Billy Joel

  • Singer, songwriter and pianist born in 1949 in New York, New York, and raised on Long Island.
  • He started piano lessons at the age of 4. After watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, he decided that he would work in the music industry. He initially did not graduate from high school – he played at a piano bar while in high school, and his late night playing caused him to miss an English exam, such that he did not have enough credits to graduate in his senior year. Rather than go to summer school, he decided to start his music career. (in 1992, he submitted essays to the school board and was granted his high school diploma 25 years later).
  • Joel joined a band called The Echoes, playing British Invasion cover songs. He also started doing session work for other artists. The Echoes changed their name to The Emeralds, and then to The Lost Souls. Joel left the band in 1967 and joined the psychedelic rock band The Hassles, which had a recording contract and released 4 singles and 2 albums, all of which failed. In 1969, Joel and the drummer left The Hassles and they formed a duo named Attila. They released 1 album, which critics labeled as “…the worst album released in the history of rock & roll…” Attila split up after Joel began an affair with the wife of his band mate – Joel married the woman in 1973, and she was his early manager.
  • In 1970, Joel signed a record contract, starting his solo career. His debut album, Cold Spring Harbor, was released the following year. A production error caused the recording to be slightly too fast, making Joel’s voice sound unnaturally high. The album barely charted. He toured to support the album, opening for other groups, and interest in his music grew.
  • In 1972, a Philadelphia radio station started playing a concert version of the song Captain Jack, and it became an underground hit on the east coast. Joel signed a new recording contract, and he moved to California. For 6 months, he worked at a piano bar, using the name “Bill Martin.” During this time, he wrote his signature song, Piano Man. In 1973, he released his second album, also titled Piano Man. The album was moderately successful, though later, as Joel’s popularity grew, it continued to sell, eventually reaching 4x platinum status. The single Piano Man peaked at #25 on the Hot 100 and at #4 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
  • His next 2 albums – Streetlife Serenade and Turnstiles – again were moderate successes. The former included the single The Entertainer, which charted at #34 on the Hot 100, and the latter included another signature song, New York State of Mind, which was not released as a single.
  • His breakthrough came with his fifth studio album, The Stranger, released in 1977. It became his best selling album, certified 10x platinum, and it peaked at #2 on the album chart. Four singles charted in the top 25 – Just the Way You Are (#1 on the Adult Contemporary chart), Movin’ Out, Only the Good Die Young and She’s Always a Woman (#2 on the Adult Contemporary chart).
  • His next 7 studio albums were all multi-platinum sellers, spanning from 1978 to 1993. Three songs topped the Hot 100 – It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me in 1980, Tell Her About It in 1983 and We Didn’t Start the Fire in 1989. He had 18 other songs reach the top 10 of the Adult Contemporary chart, with 7 of them topping the chart.
  • His 1985 compilation album Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2 is certified double diamond, one of the best selling albums of all time.
  • His final studio album was in 2001. Titled Fantasies and Delusions, it contains only classical compositions, with pianist Richard Joo performing Joel’s compositions.
  • Much of his work since 1994 has focused on his extensive touring. His concerts are major events and they always sell out. He has played at Madison Square Garden for over 40 years, and his June 2020 show will be his 123rd performance there.
  • Joel has received many honors. His albums The Stranger and 52nd Street make Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Albums of All Time, and the song Piano Man makes their list of the Greatest Songs of All Time. He has 6 Grammy awards, including the Grammy Legend Award. He received a Tony Award for the musical Movin’ Out, which is based on his music. He is the sixth best selling recording artist of all time. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2013, he received the Kennedy Center Honors for influencing American culture through the arts.
  • The Piano Man is a songwriting legend. I was always impressed that he could write great music over so many years. My favorite is We Didn’t Start the Fire and its 40 year history lesson covered in 4½ minutes. Here’s the video.

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