Open Mic Adventures II: Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”

After the warm reception the first edition of Open Mic Adventures received, I figured I’d keep the fun going with a second installment.

This week’s featured tune should come as no surprise, seeing as I play the piano and sing.  The technical, industry term for this combination is “singing pianist.”  It says it all!

That said, even though I’ve been singing and playing piano for years (and in earnest for ten years now), I somehow never managed to perform Billy Joel’s iconic hit “Piano Man.”

Sure, I know the song, and I’d picked out the chords years ago, as it’s always a favorite for students.  It’s not terribly difficult if you know the chord inversions, and the descending bass line is a fun and easy way to teach those inversions.

That said, it’s one of those songs with which I have always struggled in a live performance setting.  It’s because of the lyrics.  I know them all, and well, but I never quite know what order they’re in.  When trying to play it from memory, I’m always mixing up stanzas, swapping out characters in the song’s story willy-nilly.

There’s also that darn harmonica solo, which apparently comes in eighteen different times.  I’m still not sure where I’m supposed to let the harmonica take a ride, and when I’m not.

My buddy John and I have slightly different philosophies about covering songs:  he thinks they should be played verbatim (or as close as possible) as they are on the recording.  I, on the other hand, think some artistic license is acceptable, especially with structure, and the song should be adapted to fit the needs and limitations of the musicians and their equipment.

Well, John usually wins out on that one, so we got the version with the eighteen harmonica solos (and probably some that weren’t supposed to be there).

Nevertheless, my sweet lady friend requested this one, and I was happy to oblige.  It came out pretty well, I think:

Not bad.  I need to tighten up some spots, but the lead sheet John put together did help immensely, especially with the song’s roadmap.

One final coda:  if you notice, the song is all about how great Billy Joel is as a barfly pianist.  Everyone comes to see him, according to the song.

Nice one, Bill.

Rock on!

—TPP

19 thoughts on “Open Mic Adventures II: Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”

  1. It is my not-so-humble opinion that when playing other people’s music, it be played the way we heard it originally. The way you feel about remakes and sequels of movies is how I feel when folks take a much loved song and ‘tweak’ it; don’t mess with success. No one really cares how other artists want to perform it. I can’t think of a time when the ‘cover’ was as good or better than the original.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If you want to listen to interesting covers, check out Me First and The Gimme Gimmes (they do rock covers of old songs – their version of City of New Orleans (made popular by Arlo Guthrie) is brilliant), Nouvelle Vague, who do lighter versions of New Wave tracks, and Dread Zeppelin, a mish mash of a cover band; reggae versions of Led Zep tracks where the lead singer looks, dresses and sings like Elvis Presley.

      Also, Beatalica are pretty ace too – they sing Beatles songs in the style of Metalica.

      Liked by 2 people

    • “I can’t think of a time when the ‘cover’ was as good or better than the original.”

      Except for my cover of Oingo Boingo’s “Just Another Day,” eh, Audre?

      I don’t disagree with your sentiment entirely. When I cover a song, I want to stay as true to the original as possible within the limitations I face. If there is guitar in a tune and I don’t have a guitar, well, I can still cover the piece. If a piece lacks guitar but I have a guitar player (as often happens in my High School Music Ensemble class), well, we’re adding guitar!

      I also take this approach to structure. If there is an instrumental solo section, but no way for me to execute that section, I will shorten it or remove it. If time constraints matter, I might shorten a song, or cut a repeated chorus.

      Otherwise, yes, I don’t try to twist a song around completely, though I have come up with some amusing medleys in the past.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Has anyone ever told you that you have a DJs voice (when you introduce a song or yourself)? I’m guessing you’ve done some announcing in the past? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ace Tyler. 🙂

    I shared it on my Twitter account along with a link to your account. Fingers crossed, others pop over and have a listen though I don’t have a great amount of followers. It’s building up each day.

    Tina bought me a harmonica for Christmas – I’m as good on that as I am on guitar; really bad! I picked up the guitar the other day after years and found that I couldn’t play it. Seems like I’m starting from scratch.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, dude! I am noticing more and more commenters lately. The blog is also more popular in England some days than it is here in the States, sometimes substantially so. Thanks for that!

      Godspeed as you recover your guitar chops, mate. They will come back quickly, I’m sure. Harmonica is fun, but an instrument I never managed to conquer.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Harptallica? It sounds like Metallica have spawned an awful lot of cover outfits. There’s also Apocalyptica, a 4 piece cello outfit that does Metallica tracks. They’re really good.

    Liked by 1 person

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