Piano Man is A Bad Song


piano man

Piano Man is A Bad Song

Who knew Billy Joel could teach us a key lesson about sales and marketing?

 Lately I’ve been really into Billy Joel again.  Not the late 80’s and 90’s Billy – Uptown Girl stuff, but the good stuff – The early stuff. 

My son (who is downright amazing on the piano), was on YouTube last month and watched the Inside the Actor’s Guild 1999 Interview with Billy Joel.  I (a piano player of a lower order) decided to check out that interview too.

And then I heard him say it.  It was stunning. 

Piano Man is really not a good song”.   He said this in reaction to James Lipton pointing out one of the most unusual things about the song – that it was in ¾ time.  It’s essentially a waltz.     

It’s a waltz but that’s not why the song is “not that good” Billy explained.   He said that the song is “so simple” and really just “repeats itself over and over again like a Limerick” with even some “La da diddy da’s” thrown in.  

He said some people know it’s bad.  Whenever he enters a restaurant or bar with a piano player these days, the musician will make eye contact and invariably start playing “Piano Man” which is all nice and good until “he realizes the song just repeats itself” and then “repeats itself some more” and “then he looks me in the eye blankly and I just nod and say “See?  Not much too it!”

I love that song.  We all love that song.  It’s a great song!

“If it’s so simple and bad, why is it so popular?” James Lipton asked.

“It’s got one hell of a story” Billy replied. 

There is was.  And there it is.  There’s Paul – who’s a real estate novelist, there’s Davy who is still in the Navy and there’s the waitress who is practicing politics.     All real people Billy explained (even Davy whose name is “Davy” and was in the Navy.)   

The point is pretty clear.  Great story makes up for a lot of things.  Some of Billy’s music is compositionally brilliant and has good to great stories in them; New York State of Mind and Scenes from an Italian Restaurant come to mind. 

But Piano Man is not a great song.   It is simple.  It does sound like Limerick.   But the story.  The Story.  The Story.   That makes it good.  And makes it stick and well, makes it awesome.

You need stories.  We all need them.  Piano Man is a lesson about how a great story needs to be wrapped inside your business, your solutions, your brand and your pitches. 

We know this.  We hear it all the time.  But we don’t always listen.   Powerful stories work hard for movies, books, businesses and I realize, music.    So all you marketers and sales people get out there and sing us that song, you’re the Piano Man!

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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