William Martin "Billy" Joel (born May 9, 1949) is an American pianist, singer-songwriter, and composer. Since releasing his first hit song, "Piano Man," in 1973, Joel has become the sixth-best-selling recording artist and the third-best-selling solo artist in the United States, according to the RIAA. His compilation album Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2 is the third-best-selling album in the United States by discs shipped.
Joel had Top 40 hits in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, achieving 33 Top 40 hits in the United States, all of which he wrote himself. He is also a six-time Grammy Awardwinner, a 23-time Grammy nominee and one of the world's best-selling artists of all time, having sold over 150 million records worldwide. According to the list of best-selling music artists, Joel is the 9th most successful solo artist of all time regarding total available certified amount of records sold worldwide and the 6th most successful solo artist in the US regarding total available certified amount of records sold.
Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1999), and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (2006). In 2001, Joel received the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. With the exception of the 2007 songs "All My Life" and "Christmas in Fallujah," Joel stopped writing and recording popular music after 1993's River of Dreams, but he continued to tour extensively until 2010. Since then, Joel has performed live shows sporadically.
Early life[edit source | edit]Edit
Joel was born in the Bronx, May 9, 1949 and raised in Hicksville, New York, in a Levitt home. His father, Howard (born Helmuth), was born in Germany, the son of German merchant and manufacturer Karl Amson Joel. Howard emigrated to Switzerland and later to the United States (via Cuba, as immigration quotas for German Jews prevented direct immigration at the time) in a bid to escape the Nazi regime. Billy Joel's mother, Rosalind Nyman, was born in England to Philip and Rebecca Nyman. Both of Joel's parents were Jewish. They divorced in 1960, and his father moved to Vienna, Austria. Billy has a sister, Judith Joel, and a half-brother, Alexander Joel, who is an acclaimed classical conductor in Europe and currently chief musical director of the Staatstheater Braunschweig.
Joel's father was an accomplished classical pianist. Billy reluctantly began piano lessons at an early age, at his mother's insistence; his teachers included the noted American pianist Morton Estrin and musician/songwriter Timothy Ford. His interest in music, rather than sports, was a source of teasing and bullying in his early years. As a teenager, Joel took up boxing so that he would be able to defend himself. He boxed successfully on the amateur Golden Gloves circuit for a short time, winning twenty-two bouts, but abandoned the sport shortly after breaking his nose in his twenty-fourth boxing match.
Joel attended Hicksville High School in 1967, but he did not graduate with his class. He had been helping his single mother make ends meet by playing at a piano bar, which interfered with his school attendance. At the end of his senior year, Joel did not have enough credits to graduate. Rather than attend summer school to earn his diploma, however, Joel decided to immediately begin a career in music. Joel recounted, "I told them, 'To hell with it. If I'm not going to Columbia University, I'm going to Columbia Records, and you don't need a high school diploma over there'." Columbia did, in fact, become the label that eventually signed him. In 1992, he submitted essays to the school board and was awarded his diploma at Hicksville High's annual graduation ceremony, 25 years after he had left.
Music career[edit source | edit]Edit
Early career[edit source | edit]Edit
Upon seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, Joel decided to pursue a full-time musical career, and set about finding a local Long Island band to join. He soon founded the Echoes, a group that specialized in British Invasion covers. When the Echoes became popular in New York, Joel decided to leave high school to become a professional musician. The Echoes began recording in 1965 and the 16-year-old Billy Joel also played piano on recordings produced by Shadow Morton, including (as claimed by Joel, but denied by songwriter Ellie Greenwich) the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack", as well as several records released through Kama Sutra Productions. During this time, the Echoes started to play numerous late-night shows.Billy Joel (left) with The Hassles.Billy Joel (left) and Jon Small (right),Attila, in 1970.
In late 1965 the Echoes changed their name to the Emeralds and then to the Lost Souls before Joel left the band in 1967 to join the Hassles, a Long Island group that had signed with United Artists Records. Over the next year and a half, they released four singles and two albums—1967's The Hassles and 1968's Hour of the Wolf—all of which failed commercially. In 1969 Joel, along with Hassles drummer Jon Small, left the group to form the duo Attila who released their eponymous debut album in July 1970. The duo disbanded the following October when Joel began an affair with Small's wife, Elizabeth, whom Joel eventually married.
Cold Spring Harbor[edit source | edit]Edit
Joel signed his first solo record contract with Artie Ripp's Family Productions, and subsequently recorded his first solo album. Cold Spring Harbor (a reference to Cold Spring Harbor, New York, a town on Long Island), was released in 1971. However, Ripp mastered and released the album at the wrong speed, resulting in Joel's voice sounding a semitone too high. In addition, the onerous terms of Ripp's Family Productions contract also guaranteed Joel very little money from the sales of his albums.
Popular cuts "She's Got a Way" and "Everybody Loves You Now" were originally released on this album, although they did not gain much attention until released as live performances in 1981 on Songs in the Attic. Since then, they have become favorite concert numbers. Cold Spring Harbor gained a second chance on the charts in 1984, when Columbia reissued the album after slowing it down to the correct speed. The album reached #158 in the US and #95 in the UK nearly a year later.
Joel gigged locally in New York City in the fall of 1971 and moved out to Los Angeles early in 1972, adopting the stage name "Bill Martin." While in California he did a six-month gig in The Executive Room piano bar on Wilshire Boulevard. It was there he composed his signature hit "Piano Man" about the various patrons of the lounge. Subsequently he toured with his band members (Rhys Clark on drums, Al Hertzberg on guitar, and Larry Russell on bass) until the end of June 1972 throughout the US and Puerto Rico, opening for headliners such as J. Geils Band, The Beach Boys and Taj Mahal. At the Mar y sol festival in Puerto Rico, he electrified the crowd and got a big boost for his career.
In addition Philadelphia radio station WMMR-FM started playing a concert recording of Joel performing his "Captain Jack," which became an underground hit on the East Coast. Herb Gordon, an executive of Columbia Records, heard Joel's music and made his company aware of Joel's talent. Joel signed a recording contract with Columbia in 1972 and moved to Los Angeles. He lived there for three years (and has since declared that those three years were a big mistake), returning to New York City in 1975.
Early Columbia years: 1973–1976[edit source | edit]EditBilly Joel on the cover of the single for "The Entertainer", 1975.
Joel's experiences in Los Angeles connected him with record company executives, who bought out his contract with Ripp under the condition that the Family Productions logo be displayed alongside the Columbia logo for the next ten albums, and Family Productions would receive a 25-cent royalty on every Joel album sold. The president of CBS/Columbia Records at the time, Walter Yetnikoff, bought back the rights to Joel's songs from Artie Ripp in the late 1970s, giving the rights to the songs back to Joel as a birthday gift. However, Yetnikoff notes in the documentary film The Last Play at Shea that he ultimately had to threaten Ripp in order to finalize the deal for the song rights. So, although Ripp continued to make money on Joel's albums, Joel at least had ownership of his songs through the help of the president of his new record label. Joel’s bitterness over the debacle would later spill out in the song "Getting Closer," the closing track from his 1986 album The Bridge (the last which was constrained by the Family Productions deal) where he makes references to “all the conmen and their acrobats”, “his stolen youth”, and “I must live up to contracts” .
Piano Man's standout offering was its title track, which, despite peaking at just #25 on the Billboard Hot 100, has become Joel's signature song (It ends nearly all of his concerts.)
Joel's touring band changed as well in 1973. Don Evans replaced Al Hertzberg on guitar, and Patrick McDonald took over the bass position previously held by Larry Russell, and was then replaced in late 1974 by Doug Stegmeyer, who remained with Joel until 1989. Rhys Clark returned as drummer, Tom Whitehorse on banjo and pedal steel and then Johnny Almond on sax and keyboards rounded out the band. Joel's infectious spirit and talent galvanized the band into a tight performing unit, touring the U.S. and Canada extensively and appearing on the popular music shows of the day. Joel's songwriting was now attracting more attention; Helen Reddyrecorded "You're My Home" (from Piano Man) in 1974.
Joel remained in Los Angeles to write Streetlife Serenade, his second album on the Columbia label. It was around this time that Jon Troy, an old friend from the New York neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, acted as Joel's manager although he would soon be replaced by Joel's wife Elizabeth. References to both suburbia and the inner city pepper the album.
The stand-out track on the album is "The Entertainer," a #34 hit in the U.S. which picks up thematically where "Piano Man" left off. Joel was upset that "Piano Man" had been significantly edited down to make it more radio-friendly, and in "The Entertainer," he refers to the edit with sarcastic lines such as "If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit, so they cut it down to 3:05", alluding to shortening of singles for radio play, as compared with the longer versions that appear on albums. Although Streetlife Serenade is often considered one of Joel's weaker albums (Joel has confirmed his distaste for the album), it nevertheless contains some notable tracks, including the title track, "Los Angelenos" and the instrumental "Root Beer Rag", which was a staple of his live set in the 1970s and was resurrected frequently in 2007 and 2008.Streetlife Serenade also marks the beginning of a more confident vocal style on Joel's part.
In late 1975, he played piano and organ on several tracks on Bo Diddley's The 20th Anniversary of Rock 'n' Roll all-star album.
Disenchanted with the L.A. music scene, Joel returned to New York in 1976. There he recorded Turnstiles, for which he used his own hand-picked musicians in the studio for the first time, and also adopted a more hands-on role. Songs were initially recorded at Caribou Ranch with members of Elton John's band, and produced by famed Chicago producer James William Guercio, but Joel was dissatisfied with the results. The songs were re-recorded in New York, and Joel took over, producing the album himself.
The minor hit "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" echoed the Phil Spector sound, and was covered by Ronnie Spector. (In a 2008 radio interview, Joel said he does not perform "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" in his live shows anymore because it is in too high a key and "shreds" his vocal cords.) The album also featured the song "New York State of Mind", a jazzy torch song that has become one of Joel's signature tunes (despite the fact that Joel never released the song as a single), and which was later covered by fellow Columbia labelmates Barbra Streisand, on her 1977 Streisand Superman album, and as a duet with Tony Bennett, on his 2001 Playing with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues album. Other notable album tracks included "Summer, Highland Falls," "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" and "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" which later became a Top 40 hit in 1981 in a live version. Another album track, "Prelude/Angry Young Man," also became a mainstay of his concerts.
The Stranger and 52nd Street[edit source | edit]EditBilly Joel on the cover of the single for "Only The Good Die Young," 1977.
For The Stranger, Columbia Records teamed Joel with producer Phil Ramone (who remained the producer for all of Joel's studio releases up through The Bridge in 1986). The album was released in September 1977, and yielded four Top-25 hits on the Billboard charts in the US: "Just the Way You Are" (#3), "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" (#17), "Only the Good Die Young" (#24), and "She's Always a Woman" (#17). Album sales exceeded Columbia's previous top-selling album, Simon & Garfunkel'sBridge Over Troubled Water, and was certified multi-platinum. His first-ever Top Ten album, it reached #2 on the charts. The Stranger also featured "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant", an album-oriented rock classic, which has become one of his best-known songs.
The Stranger netted Joel Grammy awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, for "Just the Way You Are" which was written for his first wife, Elizabeth Weber. He received a late night phone call to his hotel room in Paris while he was on tour in February 1979, letting him know he had won in both categories. The Stranger is rated as the 70th greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
Joel faced high expectations on his next album, 52nd Street, released in 1978. The album was named after the famous street of the same name which hosted many of the world's premier jazz venues and performers throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Fans purchased over seven million copies on the strength of the hits "My Life" (#3), "Big Shot" (#14), and "Honesty" (#24). This helped 52nd Street become Joel's first #1 album. "My Life" eventually became the theme song for a new US television sitcom, Bosom Buddies, which featured actor Tom Hanks in one of his earliest roles. The album won Grammys for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male and Album of the Year. 52nd Street was the first album to be released on compact disc when it went on sale alongside Sony's CD player CDP-101 on October 1, 1982, in Japan.
Despite the publicity photos and album cover showing Joel holding a trumpet, he does not play the instrument on the album though two tracks on the album do feature some well-known jazz trumpeters. Freddie Hubbard plays two solos on "Zanzibar," and Jon Faddis joins Michael Brecker and Randy Brecker in the horn section for "Half a Mile Away".
In 1979, Joel also traveled to Havana, Cuba, to participate in the historic Havana Jam festival that took place between March 2–4, alongside Rita Coolidge, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Stills, the CBS Jazz All-Stars, the Trio of Doom, Fania All-Stars, Billy Swan, Bonnie Bramlett, Mike Finnegan, Weather Report, plus an array of Cuban artists such as Irakere, Pacho Alonso, Tata Güines and Orquesta Aragón. His performance is captured in Ernesto Juan Castellanos's documentary Havana Jam '79.
Early 1980s[edit source | edit]Edit
The success of his piano-driven ballads like "Just the Way You Are," "She's Always a Woman" and "Honesty" led some critics to label Joel a "balladeer" and "soft rocker." Joel thought these labels were unfair and insulting, and with Glass Houses, he tried to record an album that proved that he could rock harder than his critics gave him credit for, occasionally imitating and referencing the style of New Wave rock music that was starting to become popular at the time. On the front cover of the album, Joel is pictured in a leather jacket, about to throw a rock at a glass house (referencing the adage that "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones").
Glass Houses spent 6 weeks at #1 on the Billboard chart and yielded such hits as "You May Be Right" (used as the theme song, covered by Southside Johnny, for the CBS mid-1990s sitcom Dave's World) (#7, May 1980), "Don't Ask Me Why" (#19, September 1980), "Sometimes a Fantasy" (#36, November 1980) and "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me", which became Joel's first Billboard #1 song (for two weeks) in July 1980. "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" spent 11 weeks in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and was the 7th biggest hit of 1980 according to American Top 40.
Glass Houses won the Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male. It would also win the American Music Award for Favorite Album, Pop/Rock category. The album's closing song, "Through The Long Night" (B-side of the "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me" single), was a lullaby that featured Joel harmonizing with himself in a song he says was inspired by The Beatles' "Yes It Is."
His next release, Songs in the Attic, was composed of live performances of less well-known songs from the beginning of his career. It was recorded during larger US arenas and intimate night club shows in June and July 1980. This release introduced many fans, who discovered Joel when The Stranger became a smash in 1977, to many of his earlier compositions. The album reached #8 on the Billboard chart and produced two hit singles: "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" (#17), and "She's Got a Way" (#23). It sold over 3 million copies. Though not as successful as some of his previous albums, the album was still considered a success by Joel.
The next wave of Joel's career commenced with the recording of The Nylon Curtain. With The Nylon Curtain, Joel became more ambitious with his songwriting, trying his hand at writing topical songs like "Allentown" and "Goodnight Saigon." Joel has stated that he wanted the album to communicate his feelings about the American dream and how changes in American politics during the Reagan years meant that "all of a sudden you weren't going to be able to inherit [the kind of life] your old man had." He also tried to be more ambitious in his use of the recording studio. Joel said that he wanted to "create a sonic masterpiece" on The Nylon Curtain. So he spent more time in the studio, crafting the sound of the album, than he had on any previous album. Work began on The Nylon Curtain in the fall of 1981 although Joel's work on the album was temporary delayed when he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident on Long Island on April 15, 1982. Still, Joel quickly recovered from his injuries, and the album only ended up being delayed by a few weeks.
In 1982, he embarked on a brief tour in support of the album. From one of the final shows of the tour, Joel made his first video special, Live from Long Island, which was recorded at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York on December 30, 1982. It was originally broadcast on HBO in 1983 before it became available on VHS.
The Nylon Curtain went to #7 on the charts, partially due to heavy airplay on MTV for the videos to the singles "Allentown" and "Pressure". "Allentown" spent six weeks at a peak position of #17 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it one of the most-played radio songs of 1982, pushing it into 1983's year-end Top 70, and making it the most successful song from The Nylon Curtain album, besting "Pressure" which peaked at #20 (where it resided for three weeks) and "Goodnight Saigon" which reached #56 on U.S. charts.
Christie Brinkley, An Innocent Man, and The Bridge[edit source | edit]EditBilly Joel on the cover of the single for "An Innocent Man", 1983.
Joel's next album moved away from the serious themes of The Nylon Curtain and struck a much lighter tone. The album An Innocent Man was Joel's tribute to R&B anddoo wop music of the 1950s and 1960s and resulted in Joel's second Billboard #1 hit, "Tell Her About It", which was the first single off the album in the summer of 1983. The album itself reached #4 on the charts and #2 in UK. It also boasted six top-30 singles, the most of any album in Joel's catalog. The album was well received by critics, with Stephen Thomas Erlewine, senior editor for Allmusic, describing Joel as being "in top form as a craftsman throughout the record, effortlessly spinning out infectious, memorable melodies in a variety of styles".
At the time that the album was released, WCBS-FM began playing "Uptown Girl" both in regular rotation and on the Doo Wop Live. The song became a worldwide hit upon its release, #3 in the U.S. and Joel's sole #1 in the United Kingdom. Also, the James Brown-inspired song "Easy Money" would be featured in the 1983 Rodney Dangerfield film of the same name.
In December the title song, "An Innocent Man", was released as a single and it peaked at #10 in the U.S. and #8 in the UK, early in 1984. That March, "The Longest Time" was finally released as a single, peaking at #14 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. That summer, "Leave a Tender Moment Alone" was released and it hit #27 while "Keeping the Faith" peaked at #18 in January 1985. In the video for "Keeping the Faith", Christie Brinkley also plays the "redhead girl in a Chevrolet". An Innocent Man was also nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy, but lost to Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Following the success of An Innocent Man, Joel was asked about releasing an album of his most successful singles. This was not the first time this topic had come up, but Joel had initially considered "Greatest Hits" albums as marking the end of one's career. This time he agreed, and Greatest Hits Vol. 1 and 2 was released as a four-sided album and two-CD set, with the songs in the order in which they were released. The new songs "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" and "The Night Is Still Young" were recorded and released as singles to support the album; both reached the top 40, peaking at #9 and #34, respectively.
Greatest Hits was highly successful and it has since been certified double diamond by the RIAA, with over 11.5 million copies (23 million units) sold. To date it is tied for the third-best-selling album in American music history, according to the RIAA.
Coinciding with the Greatest Hits album release, Joel released a two-volume Video Album that was a compilation of the promotional videos he had recorded from 1977 to the present time. Along with videos for the new singles off the Greatest Hits album, Joel also recorded a video for his first hit, "Piano Man", for this project.
Though it broke into the top ten, Joel's next album, The Bridge (1986) did not achieve the level of success of his previous albums, but it yielded the hits "A Matter of Trust" and "Modern Woman" from the filmRuthless People, a dark comedy from the directors of Airplane! (both #10). In a departure from his "piano man" persona, Joel is shown in the video playing a Les Paul-autographed Gibson guitar. The ballad "This is the Time" also charted, peaking at #18.
The Bridge was Joel's last album to carry the Family Productions logo, after which he severed his ties with Artie Ripp. Joel has also stated in many interviews, most recently in a 2008 interview in Performing Songwriter magazine, that he does not think The Bridge is a good album.
Shortly after The Bridge tour ended in late 1987, Joel completed voice work on Disney's Oliver & Company, released in 1988, a loose adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. Joel brought both his acting and musical talents to the film as Dodger. For the film, Joel recorded a song titled "Why Should I Worry?" Critics were generally positive about the film, pointing to Joel's acting as one of its highlights despite it being his first acting job. In interviews, Joel explained that he took the job due to his love of Disney cartoons as a child.
Trip to the Soviet Union[edit source | edit]Edit
In October 1986, Joel and his handlers started planning a trip to the Soviet Union. He became one of the first American rock acts to play there since the Berlin Wall went up, a fact not lost on history buff Joel.There were live performances at indoor arenas in Moscow, Leningrad and Tbilisi. Joel and his family (including young daughter Alexa) and his full touring band made the trip in August 1987. The entourage was filmed for television and video to offset the cost of the trip, and the concerts were simulcast on radio around the world.
Most of that audience took a long while to warm up to Joel's energetic show, something that had never happened in other countries he had performed in. According to Joel, each time the fans were hit with the bright lights, anybody who seemed to be enjoying themselves froze. In addition, people who were "overreacting" were removed by security. It was during this concert that Joel, enraged by the bright lights, flipped his piano and snapped a microphone stand while continuing to sing the current part of the set. He later apologized for that incident.
The album КОНЦЕРТ (Russian for "Concert") was released in October 1987. Singer Peter Hewlitt was brought in to hit the high notes on his most vocally challenging songs, like "An Innocent Man." Joel also did versions of The Beatles' classic "Back in the U.S.S.R." and Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'". It has been estimated that Joel lost more than $1 million of his own money on the trip and concerts, but he has said the goodwill he was shown there was well worth it.
Storm Front and River of Dreams[edit source | edit]Edit
The release of the album Storm Front coincided with major changes in Joel's career and inaugurated a period of serious upheaval in his business affairs. In August 1989, just before the album was released, Joel dismissed his manager (and former brother-in-law) Frank Weber after an audit revealed major discrepancies in Weber's accounting. Joel subsequently sued Weber for $90 million, claiming fraud and breach of fiduciary duty and in January 1990 he was awarded $2 million in a partial judgement against Weber; in April, the court dismissed a $30 million countersuit filed by Weber.
The first single for the album, "We Didn't Start the Fire", was released in September 1989 and it became Joel's third and most recent US #1 hit, spending two weeks at the top; it was also Billboard's second-last #1 single of the 1980s. Storm Front was released in October, and it eventually became Joel's first #1 album since Glass Houses, nine years earlier. Storm Front was Joel's first album since Turnstiles to be recorded without Phil Ramone as producer. For this album, he wanted a new sound, and worked with Mick Jones of Foreigner fame. Joel also revamped his backing band, dismissing everyone but drummer Liberty DeVitto, guitarist David Brown, and saxophone player Mark Rivera, and bringing in new faces, including multi-instrumentalist Crystal Taliefero.
Storm Front's second single, "I Go to Extremes" made it to #6 in early 1990. The album was also notable for its song "Leningrad", written after Joel met a clown in the Soviet city of that name during his tour in 1987, and "The Downeaster Alexa", written to underscore the plight of fishermen on Long Island who are barely able to make ends meet. Another well-known single from the album is the ballad "And So It Goes" (#37 in late 1990). The song was originally written in 1983, around the time Joel was writing songs for An Innocent Man; but "And So It Goes" did not fit that album's retro theme, so it was held back until Storm Front. Joel said in a 1996 Masterclass session in Pittsburgh that Storm Front was a turbulent album and that "And So It Goes," as the last song on the album, portrayed the calm and tranquility that often follows a violent thunderstorm.
In the summer of 1992, Joel filed another $90 million lawsuit against his former lawyer Allen Grubman, alleging a wide range of offenses including fraud, breach of fiduciary responsibility, malpractice and breach of contract but the case was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
In 1992, Joel inducted the R&B duo Sam & Dave into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. That year, Joel also started work on River of Dreams, finishing the album in early 1993. Its cover art was a colorful painting byChristie Brinkley that was a series of scenes from each of the songs on the album. The eponymous first single was the last top 10 hit Joel has penned to date, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 & ranking at #21 on Billboard's 1993 year-end Hot 100 chart. In addition to the title track, the album includes the hits "All About Soul" (with Color Me Badd on backing vocals) and "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)", written for his daughter, Alexa. A radio remix version of "All About Soul" can be found on The Essential Billy Joel (2001), and a demo version appears on My Lives (2005).
The song "The Great Wall of China" was written about his ex-manager Frank Weber and was a regular in the setlist for Joel's 2006 tour. "2000 Years" was prominent in the millennium concert at Madison Square Garden, December 31, 1999, and "Famous Last Words" closed the book on Joel's pop songwriting for more than a decade.
1994–2007[edit source | edit]EditJoel performing in 2007 in Florida.
On August 25, 1994, Joel and second wife Christie Brinkley divorced.
1997's "To Make You Feel My Love" and "Hey Girl" both charted from Joel's Greatest Hits Volume III album. Joel wrote and recorded the song "Shameless" that was later covered by Garth Brooks and reached number 1 on Billboard's country charts. Joel performed with Brooks during his Central Park concert in 1997 with an estimated 980,000 people in attendance, the largest audience to attend a U.S. concert. To add on to his achievements Joel was inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.
On December 31, 1999, Joel performed at New York's Madison Square Garden. At the time, Joel said that it would be his last tour and possibly his last concert. Two of his performances from that night, We Didn't Start the Fire and Scenes from an Italian Restaurant were filmed and featured that night as part of ABC's special New Year's Y2K coverage. The concert (dubbed The Night of the 2000 Years) ran for close to four hours and was later released as 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert.
In 2001, Joel released Fantasies & Delusions, a collection of classical piano pieces. All were composed by Joel and performed by Richard Joo. Joel often uses bits of these songs as interludes in live performances, and some of them are part of the score for the hit show Movin' Out. The album topped the classical charts at #1. Joel performed "New York State of Mind" live on September 21, 2001, as part of the America: A Tribute to Heroes benefit concert, and on October 20, 2001, along with "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)", at the Concert for New York City in Madison Square Garden. That night, he also performed "Your Song" with Elton John.
In 2005, Columbia released a box set, My Lives, which is largely a compilation of demos, b-sides, live/alternate versions and even a few Top 40 hits. The compilation also includes the Umixit software, in which people can remix "Zanzibar", "Only the Good Die Young", "Keepin' The Faith", and live versions of "I Go to Extremes" and "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" with their PC. Also, a DVD of a show from the River of Dreams tour is included.
On January 7, 2006, Joel began a tour across the United States. Having not written, or at least released, any new songs in 13 years, he featured a sampling of songs from throughout his career, including major hits as well as obscure tunes like "Zanzibar" and "All for Leyna". His tour included an unprecedented 12 sold-out concerts over several months at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The singer's stint of 12 shows at Madison Square Garden broke a previous record set by New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen, who played 10 sold-out shows at the same arena. The record earned Joel the first retired number (12) in the arena owned by a non-athlete. This honor has also been given to Joel at the Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia) (formerly the Wachovia Center) in Philadelphia where a banner in the colors of the Philadelphia Flyers is hung honoring Joel's 46 Philadelphia sold-out shows. He also had a banner raised in his honor for being the highest grossing act in the history of the Times Union Center (formerly the Knickerbocker Arena and Pepsi Arena) in Albany, New York. This honor was given to him as part of the April 17, 2007, show he did there. On June 13, 2006, Columbia released 12 Gardens Live, a double album containing 32 live recordings from a collection of the 12 different shows at Madison Square Garden during Joel's 2006 tour.
Joel visited the United Kingdom and Ireland for the first time in many years as part of the European leg of his 2006 tour. On July 31, 2006, he performed a free concert in Rome, with the Colosseum as the backdrop. Organizers estimated 500,000 people turned out for the concert, which was opened by Bryan Adams.
Joel toured South Africa, Australia, Japan, and Hawaii in late 2006, and subsequently toured the Southeastern United States in February and March 2007 before hitting the Midwest in the spring of 2007. On January 3 of that year, news was leaked to the New York Post that Billy had recorded a new song with lyrics—this being the first new song with lyrics he'd written in almost 14 years. The song, titled "All My Life", was Joel's newest single (with second track "You're My Home", live from Madison Square Garden 2006 tour) and was released into stores on February 27, 2007. On February 4, Joel sang the national anthem for Super Bowl XLI, becoming the first to sing the national anthem twice at a Super Bowl. and on April 17, 2007, Joel was honored in Albany, New York, for his ninth concert at the Times Union Center. He is now holding the highest box office attendance of any artist to play at the arena. A banner was raised in his honor marking this achievement.
On December 1, 2007, Joel premiered his new song "Christmas in Fallujah." The song was performed by Cass Dillon, a new Long Island based musician, as Joel felt it should be sung by someone in a soldier's age range (though he himself has played the song occasionally in concert.) The track was dedicated to servicemen based in Iraq. Joel wrote it in September 2007 after reading numerous letters sent to him from American soldiers in Iraq. "Christmas in Fallujah" is only the second pop/rock song released by Joel since 1993's River of Dreams. Proceeds from the song benefitted the Homes For Our Troops foundation.
2008–present[edit source | edit]Edit
On January 26, 2008, Joel performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra celebrating the 151st anniversary of the Academy of Music. Joel premiered his new classical piece titled, "Waltz No. 2 (Steinway Hall)". He also played many of his less well-known pieces with full orchestral backing, including the rarely performed Nylon Curtain songs "Scandinavian Skies" and "Where's the Orchestra?".
Joel's staying power as a touring act continues to the present day. He sold out 10 concerts at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut from May to July 2008. The casino honored him with a banner displaying his name and the number 10 to hang in the arena. On June 19, 2008, he played a concert at the grand re-opening of Caesars Windsor (formerly Casino Windsor) in Windsor, Ontario, Canada to an invite-only crowd for Casino VIPs. His mood was light, and joke-filled, even introducing himself as "Billy Joel's dad" and stating "you guys overpaid to see a fat bald guy." He also admitted that Canadian folk-pop musician Gordon Lightfoot was the musical inspiration for "She's Always A Woman".
On July 16, 2008, and July 18, 2008, Joel played the final concerts at Shea Stadium before its demolition. His guests included Tony Bennett, Don Henley, John Mayer, John Mellencamp, Steven Tyler, Roger Daltrey, Garth Brooks, and Paul McCartney. The concerts were featured in the 2010 documentary film Last Play at Shea. The film was released on DVD on February 8, 2011. The CD and DVD of the show, Live at Shea Stadium were released on March 8, 2011.
On December 11, 2008, Joel recorded his own rendition of "Christmas in Fallujah" during a concert at Acer Arena in Sydney and released it as a live single in Australia only. It is the only official release of Joel performing "Christmas in Fallujah", as Cass Dillon sang on the 2007 studio recording and the handful of times the song was played live in 2007. Joel sang the song throughout his December 2008 tour of Australia.
On May 19, 2009, Joel's former drummer, Liberty DeVitto, filed a lawsuit in NYC claiming Joel and Sony Music owed DeVitto over 10 years of royalty payments. DeVitto had never been given songwriting or arranging credit on any of Joel's songs, but he claimed that he helped arrange some of them, including "Only the Good Die Young." In April 2010, it was announced that Joel and DeVitto amicably resolved the lawsuit.
2011 re-releases[edit source | edit]Edit
2011 marked the 40th anniversary of the release of Joel's first album, Cold Spring Harbor. According to Joel's official website, to commemorate this anniversary, Columbia/Legacy Recordings originally planned "to celebrate the occasion with a definitive reissue project of newly restored and expanded Legacy editions of the complete Billy Joel catalog, newly curated collections of rarities from the vaults, previously unavailable studio tracks and live performances, home video releases and more," although this never fully came to fruition. The album Piano Man was re-released in a 2-disc Legacy edition in November 2011.
Face-to-Face tours[edit source | edit]Edit
Beginning in 1994, Joel toured extensively with Elton John on a series of "Face to Face" tours, making them the longest running and most successful concert tandem in pop music history. During these shows, the two have played their own songs, each other's songs and performed duets. They grossed over US $46 million in just 24 dates in their sold out 2003 tour. Joel and John resumed the Face to Face tour in March 2009 and it ended again, at least for the time being, in March 2010 in Albany, NY, at the Times Union Center. In February 2010, Joel denied rumors in the trade press that he canceled a summer 2010 leg of the tour, claiming there were never any dates booked and that he intended to take the year off. Joel told Rolling Stone magazine: "We’ll probably pick it up again. It’s always fun playing with him." However, in March 2012 he told an audience at the University of Florida that the Face to Face shows “got to be a little confining” because Elton John insisted that they keep playing the same sets. “I don't think we'll do it anymore,” Joel said.
2013 Concerts[edit source | edit]Edit
In May 2013 it was announced that Joel will be holding his first ever indoor Irish concert at the 02 in Dublin on November 1st. He subsequently announced his return to the UK for the first time in seven years to perform three dates in October and November. Billy Joel will play two arena dates in Manchester and Birmingham plus a very special - more intimate - show at London’s Hammersmith Apollo.
Other ventures[edit source | edit]Edit
In November 2010, Joel opened a shop on Oyster Bay, Long Island to manufacture custom-made, retro-styled motorcycles and accessories.
In 2011, Joel announced that he was releasing an autobiography that he had written with Fred Schruers, titled The Book of Joel: A Memoir. The book was originally going to be released in June 2011, but in March 2011 Joel decided against publishing the book and officially cancelled his deal with HarperCollins. Rolling Stone noted, "HarperCollins acquired the book project for $3 million in 2008. [However,] Joel is expected to return his advance on that sum to the publisher." According to Billboard, "the HarperCollins book was billed as an 'emotional ride' that would detail the music legend's failed marriage to Christie Brinkley, as well as his battles with substance abuse." In explaining his decision to cancel the book's release, Joel stated, "It took working on writing a book to make me realize that I'm not all that interested in talking about the past, and that the best expression of my life and its ups and downs has been and remains my music."
Personal life[edit source | edit]Edit
Marriages, relationships, and family[edit source | edit]Edit
Joel married his business manager, Elizabeth Weber Small, on September 5, 1973. She was the former wife of his music partner, Jon Small, in the short-lived duo Attila. Joel and Elizabeth divorced on July 20, 1982.
Joel mentioned in a television interview on the UK's Five that he had dated Elle Macpherson in the 1980s prior to his marriage to Christie Brinkley. Joel has also said that the songs "This Night" and "And So It Goes" were written about his relationship with Macpherson.Billy Joel's daughter, Alexa Ray Joel.
Joel married Christie Brinkley on March 23, 1985. Their daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, was born December 29, 1985. Alexa was given the middle name of Ray after Ray Charles, one of Joel's musical idols. Joel and Brinkley divorced on August 25, 1994; the couple remain friendly.
On October 2, 2004, Joel married 23-year-old Katie Lee. At the time of the wedding, Joel was 55. Joel's daughter, Alexa Ray, then 18, served as maid-of-honor. Joel's second wife, Christie Brinkley, attended the union and gave the couple her blessing. Lee works as a restaurant correspondent for the PBS show, George Hirsch: Living it Up!. In 2006, Katie Lee hosted Bravo's Top Chef. She did not return for a second season, instead going on tour with her husband. She then began writing a weekly column in Hamptonsmagazine, and became a field correspondent for the entertainment television show Extra. On June 17, 2009, both confirmed that they had split after five years of marriage.
Personal troubles[edit source | edit]Edit
Joel battled depression for many years. In 1970, a career downturn and personal problems aggravated his condition. He left a suicide note (which inspired the lyrics to "Tomorrow Is Today") and attempted to commit suicide by drinking furniture polish, saying later, "I drank furniture polish. It looked tastier than bleach." His drummer assistant, Jon Small, rushed him to the hospital. Joel checked into Meadowbrook Hospital, where he was put on suicide watch and received treatment for depression. Joel later recorded "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" as a message to help prevent teen suicide.
In 2002, Joel entered Silver Hill Hospital, a substance abuse and psychiatric center in New Canaan, Connecticut. In March 2005, he checked into the Betty Ford Center, where he spent 30 days for the treatment of alcohol-related problems.
Politics[edit source | edit]Edit
Although Joel has donated money to Democratic candidates running for office, he has never publicly affiliated himself with the Democratic Party. Although he isn't known for publicly endorsing political candidates, he did play a benefit with Bruce Springsteen to raise money for Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008. He has also played at benefit concerts that have helped raise funds for political causes. However, Joel has said about musicians endorsing political candidates, "People who pay for your tickets, I don't think they want to hear who you're going to vote for and how you think they should vote."
Religion[edit source | edit]Edit
Joel was born to non-observant Jewish parents and considers himself a cultural Jew. He stated in 2001:
|“||My parents were both from Jewish families. I was not brought up Jewish in any religious way. My circumcision was as Jewish as they got. I used to go to Roman Catholic church with my friends, and when I was 11, I got baptized in a Church of Christ in Hicksville. I’m a cultural Jew. I like the Lower East Side humor, the food. I think the Yiddish language is terrifically expressive. Does that make me a complete Jew or a partial Jew? I’m not really sure.||”|
Discography[edit source | edit]Edit
- Cold Spring Harbor (1971)
- Piano Man (1973)
- Streetlife Serenade (1974)
- Turnstiles (1976)
- The Stranger (1977)
- 52nd Street (1978)
- Glass Houses (1980)
- The Nylon Curtain (1982)
- An Innocent Man (1983)
- The Bridge (1986)
- Storm Front (1989)
- River of Dreams (1993)
Band[edit source | edit]EditBilly Joel receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Syracuse University, May 14, 2006
Joel graduated well after his high school peers because of a missed English exam. His high school diploma was finally awarded by the school board 25 years later. Joel has been presented with multiple honorary doctorates:
- Doctor of Humane Letters from Fairfield University (1991)
- Doctor of Music from Berklee College of Music (1993)
- Doctor of Humane Letters from Hofstra University (1997)
- Doctor of Music from Southampton College (2000)
- Doctor of Fine Arts from Syracuse University (2006)
- Doctor of Musical Arts from the Manhattan School of Music (2008)
In 1986, Joel was on the site selection committee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame board. Seven members of the committee voted for the Hall to be located in San Francisco, California, and seven voted for Cleveland, Ohio; this tie was broken when Billy Joel voted for Cleveland. Joel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1999 by one of his chief musical influences, Ray Charles.
Joel was also named MusiCares Person of the Year for 2002, an award given each year at the same time as the Grammy Awards. At the dinner honoring Joel, various artists performed versions of his songs including Nelly Furtado, Stevie Wonder, Jon Bon Jovi, Diana Krall, Rob Thomas and Natalie Cole. Joel has won five non-honorary Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, for 52nd Street, and Song of the Year and Record of the Year, for "Just the Way You Are".
Joel is the only performing artist to have played both Yankee and Shea Stadiums, as well as Giants Stadium, Madison Square Garden, and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Joel has banners in the rafters of the Times Union Center, Nassau Coliseum, Madison Square Garden, Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and Hartford Civic Center in Hartford. (Joel is erroneously cited as the first artist to perform a concert at Yankee Stadium in New York City; The Isley Brothers first performed there in 1969, and the Latin supergroup The Fania All-Stars played and recorded live albums at the stadium during the 1970s.)
Media performances[edit source | edit]Edit
- Has released multiple tour videos and compilation albums
- Has been featured in multiple television documentaries and specials
- The Midnight Special (1975) (Television) (Sang "Travelin' Prayer" and "The Ballad of Billy the Kid")
- The Mike Douglas Show (1976) (Television)
- Saturday Night Live in 1978, 1981, 1989, 1993
- The Old Grey Whistle Test (1978) (London, England) (Television)
- Musikladen (1978) (German television concert)
- 20/20 (1980) (Television)
- Multiple appearances on MTV
- Today (June 1984) Introduces music video for "The Longest Time."
- Late Night with David Letterman in 1986 and 1989, Late Show with David Letterman in 1993 (first musical guest on the show)
- Oliver & Company (1988) (Provided both the voice and singing voice for the character Dodger in the Disney full-length animated feature.)
- Sesame Street (1988) (Sang "Just the Way You Are" to Oscar the Grouch, and "The Alphabet Song" with the kids)
- During the 1994 Grammy Award Show, Joel extended his performance of "The River of Dreams" by stopping the song partway through, looking at the celebrity audience with a grin while pretending to check his watch and saying, "valuable advertising time going by...dollars...dollars...dollars..." which was met with laughter from the audience. He then resumed playing the song. This was done in response to Frank Sinatra being cut off on television while giving an acceptance speech when given a lifetime achievement Grammy.
- The Rosie O'Donnell Show (1997) (Television)
- Behind the Music (1997) (Television)
- VH1 Storytellers (1997) and VH1 Video Time Line (1998)
- 60 Minutes (April 26, 1998) Interviewed by Steve Kroft.
- Inside the Actor's Studio (1999) (Bravo Network)
- Mad About You: "Murray at the Dog Show" (1999) (NBC Television) (Appeared as himself; wrote the music for the song "Lullabye For You" which was featured in the episode. Paul Reiser wrote the lyrics.)
- Piano Grand! A Smithsonian Celebration (2000) (Joel served as host and performer; aired on PBS; released on DVD)
- Performed the national anthem at multiple sporting events, and was the first to sing it at two Super Bowls
- America: A Tribute To Heroes and The Concert for New York City (2001)
- Movin' Out (2002), is a musical based on twenty-four Billy Joel songs which was a smash hit on Broadway from 2002 to 2005 (last Broadway show was on December 11, 2005). Joel was composer, lyricist, andorchestrator and won a Tony Award for Best Orchestrations. The musical is really a dance performance choreographed by famed choreographer Twyla Tharp, with Joel's songs sung by Michael Cavanaugh.
- The 2003 Tony Awards (Television) (Performed "New York State of Mind")
- The Ellen DeGeneres Show (2005) (Television) (Performed "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" and "Only the Good Die Young")
- Late Night with Conan O'Brien (2005) (NBC) (Performed "Everybody Loves You Now" and "Vienna")
- The Today Show in 2005 and 2006
- The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch (2006) (CNBC)
- American Chopper (2006) ("The Billy Joel Bike") (Television, DVD)
- The Oprah Winfrey Show (March 24, 2008) (Appeared with wife, Katie, and performed "Only the Good Die Young")
- The South Bank Show (July 13, 2008) (Joel discussed his career)
- The Howard Stern Show (November 16, 2010) (Sirius XM) (Interview and musical performance)
- "12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief" (December 12, 2012)