Artist Info. Lyrics Guitar Tabs Misheard Lyrics


B   I   L   L   Y        J   O   E   L


Beginning as a quintessential confessional singer/songwriter, Billy Joel has gone on to render consistently well-crafted pop. Classically trained, he combines rock attitude with musicianly professionalism. Whether taking the form of rock & roll, new wave, hard-edged dance fare, Sixties nostalgia, or political statement, his songs are marked by a melodicism derived ultimately from Tin Pan Alley and Paul McCartney. His forte is the romantic ballad epitomized by his signature tune, "Just the Way You Are."

Raised in a middle-class Hicksville, Long Island, family, Joel ran with a leather-jacketed street gang as a teenager. He also boxed for three years, breaking his nose in the process. In the late Sixties he joined the Long Island band the Hassles, which released two meager-selling records on United Artists. He then formed a hard-rock duo, Attila, with Hassles drummer Jonathan Small; Small’s wife, Elizabeth, would later wed Joel. Attila’s only album also failed. Taking up commercial songwriting, Joel signed with Family Productions in 1971. His solo debut, Cold Spring Harbor, demonstrated both his fondness for his native Long Island and the somber side of his singing/songwriting approach, but because the tapes were inadvertently sped up slightly in production, Joel’s voice sounded nasal and unnatural.

Legal and managerial woes precluded an immediate follow up, and for six months Joel performed in West Coast piano bars under the name "Bill Martin." These experiences informed his breakthrough, Piano Man, yielding hits in the Top Thirty title track, the Top 100 "Travelin’ Prayer" and "Worse Comes to Worst." His third solo album, another respectable seller, featured "The Entertainer" (#34, 1974). Turnstiles came next, and although "New York State of Mind" eventually became a standard, Joel’s career appeared to be in a holding pattern. Then came The Stranger, and a string of hit singles: 1977’s "Just the Way You Are" (#3) and 1978’s "Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)" (#17), "She’s Always a Woman" (#17), and "Only the Good Die Young" (#24). "Just the Way You Are," written for his first wife and manager, Elizabeth, won two Grammy Awards in 1978.

More hits followed -- from 1978’s 52nd Street, "My Life" (#3, 1978), "Big Shot" (#14, 1979), and "Honesty" (#24, 1979); from 1980’s Glass Houses, "It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me" (#1, 1980) and "You May Be Right" (#7, 1980) -- and in 1979, Joel appeared at the Havana Jam Concert in Cuba. In 1981 he released Songs in the Attic, a live collection of pre-Stranger material; later that year "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" (also recorded in the Seventies by Ronnie Spector) became a hit. Despite the hits, Joel remained in his most vociferous critics’ eyes "a lightweight"; Joel responded publicly by tea- ring up critical reviews onstage during his concerts. Critically and musically, the tide seemed to turn for Joel with the socially conscious The Nylon Curtain, which showcased his musical skill and pop traditionalist’s gift for song structure. That, along with his perseverance and industry, began winning critical converts (in 1992, Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame). Featuring "Pressure" (#20, 1982), "Allentown" (#17, 1982), a Reagan-era unemployment lament, and "Goodnight Saigon" (#56,1983), about Vietnam vets, The Nylon Curtain went to #7. The multiplatinum An Innocent Man, a stylistic homage to Sixties AM-radio pop, offered "Tell Her About It" (#1, 1983), "An Innocent Man" (#10,1983), "The Longest Time" (#14,1984), "Keeping the Faith" (#18, 1985), and the #3 single, "Uptown Girl" (1983), a Four Seasons-esque Valentine for Christie Brinkley, the model whom Joel would marry in 1985 (the couple divorced in 1994). After a seven-night run at Madison Square Garden in 1984, he released Greatest Hits: Volume I & Volume II, his seventh consecutive Top Ten album.

The Bridge (1986) found him duetting, on "Baby Grand," with Ray Charles, for whom Joel’s and Brinkley’s daughter, Alexa Ray, was named. The next year Joel toured the Soviet Union; the live Kohuept documented the concerts. In 1989 Storm Front and its first single, "We Didn’t Start the Fire," charted simultaneously at #1; its centerpiece ballad, "Shameless," became a hit for Garth Brooks two years later, and its supporting tour saw Yankee Stadium hosting its first rock concert. By this time, Joel had reorganized his band, found new management, and, for longtime producer Phil Ramone, substituted Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones.

With 1993’s River of Dreams, which entered the chart at #1, Joel’s lyrical content, oftentimes topical and acerbic, revealed a more philosophical outlook. With a cover painting by Brinkley, and employing producer Danny Kortchmar (known for his work with James Taylor and Don Henley), River featured Leslie West (ex-Mountain) on guitar. The album’s title track reached #3 and "All About Soul," with guest vocals by Color Me Badd, peaked at #29.

Joel’s career has been marked by tumultuous business moves -- his 1972 relinquishing of publishing rights to Family Productions, his legal battles with his first wife and former manager, and a $90-million lawsuit Joel filed against ex-manager and former brother-in-law Frank Weber in 1989 alleging fraud and misappropriation of funds (in 1990 he was awarded $2 million and, in a twist, by 1994 Joel was paying Weber $550,000 and forgiving $600,000 Weber still owed). In September 1992 Joel filed another $90-million lawsuit, this time against former lawyer Allen Grubman, charging fraud, malpractice, and breach of contract (in October 1993 Joel and Grubman announced that litigation had ceased; no news of a financial settlement followed). And not stopping, Joel also sued his onetime tour manager, Rick London (his first wife’s brother-in-law); Joel then dropped the suit in early 1995. Deeply suspicious of the music business, Joel has fought for lower concert ticket prices and attacked ticket scalping; he has contributed extensively to philanthropic causes.

Unlike that of many pop legends, Joel’s work has been perceived as progressing over the years, moving steadily from the purely personal, some would argue sophomoric, concerns of his earliest work to embrace a wider range of styles and subjects. As bard of everyday suburban dream and disappointment, he has achieved a singular voice and status.

Born May 9, 1949, Hicksville, New York

1972 -- Cold Spring Harbor (Family/Philips) 1973 -- Piano Man (Columbia)
1974 -- Streetlife Serenade
1976 -- Turnstiles
1977 -- The Stranger
1978 -- 52nd Street
1980 -- Glass Houses 1981 -- Songs in the Attic
1982 -- The Nylon Curtain 1983 -- An Innocent Man
1985 -- Greatest Hits: Volume I & Volume II
1986 -- The Bridge
1987 -- Kohuept (In Concert)
1989 -- Storm Front
1993 -- River of Dreams

 


 

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