Many CCR singles clock in at under three minutes, but their album cuts could run much longer. This blues number with an extended John Fogerty harmonica solo goes 8:32. The song is in the style of Howlin' Wolf, an idol of the band and one of the major influences on Fogerty's vocal delivery.
In blues tradition, this song deals with love, death, and the combination of the two. "Thirty people lost their lives," Fogerty sings, before letting us know that he'll be number 31.
John Fogerty explained how he recorded this song in an interview with Hit Parader: "I even sat down to do that one. I sang from a music sheet with cues for myself written out. The lights were down and I just sat there, like being in my room when I was a little kid. I couldn't even see the other guys. Just me and the mike in the darkness. I had to keep my guitar from coming into the vocal mike, and I had to pick up a harmonica and play that too. It was very awkward. We couldn't do that on a cooking song like 'Good Golly Miss Molly.'"
"Piano Man" was inspired by Billy Joel's time playing at a piano bar in Los Angeles. The "real estate novelist" was a guy who always talked about writing a book, but spent all his spare time in the bar.