is a singer and songwriter who emerged onto the in the early 1970s and built a solid career on chart-topping piano hits that told of his life, experiences, and love for New York. He has had a string of popular hits throughout his career, including “ ,” “ ,” “Just the Way You Are,” and more.
One of his earliest hits was the song “Piano Man,” about a piano player in a bar talking about all the regular patrons. It has since become synonymous with Joel and his career, but Joel wasn’t as happy with the song as fans would think, considering he used it to close many of his concerts over the years and how popular it is for singalongs and karaoke bars.
The success of ‘Piano Man’ embarrassed Joel
When “Piano Man” became an overnight success, Joel was very surprised at the way that people enjoyed it. According to, Joel could see all of the flaws in it: “The melody is not very good and very repetitious, while the lyrics are like limericks,” he said.
But Joel also knew that the public had spoken when it came to the song’s lasting popularity, and even though he wasn’t terribly happy with the song, every song that he writes is special to him.
“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.”
The inspiration for ‘Piano Man’ came from real-life people the songwriter knew
While Joel was itching to get away from New York City in 1972, he made his way to Los Angeles. He was fighting with his record company at the time and not seeing a lot of movement after releasing his first album, so he acquired the pseudonym Bill Martin (a nod to his first and middle names) and took a job playing piano at a bar.
According to, most of the characters that are described in the song are real people that Joel came to know at the bar, including Paul, the real estate novelist, and John at the bar, who was the actual bartender. Joel’s first wife, Elizabeth Weber, even makes an appearance in the song, being the “waitress practicing politics.”
Joel may find many flaws in his first major hit record, but fans are still singing along all these years later since the song has become very popular at karaoke nights around the world.
How Joel’s music has transformed since the 1973 hit
Although Joel was surprised (and embarrassed) that “Piano Man” became such a hit, it didn’t keep him from writing some of the top songs of the 1970s and 1980s. While some of Joel’s songs are often criticized for being too long to play on the radio (as referenced in “The Entertainer”), he has won numerous awards for his music.
Joel has won five Grammy awards, including Song of the Year and Album of the Year. Joel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. He is also included on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was the second entertainer chosen for the Madison Square Garden Walk of Fame.
His prolific career has rewarded him with aof $225 million, and he’s not ready to retire just yet. Most recently, Joel has been enjoying the continuation of his residency at Madison Square Garden, where he delights fans with his repertoire of hits, including “Piano Man.”