What does Piano Man mean?

Search Login

Billy Joel: Piano Man Meaning

Song Released: 1973


Get "Piano Man" on MP3:

Get MP3 from Amazon
Get MP3 from iTunes

Piano Man Lyrics

Play "Piano Man"
on Amazon Music

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...

  1. 1TOP RATED

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    May 4th, 2008 5:25pm report


    I think there have been some pretty good explanations of what Billy Joel meant by this song, but what is striking me is that people still seem to think that the waitress is actually talking about politics. It's obvious, and I speak from experience, for I am a waitress, that you need to have a lot of patience, tact and power to stay friendly, polite, smiling and pretending dumb, as if your only goal in life is to make your customer happy and not lose your temper if one of them starts yelling at you: ye'there dahlin' bring me 'nother one-a those will-ye? And then, when you come with the next couple of beers/wodka's or whatever it is they're drinking, thinks he hasn't been annoying enough and actually starts feeling you up or saying thins like: why shall I not give ye me phonenumber dahlin, huh? Gimme a call sometime will-ye, yeah yer hot!
    So really, you gotta practice all the politics you can find to resist the longing of just beating one of those guys up and keep your temper under control.

    As far as the rest of the song is concerned. Joel is the piano man, that's clear. And he meets all his old friends there and the old man, with the gin tonic does NOT want him to play a song from earlier years, he wants him to play a song about LOVE of course: "Son can you play me a memory, I'm not really sre how it goes, but it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger men's clothes" means nothing less and nothing more than that he HAS loved, but he winded up alone, and he's old now, and forgotten what it's exactly like. But he remembers the sweetness of love, as well as the sadness.

    His friend John, the bartender, he's just a dissapointed guy who came to LA for the big work, but then never actually put himself out there, and started a bar just for the money, and now can't get out if it anymore. That's what's killing him and what makes him sad. But he makes the best out if it with small talks and jokes, who, are of course, often made when somebody's lighting your smoke.

    Paul, he's indeed the real-estate guy who always tried to write the AMAZING novel everybody's waiting for, and he always lost women by his insecurity and forgettiness, because he never really payed them attention. He was either at work, or tried to mastermind his novel out. And Davy, the guy who never had the ambition to get out of the Navy when he still could, because he thought life was just fine having beers with his Navy mates and god knows what else they do, he now realizes that it's too late and that he's stuck to the Navy. But he tries to get in peace with it.

    The waitress I've already explained, the businessmen only want to escape life, their wifes, who all know about their mistresses, their stressing jobs, their children, the worries and the boredom it all brings over them. 'Cause even though they have it all, and it could make you very lively, they don't truly live the experiences, because they're too caught up with their jobs.
    The drink they share is really just the loneliness, and it is better to share your loneliness with somebody else, than to just have to sit all by yourself. They share misery.

    As far as the whole next part's concerned: the piano sounds like a carnival, the mic smell's like a beer: he really get's a nice set of tones out of that piano he plays on, and the mic, not cleaned in years, smells of alcohol and failure. But he gets something out of it, and it makes people go wild and they tip him, 'cause he's so good. And that's why they ask: so what are you doing here then, mate? You can actually DO something with your life, go DO it, don't end up as we did.
    But Joel knows just this little more than they do: he's no better. He's got nowhere to go, he's got nothing to return to. He's got his music, and the best he can do, is sharing his music with others, 'cause it's better than playing alone.



  2. 2TOP RATED

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Mar 21st, 2006 3:47pm report


    I don't think Billy Joel was insinuating anything with the waitress thing. I think the song is about ruts as tinkerhell said; however, I think it's about more than that. I think it is about how everyone is disappointed with some part of their life. Everyone has fallen short of their expectations at some point, and I think the song is about escaping life for a while. Because everyone the song talks about seems to be decently successful, however, they are missing something. We all are, life's hard, and that bar, and the piano man is a rut but it is also their escape.



  3. 3TOP RATED

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Jun 2nd, 2006 6:59pm report


    This song is about loneliness. It's about a somewhat pathetic group of people who sit in a bar on Saturday night because they all have nothing else to do, no one to be, no one to love. "And they're sharing a drink they call loneliness... but it's better than drinking alone." From Paul, the still-single "real estate novelist", to Davy who's stuck in the Navy, to the bartender who feels stuck in a dead-end job, they come together to comiserate about their lives and how they always seem to wind up alone. And Bill, the Piano Man, is there even though he doesn't need to be, because he seems to be a little different from all of these people... but is he? Even Bill himself might be a little lonely, because he's here in this bar, sharing his time and his feelings with everyone else via his piano.



  4.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Oct 2nd, 2018 10:17pm report


    The waitress is Practicing politics, like a lawyer practices law, she a politician server the businessmen, AS, meaning the verses are connected, the businessmen slowly get stoned, or higher and higher while she servers them, shes probably very patient and keeps face like a politician, but also gets tipped fat if she serves them and turns her cheek to their rude behavior (another metaphor for being 'poli'te)



  5.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Dec 10th, 2017 12:40am report


    Does anyone else think john and Paul are the Beatles versions?
    Does that make Davy a Monkee?



  6.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Sep 8th, 2016 9:53pm report


    I believe the piano sounding like a carnival and the microphone smells like a beer is supposed to show that the person singing the song had one or two too many and only imagines that he's the piano man. In reality he's just another failure like all the others in the bar but believes he's doing great (i.e. the manager's comments earlier). His karaoke sing sang let's the others ask "what are you doing here" at the piano, go back and sit down at the bar.



  7.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Dec 28th, 2014 12:25pm report


    When Billy Joel was in highschool he really didn't attend school because he played the piano at a bar to earn money and support his mother. The song is referring to his childhood and how the people at the bar enjoyed listening him play the piano, hence giving him the name piano man. You can look up this information, it is true.



  8.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Oct 23rd, 2014 10:26am report


    I believe this song is talking about life in general everyone has a story that they need share. Whether it be in a bar or wherever. It's about the need for community and how colorful the world really is. If you read this go ask someone how their day is going. I know this doesn't directly paraphrase the lyrics but screw it get off the internet. ~peace

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway


  9.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Oct 18th, 2013 10:57pm report


    Cracks me up how many people think the waitress is literally "practicing politics". The song lyrics state "the waitress is practicing politics "AS" the business men slowly get stoned. Its obvious it would be impossible for a waitress to study politics as she working and serving customers. It simply means that as these customers get stoned and lose control and start acting up and possibly start hitting on her she choose words and actions that don't offend her customers but at the same time lets them know just how far to take it and not to cross boundaries. That's practicing politics!



  10.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Nov 1st, 2012 11:04pm report


    The song is about a bar that represents a general population in which people are consumed by their jobs and can´t live the life they would want to. They feel lonely and hopeless.

    It's nine o'clock on a Saturday
    The Regular crowd shuffles in
    (the regular crowd meaning the bar is full of the same people who find a get-away in the bar)
    There's an old man sitting next to me
    Makin' love to his tonic and gin
    (the old man does not show many feelings of lonelyness, he is actually enojoying his drink. he can probably even be wise)

    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."
    (the sadness and sweetness of the song shows a melancholic mood in the bar)

    La la la, di da da
    La la, di da da da dum

    Chorus:
    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
    (the "regular crowd" likes Billy, who is the piano man, and asks him for songs that probably take them away from their daily lives)

    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"
    (with this description Billy shows that John is a positive person always willing to help; however, his bartender career is getting him stuck there instead of reaching this dream, the place he´d rather be, probably Hollywood or somewhere where he could be a movie star. He says the bar, or the bartender life, is killing him because it traps him instead of being an impulse to get out.)


    Oh, la la la, di da da
    La la, di da da da dum

    And the waitress is practicing politics
    As the businessman slowly gets stoned
    (sorry if the waitresses feel offended, but billy makes a reference to waitressing as no one´s dream job. This is an irony, while the waitress (nobody´s role model or dream job) is studying politics while she works for a living. The businessman, on the other hand, represents financial success, but he is consuming drugs.)
    Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness
    But it's better than drinkin' alone
    (They both share "a drink they call loneliness" because their lives, even though they are complete opposites, do not fulfill them, and they feel lonely. In addition, it is better to drink with a stranger than drinking alone.


    Chorus
    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 got us feeling alright

    Now Paul is a real estate novelist
    Who never had time for a wife
    (Paul spent his life worrying about his job and could never find stable love (meaning a wife) because he did not have time for both, and he chose his job. He obviously feels lonely like the bartender, the waitress and the businessman.)
    And he's talkin' with Davy, who's still in the Navy
    And probably will be for life
    (Davy is stuck in the Navy. His life is basically planned out and it is likely that he will not get out of it.=

    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 comin' to see
    To forget about life for a while
    (Here he summarizes and generalizes the feelings of the people in the bar. they are lonely, hopeless and want to get distracted with something which turns out to be Billy´s musical talent.)
    And the piano, it 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?"
    ("the piano sounds like a carnival": carnivals are usually happy and represent celebration. the microphone smelling like beer pops up the image of a drunk person singing karaoke. They ask Billy what he is doing in the bar because he doesn´t fit in with the characteristics of the rest. He looks happy and looks like he is enjoying his life, they cannot understand how someone as succesful as him want to spend time in a depressing bar.)

    Oh, la la la, di da da
    La la, di da da da dum

    Chorus:
    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 got us feeling alright



  11.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    May 7th, 2012 5:30am report


    I believe that the message in the song is about how life is contradicting.

    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"

    As you can see, in the beginning of the song the old man asks for him to play him a melody because he wants to feel young again.

    La la la, de de da
    La la, de de da da dum

    Chorus:
    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"

    In this verse, it shows that John works at a bar and wants to become a movie star, but it is pretty much impossible.

    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 talkin' with Davy, who's still in the navy
    And probably will be for life

    I believe that Paul, who did not have time for a wife can be gay, for he loves Davy. But Davy is straight, so it is impossible for Paul to meet Davy.

    And the waitress is practicing politics
    As the businessmen slowly get stoned
    Yes, they're sharing a drink (made for) loneliness
    But it's better than drinkin' alone

    The waitress is practising politics because she wants to have a career in politics. But it is so different with her job as a waitress, that it almost seems impossible.

    Chorus
    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 got us feeling 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 comin' to see
    To forget about life for a while
    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."

    As well for Billy, he wishes to become something greater than singing on the streets or in the bar.

    Oh, la la la, de de da
    La la, de de da da dum

    Chorus:
    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 got us feeling alright

    I think everyone can have a different message from this song. There is never a correct answer for messages in songs, cause they`re like poems.I also believe that the song gives the message of depression in life, and how everyone is missing something for themselves to achieve true happiness. And apparently, this songs is also based on Billy`s life before he became famous, for the people referred in his songs were all real people that he knew.



  12.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Nov 12th, 2011 11:04pm report


    He wanted out of a bad contract so he went under ground till his time ran out. He looked around at all the people and things they said and did, then he put it into words like only he can ..



  13.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Oct 16th, 2011 10:02pm report


    The guy used to be at the top of world then he lost all his money (drugs? gambling?) and now he's stuck playing for tips to pay his bills for and bunch of drunks and talking about their problems.



  14.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Sep 27th, 2011 9:29pm report


    It's good song, but it's about a guy who lost all his money (drugs? gambling?) and he's stuck playing songs for tips from drunks. It's about life's problems.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway


  15.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Sep 22nd, 2011 9:06pm report


    It's about a guy who lost all his money because of something (drugs? gambling?) and he's stuck playing show tunes for a bunch of drunks and talking about life's problems.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway


  16.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Sep 2nd, 2011 9:52am report


    Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I think the reason Paul didn't have time for a wife is that he has no interest in women--after all, he's talking to Davy, who's still in the navy, and probably will be for life. Any grown man who is still going by "Davy" (and isn't Jones) probably isn't interested in women, either. So...are they gay?



  17.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    May 16th, 2011 5:05pm report


    Re: the line about Davy, I always interpreted that to mean he was singing about a Navy veteran who was constantly talking about his years in the service. For Davy, everything after the Navy was such a disappointment that it's all he ever talks about. Hence, he's "still in the Navy, and probably will be for life"



  18.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    May 2nd, 2011 5:52pm report


    I used to think that it represents life and that expectations aren't always met. But if you listen to it carefully when he says "...When I wore a younger mans clothes..." he is making a reference to himself. This could be referring to his life and the people he met before he was discovered and made famous. Also the end when he says "...And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar saying, Man what are you doing here?!" is yet another reference to himself. Sure all the other messages are in this song but I think that it also says that even the rich and famous live hard lives too, no one is excluded from hardships just because they're well known.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway


‹ prev 123



More Billy Joel song meanings »


 


Submit Your Interpretation

[ want a different song? ]






Just Posted

Send Me An Angel anonymous
Emily (Rough Mix) anonymous
Don't Let The Old Man In anonymous
Neighborhood Bully anonymous
Under Your Scars anonymous
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road anonymous
You're Somebody Else anonymous
Awful Things anonymous
We Will Rock You anonymous
Don't Lose My Number anonymous
Emotional Rescue anonymous
All Back anonymous
Dance Macabre anonymous
Hail to the King anonymous
I Hate Everything About You Timeless

Get a weekly email update

(We won't give out your email)

Latest Releases

Rescue Me
Marshmello
Man That Hung The Moon
Brantley Gilbert
The Dead Don't Die
Sturgill Simpson
Miracle Man
Oliver Tree
Western Stars
Bruce Springsteen
Outnumbered
Dermot Kennedy
Drowning
Chris Young
Kiss That Girl Goodbye
Aaron Watson