Columbia Records; which bought his contract from Ripp, who stipulated that the Family Productions logo appear alongside Columbia and that he receive a twenty-five cent royalty on every record sold.  'Piano Man' was recorded at Devonshire Sound in Los Angeles with producer Michael Stewart.  The sessions featured Billy Joel on harmonica, keyboards, piano, and vocals; Larry Carlton, Richard Bennett, and Dean Parks on guitar; Emory Gordy, Jr. on bass guitar; Wilton Felder on bass guitar and keyboards; Eric Weissberg and Fred Heilbrun  on banjo; Billy Armstrong on violin; Rhys Clark and Ron Tutt on drums; Michael Omartian on  accordion; and Laura Creamer, Mark Creamer, and Susan Steward on vocals.  
Joel says:   "We did 'Piano Man' in L.A. And there was an album—that wasn’t a hit album. People perceived that to be a hit. It was not a hit...'Piano Man' was not a hit record. It was a turntable hit. In other words, it didn’t sell through, but this is back in the early ‘70s. In those days they still had FM progressive radio. Disc jockeys could spin whatever they wanted." 

'Piano Man' charted at one hundred and twelve in Japan, ninety-eight in the UK, twenty-seven in the US, twenty-six in Canada, and fourteen in Australia.  It has been certified quadruple-platinum.

The title track became his signature song and gave him his first taste of success, going to number one hundred and thirty-six in the UK, twenty-five on the US pop chart, twenty in Australia, ten in Canada, and number four on the US adult contemporary chart.  It was based on his experiences working at The Executive Room  piano bar on Wilshire Boulevard.  Joel says:    "John was the bartender. Paul was this real estate guy who wanted to write the great American novel and Davey was a guy who was in the Navy.  It’s a true story and I knew when I was doing the gig, I said, ‘I gotta get a song out of this’ and it worked out...Even the girl in the song, that says ‘And the waitress is practicing politics, as the businessmen slowly get stoned’ – that was my first wife.  She was working there too, as a waitress ... It was a gig I did for about 6 months just to pay rent. I was living in LA and trying to get out of a bad record contract I'd signed. I worked under an assumed name, the Piano Stylings of Bill Martin, and just bulls--ted my way through it. I have no idea why that song became so popular. It's like a karaoke favorite. The melody is not very good and very repetitious, while the lyrics are like limericks. I was shocked and embarrassed when it became a hit. But my songs are like my kids and I look at that song and think: 'My kid did pretty well.'"

It's nine o'clock on a Saturday
 the regular crowd shuffles in
 There's an old man sitting next to me
 Makin' 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
La la la de de da
 la la de de da da dum
 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 feelin' alright
Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
 He gets me my drinks for free
 And he's quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
 But there's someplace that he'd rather be
 He says Bill, I believe this is killing me
 As the smile ran away from his face
 Well I'm sure that I could be a movie star
 If I could get out of this place
Oh, la la la de de da
 la la de de da da dum
Now Paul is a real estate novelist
 Who never had time for a wife
 And he's talking with Davy who's still in the navy
 And probably will be for life
And the waitress is practicing politics
 As the businessmen slowly get stoned
 Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness
 But it's better than drinking alone
 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 feelin' alright.
It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday,
 And the manager gives me a smile
 'Cause he knows that it's me they've been coming to see
 To forget about life for awhile.
 And the piano sounds like a carnival
 And the microphone smells like a beer
 And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
 And say "Man, what are you doin' here?"
La la la de de da
 la la de de da da dum
 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 feelin' alright.

'Piano Man'

full album: 

All songs written by Billy Joel.

Side one
"Travelin' Prayer" – 4:16
"Piano Man" – 5:37
"Ain't No Crime" – 3:20
"You're My Home" – 3:14
"The Ballad of Billy the Kid" – 5:35
Side two
"Worse Comes to Worst" – 3:28
"Stop in Nevada" – 3:40
"If I Only Had the Words (To Tell You)" – 3:35
"Somewhere Along the Line" – 3:17
"Captain Jack" – 7:15

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