"Protected: The Time a Stiff Caught Fire"

Memoir by Keith Yates

In early ’74 my roommate and I launched a petition drive to rescue an obscure young pop artist whose first major label record had quietly debuted the previous Fall and just as quietly died, or “stiffed”.

A decade later, I wrote a brief magazine account of the chain of events that led to the album’s belated – and previously unexplained – rise from the grave and ascent to the top of the national charts. The album’s producer, Michael Stewart, read it and called to corroborate the story and thank me. Before signing off, he asked if the artist could call to thank me, too.

I thought about it, and said maybe later, after I’ve written the full version of the story. He asked when that might be. “When Billy’s ready to retire,” I said.

With retirement now said to be around the corner, here it is, as promised 30 years ago, the true story of how Billy Joel’s stiff, Piano Man, finally caught fire.


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