We move from one New York/New Jersey singer songwriter to another with Billy Joel’s second album, “Piano Man”. Not surprisingly, this album is dominated by the autobiographical title track, which was the only notable hit on the record, but there are some other interesting songs to contemplate here.
I am a big fan of Billy Joel, and like Elton John, who he often performs with, he is a fantastic piano player to compliment his skills as a singer and songwriter. Let’s start with the infamous title track. By now, we have probably all heard this song a few too many times, but today I was able to step back and appreciate it for what it represents, at least to me. First off, the melody and chord sequence of this song, accompanied by harmonica and accordion, are brilliantly constructed. Beyond that, the story is one that most any of us can connect with, even if we are not performers. How many nights over my relatively long life have I found myself in a bar or club listening to some anonymous performer playing songs that aren’t so anonymous? For that brief moment, the bond we feel with that musician is special and meaningful, even though in most cases, we will never see them again as long as we live. Sometimes with a friend or perfect companion, many others by myself, those memories are rich and impactful, and I think we all know the characters in the song, once again, those anonymous patrons who become our dear friends, if only for that brief moment.
The rest of the album is an eclectic mix of songs that are very consistent with what I expect from early Billy Joel, big piano tracks with extended musical backing, telling stories familiar and unheard. Among the ones that stand out are “Travelin’ Prayer”, “Ain’t No Crime”, “Worse Comes to Worst” and “Captain Jack”. One other interesting track is “The Ballad of Billy the Kid”. The song starts as expected, with the mock horse steps and western harmonica, and then the song suddenly bursts into a major orchestrated piece, complete with strings, as if the song should be played in Carnegie Hall with a full orchestra. In reality, the song isn’t that close to the real history of western outlaw Billy the Kid, but the colorful fictionalization of his legend makes for an interesting story, even if it sounds completely out of place within the song in which it was paired.
An easy album to listen to with one iconic track that will live on forever, not a bad day’s work for an up-and-coming songwriter from Long Island.
“And the waitress is practicing politics, As the businessmen slowly get stoned”
“Yes, they’re sharing a drink called loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone.”
“Sing us a song, you’re the piano man…”