Piano Man (1973)

1. Travelin' Prayer 2. Piano Man 3. Ain't No Crime 4. You're My Home 5. The Ballad of Billy the Kid 6. Worse Comes to Worst 7. Stop in Nevada 8. If I Only Had the Words (To Tell You) 9. Somewhere Along the Line 10.Captain Jack


The monicker the "Piano Man" would come to be synonymous with the artist Billy Joel for obvious reasons. The title song from this album was truly a great, sad, story that became a joy to sing along to while having a good cry - or at least shedding a tear or two. After the not-so-warm reception of Cold Spring Harbor, Joel left his native New York for the sunny state of California and....well, played in the piano bars to pay the bills. The song, then, is a pretty accurate description of a real life experience (the "waitress practicing politics" was actually his future first wife). Had the rest of the album been mediocre, the record still would have been worth the price because of the title song alone. Fortunately, that's not the case, and the album is chocked full of great tunes.

This release features a wide variety of styles, and most satisfy on a high level. You could argue that these are all "story" songs, but none are the same as the title song in terms of style and delivery. Being that it was still early in his career, and the fact that his next few releases would be a step backwards in terms of quality, it's easy to see why Joel, himself, would have preferred that anything recorded prior to this would have been forgotten.

The Ballad of Billy the Kid rivals the title cut, and is the best thing on here in terms of production and arrangement. With a full orchestra backing the piece, it's easy to see how Billy would choose to exclusively play classical music in his later years. He does a great job replicating the atmosphere as the song paints a picture of the old west both lyrically and musically (it should be noted that, although a western, the song has nothing to do with the real Billy the Kid). Captain Jack is the other song that everyone falls immediately in love with upon first hearing. Again, it's how the music matches the grim tale (about a young rich kid hooked on drugs, mainly because of boredom) that makes this such a sobering piece. I've heard he only plays the song live in Philadelphia. I'm not sure why.

Most of the lesser known songs manage to please just as easily. The opening song, Travelin' Prayer is a catchy, bluegrass-ish piece that would be great if he ever resurrected it for his live performances. Ain't No Crime and Stop in Nevada sound a little similar to one and other - both a bit overproduced with plenty of strings and chorale singers - but they get the job done. Some of the songs sound a bit like leftovers from his first album - i.e. nice, but a bit pretentious. Worse Comes to Worst is really the only song that I don't care for that much and If I Only Had the Words (To Tell You) is a bit of a similar vein, but with the careful production and care given to it on this album makes it stand out as being more satisfying and enjoyable.

Of all of his early releases that he made without his "classic" band and producer Phil Ramone, this is the one album that stands out as one of the best of his collection. I'd love to see him play this whole album in a "special" concert one day. Time, age, and experience would only make it sound better.

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