“Sing us a song, you’re the piano man…” So goes the chorus of Billy Joel’s Piano Man, which romanticizes his own experience as a lounge music artist for a brief period of 6 months in 1972 at the Executive Room bar in Los Angeles. But, what is it about the music which endears it to most of its listeners?
In Billy Joel’s state of mind (as in his album “New York State of Mind”), we find the artist at a low point of his musical career and forced to take a lounge music stint and to reflect on his own career (as one of the last lines says, “Man, what are you doin’ here?”). In the lounge of his music, however, this will be an important step in his transformation as a great singer and songwriter.
In fact, it is only more than a year ago that Billy Joel was awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song by the U.S. Library of Congress. Other previous recipients included Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and Sir Paul McCartney. Quoting Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, Billy Joe is a “storyteller of the highest order” who, through his music, showed that “there is an intimacy to his songwriting that bridges the gap between the listener and the worlds he shapes through music.”
So, what exactly about Billy Joel’s experience as a music lounge artist which inspired him to write the song “Piano Man”? Perhaps, the best way to describe the experience is that: in music, as in all other aspects of life, you can never put a good musician down. Hiding under the pseudonym “Bill Martin” after having his first recording contract at Columbia Records being sidetracked with legalities, Billy Joel opted to play lounge music and refused to be taken in with his own thoughts of loneliness by writing and playing what became his most popular signature song. In fact, “Piano Man” was so popular that. In concerts, Billy Joel would play it as his finale.
In the lounge of his music, we try to get in rhythm and flow with the piano remembering the chords and lyrics of a Billy Joel state of mind. Yes, there is something in lounge music that is both romantic and real. Some say it’s poetry. Others say it’s jazz. It may even be a story which is aching to be told time and time again. But, I think, for Billy Joel, lounge music is simply one artist’s state of mind.