"Protected: The Time a Stiff Caught Fire"

Memoir by Keith Yates

During my first year of college my roommate and I launched a petition drive to rescue an obscure young pop artist whose first major label record had quietly debuted and just as quietly died, or “stiffed,” a few months later.

A decade later, I wrote a brief magazine account of the chain of events that led up 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 happened to read it, then called to corroborate the story and thank me. Before signing off, he asked if it’d be OK to have artist call to thank me, too.

I said maybe later, after I’ve written the full version of the story. He asked when that might be. “When he’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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