Billy Joel is widely despised by Rock snobs, even the ones who are willing to give a pass to his most immediate peers like Elton John. This is, if nothing else, consistent with their other stupid biases, since one of the unmistakable marks of a Rock snob is a blind hatred for anything that suggests Broadway musical theater, and Joel’s gift for melody and his exceptional talent for writing character songs make him sound far more reminiscent of a Broadway composer than conventional Rock, even the Soft Rock acts he is generally grouped alongside. This song in particular seems to draw the vitriol of the Rock snobs, especially given that it is based on Joel’s time as a literal Lounge singer, and ‘Lounge Music’ (which is, after all, closely linked to Broadway) is another extremely popular target of the Rock snob set. The song itself, of course, is one of Joel’s greatest masterpieces (there’s a reason it became his signature calling-card as a singer), with an immortal and explosively moving melody and an ultra-characterful lyric that finds in the small details of the lives of the patrons at a piano bar a kind of microcosm of the human condition. I have a sneaking suspicion that the real reason they hate this song so much is that, due to its clearly spectacular quality and direct links to both Broadway and ‘Lounge Music’, it sets off the insecurities that lead them to denigrate these genres in the first place to a particularly high degree. After all, if Rock snobs had to acknowledge the validity of the theater and Great American Songbook music that proceeded them, they’d essentially have to acknowledge that those genres’ longer legacy and far greater sophistication give them a certain seniority…perhaps even an overall superiority…compared to the relatively young and simplistic genre of Rock, and lord knows that admitting that the pre-Rock generations actually knew something goes against everything Rock snobs have trained themselves to believe. Granted, any given Frank Sinatra song would prove the same point at least as well if not better, but because “Piano Man” is technically Rock, the Rock snobs actually have to listen to it on their own Rock stations and be reminded that everything they believe about music is essentially manifest nonsense. Given this, their professed contempt for Billy Joel in general and this song in particular seems ultimately more like a desperate defense mechanism to avoid facing up to the inherent absurdity of there being such a thing as a ‘Rock snob’ in the first place.
Verdict: An indisputable masterpiece, and if you think otherwise you might want to question your musical worldview.