Billy Joel

 Billy Joel

 Billy Joel – circa 1987

 “Some are satin, some are steel / Some are silk and some are leather / They’re the faces of the stranger / But we love to try them on” – ‘The Stranger’ (Billy Joel)

Is Billy Joel a tender balladeer?  Is Billy Joel a hairy-chested rock ‘n’ roller?  Or is he really Bill Martin, a lounge lizard who frequents sleazy bars?  Will the real Billy Joel please stand up?

Billy Joel is born William Martin Joel on 9 May 1949 in Hicksville, a suburb of Long Island, in the State of New York, U.S.A.  His father, Howard Joel, is born in Nuremberg, Germany.  Being of the Jewish faith, Howard Joel is confined in Dachau prison camp during World War Two.  After the war, as an employee of General Electric, he immigrates via Cuba to the United States.  Howard Joel marries a girl named Rosalind, whom he meets when she is performing in an amateur production of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.  Making a home in the Bronx in New York, they become the parents of two children.  The family then moves to Levittown, Long Island, an impersonal tract of cheap housing created for returned servicemen.  “The houses looked so much alike that if you stumbled home drunk, you never knew where you’d end up,” is how Billy Joel describes it.

Howard Joel is a classically trained pianist.  The family has a Lester upright piano in the living room and young Billy takes to making a noise on the instrument.  Despite his father’s musical background, it is actually Rosalind Joel who sends her son to formal piano lessons.  Partly this is so the boy may emulate his father and partly just to get the racket the youngster makes to take some more harmonious shape.  Growing up, the Joel household was full of music.  Billy recalls hearing “classical music, Broadway musicals, pop music.”  The Joels are ‘mildly middle class’, but this changes when the couple divorce.  Billy is 7 at the time.  He lives with his mother, who scrapes by on a secretary’s salary.  Howard Joel moves to Vienna, Austria, but sends ‘small support’ payments to his ex-wife.

Approaching his teens, Billy Joel proves to be a troublesome youth.  He joins the Parkway Green Gang and becomes involved in petty crime ‘robbing stores, fighting with rival gangs, drinking wine, and sniffing glue.’  He also boxes as a welterweight for three years.  He fights twenty-two bouts as a teenager and wins the welterweight championship in the Long Island Police Boys Club League.  During one of the fights, his nose is broken, giving him a ‘puggish’ appearance for the rest of his life.

During Billy Joel’s teens, the British band The Beatles visits the U.S. for the first time.  He remembers watching them on television’s ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1964.  Like many other youths, he is inspired by their music.  The ‘sissy piano lessons’ now take on new value.  While still a student at Hicksville High, Billy forms a group called The Echoes.  They specialise in playing cover versions of songs by The Beatles and other new British acts like The Rolling Stones and The Dave Clark Five who are making their presence felt on the U.S. pop charts.  The Echoes get some gigs in New York City.  While still just 16, in 1965 Billy Joel appears on record for the first time as a session pianist for producer George ‘Shadow’ Morton, the man best known for producing The Shangri-La’s song ‘The Leader Of The Pack’ in 1964.  Later in 1965, The Echoes change their name twice: first to The Emerald Lords, then to The Lost Souls.  Billy’s extra-curricular activities do not go unnoticed by his teachers.  Scheduled to graduate Hicksville High in 1967, he is told that his absenteeism will prevent this.  So Billy Joel drops out of school.

The aspiring musician joins The Hassles, ‘a local Long Island rock ‘n’ roll band.’  The other members of this outfit are John Dizek (vocals), Richard McKenna (guitar), Harry Weber (organ) and Jon Small (drums).  The first album, ‘The Hassles’ (1967), consists mainly of cover versions of soul songs.  Harry Weber is dismissed ‘due to excessive drug use’ and his place is taken by Howie Blauvelt (bass).  John Dizek departs after the first album and Bill Joel assumes lead vocal duties as well as being the piano player.  The revised line-up cuts a second album, ‘Hour Of The Wolf’ (1969), which is mainly written by Billy Joel.  Both albums by The Hassles ‘fail commercially.’  Elizabeth Weber, the sister of the departed Harry Weber, is the girlfriend of drummer Jon Small and becomes his wife.  The Hassles break-up in 1969.

Billy Joel works on a barge, dredging up oysters.  When his long-time girlfriend splits up with him, Joel is so dispirited he attempts suicide in 1970 by drinking furniture polish.  Following this, he checks himself into Meadowbrook Hospital in East Meadow, Long Island.  After three weeks under observation in the mental ward, Billy Joel decides to leave the facility.

Attila is duo Billy Joel forms with the former drummer from The Hassles, Jon Small.  The act consists of the two of them, with Billy Joel’s organ playing fed through various effects to create a ‘heavy psychedelic hard rock album’ called, simply, ‘Attila’ (1970).  It is ‘an immediate bomb’ and Attila dissolves.  During this time, Billy Joel is romancing Elizabeth Small, who eventually leaves her husband to be with Joel.

Licking his wounds, Billy Joel writes rock criticism for a magazine called ‘Changes’.  He also plays piano on various commercial jingles including one for Bachman pretzels that features the vocals of Chubby Checker, the singer who, ten years earlier, popularised the dance-step called the twist.

In 1971 Billy Joel signs a recording contract as a solo act with Family Productions, a company owned by Artie Ripp.  Billy Joel is financially mistreated.  The contract entitles the recording company to an onerous amount on each and every Billy Joel album in perpetuity.  The first album under the deal is ‘Cold Spring Harbor’ (1971) (US no. 158, UK no. 95).  The album contains the ballad ‘She’s Got A Way’, but the production job on the album is so bad Billy Joel is extremely disillusioned.

Early in 1972 Billy Joel moves to Los Angeles, California, with his girlfriend, Elizabeth Small.  He starts playing in bars under the name of Bill Martin, trying to distance himself from his less than successful past.  In this guise he noodles about with a kind of smoky jazz and cabaret, soaking up the piano bar ambience.  At the beginning of 1973, Elizabeth Small enrols in a Graduate School of Management course at the University of California in Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.).  She and Billy Joel marry on 5 September 1973.

A Philadelphia radio station plays a live version of ‘Captain Jack’, an ode to adolescent existential angst, and this catches the ear of representatives of Columbia Records.  They learn of Billy Joel’s contract with Artie Ripp’s Family Productions which is currently doing neither ‘Bill Martin’ nor Artie Ripp any good since ‘Billy Joel’ doesn’t exist and is not promoting his previous album or working on a new disc.  Columbia buys out Billy Joel’s contract, but it is an ugly, complicated deal.

Billy Joel’s first album for Columbia is ‘Piano Man’ (1973) (US no. 27, UK no. 98, AUS no. 14), released in October.  The title track, ‘Piano Man’ (US no. 25, UK no. 136, AUS no. 20), draws on Joel’s experience as ‘Bill Martin’: “It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday / The regular crowd shuffles in / There’s an old man sitting next to me / Making love to his tonic and gin.”  The disc also includes ‘Captain Jack’.  Casting Billy Joel as a troubadour, the album ‘Piano Man’ is a big breakthrough.  Billy Joel is financially mistreated – again.  Despite impressive sales, the singer makes very little money from the disc as Columbia seeks to recoup its outlay.  Distressed, Joel turns to his wife, who has now graduated from U.C.L.A., and asks her to sort out his finances and, subsequently, act as his manager.

Since ‘Piano Man’ is Billy Joel’s first fully realised album, this may be an opportune point to pause and consider the elements of his style.

Billy Joel is a self-created artist.  He writes and sings all his own material except for a few rare cover versions.  He is also a musician, playing piano, organ, synthesiser and any manner of keyboard.  There is a temptation to see him as an American answer to Elton John.  However, this does Billy Joel a disservice.  Elton John rarely writes his own lyrics, normally relying on others – primarily Bernie Taupin – to provide the words.  Billy Joel’s lyrics are as sharp as his music and they are both his own work.  “I actually start most songs with music, the lyrics come afterward,” explains Joel.

Defining Billy Joel’s music is difficult because he assumes a number of different styles.  “I don’t want to limit my diet sampling only one vegetable in the garden,” explains the piano man.  In the songs Billy Joel records there are elements of pop music, rock, Broadway show tunes, classical music and cocktail bar jazz.

Strangely, after ‘Piano Man’ Billy Joel’s next two albums do not fare as well.  ‘Street Life Serenade’ (1975) (US no. 35, AUS no. 85) features ‘The Entertainer’ (US no. 34, AUS no. 89), wherein the author cynically examines commercial reality amidst swirls of synthesiser: “Today I am your champion, I may have won your hearts / But I know the game, you’ll forget may name / I won’t be here in another year / If I don’t stay on the charts.”  For ‘Turnstiles’ (1976) (US no. 122, AUS no. 12) Billy Joel returns to New York, a move celebrated in the dramatic ‘Say Goodbye To Hollywood’ and the grandiose ‘New York State Of Mind.’

Starting with the ‘Turnstiles’ album, Billy Joel adopts a different approach.  He begins recording with musicians from his touring band rather than solely using session musicians.  The difference is clear and the singer seems more comfortable.  The group includes David Brown (guitar), Russell Javers (guitar), Doug Stegmeyer (bass), Liberty De Vitto (drums) and Richie Cannata (saxophone, flute, organ).

Billy Joel’s next album, ‘The Stranger’ (1977) (US no. 2, UK no. 24, AUS no. 2), is his masterpiece.  It begins a ten year association with record producer Phil Ramone who lends a big-screen cinematic sweep to Billy Joel’s compositions while keeping the music tight, sharp and glossy.  ‘Just The Way You Are’ (US no. 3, UK no. 19, AUS no. 6) becomes a ‘wedding band standard’ and the source of the perception of Joel as a tender balladeer.  Yet it remains his finest song.  His electric keyboards are tastefully offset by a saxophone solo played by Phil Woods.  There is genuine emotion in the song’s depiction of a couple in a long-term relationship: “Don’t go changing, to try and please me / You never let me down before / Don’t imagine you’re too familiar / And I don’t see you anymore.”  However, ‘The Stranger’ is not simply a suite of ballads; it has a much wider agenda.  The title track, ‘The Stranger’, most obviously warns that things are not always what they seem.  ‘Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)’ (US no. 17, UK no. 35, AUS no. 99) clearly evokes the neighbourhood of “Mama Leone” and “Mister Cacciatore’s down on Sullivan Street.”  The orchestration and saxophone provide immigrant colours to the portrait.  The song also reflects on the pressure to increase your earnings (“Is that all you get for your money?”) and to be upwardly mobile (“Good luck movin’ up ‘cause I’m / Movin’ out”).  This theme of trying to avoid anxiety (“Slow down you crazy child”) is returned to in ‘Vienna’, which, as may be recalled, is the foreign locale to which Billy’s father, Howard Joel, decamped.  These aspirational immigrant neighbourhoods exist just around the musical corner from the Catholic community in ‘Only The Good Die Young’ (US no. 24), a song that is not “so much anti-Catholic as pro-lust” according to its author.  Billy Joel’s narrator bids “Come out Virginia, don’t let me wait / You Catholic girls start much too late.”  The Virginia who is the subject of the sprightly tune is Virginia Callahan, a real-life early fan, back in Joel’s days with The Hassles.  As well as another classy ballad, ‘She’s Always A Woman’ (US no. 17, UK no. 29), ‘The Stranger’ hosts ‘Scenes From An Italian Restaurant’.  This sprawling piece passes through three movements.  Firstly, a couple goes out to dinner “In our old familiar place.”  This prompts a reminiscence about “My sweet romantic teenage nights” and a reflection on Brenda and Eddie, “The king and the queen of the prom” who “Got a divorce as a matter of course / And parted the closest of friends.”  The song then ends with a return to the restaurant scene.  In one composition, ‘Scenes From An Italian Restaurant’ skilfully encapsulates all the album’s themes: tender ballads, the immigrant experience, wild teenagers and financial pressures.  Not coincidentally, these are also the fabric from which Billy Joel’s life is woven.

‘52nd Street’ (1978) (US no. 1, UK no. 10, AUS no. 1) ‘expands on ‘The Stranger’s sound.  Their variety is what makes them so successful.’  ‘My Life’ (US no. 3, UK no. 12, AUS no. 6) is, on the surface, a catchy pop song powered by a bouncing keyboard riff.  But a look at the lyrics paints a self-assertive image of battles with society’s expectations of financial improvement: “I never said you had to offer me a second chance / I never said I was a victim of circumstance.”  The more aggressive rock of ‘Big Shot’ (US no. 14, AUS no. 91) offers a scalding swipe at someone who fails to resist the high life.  Billy Joel is on record as saying the subject of the song is Bianca Jagger, the jet-set socialite wife of Mick Jagger, whose marriage to The Rolling Stones’ singer is, at this time in history, falling apart.  This appears to be borne out by lines like “They were all impressed with your Halston dress / And the people that you knew at Elaine’s.”  Yet, at other times, the song seems self-excoriating, Billy Joel mocking his own fame: “You had to have a white hot spotlight / You had to be a big shot last night.”  ‘Honesty’ (US no. 24, AUS no. 80) (“Is hardly ever heard / And mostly what I need from you”) is a stark piano ballad while ‘Stiletto’ offers some of Joel’s most impressive rattling of the keyboard.

An overtly rock ‘n’ roll stance is adopted for ‘Glass Houses’ (1980) (US no. 1, UK no. 4, AUS no. 2).  Apparently troubled by the perception that he is purely a smarmy vendor of soppy love songs, Billy Joel seem intent on reinventing himself as an adult version of his leather-jacketed, switchblade-bearing teenage self.  The lead single, ‘You May Be Right’ (US no. 7, AUS no. 28), apes The Rolling Stones style of riff-based rock to great effect: “Remember how I found you there / Alone in your electric chair / I told you dirty jokes until you smiled.”  ‘It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me’ (US no. 1, UK no. 14, AUS no. 10) finds Billy Joel jockeying for position amongst the new wave rock stars: “Next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways / It’s still rock and roll to me.”  The soft-centred, continental ‘Don’t Ask Me Why’ (US no. 19) seems a bit out of place here, but other tracks like ‘Sometimes A Fantasy’ (US no. 36), ‘I Don’t Want To Be Alone Anymore’ and the withering ‘All For Layna’ (UK no. 40) establish the album’s rock credentials.  The old adage has it that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but tossing about some rock seems to be worthwhile in this case.

‘Songs In The Attic’ (1981) (US no. 8, UK no. 57, AUS no. 9) buys Billy Joel some breathing space by trotting out songs from prior to ‘The Stranger’ in a live concert context and so introduces them to some of his newer fans.  Revised versions of ‘Say Goodbye To Hollywood’ (US no. 17) and ‘She’s Got A Way’ (US no. 23) are released as singles from this set.

As if to assert his rock ‘n’ roll image, Billy Joel has a motorcycle accident on 15 April 1982.  He breaks his wrist.  Major surgery and a month of therapy in hospital are required for his recovery.

On 20 July 1982 Billy Joel divorces his wife, Elizabeth (formerly Elizabeth Small, Elizabeth Weber).

Billy Joel still yearns ‘to be taken seriously as a composer’ and ‘The Nylon Curtain’ (1982) (US no. 1, UK no. 27, AUS no. 4) is his attempt to satisfy that urge.  A semi-concept album ‘about baby boomers [the children born in the first fifteen years or so after the end of World War Two] and their experiences’, it aims at weightier thematic concerns than some of his previous work.  ‘Pressure’ (US no. 20, AUS no. 16) is probably Billy Joel’s definitive statement on a subject he has tackled before.  The busy synthesisers fit with the early 1980s passion for synth-pop and frame such sentiments as these: “But you will come to a place where the only thing you feel / Are loaded guns in your face / And you’ll have to deal with / Pressure.”  Although ‘Allentown’ (US no. 17, AUS no. 49) is literally about a locale in Pennsylvania, it’s fairly easy to transpose it to Billy Joel’s native Levittown, Long Island.  It’s the same sort of post-war housing development whose children wait for the fulfilment of “The promises our teachers gave / If we worked hard / If we behaved.”  The ambitious ‘Goodnight Saigon’ (US no. 56, UK no. 29) deals with young soldiers being trained for the war in Vietnam.  ‘The Nylon Curtain’ is a comparatively bleak album, which may explain why it is ‘a commercial disappointment’ though it fares better with the critics, earning favourable reviews.

Early in 1983 Billy Joel begins dating a model named Christie Brinkley.  This new romance is one of the two factors influencing the next release from the piano man.  The other factor is the music of the pre-Beatles late 1950s – early 1960s era.  Billy Joel lovingly recreates the styles of that time on ‘An Innocent Man’ (1983) (US no. 4, UK no. 2, AUS no. 3).  The brassy ‘Tell Her About It’ (US no. 1, UK no. 4, AUS no. 9) urges communication, for men-folk to verbalise their feelings to their partners because, otherwise “She’ll get to worrying / Just because you haven’t spoken for so long / And though you may not have done anything / Will that be a consolation when she’s gone?”  ‘Uptown Girl’ (US no. 3, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) expertly imitates the multi-part harmonies of Italo-pop sensations Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons.  Christie Brinkley stars in the video for the song as the uptown girl who’s “been living in her white-bread world” and never “had a backstreet guy” like Billy Joel.  While ‘Uptown Girl’ is a peppy stomp, ‘The Longest Time’ (US no. 14, UK no. 25, AUS no. 15) is a lush, almost a cappella, rendering of Joel’s own multi-tracked self-harmonising.  The title track, ‘An Innocent Man’ (US no. 10, UK no. 8, AUS no. 23) is more elegant and ‘Keeping The Faith’ (US no. 18) rejoices in the minutiae: “I put on my shark skin jacket / You know the kind with the velvet collar / And ditty-bop shades.”  The Parkway Green Gang would have been proud!  After the dour ‘The Nylon Curtain’, ‘An Innocent Man’ is more playful.

On 23 March 1985 Billy Joel marries Christie Brinkley.  Their daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, is born on 29 December 1985.

The ‘Greatest Hits Vols. 1 & 2’ (1985) (US no. 6, UK no. 7, AUS no. 2) set includes two new Billy Joel songs, the rubbery ‘You’re Only Human’ (US no. 9, UK no. 94, AUS no. 6) and the more epic ‘The Night Is Still Young’ (US no. 34, AUS no. 82).

‘The Bridge’ (1986) (US no. 7, UK no. 38, AUS no. 2) is the last of Billy Joel’s albums produced by Phil Ramone.  The album as a whole is the work of a loved-up family man, as most clearly displayed on ‘This Is The Time’ (US no. 18, AUS no. 73): “This is the time to remember / ‘Cause it will not last forever / These are the days to hold on to / ‘Cause we won’t although we’ll want to.”  The startlingly abrasive guitar crunch of ‘A Matter Of Trust’ (US no. 10, UK no. 52, AUS no. 3) offers similar sentiments: “Some love is just a lie of the heart / The cold remains of what began with a passionate start / But that can’t happen to us / Because it’s always been a matter of trust.”  It’s an indication of Billy Joel’s standing in the music industry that where once he sought to emulate piano-playing soul legend Ray Charles on ‘New York State Of Mind’, here he actually duets with Ray Charles on ‘Baby Grand’ (US no. 75, AUS no. 78).

A series of shows in the Soviet Union yields the live double album ‘Kohuept’ (1987) (US no. 38, UK no. 92, AUS no. 10), the Russian word for ‘concert’.  This album includes a cover version of The Beatles’ ‘Back In The U.S.S.R.’ (AUS no. 33).

Billy Joel is financially mistreated – for a third time.  In 1989 he fires ‘his long-time manager and former brother-in-law’ Frank Weber after an audit turns up financial discrepancies.  Frank Weber responds with a lawsuit.  It’s questionable wisdom hiring as your manager the guy who was fired from The Hassles ‘due to excessive drug use’ and who just happens to be your ex-wife’s brother.  When the dust settles in January 1991, Billy Joel wins the court case.

‘Storm Front’ (1989) (US no. 1, UK no. 5, AUS no. 1) sees changes on either side of the recording studio control booth.  This album is co-produced by Billy Joel and Foreigner’s Mick Jones.  Foreigner have enjoyed success in the 1980s with a couple of big ballads but their basic reputation was built on their abilities as a hard rock band.  Since Billy Joel is coming at it from the other direction (i.e. he has had a couple of rock hits but his reputation is built on his ballads), it probably seems like a good fit.  For this album, Billy Joel also substantially restructures his usual backing group.  Guitarist David Brown and drummer Liberty De Vitto are retained, but they are joined by Jeff Jacobs (keyboards), Schuyler Deale (bass) and Crystal Talieferro (percussion, backing vocals).  The album’s best song is ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ (US no. 1, UK no. 7, AUS no. 2), a trawl through modern history from 1949 to 1989, ticking off pop culture icons like Marilyn Monroe, Josef Stalin , Elvis Presley, Mickey Mantle and more, with a catchy chorus attached.  Other compositions are performed in a rather more brutal fashion, but still have charms.  ‘I Go To Extremes’ (US no. 6, UK no. 70, AUS no. 48) is almost an anthem for mood swings.  ‘Leningrad’ (UK no. 53, AUS no. 90) harks back to Billy Joel’s Russian visit, ‘The Downeaster “Alexa”’ (US no. 57, UK no. 76) is an ode to a fishing boat rather obviously named after Joel’s daughter, while ‘And So It Goes’ (US no. 37) is a ballad of a darker hue than is customary for the artist.  The album also includes the fervent ‘Shameless’.

Billy Joel is financially mistreated – yet again.  In mid-1992 he files a lawsuit against his former lawyer, Frank Grubman, for ‘fraud, breach of contract and malpractice.’  The two settle out of court in October 1993.

‘River Of Dreams’ (1993) (US no. 1, UK no. 3, AUS no. 1) is produced by veteran session guitarist (for artists other than Billy Joel), Danny Kortchmar.  The title track, ‘River Of Dreams’ (US no. 3, UK no. 3, AUS no. 1), actually comes to Billy Joel during night-time slumber.  Hence it opens with the lines “In the middle of the night / I go walking in my sleep.”  In the vision he sees a ceremonial religious dunking and so the song says “God knows I’ve never been a spiritual man / Baptised by the fire, I wade into the river / That runs to the promised land.”  The dreamscape extends to the musical arrangement that mixes gospel airs, an African spiritual and an intermittent falsetto vocal.  It’s an arrangement that only makes sense in dream logic, though Joel does his best to meld the disparate elements in the waking world.  ‘All About Soul’ (US no. 29, UK no. 32, AUS no. 34) struggles to add some swing to its confessional shout.  ‘Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)’ (US no. 77) is a self-explanatory evening benediction to a child.  Only backing vocalist Crystal Talieferro is retained from Billy Joel’s usual support team for this album.

After the tour to support ‘The River Of Dreams’ album, Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley divorce on 25 August 1994.

‘The River Of Dreams’ is Billy Joel’s last album of commercial pop or rock.  Quite why this is the case is a bit hard to fathom.  His achievements may be declining, but many artists labour for years without attaining anything approaching the success of ‘The River Of Dreams’, so why stop here?

‘Greatest Hits Vol. 3’ (1997) (US no. 9, UK no. 23, AUS no. 12) includes three new songs but they are non-originals, cover versions of tracks penned by famous singer-songwriters Bob Dylan, Carole King and Leonard Cohen.

‘Fantasies & Delusions’ (2001) (US no. 83) is Billy Joel’s first new album in nearly a decade – but it is classical music.  He seems to have abandoned mainstream, commercial rock ‘n’ roll.

In 2002 Billy Joel spends some time in Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut.  This is a ‘substance abuse and psychiatric centre.’

On 2 October 2004 Billy Joel marries his third wife, Katie Lee.

In March 2005 Billy Joel spends thirty days at the Betty Ford Clinic for ‘alcohol related problems.’

On 17 June 2009 Billy Joel and Katie Lee split up.

Without knowing all the intimate details, it appears that ‘alcohol related problems’ is the most likely explanation for this artist’s retreat from the music business.

On 4 July 2015 Billy Joel marries his fourth wife, Alexis Roderick.  She is an equestrian and a former executive at the financial services company Morgan Stanley.  Billy and Alexis have two daughters: Della Rose (born on 12 August 2015) and Remy Anne (born on 22 October 2017).

Was Billy Joel a tender balladeer, a hairy-chested rock ‘n’ roller or a lounge lizard named Bill Martin?  He was all three.  He was also a classical musician and a pop tunesmith who forged links between Broadway show tunes and three minute teen dramas.  It’s impossible to separate the disparate parts that, collectively, made up ‘Billy Joel music.’  Why would you want to?  That variety was part of his strength.  Billy Joel’s ‘fusion of two distinct eras made him a superstar in the late 1970s and 1980s, as he racked up an impressive string of multi-platinum albums and hit singles.’  He ‘successfully merged the vernaculars of Hollywood sound stages with those of [classical musician Franz] Schubert and [the 1940s pop songwriters of] Tin Pan Alley, along with the warm ambiance of [Frank] Sinatra saloon albums, 1950s car-radio pop, the sound of the Beatles-led British Invasion [of the U.S. pop charts], and the rich melodicism of post-new wave rock.  It was a remarkable feat…yet completely his own.’


  1., ‘Billy Joel’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 29 August 2001
  2. ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 244, 248, 249
  3. ‘The South Bank Show’ (London Weekend Television) Billy Joel interview conducted by Melvyn Bragg (6 September 2010)
  4. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Brill Building Pop’ by Greg Shaw, ‘The Girl Groups’ by Greil Marcus (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 150, 191
  5. as at 25 March 2013, 3 January 2018
  6. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 45, 66
  7. as at 17 April 2013
  8. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 119
  9. as at 16 April 2013
  10. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 339

Song lyrics copyright EMI Songs Australia Pty. Ltd.

Last revised 7 January 2018


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