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Billy Joel - Piano Man

Billy Joel ‘Piano Man’ To Be Inducted In Library Of Congress National Recording Registry

Billy Joel’s single “Piano Man” has been selected as one of 25 sound recordings this year to be preserved by the Library of Congress National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

All selections must be at least 10 years old, and nominations are gathered through online submissions from the public and from the Library’s National Recording Preservation Board, which is comprised of leaders in the fields of music, recorded sound and preservation.

“Piano Man” (single) – Billy Joel (1973)
Billy Joel’s first hit, “Piano Man,” became his signature song, but it might never have happened if not for “Bill Martin” and “Captain Jack.” Joel performed a concert for Philadelphia radio station WMMR in April 1972 to promote his first solo album, “Cold Spring Harbor.” But the album had technical problems, and Joel also found himself bound by an unfavorable recording contract, so he moved to Los Angeles to lay low for awhile. To make ends meet, using the name Bill Martin, Joel landed a gig at the Executive Room piano bar. The staff and regulars he met there would later populate “Piano Man.” “All the characters in that song were real people,” Joel said. There actually was a sailor named Davy and a real estate agent named Paul, who sat at the bar working on his novel. The waitress who was “practicing politics” would later become Joel’s wife. As the West Coast gig unfolded, the song “Captain Jack” from his live recording became so popular that not only did WMMR add it to its rotation, so did other New York stations. Because of that exposure, Joel was eventually able to sign a contract with a different company and record his second solo album, which featured both “Piano Man” and a studio version of “Captain Jack.” However, the record company considered “Piano Man,” originally 5:38, too long to get radio airplay, so it cut more than a minute from the single and even more from the DJ promo. Joel later referenced this in “The Entertainer”: “It was a beautiful song but it ran too long … so they cut it down to 3:05.”

2015 National Recording Registry (Listing in Chronological Order)

1. “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”—Columbia Quartette (The Peerless Quartet) (1911)
2. “Wild Cat Blues”—Clarence Williams’ Blue Five (1923)
3. “Statesboro Blues”—Blind Willie McTell (1928)
4. “Bonaparte’s Retreat”—W.H. Stepp (1937)
5. Mahler Symphony No. 9—Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Bruno Walter, conductor. (1938)
6. “Carousel of American Music”—George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Arthur Freed, Shelton Brooks, Hoagy Carmichael, others (September 24, 1940)
7. “Vic and Sade”—Episode: “Decoration Day.” (June 4, 1937) Radio
8. The “Marshall Plan” Speech—George C. Marshall (June 5, 1947)
9. “Destination Freedom”—Episodes: “A Garage in Gainesville” and “Execution Awaited” (September 25, October 2, 1949)
10. Original soundtrack from “A Streetcar Named Desire”—Alex North, composer. (1951)
11. “Cry Me a River”—Julie London (1955)
12. “Mack the Knife” (singles)—Louis Armstrong (1956); Bobby Darin (1959)
13. Fourth-quarter radio coverage of Wilt Chamberlin’s 100-point game (Philadelphia Warriors vs. New York Knicks)—Bill Campbell, announcer (March 2, 1962)
14. “A Love Supreme”—John Coltrane (1964)
15. “It’s My Way”—Buffy Sainte-Marie (1964) (album)
16. “Where Did Our Love Go” (single)—The Supremes (1964)
17. “People Get Ready” (single)—The Impressions (1965)
18. “Mama Tried” (single)—Merle Haggard (1968)
19. “Abraxas”—Santana (1970)
20. “Class Clown”—George Carlin (1972)
21. “Robert and Clara Schumann Complete Piano Trios”—The Beaux Arts Trio (1972)
22. “Piano Man” (single)—Billy Joel (1973)
23. “Bogalusa Boogie”—Clifton Chenier (1976)
24. “I Will Survive”—Gloria Gaynor (1978)
25. “Master of Puppets”—Metallica (1986)

Read more at the Library of Congress.