It's a medium-paced ballad, and the melody is incredibly hooky, the sort of infectious thing milkmen whistle. There's the full band: bass, drums, mandolin, rhythm guitar, plus Billy Joel playing the piano and the lead melody on harmonica just before he sings each verse. On the video version I've got from Wembley Arena eight years ago, his voice sounds much thinner than today, but the song triumphs over the production. It'd be the same if you brought 'Maggie May' to a record company now, they'd say 'Oh the drums sound awful, where's the digital reverb on the drums?' et cetera. But that roughness makes it for me.
It has power because everyone can sympathise with the words. The last lines are '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 doing here?' '. The suggestion, which I think leaves the song open, is that they look up to him, but he feels he's in the same predicament.
'Piano Man' is on Billy Joel's Greatest Hits (CBS CD88666)
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