Friday, April 5, 2013

Billy Joel 2013

10 Best Moments From The 2013 Kennedy Center Honors
(By Ryan Little, Rolling Stone, 30 December 2013)
On December 8th, the 36th Annual Kennedy Center Honors inducted Herbie Hancock, Martina Arroyo, Shirley MacLaine, Billy Joel and Carlos Santana at a special event attended by the President and First Lady along with other Hollywood and political elites. The tribute concert aired on CBS last night, so RS whipped up a rundown of the night's essential musical moments:
10. Any proper ceremony attended by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle should include the National Anthem, and while it’s no Jimi Hendrix freak-out, legendary Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval’s clear, purist rendition of the standard was entirely worth catching.
9. After an introduction from jazz singer Tony Bennett, a rendition of Billy Joel's "Big Shot" by Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco, and a ballad from Eagles singer and drummer Don Henley, the crowd roars to greet best-selling country artist Garth Brooks. Though his voice isn’t in peak form for every tune, he nails "Goodnight Saigon," complete with a choir of veterans.
8. Introducing inductee Carlos Santana, singer Harry Belafonte — most famous for his hit "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" — riffs on Mexican immigration and how Santana "took [his] job." Watching Belafonte dance around such a hot-button topic in front of a room half-filled with politicians is painfully hilarious.
7. Bluesman Buddy Guy, a previous inductee whom Santana adores, grooves to his own rendition of Willie Dixon’s classic, "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man." It’s even soulful enough to get Michelle Obama moving in her seat.
6. On Santana’s "Everybody’s Everything," Steve Winwood brings vintage chops to the stage with both his sideburns and his riveting vocals. The song climaxes when legendary percussionist Sheila E., Prince’s former bandmate, takes a timbale solo so fiery she ends up knocking over a cymbal and tossing her sticks to the ground.
5. The heavy rhythms of a 14-piece Santana tribute band, featuring Orianthi Panagaris, Alice Cooper’s acclaimed touring guitarist, begins with Fher Olvera of Latin rock superstars Maná singing a charismatic lead. The show jumps up a notch when Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello steps onstage for "Black Magic Woman," ramping up a Santana-style guitar solo that culminates with his own signature octave-jumping and turntable-mimicry.
4. After a great bebop set featuring trumpeter Terence Blanchard and pianist Chick Corea among others, bassist Marcus Miller shows up to lead a funkier, hip-hop style segment alongside Beastie Boys’ DJ Mix Master Mike and plenty of keytar action. The flamboyant, early Eighties Hancock vibe is a sight to behold.
3. Topping off an already wild Herbie Hancock tribute, Snoop Dogg rolls up in a velvety tux, holding a blinged-out mic, driving the crowd wild. The O.G. mingles his "Gin & Juice" with Us3’s Hancock-sampling "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)," and he even gets a few politicians into the action when he throws in a few call-and-response "heys" and "hos." Afterward, Snoop humbly turns to Hancock noting, "Thank you for creating hip-hop."
2. After walking onstage to introduce Herbie Hancock, Bill O’Riley, the infamous conservative political pundit, clears the air admitting, "I know, I’m surprised too." The host gives an earnest introduction to the multi-talented inductee, and afterward he makes sure to shake Snoop Dogg’s hand — the unlikely juxtaposition of the two figures suits Hancock's diverse tribute perfectly.
1. Concluding the night, the elegant Rufus Wainwright sings a showstopping rendition of "New York State of Mind" followed by an immensely soulful "Piano Man," where he’s joined by the veterans once again, along with Brooks, Bennett, Henley and most of the audience.


'Kennedy Center Honors': Billy Joel Had To Get New Clothes For 'This Kind Of Thing'
(By Jay Bobbin,, December 29, 2013)
One of Billy Joel's own lyrics might answer anyone baffled that he hasn't been recognized by the Kennedy Center Honors until now. As the 40th-anniversary year of his seminal album "Piano Man" draws to a close, the singer-songwriter of numerous hits of wide-ranging styles is among those saluted for his contributions to the performing arts as CBS airs the 36th annual special Sunday, Dec. 29.  "I was surprised," six-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Joel recalls to Zap2it. "I honestly, really thought there were a lot of people who were deserving before I was going to get this ... jazz musicians, classical musicians, just other people. I've had so much fun, it's like I'm getting an award for doing something I love. Which is an award in itself."
Taped Dec. 8 in Washington, D.C., the Glenn Close-hosted event sees four other entertainment legends also feted by friends, colleagues and admirers including President and Mrs. Obama: Oscar and Emmy winner Shirley MacLaine; two more music icons, Herbie Hancock and Carlos Santana; and opera great Martina Arroyo.  "It's a really good lineup," Joel says. "I'm still kind of 'Wow!' because I admire all those people. I'm happy I don't have to speak at this; I'd just be, 'Homina-homina-homina,' like Jackie Gleason."  Joel performed when sometimes tour mate Elton John was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 2004. Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks and Don Henley are among those appearing for Joel, who is aware of how such occasions work in television terms.  "I know they like to get that same face when people win or lose the Oscar," he says. "And I had to get new clothes; I don't have clothes for this kind of thing."
Nevertheless, the artist who has given untold numbers of listeners classic tunes from "She's Always a Woman," "Just the Way You Are" and "An Innocent Man" to "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," "Tell Her About It" and "Only the Good Die Young" has deep respect for what the Kennedy Center Honors represent.  "I guess it's our version of knighthood," Joel reasons. "It would be kind of cool if you could kneel before the president and get tapped on the shoulder with a sword and receive a helmet and a banner. It's fine, though." 
The timing of Joel's honor is significant, and not just because of "Piano Man's" four-decade mark. "Next year will be my 50th year in show business," he notes, "and we're starting to do some gigs, so I guess it's all just kind of dovetailing."  One of those gigs for the Bronx native is a New Year's Eve show at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. Then, starting in January, he becomes a "franchise" of Madison Square Garden in a unique arrangement that will see him perform one concert there per month, for as long as both he and audiences want that.  "That's my favorite room in the world," maintains Joel, whose songs fueled an episode of Fox's "Glee" in November. "It's a world-class venue, the sound is great, and the audience has always been great for us there. And it's New York City, which is the most exciting city in the world."


Garth Brooks To Pay Tribute To Joel During Star-Studded Kennedy Center Honors
(By Brandy McDonnell, 26 December 2013)
Eminent artists, friends and peers of this year’s five honorees gathered in Washington, D.C. Dec. 8 to present entertaining and heartfelt tributes at the 36th Annual Kennedy Center Honors, an entertainment special to be broadcast from 8 to 10 p.m. Sunday on the CBS Television Network.  The annual event recognizes recipients for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures and television. In keeping with tradition, the roster of performers and presenters remained secret prior to the gala, and a short biographical film was featured during each honoree’s tribute.
Performers and presenters included Oklahoma music superstar Garth Brooks, Kathy Bates, Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Terence Blanchard, Joseph Calleja, Terri Lyne Carrington, Vinnie Colaiuta, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Sheila E, Sutton Foster, James Genus, Chantelle Grant, Ryan Speedo Green, Buddy Guy, Don Henley, Dave Holland, Juanes, Anna Kendrick, Robert Kerr, Lionel Loueke, Marcus Miller, Patina Miller, Mix Master Mike, Tom Morello, Karen Olivo, Bill O’Reilly, Fher Olvera, Aaron Parks, Sondra Radvanovsky, Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Arturo Sandoval, Wayne Shorter, Snoop Dogg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Brendon Urie, Rufus Wainwright, Steve Winwood and Yuriy Yurchuck.  President and Mrs. Barack Obama were seated with the honorees in the Presidential Box of the Opera House at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, after hosting the traditional White House reception for the honorees. 
Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe Award, Emmy Award and Tony Award-winning actress Glenn Close opened the festivities with a quote from 1980 Kennedy Center Honoree Agnes DeMille, who said, “The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” Close continued, “This year we honor five who, throughout their lives, made creative leaps… landing on their feet, providing joy and enlightenment to millions. We proudly add their names to our signature wall. A songwriting lad from New York whose songs illuminate our lives and his fans crowned him America’s piano man. A wide-eyed girl from Harlem whose tenacity and sublime voice fueled a triumphal march to becoming a queen of Verdi opera. A Chicago prodigy who loved playing Gershwin and loved taking risks – exploring music’s far frontiers and becoming our very own Jazz Master-in-Chief. A captivating redhead from Virginia with legs up to here, a heart out to there, and a life too big for just one lifetime. A virtuoso who brought the passion of his beat to America, his supernatural guitar and his super sounds electrifying us from Woodstock to the White House. These are our 2013 Kennedy Center Honorees.”
Multiple Grammy Award, Emmy Award and Tony Award winner Harry Belafonte, a 1989 Kennedy Center Honoree, introduced the tribute to his longtime friend, multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy Award-winning musician Carlos Santana.  “I tell you folks, there’s no two ways about it, we have got to do something about Mexican immigration. Every day you have people like Carlos Santana coming into this country and taking jobs that should be going to… to Americans!” he joked. Belafonte continued, “Carlos Santana is now a citizen of the world. He belongs to all of us. And while he hasn’t transcended race and origin – really, who of us does? – he has continued to be informed by the immigrant experience and the journey to the American dream. I think that’s why his music is so filled with joy and passion… and his heart is filled with love and generosity. Even without the music, Carlos Santana would be an essential humanitarian… but with the music… well, he is a god. His music tells us to be happy, to get up and move and not just side to side, but to get up and move mountains. It tells us to love. And what a privilege it is tonight to give back some of that love to my friend, Carlos Santana.”
The musical portion of the tribute commenced with a vibrant introduction by the Rob Mathes All Star Band of “Soul Sacrifice,” followed by an exciting performance medley of “Corazon Espinado,” “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va,” with vocalist Fher Olvera, multiple Grammy Award winner Juanes on vocals and electric guitar, and guitarist Tom Morello. Next, blues legend Buddy Guy, a multiple Grammy Award winner and 2012 Kennedy Center Honoree, performed “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man.” Finally, Grammy Award-winning musician Steven Winwood and Grammy Award-nominated recording artist Sheila E gave the audience an exhilarating rendition of “Everybody’s Everything,” which concluded the performances in honor of Carlos Santana.
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayer began the tribute to honoree Martina Arroyo by saying, “I’m here for the diva. Now we justices are fond of using words precisely. Long before diva took on a different meaning, it meant the most celebrated of female opera singers – generally a soprano of rare talent. As a derivative of an Italian word meaning ‘goddess,’ it was used sparingly to describe only those opera singers who took us to another world. Now that’s the kind of diva I’m talking about. That’s Martina Arroyo. Martina always had the raw talent – a soaring, lyrical, captivating voice that transports her listeners. But to be a real diva, you need more. First, you need grit, determination, passion and dedication to your craft. Born into a world in which it took until 1955 for the first female singer of color to appear at the Met, Martina faced an uphill battle. With the help of incredible parents who taught her that she could accomplish anything, she never gave up.”
Sotomayer continued, “Another quality you need to be a true diva is heart. I’m convinced Martina’s voice couldn’t be that beautiful if it weren’t connected to a heart that’s beautiful. She is the most giving person – lavishing warmth, care, and attention on her colleagues, many friends, and legions of students. We bonded with each other – a kid from Harlem and another from the South Bronx – over a love of mothers and a sympathetic understanding of the value of people. Finally, I think you can be a diva without a sense of humor, but you can’t be my diva. I just love Martina’s gentle wit. When the great diva of color Leontyne Price was also appearing at the Met, the stage doorman greeted Martina saying, ‘Good evening, Miss Price.’ She sweetly replied, ‘No, honey, I’m the other one.’ …Martina Arroyo is full of life, one of the girls, a sensitive teacher, a lover of people, and a brilliant artist. That’s how I like my divas. That’s why I love my friend Martina Arroyo.”
The tribute to Martina Arroyo was a Verdi celebration featuring the music of “Aida,” commencing with tenor opera singer Joseph Calleja singing “Celeste Aida.” Next, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky performed “O Patria Mia.” Then the United States Naval Academy Glee Club and Army Herald Trumpets took the stage for the “Triumphal March,” followed by the “Finale from Act II,” sung by Arroyo’s protégés Ryan Speedo Green, Robert Kerr, Yuriy Yurchuk and Chantelle Grant, who were joined by Joseph Calleja and Sondra Radvanovsky for the tribute’s moving conclusion.
Television host and political commentator Bill O’Reilly spoke of his role model, Academy Award and multiple Grammy Award-winning jazz musician Herbie Hancock, stating, “Herbie Hancock is a remarkable artist and a remarkable American, so we start his tribute there. Over the years I’ve talked with Herbie a few times. I don’t hang with him… because I don’t want to ruin his reputation. When I do see him, I’m always impressed by his serenity, his modesty, his politeness. And believe me, I need that kind of role model… Here’s my history with jazz: When I was a young man, I pretended to like it. It just seemed cool… Then suddenly jazz seemed to change. And the instrument of that change I noticed – the whole music world noticed – was Herbie Hancock. There is no way I am qualified to speak about music… I just know what I like. But I do know innovation. Herbie was never an imitator. He moved on to create his own unique sound. And he didn’t stop there. He’s still doing it.”
O’Reilly continued, “Herbie’s status as an artist with an international following has allowed him to travel the world, entertaining millions. His overseas exposure has always reflected well on his country, something I also care deeply about. He is a true gentleman. His fame and skill reflect the values that have made America great… hard work… creativity… respect for yourself and others. Herbie Hancock rebelled against the status quo in music; he never rebelled against humanity. It’s that embracing of what is good in mankind that infuses Herbie’s music and makes him a national icon. He says, ‘I realized that if I perceive myself as a musician, somehow there’s an invisible barrier between myself and people who aren’t musicians. But if I define myself as a human being, all the barriers disappear.’ True. Humble. To the point. That’s Herbie Hancock.”
A rousing array of jazz standards opened the performance segment of the evening, beginning with “Walkin’” and “Watermelon Man,” with multiple Grammy Award winner Wayne Shorter on saxophone, multiple Grammy Award-winning pianist Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Grammy Award-winning bassist Dave Holland, and multiple Grammy Award winner Terence Blanchard on trumpet. This was quickly succeeded by another group of remarkable musicians playing “Cantaloupe Island,” including Grammy Award winner Teri Lyne Carrington on drums, along with jazz musicians Wayne Shorter, James Genus, Aaron Parks, Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Michael Bearden, Vinnie Colaiuta and Lionel Loueke. Then, yet another band of musicians performed “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” and “Rockit,” including Grammy Award winner Marcus Miller on bass, with Snoop Dogg and DJ Mix Master Mike joining in with a special rap written for the occasion. All of the musicians united together for the upbeat finale of “Chameleon.”
Academy Award, Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award-winning actress Kathy Bates, who starred with Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and Emmy Award-winning actress Shirley MacLaine in the feature films “Used People” and “Bruno,” spoke of her longtime friend, saying, “Shirley MacLaine, we’ve been friends for 20 years – can you believe it’s been that long? It might surprise this illustrious crowd to know that you and I have had the pleasure of making four films together. This joint body of work has accumulated a total of no Oscar nominations… and the same number of Golden Globes. I only wish we had the money back it cost to make those pictures; maybe we could have made a dent in the budget deficit… Me, I was tickled pink just to see my name on the call sheet with yours – albeit several lines below, but it was there! And though our movies together didn’t do ‘Hunger Games’ numbers, I’m proud to say our friendship continues to break all records. Like you, it’s got legs.”
Bates continued, “Your humanity informs your work. You never judge your characters, or your friends. You believe in the invisible forces that define our souls. And you have a deep desire to bring those souls to life in all their various incarnations and share with us their hopes and fears, their foibles and failures. But it’s your tremendous discipline and otherworldly devotion that makes it all look so effortless. Acting is as necessary to you as breathing… You are the most curious person I have ever met – not curious as in strange – though that, too – but you’re inquisitive. You ask questions to physicists and scientists, to ex-presidents and statesmen, to ordinary old people sitting in front of you – and to beings no one else but you can see – I personally witnessed that last conversation. But most of all, I admire your faith in possibilities: the possibility that we have lived many lives, the possibility that we are not alone in the universe – NASA is betting the house on. Shirley, friend of my heart, I am so proud to be here tonight to celebrate your magnificent accomplishments as an artist. I know you don’t think of yourself that way. You’re just passionate about what you do and you’re still working hard at it. Don’t stop! We think you’re simply magnificent. Now. Forever.”
Then, Glenn Close introduced a performance homage to MacLaine, saying, “Years ago, a young dancer with stars in her eyes headed to New York and took musical theater by storm. Tonight, returning the favor, Broadway’s brightest young stars have come to the Kennedy Center to salute the artist they admire.” First Tony Award-winning actress, singer and dancer Sutton Foster performed a medley of hit Broadway songs made famous by MacLaine, including “Something Better Than This,” “Steam Heat” and “She’s No Longer A Gypsy,” followed by Tony Award-winning musical theater actress Patina Miller singing MacLaine’s signature song, “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” Then Tony Award-winning actress Karen Olivo sang “Irma La Douce,” followed by Academy Award nominee Anna Kendrick belting out “It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish.” The tribute concluded with all of the performers singing “Lord Help Us, We Love Her” in honor of MacLaine.
Multiple Grammy Award and Emmy Award-winning musical icon Tony Bennett, a 2005 Kennedy Center Honoree, spoke eloquently about multiple Grammy Award-winning recording artist Billy Joel.  “I came of age with the legacy of the Great American Songbook, created by the likes of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, and interpreted by Frank, Ella, Nat Cole and me. The whole world loves these songs. But times change, and there was an opening for another Songbook – one that could reflect and celebrate its own times. Enter Billy Joel. Billy Joel’s an exciting performer who can move and electrify audiences. And he does it singing the song of… Billy Joel. Great songs on subjects from love to war, from triumph to loss, and stories about ordinary people with extraordinary emotions. He did it in styles from ballads to folk, from street-corner a capella to the richness of the best pop from the ‘30s and ‘40s. And he puts them to tunes you can’t get out of your head.”
Bennett continued, “What a thrill for me to perform with Billy in front of 110,000 of our fellow New Yorkers at Shea Stadium, singing his ‘New York State of Mind.’ Billy Joel is also creating a legacy through education. He visits schools throughout the country. I’m grateful that he spent time with students at a public high school I founded in New York City – the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts. Billy Joel is so much more than the piano man he wrote about, who sings to audiences in the mood for a melody… and he has them feeling all right. Billy Joel is no less than the poet/performer/philosopher of today’s American Songbook.”
The musical homage to Billy Joel commenced with singer Brendon Urie from “Panic! at the Disco” singing a rock-infused rendition of “Big Shot,” succeeded by multiple Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Don Henley performing a touching version of Joel’s famous song “She’s Got a Way.” Then Grammy Award-winning recording artist Garth Brooks took the stage to perform a medley of Joel’s hits, “Only The Good Die Young,” “Allentown” and “Goodnight Saigon,” that left not a dry eye in the house. Finally, Grammy nominee Rufus Wainwright sang Joel’s iconic songs “New York State of Mind” and “Piano Man,” giving an amazing performance that brought the evening of entertainment to its rousing conclusion.

Rolling Stone Readers' Poll: The Ten Best Billy Joel Albums
Billy Joel spent the first 22 years of his career making pop albums, and the last 20 years performing that music all over the world. Stopping after 1993's River of Dreams means that he never had a true failure (even if Joel is unhappy with Cold Spring Harbor and The Bridge), and he never embarrassed himself with lame latter-day releases. He was never a critic's darling, but in recent years Joel's popularity has remained remarkably solid, and many of his most ardent foes admit maybe they were a little too tough on him. We asked our readers to vote on their favorite Billy Joel album last week. The top album won by an insanely high margin, but it was pretty close after that.
10. 'River of Dreams'
Nobody knew that River of Dreams would be Billy Joel's last album when it came out in August of 1993, but looking back, the clues were there. It had been four years since Storm Front, marking the longest break of his career. Clearly, he was feeling a little tapped. The LP also ends with a lovely ballad called "Famous Last Words." "And these are the last words I have to say," he sang. "It's always hard to say goodbye/But now it's time to put this book away/Ain't that the story of my life." He was 44 when the album came out, but he felt it was time to hang it up. Fortunately, he ended on a real high. River of Dreams may have hit near the peak of grunge, but songs like the title track, "All About Soul," "No Man's Land" and "Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)" were all hits. His fans (and his label) are still waiting for the follow-up to River of Dreams, but odds are high it will never come.
9. 'Storm Front'
Billy Joel was ready for a big change when he made 1989's Storm Front. He'd been working with producer Phil Ramone for over a decade and together they created the best music of his career, but 1986's The Bridge was a creative and commercial disappointment. Joel wanted to try working with new people, and they parted ways on good terms. Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones was brought in to produce Storm Front, and he helped create a modern album that sounded unlike anything else in the Billy Joel catalog. First single "We Didn't Start the Fire," a rapid-fire history lesson, shot to Number One, and the album stayed high on the charts for months. The LP firmly re-established Joel as a hitmaker, though some fans felt he strayed too far from his roots. Radio disagreed, playing the shit out of "We Didn't Start the Fire," "I Go to Extremes" and "The Downeaster Alexa."
8. 'Piano Man'
Few artists have more hits than Billy Joel, but it's his first one that seems to have left the biggest impression with the public. When he plays the opening notes of "Piano Man" at the end of his concerts the place erupts with the loudest cheers of the night. Fans often throw their arms around complete strangers and sing along to every word. No matter what he does with the rest of his life, Joel's nickname will forever be the Piano Man. The song is a highly fictionalized account of Joel's six-month stint at a Los Angeles bar. Oddly enough, it's not even the most important song on the album of the same name. A 1972 live version of "Captain Jack" went into heavy rotation on a Philadelphia radio station, grabbing the attention of Columbia Records. They signed him, forever changing his life. Piano Man wasn't a huge hit album, but when his career took off much later in the decade fans went back and redisovered the disc.
7. 'An Innocent Man'
By 1983 Billy Joel had churned out nine albums in a little over a decade. It was an era of Culture Club, Michael Jackson and the Police, but Joel felt audiences were ready for something very different. "An Innocent Man was kind of an homage to the music of the early Sixties," Joel recently told Rolling Stone.  "My teenage years." There weren't many doo-wop flavored songs like "The Longest Time" on the radio in 1983, but it was still a big hit. "Uptown Girl" sounds like a Four Seasons number, but with a lot of help from MTV it also became a huge hit. It also gave Christie Brinkley a nickname.
6. 'Songs in the Attic'
The first four Billy Joel albums are full of great songs, but when Joel listens back to them he often cringes. Producers refused to let him record with his touring band, and the first album was even mastered at the wrong speed. Joel threw it down the block like a Frisbee the first time he heard it. So when he didn't have a new album to give Columbia in 1981 he had the rather brilliant idea of creating a live album from his early material. Huge hits like "My Life" and "Only the Good Die Young" were kept off Songs in the Attic in favor of hidden gems like "Everybody Loves You Now," "You're My Home" and "Summer, Highland Falls." This was how Joel wanted fans to hear the songs, and it's far and away the best live album of his career.
5. 'The Nylon Curtain'
The Nylon Curtain is an extremely ambitious work. "I was kind of playing the studio as an instrument, which I had never done before," Joel recently told Rolling Stone. "It took a year to make, and we finished up that album exhausted but very proud of it." The lyrics deal with the Reagan years and the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Album opener "Allentown" is the stark take of a dying town, while "Goodnight Saigon" is an emotionally charged song that Joel wrote after speaking with Vietnam vets. Both songs received a lot of airplay, as did "Pressure," one of the more modern-sounding songs from the LP. The hits are on side one, but hardcore fans love side two, especially the finale, "Where's the Orchestra." Joel hopes to revive that one on his tour later this year.
4. 'Turnstiles'
At its core, Billy Joel's 1976 LP Turnstiles is a celebration of New York City. He's even posing at the Astor Place subway station on the cover. He cut the album after living in Los Angeles for a few years. He was ready to come home, as he made clear on the album opener "Say Goodbye to Hollywood." "Summer, Highland Falls" is a beautiful ode to a small upstate town, while "New York State of Mind" remains one of the definitive songs about the city, up there with "Theme From New York, New York" and "Empire State of Mind." The album even ends with a science fiction song about New York in the distant future after the city has been destroyed, though "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" is really about the resilience of New Yorkers. It's given Joel a great song to sing at benefits for victims of 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy.
3. '52nd Street'
The huge success of The Stranger completely changed Billy Joel's career, but when it came time for a follow-up he knew repeating the formula would be a mistake. "We wanted to do something completely different," Billy Joel told Rolling Stone this year. "Phil Ramone had the idea to bring in jazz musicians. I was really enthusiastic about it." 52nd Street didn't quite surpass The Stranger, but it was a huge success. "Big Shot," "Honesty" and "My Life" were enormous radio hits. The latter track had a second life two years later when it was used as the theme to the Tom Hanks/Peter Scolari sitcom Bosom Buddies.
2. 'Glass Houses'
If 52nd Street was Billy Joel's jazz album, the follow-up LP, Glass Houses, was a rock album. It's evident from the opening sounds of shattered glass followed by the loud guitar on "You May Be Right." The music scene was changing a lot in early Eighties. Punk and disco had left huge marks, and some of the Seventies icons felt a little out of touch. It's no coincidence that Bob Seger wrote "Old Time Rock and Roll" at nearly the same time that Billy Joel write "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me." Of the two songs, Billy's is a little more accepting of the changes. "It's the next phase, New Wave, dance craze, anyways," Joel sings. "It's still rock and roll to me." The album was yet another huge hit, and it got the decade off to a very strong start for the piano man.

1. 'The Stranger'
This wasn't even a close contest. The Stranger received three times as many votes as the runner-up, and that's no huge surprise. The Stranger is the album that forever made Billy Joel a superstar. It was his first time working with producer Phil Ramone, and their chemistry was instant. "I wasn't sure what a producer was even capable of before I met Phil," Joel recently told Rolling Stone. "He gets the artist to believe in his own stuff." The album took off like a rocket, and "Just the Way You Are," "Only the Good Die Young," "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" and "She's Always a Woman" were playing everywhere you went in 1977 and 1978. He's recorded many great albums since The Stranger, but he's never quite managed to top it.

Billy Joel, The Piano Man And A Kennedy Center Honoree
(By Neely Tucker, Washington Post, 06 December 2013)
OYSTER BAY, N.Y. — Here’s Billy Joel’s rock-star genesis story. It’s in two parts, so pay attention.
Part one: He was 14, playing at a church teenage social in his native Long Island ’burbs in the early 1960s. It was the first gig for which he was paid, a whopping $15.  “It was at the Holy Family Church, a Catholic church. We did a bunch of covers. Beatles, Stones, instrumentals like the Ventures. And we were called ‘The Echoes.’ And I looked down and there was this girl who I had a crush on . . . and she’s looking at me, the first time she really looked at me, looked looked at me. I thought, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ ”
Part two: On tour in Knoxville, Tenn., about a decade later, he was in a hotel between shows. He had a reggae tune bouncing around his head, something about a hot chick, and he thought about that long-ago girl at the church social.   He’s telling this story on a recent morning in the office of 20th Century Cycles, his motorcycle garage/museum on a side street in this town an hour and change east of Gotham. The skies are gray-flat outside, it’s blustery and cold, the terminus of one line of the Long Island Rail Road just down the block. Now he leans forward in his straight-back chair, dropping into Jamaican patois, doing the song as he did it for his bandmates that day, with sound effects:  “Come out Virgin-ee-ah (chaka)/Don’t let me wait (cha cha)/You Catholic girl (stop) you wait much-a too late.” 
When his drummer razzed him that “Billy, the closest you’ve come to Jamaica is Queens,” which is a pretty funny New York joke, he agreed and dropped the Caribbean rhythm. With Phil Ramone producing, “we made it a shuffle against a straight four beat.”  Ladies and gentlemen, we give you “Only the Good Die Young,” one of the many hits from “The Stranger,” the 1977 album that launched him from being an interesting young talent to an American icon.  “I never got Virginia,” he says now, “but I never forgot her, either. People thought that song was about the Catholic Church. Ha. It was about lust.”  Three decades after that epiphany, Joel has sold more than 150 million records, more than any other solo act save Garth Brooks and Elvis Presley, he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is now a Kennedy Center honoree.

Piano Man,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Movin’ Out,” “New York State of Mind,” “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “Allentown,” “River of Dreams” — it’s the radio airplay of the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s. More than three dozen hit singles in a 21 / 2-decade span. Albums that went platinum. Concerts that sold out in minutes.  If it has sometimes been difficult to be the rock star Billy Joel — three divorces, two stints in rehab, one youthful suicide attempt — the man himself now appears to be one of the more down-to-earth guys in the business.  “I think I’m pretty much a happy guy,” he says, then pauses. “Or a contented guy, anyway.” 
He’s in a good mood this morning, a sweater and a watch cap on against the chill. A guy with a penchant for the catchy melody rather than the soul-searching epic, he’s witty, open, a good conversationalist.  He’ll look at you while you’re asking a question, his face flat and expressionless, and then look off and up to his right while starting his response, before looking you back in the eye. His speaking voice is just about like his singing one, resonant if not warm, but with more of a Long Island accent. He is famously loyal — to a fault in the case of a former brother-in-law (from his first marriage) and management team that took millions from him before he realized it — but doesn’t seem to hold grudges. He’s speaks fondly of Christie Brinkley, his supermodel second wife and mother of his beloved daughter, Alexa Ray.
If you were to drop by his house a few miles away in Sag Harbor on any given evening, he says, you’d probably find him cooking with his girlfriend Alexis Roderick, classical music on the stereo. He reads a lot, fascinated with history (he’s currently into William Manchester’s three-volume biography of Winston Churchill).  And after three decades of hosting question-and-answer sessions with college students interested in the music business, he’s about as approachable as it is possible for someone of his fame to be.  “He’s a very forgiving guy, he lets you f--- up and doesn’t beat you over the head with it,” says Steven Cohen, lighting director on his tours and one of his closest friends for four decades. “I’ve been there just about every song he’s written, he’d play them for us before anyone else. . . . He helped me bury my father. There’s a very close connection there.”

This year, Joel was doing one of those music classes at Vanderbilt University. A kid named Michael Pollack asked if he could accompany Joel on “New York State of Mind.” Joel has heard these sort of requests for years-  he once kept a gong on stage to get rid of poseurs — but he shrugged and said, “Okay.”  Pollack was phenomenal and the video went viral. Still flabbergasted, Pollack says he’s getting writing gigs that he never would have otherwise.  “He created the opportunity for me to create a name for myself,” he says in a telephone interview. “He’s given me an entire new career path.” 

Joel hasn’t released a pop album in 20 years — he says he got bored and boxed in by the format — but, since having both hips replaced, he’s back out on tour. Once the pop star critics loved to hate, he’s seen his career burnished by a growing affection and respect. The Kennedy Center recognition, he says, still has him “a little hornswoggled.”
None of this success came easy.  In 1949, he was born to a pair of Jewish immigrants, Howard and Rosalind Joel, in the Bronx. Dad came from Germany, Mom from England. Dad played classical piano, Mom sang Broadway show tunes and anything else.  But Dad “never really adjusted to life in America,” says Joel. Howard Joel was an engineer for General Electric and, after hours, a frustrated musician. In need of cheaper housing, the couple moved to a cookie-cutter ’burb on Long Island when Billy was a kid. On the surface, one might see a cheerfully modest life in this tableau — immigrant parents sharing a love of music, building a new life in the New World.
Instead, Howard Joel left the family and moved back to Europe, breaking off all contact with his son. His mom was forced to work as a bookkeeper and secretary to pay the bills.  “Most of my memories of him were- when he was home, he would play classical music. Chopin, or Beethoven sonatas or Debussy. We had an old upright piano. It was this old piece of junk. A lot of the keys didn’t work, so it was tough to play the thing. It was more a garden ornament than it was a piano.  “I’d be listening [to him playing] in the other room thinking ‘Wow, that’s beautiful,’ but he’d walk out of the room in a very dark mood. He was never happy with his musicianship. He wasn’t good enough. He wasn’t what he wanted to be. . . . Now, at this time of my life, I understand. You run into the wall of your own limitations, and you wish you could do more, you want to do more, you wish you had studied more, and that happens. You really get in a dark mood.”
Once, in the early 1970s, he looked up his father while he was on a tour of Europe. The record company people sent Joel a telex that they had located him on the very last day of the tour. When Joel was back home in Los Angeles, he called the old man, who eventually came to visit. They had a relationship over the years, but nothing much came of it.  “We never got all that close.”  It’s tough, your dad walking out. You’re left with abandonment issues, with longing, with the musical gumbo of your youth — the Four Seasons, the Beatles, Bill Evans, Ray Charles — and you make the best music and the best life you can.  You want to appreciate the man’s accomplishment? Billy Joel never really learned to read music. Does it all by ear. Can’t score a single tune.
Let’s see if people still love him. Let’s look at the “Last Play at Shea” concert, the two-night set that closed the historic stadium in 2008.  Late in the show, Joel hit the first trickling notes of “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” It’s arguably the one song in his catalogue that no one else could have written — a seven-minute, three-act mini opera from “The Stranger.”  The song is about old friends meeting for dinner and reminiscing about Brenda and Eddie, a pair of Long Island high-school sweethearts. Never released as a single, it has long been a cult classic to his fans.
From the very first line — “A bottle of white, a bottle of red” — the massive crowd is not singing along with him, they’re bellowing, a vast, spine-tingling chant coming from the upper and lower decks, the field, everywhere, a sort of humming throb of the universe.  When the song kicks into its second act — the tempo gets giddy, like a carnival ride — Joel does a very small, very magical thing. He changes one word.  As written, the exuberant line is “Cold beer/hot lights/my sweet romantic teenage nights.” But on this night, as he has no doubt done often, he changes it to “our sweet romantic teenage nights.”  You, me, we, us.
From then on, it’s not really even a song anymore. It’s some sort of cathartic mass-performed communal ritual, a tribal, pagan thing — 55,000 people screaming into the Long Island night about Brenda and Eddie and they can’t tell you more than they told you already and the man on the stage is holding sway over them all, fingers dancing over the keys, alive, electric, swaying, his stadium, his home, his people, his song, and you’d swear the entire stadium just rose 15 feet in the air and held there, levitating.  Billy Joel, at the piano.  Man.


Billy Joel Is “Moving In” To The Garden Alongside The Knicks, Rangers And Liberty
(Billy Joel’s official website, December 3, 2013)
Madison Square Garden announced today that legendary music icon Billy Joel will become the first-ever music franchise of “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” Joining the ranks of The Garden’s other original franchises – including the New York Knicks, Rangers and Liberty – Billy Joel will kick off this franchise at The Garden performing a show a month, as long as there is demand, starting January 27, 2014. The first four previously announced shows -- January 27, February 3, March 21, April 18 are sold out. The just announced May 9 show, which is also Billy’s 65th birthday, will be available to Citi cardmembers during an exclusive presale from December 4th at 10am (EST) through December 6th at 10pm (EST). Tickets will then be available for purchase by the general public beginning at 10am (EST) on Saturday, December 7th.
“Since his first show in 1978, Billy has performed 46 shows at Madison Square Garden, including an unprecedented 12 consecutive sold-out shows that have earned Billy a spot among the Garden greats with a banner raised in his honor. Today, we take that relationship even further and are extremely honored to have Billy as The Garden’s first music franchise,” said James L. Dolan, executive chairman, The Madison Square Garden Company. “This new partnership will ensure that someone who has been such an important figure in our past, will also be a major part of our future. We welcome Billy home and look forward to many unforgettable nights of music at the Garden.”
“Today’s announcement that Billy Joel is joining the Madison Square Garden family as their first music franchise is truly a momentous occasion,” said Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York. “It is particularly fitting that these two great icons are coming together to make entertainment history right here in New York. I offer my congratulations to Billy Joel and Madison Square Garden and the millions of fans worldwide who will benefit from this collaboration for years to come.”  Billy Joel said, “Performing at Madison Square Garden is a thrilling experience. I’ve played different venues all over the world, but there’s no place like coming home to The Garden. Since my first show in 1978, I’ve always looked forward to the energy of the crowd. I’m honored to be joining the Madison Square Garden family and look forward to taking the stage of the newly transformed Garden to create many more memorable nights.”
Over its 130-year history, Madison Square Garden has become known as the preeminent venue for legendary artists and athletes. Billy Joel’s first concert at The Garden was held on December 14, 1978 and, since then, he has performed an astounding 46 concerts at the Arena. In 2006, with 12-consecutive performances, Billy Joel broke the Garden’s record for “Longest Run of a Single Artist.” To commemorate this historical moment, a banner featuring “Joel – 12” was raised to The Garden rafters, and now hangs alongside other Garden legends such as Mark Messier, Rod Gilbert, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Bill Bradley and Willis Reed.
Billy Joel is one of the highest grossing touring artists in the world. Having sold more than 150 million records over the past quarter century, Billy Joel ranks as one of most popular recording artists and respected entertainers in history. Throughout the years, Joel's songs have acted as personal and cultural touchstones for millions of people, mirroring his own goal of writing songs that "meant something during the time in which I lived ... and transcended that time.” The singer/songwriter/composer is the sixth best-selling recording artist of all time and the third best-selling solo artist.
In December, Billy Joel will receive The Kennedy Center Honor, one of the United States' top cultural awards. New York’s quintessential son performed at the historic 12.12.12 The Concert For Sandy Relief, joining other music greats to raise awareness and money to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Billy Joel was honored by Steinway & Sons with a painted portrait that hangs in Steinway Hall in Manhattan, making him the first non-classical pianist to be immortalized in the collection. He played to more than 110,000 fans when he performed the final concerts at Shea Stadium, featured in the 2010 documentary film "The Last Play At Shea.”  Billy Joel has received six GRAMMY® Awards, including the prestigious Grammy Legend Award. He has been inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has received numerous industry awards. His music has also served as the inspiration and score for the hit Tony Award-winning Broadway play “Movin’ Out.”
MSG now offers a rich visual history of Billy Joel and his many Garden performances through a scrollable timeline, featuring archival images, video insights from Billy, sharable images and lyrics, plus direct links for ticketing. Visit for more information.  Join the conversation with #BillyJoelMSG.  Tickets for the May 9, 2014 Billy Joel performance at Madison Square Garden will be available to Citi cardmembers during an exclusive presale from Wednesday, December 4 at 10am through Friday, December 6 at 10pm. Tickets will then be available for purchase by the general public beginning at 10am on Saturday, December 7 via and by calling 800.745.3000. Prices range from $64.50 to $124.50. The remaining shows will be announced later this year. Tickets will also available at the Madison Square Garden Event box office on Sunday, December 8, 2014. The concerts are being promoted by MSG Entertainment in association with AEG and Q104.3 as a media partner.
Thousands, Including Gov. Cuomo And Billy Joel, Join In Shore Cleanup
(By Aisha Al-Muslim, Newsday.Com, September 21, 2013)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo joined hundreds of local residents, including singer Billy Joel, and other elected officials Saturday to personally clean up the shoreline off Oyster Bay Harbor.  Cuomo, along with Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, attended the cleanup event at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay.  "After Hurricane Sandy, we learned protecting the environment is protecting ourselves," Cuomo said after arriving on Joel's aluminum landing boat.
More than 300 volunteers turned out for four hours to collect trash from the shore and water, including tires, plastic bags, water bottles, soda cans, broken glass and paper. The event, sponsored by the town, Oyster Bay Power Squadron, North Oyster Bay Baymen's Association and Friends of the Bay, was part of a worldwide series of International Coastal Cleanup Day events.  "All these sea creatures deserve to be in a place that is clean, and we need to help them," said Spencer Lee IV, 10, of Valley Stream, who was with eight other volunteers from Boy Scout Pack 106, digging litter from the sand.

Cuomo presented a proclamation to Friends of the Bay executive director Paul DeOrsay before heading out to help Joel and Neil Bergin, commissioner of the town's Department of Environmental Resources, clear driftwood from the bay.  "I am a resident, and I love this area, and I want to make sure it is a healthy fishery," said Joel, a town resident who grew up in Hicksville.

Thousands of volunteers helped clean beaches and waterways at more than 50 Long Island locations, including Jones Beach, Robert Moses State Park and Bay Shore, as part of the Ocean Conservancy's worldwide effort to keep beaches and waterways clean.  State Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), in partnership with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, also hosted a four-hour beach cleanup at the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center in Jones Beach, one of the most used state parks. More than 500 volunteers collected more than 1,500 pounds of debris.  "We love helping out," said Lindsay Kramer, 16, of Wantagh, who helped pick up cigarettes, balloons and nets with two high school friends. "We love the beach. This is life-changing."

Elton John, Billy Joel Reconcile At Songwriters Hall Of Fame Ceremony

(By Erin Carlson, Hollywood Reporter, 14 June 2013)


Two of pop music's most legendary piano men -- Elton John and Billy Joel -- reconciled Thursday night at the Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony in New York City, putting an end to whatever lingering awkwardness was between them in the years after John gave a blunt interview calling his former touring partner lazy and an alcoholic.  "I didn't see you tonight, Mr. Joel, but I want to see you," said John at the 44th annual event, where he and longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin received the Johnny Mercer Award, the night's top honor. 

Joel, on hand to introduce a performance from Songwriters Hall inductees Mick Jones and Lou Gramm of Foreigner, later joked onstage: "Is Elton still here, by the way? Anyway, we're OK. Call me. It's the same phone number." 


Two years ago, John -- not one to shy away from brutal honesty -- told Rolling Stone that he worried Joel wasn't taking his sobriety efforts seriously enough.   "He's going to hate me for this, but every time he goes to rehab, they've been light," said John. "When I went to rehab, I had to clean the floors. He goes to rehab where they have TVs. I love you, Billy, and this is tough love."  The "Rocket Man" icon also opined: "At the end of the day, he's coasting. I always say, 'Billy, can't you write another song?' It's either fear or laziness. It upsets me."


Joel responded in a candid Q&A with The New York Times Magazine published in May, saying: "That's his opinion. I don't [write new songs] because I don't wanna. He tends to shoot off his mouth -- he shoots from the hip. I think his heart is in the right place. Maybe he's trying to motivate me, to get me mad or something. He's kind of like a mom." 


Besides Foreigner, others inducted into the 2013 Hall of Fame were Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Holly Knight, JD Souther and Tony Hatch.  "I don't mean this lightly, but when you get an Ivor Novello Award or an American songwriter's award, it means so much more than a Grammy because this is where the whole process starts," said John while accepting the John Mercer Award, the Associated Press reported.


Billy Joel Not Retiring, Mulling Complete Album Concerts
(Rolling Stone, 4 March 2013)


Billy Joel is returning to the road this month to play a few festival gigs after a three-year absence. "I'm putting my toe back into the water to see how performing feels," he tells Rolling Stone. "That doesn't mean I'm going to walk away right after if I don't like how they go, but if I do like how they go, I'll probably end up booking some more gigs. I don't know if I'll go an extended tour like Bruce Springsteen, hammering away for two years, though."

The 63-year-old singer-songwriter is already giving a lot of thought to the kind of show he'd like to present later this year. "I'd like to do more songs that weren't hits. I got tired of doing the greatest hits set. It was boring playing the same songs over and over. There are a lot of songs the longtime fans want to hear," he says. "If I was going to play again in places like New York, I would probably feature entire albums. It would give me a chance to do songs we haven't played.  We'd do one album and then play some obscurities. I enjoy playing those more than I enjoy playing the hits. . . I'm thinking we'd do these shows in Philly, New York, Washington D.C., Detroit and Chicago."

There hasn't been a new Billy Joel pop album since 1993's River of Dreams, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon. "I don't have any new material," he says. "But I realized that if I play older material that has never been heard before, like an album track or an obscure song, that's almost the same as doing a new song. I just don't want to be an oldies hack where I'm just playing songs everybody is familiar with."


Billy Joel Pays Tribute To Phil Ramone: 'He Was the King'
(By Billy Joel, Rolling Stone, 3 March 2013)

I first met Phil Ramone when I played Carnegie Hall in 1976. It was my first time headlining there. There used to be an Italian restaurant across the street called Fontana di Trevi where a lot of the classical musicians and opera stars from Carnegie Hall would dine. I had dinner with Phil there, and it really was the inspiration for "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant."  Before that, I had seen Phil Ramone's name on a lot of recordings as an engineer. I was trying to find somebody to produce my next album. I had been working with Jim Guercio on the album prior to that, Turnstiles, but he didn't get it. He wanted me to work with different musicians. ... I wanted my own sound. I wanted my own band. I wanted the New York, Long Island guys.
But then I met Phil Ramone and everything changed. He loved the energy we put out onstage. He loved the band, he loved the interaction, he loved the sound. He loved the rough edges. He liked that we were rock & roll animals. We just went out there and slammed it. And I don't know if it was subtle. I don't know if it was finessed. But it was the right feeling.  Phil said to me, "I love your band. I think you should work with your band. I'd love to do it, I'd love to make a recording." I didn't even have the material together for the next album which turned out to be The Stranger. I had bits and pieces of things, I had some ideas, I had some themes. I didn't really know what the album was gonna be about or if there would be a concept to it.  I liked Phil instantly after we met. He's very unpretentious. He's funny. He's very warm. We just had this sympatico immediately. And I loved that he loved the band. It was kind of like, "love me, love the band."


Billy Joel Talks About His Top Long Island Songs
(By Glenn Gamboa, Long Island Newsday, August 6, 2012)
Billy Joel tops our list of the 100 Songs Every Long Islander Should Know -- both with the No. 1 song, "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant," and with six appearances on the countdown, the most of any artist.  How could he not? Joel, a native of Hicksville, has lived on Long Island nearly his entire life, aside from those notorious Los Angeles years and, of course, all the time he has spent touring the world. He is also one of the most successful artists in the history of pop music, having sold more than 100 million albums, won six Grammys and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. His album "Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 & 2" has been certified 23 times platinum (or certified diamond twice) and ranks third on the all-time bestsellers list, behind only Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and The Eagles' "Greatest Hits 1971-1975." 

Joel said he has no musical projects or tours on the horizon and he likes it that way, though he does continue writing music for himself. "I'm happy to be off the treadmill," he said. "It's good to be out of the rat race." He even recently declined talks with "American Idol" producers to join the show. ("I'm not going to do that," he said. "I don't like to judge people. What is that saying? 'Judge not, lest ye be judged.' I've been plenty judged in my own life. I'm not about to turn around and start judging other people.")  He did agree, though, to talk about his own work -- songs that have influenced how generations of Long Islanders have felt about themselves and the place they call home. Here's what Joel had to say about the songs that landed on our list:

"Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" (No. 1): "I always considered myself an album artist. I don't think we built our success just on singles -- although we were lucky to have a lot of Top 40 singles -- we did have album cuts that people liked, like 'Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.' That ended up becoming a very important recording in my career. Towards the end of the night, that's one of the big finale songs. I don't think I could do a show without performing that song -- which is why I'm sick of it . . . [Laughs.] It's basically the story of Brenda and Eddie told through a meeting at an Italian restaurant during a dinner. It's something that a lot of Long Islanders do, kind of reminisce over Italian food. And everybody's got their Italian restaurant."
"New York State of Mind" (No. 4):  "There's a lot of songs about New York. [Singing, 'Start spreading the news . . . ' "] 'New York, New York,' 'On Broadway,' this was about coming back to this place, which I think it really needed, especially back in the mid-'70s, when it was really kind of crappy. A lot of bad things were happening in New York then. There was a lot of crime. Drugs were out of control. The city looked bad, it was really dirty. It almost defaulted financially. It really needed a boost, and I wanted to write an anthem for it. . . . It actually took on a whole other meaning after [the 9/11 terrorist attacks], which I felt. . . . When we did it at that telethon immediately after 9/11, everybody was just about in tears trying to get through the song. We did it as a blues, rather than doing it as a standard. We played it kind of downbeat and soft and slow, almost like an elegy. It was difficult to get through. I just kept staring at the fireman's helmet on the piano and I just kept thinking, 'Just look at the helmet, just look at the helmet. Don't think about what you're feeling right now. Think about the guy who wore that helmet and do the song.' "

"Piano Man" (No. 11): "It was written about L.A., about a piano bar. But L.A. is not really a bar town and it's really not a piano bar town. This was kind of an odd place. It was a place where people came to drink their troubles away after they lost at the track, so it was kind of an anomaly for Los Angeles. It could have been anywhere, really. It could've been about anywhere where they have a guy sitting at the piano singing to the leather banquettes."

"It's Still Rock 'n' Roll to Me" (No. 31): "I was living in Cove Neck at the time and I was on my way into the studio in the city, and I didn't have a song finished to do that day, so I started a song the night before and I was finishing it in the car. I was just throwing lyrics out to the guys in the band in the car. 'What about this? What about that?' to see if it would pass that test. . . . The Miracle Mile was mentioned because I think we were going past the Miracle Mile when I wrote that. I think that's how it came out. I don't think it was in my head before that. I was just kind of pulling things out of the trip."
"The Ballad of Billy the Kid" (No. 47): "[The final verse] is about a bartender from Oyster Bay, a guy named Billy who used to tend bar at a place called Uwe's . . . right on South Street. We all ended up at the pub at the end of the day and were entertained by the bartender. He was a very personable guy. It was just an exercise in Western-sounding things -- completely historically inaccurate."

"The Downeaster 'Alexa' " (No. 83): "That's a song I'm very proud of because I actually wrote a folk song, which is very hard to do in this day and age. Bruce [Springsteen] has done it . . . but not a lot of people do it anymore. It's difficult to do and have it be real and feel authentic. But when you're talking about real people in a real situation and it's a universal thought, then it can be a folk song. I was writing from the heart about a community that I really feel very strongly about being part of my home that's slowly but surely disappearing. It saddens me a lot."

2013 New Orleans Jazz Fest Preview: A Conversation With Billy Joel
(By Keith Spera, & Times-Picayune, April 25, 2013)

Billy Joel is back after a three-year hiatus from performing. He was a consensus highlight of the 12-12-12 benefit concert in New York for victims of Hurricane Sandy. On April 21, he headlined the Stone Music Festival in Sydney, Australia. On Saturday, April 27, his only other announced show of the year, he closes the Acura Stage at the 2013 New Orleans Jazz Fest.  Joel arrived in New Orleans on Tuesday, still jet-lagged from Australia. That night, he dined on shrimp and gumbo at Herbsaint, the first of several planned culinary excursions in one of his favorite cities. He visited the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts facility in the Warehouse District and tested the Rodrigue-painted Steinway on display there. On Wednesday night, he played a couple of songs on the piano in the Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Bar.  We spoke early Wednesday afternoon. He called from his hotel just after powerful thunderstorms rolled through town -- a storm that was a little too reminiscent of his 2008 Jazz Fest monsoon.

TP: Australia is a long way to go for one gig.

Joel: Yes, it was a long way to go. We've played there about 14 times. We've been going to Australia since the mid-'70s. We actually broke in Australia before we broke big in America. So it's one of our old stomping grounds.

TP: You did a private show earlier this year, but the Australian date was your first, full public show in three years. How did it feel to jump back in?

Joel: This was the first show since we were on tour with Elton John and finished in Albany, N.Y., in March 2010.  This was jumping in big-time. It was in a stadium; it wasn't just an arena show. It was a festival. And it was not our usual stage set-up. The festival provided the sound, lights and staging. It was interesting.

The show ended up being pretty good. I would say we were a tad over-adrenalized. Everyone was a little bit overexcited. Sometimes the tempos were a little bit rushed. Sometimes there were some silly mistakes, because everybody was so overeager. I think everybody was really happy to be back on stage playing together again.  But sometimes that's a good thing. I think the audience would rather see an honest mistake than a phony, pre-recorded thing.

TP: Did you find that you'd missed performing?

Joel: I don't know if I would say that I missed it. I just enjoyed it while I was doing it. I'm not someone who sits around and goes, "Gee, I wish I was up on stage. I wish the audience was going 'Hooray.'"

When I got back on stage, I recognized, 'Oh, right, I know how to do this. This is my job. That's what I do.' So that came back.

TP: You had hip replacement surgery since your last tour. Did the new hips feel good?

Joel: Let's put it this way: I'm not doing handstands off the piano any more. No more flips. No more climbing up the cables and landing on the stage hard. I'm just happy that I can walk again. Because at one time I couldn't even walk.

TP: As you said to David Lee Roth at the press conference before the Australian festival, you're not doing the split-leg move from Van Halen's "Jump" video.

Joel: No. I'd split my pants trying that. I'm not David Lee Roth.


TP: When a woman at that Australian press conference made an absurd comment about the "great hair" on the podium, you removed your baseball cap without saying a word. Which was a perfect response.

Joel: Well, they left the door open. I just opened it more.

TP: Did you see either Aerosmith or Van Halen perform in Australia?

Joel: We didn't get to see much of anything. Van Halen and Aerosmith played the first night. It rained all day. It reminded me of Jazz Fest. It rained and it rained and it rained. I was a little gun-shy about going to a show when it was raining like that.  The next day, when we got there, we saw Icehouse, an Australian band that was pretty good. There was a whole bunch of people that wanted to come backstage and say hi. So it's not like I got to go and stand out in the audience and groove.

TP: I personally have never experienced worse weather at an outdoor show than during your 2008 set at Jazz Fest. It was Noah-like. How did it rank in your annals of crappy weather for a gig? Was it in your Top 5?

Joel: That would be No. 1. I don't think we've ever had worse weather on stage. Matter of fact, my piano technician had to keep coming on stage with a squeegee to dry off the top of the piano. We were worried that the rain was going to leak into the piano and fry the pick-ups.  There's also the worry of getting electrocuted by the microphones. You can get a blue arc from your mouth to the microphone, and that's it - it's all over but the shoutin'.

It was so bad, it was funny. I remember yelling at the sky, "Is that the best that you got?!?" Daring God to try to do worse. We actually started laughing at one point.  I felt so bad for the people in the audience. I saw people in waist-high water. Literally treading water to watch the show. Now that's a real fan.  Hopefully, that won't happen this time. My tour manager, Max Loubiere, is from New Orleans. He felt terrible about it, because he'd been after us to do Jazz Fest for a while. We said we'd do it again, but I said, "Max, if it rains again this time, I'm never talking to you again." So he's praying to the rain gods.

TP: Hopefully we got the bad weather out of the way (on Wednesday).

Joel: This was pretty dramatic, man. This was like a mini-monsoon. We get North Atlantic gales up where I live on Long Island. That's what this reminded me of.

TP: Did you ever consider canceling that '08 Jazz Fest show because of the rain?

Joel: Oh, no, no. The show goes on, no matter what. Unless it's endangering the audience, like lightning or very high winds that could cause structural damage, we play. It's rain or shine.  I'm assuming you guys have had this happen before at Jazz Fest.

TP: It rains, but that was the most intense shower that I've been there for when the show went on.

Joel: I felt bad because it had been so long since we played New Orleans proper. This was the first New Orleans appearance in a long time. And boom, it's a monsoon.

TP: The squeegee-ing of the piano was something I'd never seen before. Was that your piano, or a rental?

Joel: That was our tour piano.

TP: Did it survive?

Joel: I think they had to do a little tweaking to it after the show. Some parts got wet. But we were able to use it. So it survived.

TP: You showed some fortitude that day. You did more than ride your motorcycle in the rain, as the song goes.

Joel: What are you gonna do? What's that phrase in "Gladiator"? "Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back."

TP: The story I heard is that Quint Davis, Jazz Fest's producer, pitched you on the idea of returning to Jazz Fest this year backstage at the 12-12-12 show in New York. Does that ring a bell?

Joel: I think we had already booked the Jazz Fest before 12-12-12. I believe there was some discussion about coming down here, but there was so much going on backstage that night, I don't remember everything that was said. It was a like a high school reunion.

TP: Will your Jazz Fest set this weekend be similar to your Australian show?

Joel: No, I think we're going to do a few more jazz-oriented songs. The Australia show was more pop hits, Top 40 things that people would be familiar with.  This is Jazz Fest. I'm aware that there's some resentment that pop acts are headlining at the Jazz Fest. I think we should at least acknowledge that it is a Jazz Fest with our material. So we'll probably do some of the numbers that have more jazz overtones.

TP: Or throw in some Fats Domino?

Joel: Yep. We'll acknowledge that we know where we are. We're in New Orleans. This is where all this stuff started.

TP: You're performing right after Allen Toussaint on the same stage.

Joel: Oh, that's going to be tough. That's a tough act to follow. Maybe we shouldn't try to do the jazz stuff. (laughs) He's good. That guy's got chops. We'll come up with something. We've got some ideas.

TP: Did you realize during the 12-12-12 show that it was going so well?

Joel: We didn't think that we were all that good. We did six measly songs. We've played Madison Square Garden maybe 50 times; we've played better there before. We came off stage and looked at each other: "It was OK." And everybody else was making a big deal about it. What, did everybody else suck?  Maybe a lot of people hadn't seen us and didn't know we were going to be that kind of an act. A lot of people have the idea that I'm this sensitive, suffering songwriter-singer, and you drink wine and eat cheese when you listen to my stuff.  But we nail it. When we go on stage, we kick the crap out of it. Maybe some people were surprised that that's what we do.

TP: There's an article posted on your website from Grantland in which the writer contends that you can do a better job with your songs at age 63. "New York State of Mind," for one, lends itself to a guy who's been around the block a few times.

Joel: You mean kind of a world-weary thing?

TP: Or maybe more of a voice of experience. Not all your characters are crazy young guys. You wrote for older characters.

Joel: I was never crazy about my own voice. I never thought of myself as a singer. I always thought of myself as a piano player and songwriter.  But I actually like my voice better now. It's deepened. It's thickened. There probably is more of an edge to it, that world-weary thing going on.  The trade-off is that you can't hit the same high notes that you hit in your 20s. I wrote a lot of these songs in my 20s and early 30s. I remember while I was recording some of these songs, thinking, "I'll never hit that note again." Especially on an album like "An Innocent Man."  So we've dropped some of the keys a half-tone, and some of them even a whole tone. It doesn't make that much of a difference, but it's easier for me to hit the notes.  Also I'd had three years off (before the 12-12-12 show). I was able to rest my voice for three years.

TP: This year marks the 20th anniversary of "River of Dreams," your last pop album. In the Grantland essay, the writer says the smartest thing you could have done for your legacy was to stop putting out new music. This way, you're able to curate a consistently strong catalog without any questionable latter-day albums.

Joel: Columbia Records has done a pretty good job of diluting what I've done by putting out 15,000 compilation albums that I never wanted out in the first place. They've put out live albums, greatest hits albums, the "ultimate essential," the "we really mean it this time," blah, blah, blah.  It's sickening. People think that I'm doing this. I'm not. It's the record company, and I have no say about it. Because according to the contract, they're entitled to put out these compilations.

To be fair, I haven't given them a new recording in 20 years. So they're going to market whatever they can market. I always tell everybody that the last album I did was "Fantasies and Delusions," which are just piano pieces. The last pop album I did was "River of Dreams" in '93.  I always harken back to the Beatles. The Beatles were only together what, 10 years? They put out a limited amount of albums. Those albums still stand up. Even the early, basic, simple stuff where they were doing "Twist and Shout." Those albums hold up because they didn't get back together and try to do it again.

You can't put lightning back in a bottle. I respect that. I recognize that there's a time to say, "I don't want to do this because I'm expected to do it. I don't want to do it because I can make money at it. I don't want to do it because the record company is demanding it. I want to do it because I want to do it."  Which is why I stopped. I just didn't want to write pop songs any more. I'm still writing music. I'm writing thematic and instrumental music, which I don't know if anybody will ever hear. After I'm dead, they'll probably dig up the tapes and go, "Oh, so this is what he was doing. No wonder he didn't want to put it out."  It's almost like I broke up with me. (laughs) The songwriter doesn't like the singer any more, and the singer can't stand the piano player, so the "Billy Joel" thing broke up. And that's it, and it is what it is.

TP: Those 112 or so songs listed on your website is a nice, tidy body of work. Why dilute that at this point?

Joel: That's it? A hundred and twelve? I thought I had more than that.

TP: I counted 112.

Joel: I think there's more that nobody's ever going to hear because they stink. There are some stinkers that are actually recorded, too. But hopefully the ones that are really bad, no one will ever hear.

TP: I like the idea that you've kicked around about performing entire albums at future concerts.

Joel: We realized that there are album tracks and obscure songs that we've not done. Every time I've tried to pull out more obscure stuff, the audience just stands there and goes, "Hunh? What's that? I don't know that song." An entire show of that is not necessarily a great performance for people who are paying good money for tickets. They want to hear stuff that they know.

We'll try to mix it up. I want to do more of the songs that we haven't performed for a long time, because it's more interesting for me, too. I tend to like the obscure songs that weren't hits more than the ones that were hits. I worked just as hard on them, maybe even harder.

TP: It's the same conundrum that guys like Jimmy Buffett face. There are certain songs that, if you don't play, people feel ripped off. The problem is you've got 25 or 30 of those songs. It's tough to squeeze in anything else.

Joel: That's going to be the challenge. I'm sure there are some hardcore fans who do want to hear the obscure stuff that they've never heard me do live before. So we'll see. I guess we'll find out.

TP: Do you feel like your songs have a life of their own at this point? They're kind of divorced from you as their creator. No matter what you do in your personal life, "You May Be Right" is still a perfect song. The songs exist on their own terms.

Joel: I've always referred to them as my kids. That's one of the kids that went on to become successful in his own right. Some kids become doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs. Other kids have to live in the basement because they can't get a job.  I tend to pay more attention and have more concern about the kids that weren't successful. They're more interesting. They need Dad to help them out.

Those are probably more of the songs that we'll do if we tour again. The songs that need Dad. "Uptown Girl" doesn't need Dad. "Piano Man" doesn't need Dad. Although we'll have to do "Piano Man."  I rarely do "Uptown Girl." People think it has something to do with Christie (Brinkley, Joel's ex-wife and the star of the song's video). It has nothing to do with that. It's a bitch to sing. I'm trying to sound like Frankie Valli, and it gives me a sore throat every time I sing it. It's a strangulated note. It wrecks me for the rest of the show.

TP: You're not making any judgment on the song.

Joel: No, not at all. For a while when I was doing "Just the Way You Are," I felt like a hypocrite. Because I sang, "I said I love you, that's forever," and then we got a divorce.  But there's nothing negative attached to the lyrics of the song for me at this point. They were meant when they were written, and they can stand as they are.

TP: You have a business building custom boats, but now your emphasis seems to be motorcycles. You display your collection at your 20th Century Cycles shop in Oyster Bay, Long Island.

Joel: I'm still in the boat-building business. We've sold about 50 of these things; I had no idea we would sell that many. They're pretty expensive boats.  The motorcycle thing is really not a business. I ride bikes, and I collect them. I don't think of myself as a collector, because I actually ride them.  I ran out of garage space. So I rented an old Ford dealership in Oyster Bay and stuck all the bikes in there. We invite people to come in on the weekends. It's not a hardcore, Harley, outlaw shop - it's all kinds of motorcycles. English bikes, German bikes, Japanese bikes. And it's not all vintage bikes, either.

TP: You're big on making new bikes look vintage.

Joel: That's what we do. We take new bikes and customize them to look older. I like the older, retro style. It's my own custom ideas.  People drive around on weekends looking for a place to go on motorcycles. This is one of those places.  Now I just wish they would open a good restaurant nearby, so people could kick back and have a nice espresso, like they do in Italy.

TP: A Billy Joel Italian restaurant in Oyster Bay does not sound like a bad business venture.

Joel: Yeah, right. A musician getting into the restaurant business - there's a great idea.

TP: But you've got the song, "Scenes from An Italian Restaurant."

Joel: Jimmy Buffett is a good businessman. Jimmy knows how to do it. Margaritaville is one of the biggest restaurant chains in America. I'd be the guy walking around, "Have a glass of wine on the house," and I'd probably lose my shirt.

TP: Speaking of wine, Max Loubiere is rebuilding his Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy.

Joel: Brooklyn got hammered. The wine got trashed. They're still rebuilding. We share that experience, New Orleans having Katrina, and us having Sandy. We feel for you guys.

TP: So you'll be eating your way through town in the days leading up to Jazz Fest?

Joel: Yes I will. This is a great dining town. But the day of the show, I'll hardly eat anything. You've got to go on stage hungry. You can't go on stage digesting food. You've got to be hungry, and a little bit pissed, because you're hungry.

TP: And hopefully dry.

Joel: Yeah. Dry. That's the main thing. After that last one, I owe New Orleans a dry show. And they owe me one, too.


Billy Joel On Not Working And Not Giving Up Drinking
(By Andrew Goldman, New York Times, 24 May 2013)

Billy Joel hasn’t put out an album of new songs in decades, but the last few years have brought about a burnishing of his musical legacy. Most recently, he stole the show at the 12-12-12 Sandy relief concert, no trifling feat considering he shared the stage with the Who, the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. His set, characterized by remarkably robust vocals and a tight backing band, allowed songs like “Only the Good Die Young” and “You May Be Right” to be considered anew; the passage of time has cleansed the songs of any of the annoyance-factor wrought by FM overplay. A generation who never appreciated him, who judged him uncool, are now at the age at which they might actually suffer one of those heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-acks of “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song).” Even the haters, grown up now, would have a hard time continuing to begrudge Joel his mastery of songwriting.
So he doesn’t write anymore, not pop songs anyway. Instead he goes about his relatively ordinary life in plain sight in a cedar shake house in the middle of Sag Harbor village. He has a few of his vintage motorcycles in the garage, and his boat slip is within walking distance. He is seemingly never alone, spending his time in the company of his two pugs or his live-in girlfriend of three years, Alexis Roderick, a former Morgan Stanley risk officer (who he probably wishes had been alongside him in the 1970s to assess his first record deal). What he lacks in output, he more than makes up for in opinions — about his legacy, his mistakes, a rock-star life lived hard and the heroes and villains he met along the way. If the new music of many of his contemporaries is any measure, prolificness is an overrated quality. Once a pop genius, always a pop genius. We ought to know by now.

Andrew Goldman: You’re by no means a fogy, but you’re 64 now. When you look at other rockers your age, how do you think you’re faring? Are there other guys whom you look at and think, There but for the grace of God?
Billy Joel: It was funny, because backstage at the 12-12-12 concert, nobody is a spring chicken anymore. Here comes Keith, and Keith is from the time of King Tut. Then there’s Pete Townshend and Mick and McCartney. Rocking-chair rockers. Bon Jovi is next door to me, and then Bruce is down the hall, and we kind of felt like the youngsters. But everybody is still doing it much older than I thought we would ever be. I thought there was a mandatory retirement age at 40, but then the Stones broke that barrier. Now Bruce and I are in our 60s, and the older guys are in their 70s.

A.G.: You had a double-hip replacement two years ago. I was watching old clips of you doing these jetés across the stage in the ’80s. Do you think your hip problems were from years of stage work?
B.J.: I was probably born with dysplasia. In the old days, when they took a baby out, sometimes they used forceps. I was a breech baby, so the theory was that they displaced my hips. Over the years, jumping off the piano, landing on a hard stage certainly didn’t help. Way back in the early ’70s, I used to do somersaults, flips off the piano. I would climb up the cables and hang upside down, anything to get attention. When you’re an opening act, you gotta do whatever you can. But over the years it got excruciating. I couldn’t walk at one point; I had one of those little scooter chairs, banging into furniture. By the time I finished the tour with Elton in March 2010, I was in a lot of pain, and over that year it got worse and worse and worse. I’m glad I did the surgery, because my life changed. I’m able to be ambulatory again.

A.G.: Did you have any ambivalence about touring with Elton? You were kind of pigeonholed as a pop star who plays piano the same way that he was.
B.J.: No. That was when I first started out. Elton was already established, and I came a few years after him, so there were inevitable comparisons. There weren’t that many piano players around — Leon Russell, me, Lee Michaels, one or two other guys. I met Elton in the ’70s in Amsterdam, and it was a mutual-admiration society: he liked me, I liked him and said some day we should tour together. It was left on the back burner for a good 20 years, and then one day I just said: “Why don’t we do this thing with Elton? It should be fun.” And it was, and we did it for 16 years. There’s going to be comparisons — “Oh, who’s better, Elton or Billy?” Who cares?

A.G.: Are you cool with Elton now? Basically he said that you’re not writing new songs out of fear or laziness.
B.J.: That’s his opinion. I don’t do it because I don’t wanna. He tends to shoot off his mouth — he shoots from the hip. I think his heart is in the right place. Maybe he’s trying to motivate me, to get me mad or something. He’s kind of like a mom.

A.G.: He actually kind of looks like a mom.
B.J.: Yeah, he’s got mom hair.

A.G.: Was he angry? He seemed to suggest you dropped out of shows that you had committed to doing with him.
B.J.: There was a misunderstanding — this is my theory, and I haven’t spoken to him directly about it yet. I think his booking agent told Elton that I was going to continue touring with him, and they were already counting the money to do the stadiums. But I never agreed to do it. I finished every date that I had agreed to do. When Elton heard that I wasn’t going to play, he got very bugged, very disappointed and very angry maybe.

A.G.: He also said that you hadn’t really been serious about rehab, because you went to a place where they allowed you to watch television, while he went to a place that made him scrub floors.
B.J.: He doesn’t know anything about my private life. I stayed at his house once in France. He’s a very friendly, charming man, a nice fun guy, but we really never spent much time personally together. He doesn’t really know that much about me, so I let a lot of that slide. I’d work with him again, sure.

A.G.: He’s right that you’ve written almost no pop songs since your last album, 1993’s “River of Dreams.” Why did you stop?
B.J.: I never stopped writing music. I’m still writing music — piano pieces, orchestral music, dramatic pieces — but they could become songs. Some of them are like hymns that I just don’t have words for, but I might.

A.G.: Do you miss writing popular music?
B.J.: No.

A.G.: Why not? Is it too much effort?
B.J.: No, no, no, it’s not because of the effort. I got tired of it. I got bored with it. I wanted something more abstract, I wanted to write something other than the three-minute pop tune even though that’s an art form unto itself. Gershwin was incredible, Cole Porter was incredible, Richard Rodgers, great stuff, Hoagy Carmichael and John Lennon, the three-minute symphony. For me, it was a box. I want to get out of the box. I never liked being put in a box.

A.G.: Nice box to be in.
B.J.: Very nice box to be in for a while, but then it becomes like a coffin.

A.G.: You’ve always thought of yourself as a rocker, so if I went back to 1968 and told you that songs like “Just the Way You Are” would be standards now, would you be excited?
B.J.: Yeah, sure, I’d be excited, absolutely. When the Beatles did “Yesterday,” I remember the first time I heard it. I said, “That’s a classic, that is going to be around forever.” O.K., it’s a ballad. So what? The Beatles wrote ballads; they also did rock ’n’ roll. That’s the kind of mold I put myself into. I’m not going to just stick to one kind of music, I’m going to do all kinds of music. I like it all.

A.G.: A critic once wrote that you’re “naturally inclined to write big melodies like McCartney” but that you idolize John Lennon. Do you agree?
B.J.: I idolized both of them equally. I didn’t really delineate who was writing the lyrics and who was writing the melody. I assumed it was a collaboration. When Paul would get too sweet, John would kind of sour it down, and when Paul was at a loss for a lyric, John would throw something in offhand that was sardonic. I loved the combination of the both of them.

A.G.: Do you think there’s a finite number of great songs in any one person?
B.J.: Everybody is different. Some writers can write reams of great books and then J. D. Salinger wrote just a few. Beethoven wrote nine symphonies. They were all phenomenal. Mozart wrote some 40 symphonies, and they were all phenomenal. That doesn’t mean Beethoven was a lesser writer, it’s just some guys are capable of more productivity, some guys take more time. Mozart pisses me off because he’s like a naturally gifted athlete, you listen to Mozart and you go: “Of course. It all came easy to him.” Beethoven you hear the struggle in it. Look at his manuscripts, and there’s reams of scratched-out music that he hated. He stops and he starts. I love that about Beethoven, his humanity shows in his music. Mozart was almost inhuman, unhuman.

A.G.: Is songwriting hard for you?
B.J.: Yeah, I relate to Beethoven. I write backward — I write the music first and then I write the words. Most people write the words first and then they write the music. Keith Richards was explaining his method of songwriting. He calls it “vowel movement.” They come up with a riff, and it’s like sounds, and whatever sound . . . like “start me up” — “up” works because it has a consonant at the end of it, but if you go “take me home,” it wouldn’t have worked. I kind of subscribe to that. It has to sound right sometimes even more than being a poetic lyric. It’s a struggle to fit words onto music, and I want it to be really, really good, so I take a long time. I love having written, but I hate writing. So then I go through postpartum depression, and it’s: “Ugh, I gotta start all over again? Where am I going to get the” — what do you call it? Sitzfleisch?

A.G.: Over the years you’ve resisted being characterized as a balladeer. You recently said you were afraid that “Just the Way You Are” would become a “gloppy ballad” for weddings.
B.J.: Yeah. It ended up being that. When it’s done by a wedding band, they tend to glop it up.

A.G.: But then you came out with an album full of ballads called “She’s Got a Way,” and I wondered if you’d made peace with that notion.
B.J.: Columbia put that out. Do you know how many compilations there are that people think I put out? People think I’m doing it, and it kind of dilutes what I did in terms of the album forms. To be fair to Columbia records, I haven’t given them anything since 1993, that’s 20 years ago.

A.G.: What do you owe them?
B.J.: At this point, probably four or five regular albums. It’s indentured servitude when you sign with a record company. I don’t even own my own masters. They own the masters.

A.G.: Do you get a regular call from Columbia saying: “Billy, you’re short four albums we paid for. What do you have?”
B.J.: No, they just say, “We’d like to put out this.” What am I going to do, sue them? I can’t stop them.

A.G.: Over the years you talked a lot about being angry about how critics responded to you and would even on occasion read and rip up bad reviews onstage.
B.J.: That never went away. I read things, and I didn’t think they were fair or true. I would get my back up. There could be seven other very good reviews, but I only paid attention to the bad ones. I would say, “Did you see what this guy said about me?” Maybe it was a Long Island thing. We had a chip on our shoulder.

A.G.: Did you think that history would provide you redemption?
B.J.: I don’t know if I thought of pop music or rock ’n’ roll in terms of history, the Nixon of rock ’n’ roll. My descendants will treat me better than my contemporaries.

A.G.: Speaking of descendants, there was a video of you doing “New York State of Mind” with a Vanderbilt University freshman, Michael Pollack.
B.J.: I’ve been doing master classes at colleges all over the world. It’s for music students, mostly, and people who want to be in the music business. Pick my brain. Don’t ask me about what happened with Christie and “Uptown Girl.” Ask me about the job, how you do the job, because there was no book about it when I was starting out. I want to help people. So sometimes a kid will say, “Can I try something on the piano with you?” We used to have a gong on the stage. Sometimes somebody gets up there, and you give them about 30 seconds, and if they suck, we hit the gong. But I’ve had people come up onstage and do really terrific stuff. So this thing went viral.

A.G.: I’m not a musician, but that kid looked exceptional.
B.J.: He was a good piano player. I’m glad the video got out, because for him, he might have a shot at having a career in music now. He’s got chops, and it was all done by ear. I don’t know if you heard in the beginning of the tape, I said, “What do you play?” He goes, “Piano.” I said: “Oh. What key do you do it in?” He goes, “What key do you want it in?” Whoa, this kid’s got chutzpah.

A.G.: Two years ago, at the last minute, you pulled out of writing your memoirs. This was a big deal — like a $3 million advance from HarperCollins. The thing was all written, right?
B.J.: It wasn’t finished. Some of it hadn’t been filled out in detail, but there was a beginning, a middle and an end. Then I saw this marketing campaign — “Divorce, Depression and Drinking.” We talked about some of those things, but that’s not the essence of the book. I realized that was going to be the nature of the campaign. They wanted more sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, and there’s not that much in my life. What I wanted to do was have a book that set the record straight. There’s so much misinformation about me. There have been some ersatz biographies where they talk to someone I knew for five minutes or some disgruntled members of the band. And I’d be reading these books saying: “No, no, that’s not right. You know what? I should write a book.” I wasn’t interested in doing a tell-all. I’m not going to talk about people who I was involved in relationships with. I’m just not that kind of guy.

A.G.: So the publisher actually told you, “More sex.”
B.J.: Fred Schruers, my co-writer, was submitting it. They said to Fred, “We need more of the sex and the wives and the girlfriends and drinking and divorce and the depression.” I covered it all. But I didn’t go into detail about my personal life. If they want to poke Fred with red-hot needles to get him to make up salacious details, go ahead, but I’m not going to do it. I’m not a psychoanalyst. I don’t know why I drank so much. I don’t subscribe to A.A., I don’t subscribe to 12-step stuff. Sometimes I just overdid it.

A.G.: What did you drink?
B.J.: I started with Dewars White Label Scotch and then, when I really got heavy into it, it was vodka. Vodka is a hard-core alky drink. I could take it in shots or I could just mix it with something. I can’t even smell the stuff anymore. It makes me sick. But it wasn’t consistent, it would be periods of time, during a divorce or something.

A.G.: So did you quit cold turkey?
B.J.: No, I have a glass of wine once in a while, and I don’t hide it. I have a glass of wine with a meal.

A.G.: A decade ago, before you entered rehab, there was a period of two years in which you had three car accidents that involved hitting inanimate objects.
B.J.: The first accident, there was no booze involved. And I didn’t hit a tree. It’s these really dark roads back up here at night. The car went off the road and into a mud rut. I had gone through a breakup and was really broken up about it, and I decided I’m drinking too much. I should go to rehab. But people made a connection, like, “Oh, he went there because he was in a car accident from drinking.” No. The second accident was over here on the way out of town. It’s called Dead Man’s Curve, and it was black ice; that wasn’t drinking, either. The car slid and smashed into a tree. I went to rehab in ’05 because, when I was with Katie, she said, “You’re drinking way too much.” I never had a D.U.I. in my life. That’s another fallacy. Look at the police records.

A.G.: What was going on with you at the time?
B.J.: I was kind of in a mental fog, and it had nothing to do with the booze. My mind wasn’t right. I wasn’t focused. I went into a deep, deep depression after 9/11. 9/11 just knocked the wind out of me, and I don’t know even now if I’ve recovered from it. It really, really hurt that man could do that to man. And then there was a breakup with somebody, and it took me a while to get me back on my feet again.

A.G.: You know they have medication for that.
B.J.: Well, I used booze as medication.
A.G.: In 2008, you accompanied your wife on “Oprah.” You looked so uncomfortable, I remember thinking it looked as if there was somebody offstage pointing a shotgun at you to keep you from running away.

B.J.: I was very uncomfortable. I was in shock. I didn’t realize behind me there were these screens of, like, auto accidents and things about drinking and divorce. I thought I was going to come talk about music. I did the show because Katie had a book coming out. She said, “Please, help me get on the show.” I said, “I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to do it, don’t make me do it, don’t make me do it.” But I said, “O.K., I’ll do it, and it’s going to suck.” Sure enough, it did. My daughter saw the show, and she cried, she thought it was so bad.
A.G.: Why? Because you looked so unhappy?

B.J.: Because she thought it was a mean line of questioning, and she knew I wasn’t happy. She could see it. This is why I didn’t want to do the show. I don’t like doing TV, especially a show like that. All those touchy-feely kind of shows like “The View” or “Oprah,” people talk about their feelings. I don’t like that.
A.G.: On the “Oprah” show, Katie said that when she met you in the bar of the Peninsula Hotel in 2002, she had no idea who you were or what music you played. You must be quite a charmer.

B.J.: I guess I am. Maybe that’s part of the reason I was successful onstage. She really didn’t know about me. She thought I had a song called “Uptown Girl” and “Only the Good Die Young.” That’s all she knew. She thought I was a one-hit-wonder kind of guy.
A.G.: Is it true that the same day you met her, you took her to your Broadway show?

B.J.: Yes, she was in the city with some friends from college, and I took her out to dinner at a nice Italian place. I wanted to make an impression. We went to a place that had truffles, I think. Then I took her to “Movin’ Out.” Once in a while, I would go there and sit in with the band at the end of the show at the encore. It was one of those nights. I made an impression there, and then we stayed in touch with each other.
A.G.: That’s one way to make an impression, take somebody to your jukebox musical.

B.J.: Hey, you saw the film version of “Tom Sawyer,” right? Walking on the fence, a feather on his nose to impress Becky Thatcher? I never forgot that. I’m shameless when it comes to that.
A.G.: Right before you married Christie Brinkley, you dated Elle Macpherson. And later you married Katie Lee, also a young, very beautiful woman. Do you think your relationship with female beauty is any different from any other red-blooded American male?

B.J.: A lot of guys are just too intimidated to even ask them out, but I had a great way to meet people. People are just interested in you because you’re a rock star. O.K. Some guys use a car. Some guys have a cute dog. I’m a rock star. That’s who I am, what I do. What’s wrong with that?
A.G.: What’s the hardest part of being married to you?

B.J.: There’s a pain-in-the-ass factor with celebrity. There are a lot of moments you don’t have because people interrupt them, and you try to be polite, but sometimes people just don’t think. I try to be as nice as I can and as polite and well mannered as I can, but sometimes it’s ridiculous, so I don’t go out as often as I should. I was never able to take my daughter to an amusement park, which I would have liked to have done, or do things in public, because it kind of gets silly with people’s perception. On the other hand, I was married to some beautiful women. I always get compared to how beautiful they are and how not beautiful I am, and it’s kind of funny, it’s like “Beauty and the Beast.” I don’t mind being the beast, I want them to be good-looking, and if they don’t mind me looking like me, why should I care?

A.G.: So your three marriages didn’t turn out so great. Your finances were no picnic, either. You were famously taken advantage of twice and made a lot less money than people would imagine.
B.J.: I suppose I kept myself purposely stupid about the commerce side of it. It was dumb. I really should have looked after things.

A.G.: Your first record deal as a solo performer, in 1970, was with the producer Artie Ripp and was notoriously bad.
B.J.: Yeah, I pretty much gave up my publishing, my copyrights, my royalties. He had to get his pound of flesh.

A.G.: Your first wife, Elizabeth, once claimed that when all was said and done, you made less than $8,000 off the initial release of the album “Piano Man.”
B.J.: Yeah, that sounds about right. It was a terrible deal.

A.G.: Then, in the late ’80s, you discovered that your former brother-in-law and manager, Frank Weber, had seriously mismanaged your money. Didn’t you literally open up a safe-deposit box and find a bunch of I.O.U.’s?
B.J.: That and bad investments and tax shelters, just bad everything. It was much more of an emotional betrayal for me than financial, because this was somebody I trusted so much.

A.G.: It’s probably a really ugly exercise, but did you ever compute what you lost?
B.J.: At one time there was an audit, and I was given a figure of $30 million. I didn’t even know I had anything like that. I thought maybe 3, maybe close to 10 million. But I’m not bitter about any of that stuff.

A.G.: Oh, I would be so bitter.
B.J.: People don’t understand, I’ve met these people again, and I shake hands with them. I saw Artie at some kind of music event in L.A. like 10 years ago. “Hi, how ya doing?” I don’t have any hard feelings, I don’t.

A.G.: You don’t have hard feelings about a guy who made a ton of money off a bunch of albums he didn’t even work on?”
B.J.: I came out fine. I didn’t like getting ripped off, and I didn’t like the fact that my daughter might not have what she deserved to get. It wasn’t so much about me. The same thing with Frank Weber. I saw him a couple years ago out here in the Hamptons. He was going into a restaurant, and I said, “Hey, how ya doin’ man?” We sat and talked. I have absolutely no hard feelings. I let all that go. I can’t carry that stuff around. You’d be pissed off your whole life. Bad things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.

A.G.: So was there a point when you actually started paying attention to the business side?
B.J.: Yeah, after I got screwed the second time. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. It was time to grow up. I always had this sense that O.K., I’m an artist and I shouldn’t have to be concerned about something as banal as money, which is baloney. It’s my job. It’s what I do. I didn’t pay any attention to it, and I trusted other people, and I got screwed.

A.G.: Did you experience any actual deprivation?
B.J.: No. I never went without a meal. I just didn’t have the money I was supposed to have. I know what poor is. When I was a kid, we didn’t have anything. There was a rumor that I filed for bankruptcy — that never happened, either. I owed Uncle Sam a couple of million bucks in income tax, and the money that I thought was there, wasn’t there. I had to sell a place in the city. I was building a house out here in the Hamptons, and I owned a place on Central Park West. I sold it to Sting. I was praying for a rock star. They don’t care what their accountant says. If they want something, they buy it. Then I sold the house that I was building to Seinfeld. I keep exchanging star homes. I bought Roy Scheider’s house. Mickey Drexler bought my old place in Martha’s Vineyard. I’m the Realtor to the stars.

A.G.: Were there tours you went on just because you needed the dough?

B.J.: I became a road warrior. I said, “That’s how I earn a living.” I went out on the road and stayed out on the road for years. Made it all back, and I enjoyed it.
A.G.: You recently said you aren’t touring now because you don’t want to feel like you’ve got to play all your hits. Are there songs you would just as soon never sing again?

B.J.: I wouldn’t say never, but there are some I’d like not to have to do. I can’t do a show without doing “Piano Man.” I’ve done shows without doing “Just the Way You Are.” I hardly ever do “Uptown Girl.” We had a lot of hits, so I have the luxury of being able to pick what hits I’m going to do and what hits I’m not going to do.
A.G.: You also said you have no interest in being what you called “an oldies act.”

B.J.: I haven’t put out an album in 20 years. Let’s face it. I am an oldies act. I just don’t want it to be like when you watch Channel 13 and there’s the Delltones or some English band from the ’60s, and they’re real crotchety and they look terrible, and I go, “Oh, God, I don’t want to be on that show.” I haven’t worked for three years. I’m going to play in Australia. I want to see how it feels to work again, I want to see if I think I’m still any good, because if I’m not any good, I’d consider retiring. If I don’t think I’m any good, I don’t care how much I can make, I don’t care how many people want me to, I’m going to stop doing it. It has to be fun. You have to feel good about it.


Billy Joel's Radio Days: Live on the Air in Philadelphia, 1972
(By David Fricke, Rolling Stone, December 2, 2012)

"That was the one that made me the superstar I am," singer-pianist Billy Joel announced after playing the bright and frantic "Everybody Loves You Now" from his 1971 solo debut, Cold Spring Harbor, a few months after its release during a live radio concert on Philadelphia's WMMR. That crack was a joke on himself. Joel, then 22, was promoting a non-charting album that had been mastered at the wrong speed, making him sound like he had the voice of a cartoon squirrel, and was part of a production deal closer to indentured servitude.

But Joel's performance with his touring band before a small invited audience at Philly's Sigma Sound Studios on April 15th, 1972 – which I heard as it originally went over the air that night – immediately made Joel a superstar in my town. Songs from that hour-long simulcast went into WMMR's high rotation, most notably an unrecorded epic dissection of teenage suburban exile: getting high, going nowhere and, in one boldly unbleeped line, jerking off. "Captain Jack" would be the big-finish track on Joel's next record and first for Columbia, 1973's Piano Man. But the early radio take was better: a hard rain of piano triplets in the chorus, Joel belting that ennui like he was desperate to bust out of his own private prisons.
After years as a bootleg, on off-the-air cassettes and CDs often coated in static, the entire WMMR gig is officially out, in knockout fidelity, as the second disc in a new reissue of Piano Man (Columbia/Legacy). It is a rare example of the bonus material eclipsing the original classic. That is partly due to the latter's familiarity. Piano Man was a Top-30 LP, ultimately selling over four million copies, and the title track – Joel's recall of his days living on tip-jar change as a lounge singer – was a Top-30 single, a deft and polished balance of self-mocking and rolling-ivory sentimentality.

But the 1972 radio concert caught Joel months away from signing to Columbia, in a giddy, fighting mood at the piano and his microphone. The former teenage boxer was punching his way out of the mess of his career to date, rescuing the country-flavored "Turn Around" and the ballad "She's Got a Way" from the ruin of that first album and previewing his future in Piano Man's "Travelin' Prayer" and the Long Island-outlaw story, "The Ballad of Billy the Kid." There is a soft moving song for his mother, "Rosalinda" – an early glimpse of the gentle touch in "Just the Way You Are" – and hot flashes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino in "Josephine."
You also get an extended taste of a long-gone freedom in FM rock radio, when a turn of the dial felt like tuning in with friends and fellow travellers. Joel coughs loudly, slurps beer, talks to the listeners driving in their cars and makes more fun of himself. At one point, he claims he's making a live album of his greatest hits, Songs You Love By Billy Joel – "Volume One," he notes, cackling. (He'd release a few of those later.) There would be less room for that intimacy and warm clowning in Joel's shows as he worked his way up to college gyms, theaters and, in 1974, New York's Carnegie Hall.

That kind of tight connection would eventually disappear from commercial rock radio almost everywhere. "Captain Jack" wouldn't make it out of a Clear Channel station library today, if it's still there at all. A guy in anything like Joel's shoes in 1972 wouldn't even get near one of their mikes. There are pockets of resistance in some markets – treasure it if you have one – and options left of the dial, on Sirius XM (certain channels, particular hours) and on the internet. But the release of Joel's WMMR concert is a delightful – and sobering – reminder of a time when someone new, with something special, could literally come to you like this: out of thin air.

Billy Joel Among Artists To Receive Kennedy Center Honors In December
(Kennedy Center News Release, 12 September 2013)
Gala will be broadcast on CBS on December 29, 2013 at 9:00-11:00 p.m., ET/PT

"I'm truly honored to be named a Kennedy Center honoree along with the other esteemed artists named this year.  And to have my name added to the illustrious roster of outstanding musicians that have already been so honored is very meaningful to me.  But to be chosen for this special award essentially for doing what I love most amazes me more than anything." - Billy Joel
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts today announced the selection of the five individuals who will receive the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors. Recipients to be honored at the 36th annual national celebration of the arts are: opera singer Martina Arroyo; pianist, keyboardist, bandleader and composer Herbie Hancock; pianist, singer and songwriter Billy Joel; actress Shirley MacLaine; and musician and songwriter Carlos Santana.

“The Kennedy Center celebrates five extraordinary individuals who have spent their lives elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation and the world,” said Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein. “Martina Arroyo has dazzled the world with her glorious soprano voice and continues to share her artistry with a new generation of opera singers; Herbie Hancock has established himself as one of the most innovative musicians in the world, constantly breaking musical barriers and redefining the art of jazz; Billy Joel’s melodies have provided the soundtrack of our lives for over four decades making him one pop music’s most prolific and memorable singers and songwriters; the remarkable breadth and range of Shirley MacLaine’s acting has left an indelible impression over a nearly 60-year career on stage and screen; from his legendary performance at Woodstock to his sweep at the 2000 Grammys and beyond, Carlos Santana’s artistry transcends genres while entertaining millions.”

The annual Honors Gala has become the highlight of the Washington cultural year, and its broadcast on CBS is a high point of the television season. On Sunday, December 8, in a star-studded celebration on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage, produced by George Stevens, Jr. and Michael Stevens, the 2013 Honorees will be saluted by great performers from New York, Hollywood, and the arts capitals of the world. Seated with the President of the United States and Mrs. Obama, the Honorees will accept the thanks of their peers through performances and tributes.
The President and Mrs. Obama will receive the Honorees and members of the Artists Committee who nominate them, along with the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees at the White House prior to the gala performance. The 2013 Kennedy Center Honors Gala concludes with a supper dance in the Grand Foyer.  The Kennedy Center Honors medallions will be presented on Saturday, December 7, the night before the gala, at a State Department dinner hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry.  The Honors Gala will be recorded for broadcast on the CBS Network for the 36th consecutive year as a two-hour primetime special on Sunday, December 29 at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT).

Under the leadership of George Stevens, Jr. and his Honors producing partner, Michael Stevens, the broadcast of the Kennedy Center Honors has received four consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Television Special. The Honors telecast has also been recognized with the Peabody Award and seven awards from the Writers Guild of America. Between them, the Stevenses have received 22 Emmys and 53 nominations for their work in television. Nick Vanoff was co-creator of the Honors with George Stevens, Jr. in 1978.  The Boeing Company is the exclusive underwriter of the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors Gala Luncheon and post-gala supper dance in the Grand Foyer.  Delta Air Lines, the official airline of the Kennedy Center Honors television broadcast, will provide transportation for the performers and television crew that will be coming to Washington for the Honors Gala.
The Honors recipients recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts—whether in music, dance, theater, opera, motion pictures, or television—are selected by the Executive Committee of the Center’s Board of Trustees. The primary criterion in the selection process is excellence. The Honors are not designated by art form or category of artistic achievement; the selection process, over the years, has produced balance among the various arts and artistic disciplines.

This year, a revised Honoree selection process included expanded solicitation of recommendations from the general public and an advisory committee comprised of artists, past Honorees and Kennedy Center board members. Previous Honors recipients and members of the Center’s national artists committee, including Emanuel Ax, Alec Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Joshua Bell, Glenn Close, Christoph Eschenbach, Renée Fleming, Morgan Freeman, Paloma Herrera, Lang Lang, Steve Martin, Leontyne Price, Chita Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Steven Spielberg and Forest Whitaker also made recommendations.  Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser expressed the Center’s continued gratitude to the many individuals involved in the success of the Honors program. “In addition to recognizing some of the world’s most treasured artists, the Kennedy Center Honors supports a wide variety of artistic programming, as well as the Center’s educational and national outreach efforts.”


Readers' Poll: The Best Billy Joel Songs Of All Time
(By Rolling Stone readers, Rolling Stone, 05 December 2012)

Billy Joel hasn't released a new album in nearly 20 years, but he hasn't been inactive. He's earned the equivalent of the gross national product of a medium-sized country by playing his old hits at basketball arenas. The rock critics of the 1970s and 1980s have been proven wrong: his songs have endured, and Joel gets more and more respect as the years roll on. Few men alive have written more famous songs, and we expected a huge response when we asked our readers last week to vote for their favorites. Seventy separate songs got votes, even if "James," "You're My Home" and the nonexistent title track to Cold Spring Harbor all got a single vote. Click through to see the top 10. 

10. 'Goodnight Saigon'

Billy Joel did not fight in the Vietnam War. He thought about fleeing to Canada when the draft lottery came around, but he snagged a very high number and didn't wind up getting called. "A lot of my friends did go," he said. "I felt bad. I disagreed with the political reasons for that war."  A few years after his friends came home, he had some beers with them and they told their war stories and encouraged him to write a song. "They said, 'We'll tell you what happened to us and you write a song about it,'" Joel recalled. "I realized you don't have to have lived it as long as you researched it and talked to people that were there." He didn't want to write an anti-war song, opting instead to talk about the experience of soldiers. The result was "Goodnight Saigon" from his 1982 LP The Nylon Curtain. The single never rose above Number 56 in America, but it's since become one of his most popular songs in concert.

9. 'Summer Highland Falls'

When Turnstiles hit shelves in the spring of 1976, Billy Joel was looking dangerously like a one-hit wonder. "Piano Man" was three long years in the past, and his subsequent releases all stiffed. "Summer Highland Falls," one of the standout tracks from the album, nicely sums up his emotional state at the time. It was a period of highs and lows – or "sadness and euphoria," as the song states. It's a beautiful song that Joel has often cited as one of his favorite all-time compositions. Even the piano intro is wistful. The best version of the song is found on Billy's 1981 live album, Songs in the Attic

8. 'We Didn't Start the Fire'

The 1950s are often considered a period of peace, tranquility and blandness. Billy Joel, who grew up in the 1950s, wanted to disprove that notion with a song that went methodically through the era, highlighting all of the crazy things that went on. The song was a surprise hit, and tons of kids who knew nothing about Liberace, Nasser and Roy Cohn memorized every single word. It made history class much more interesting, too: "Oh, THAT'S the 'trouble in the Suez!'" and "'Edsel is a no-go' is about a car!" However, Billy Joel has said that he doesn't love the song due to its lack of a strong melody.

7. 'Just the Way You Are'

It's easy to understand why Billy Joel refused to play "Just the Way You Are" for so many years: it's a moving tribute to his ex-wife, Elizabeth Weber. In the song, he pledges his undying love, regardless of what trouble they may hit down the road. He even promises to love her forever.  They split five years later, though he foolishly let her brother, Frank Weber, stay on as his manager. He'd pay dearly for the mistake. The song was the first of many hits from The Stranger, and by the 2000s, enough time had passed that he put it back into his setlist. It took him a little less time to start playing "Uptown Girl" again after divorcing Christie Brinkley, but not much.

6. 'Vienna'

Billy Joel's 1977 album The Stranger forever changed his life. It spawned five hit singles that have stayed in constant rotation on radio for decades. "Vienna" is not one of those songs. Stuck between "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" and "Only the Good Die Young," the song didn't get a lot of love back in the day. Today, Billy Joel says it's one of his two favorites, alongside "Summer Highland Falls." Many fans now agree.  Billy's father spent much of his life in Vienna, and the song was inspired by many of Joel's visits to the city. He found the pace of life there different, and he wanted to convey that in his music.

5. 'Captain Jack'

"Captain Jack" was never a single, but it's one of the most important songs in Billy Joel's catalog. A live performance of the song that was taped at a Philadelphia radio station received a lot of local airtime in 1972. It got the attention of Columbia Records, who signed him to their roster.  Joel wrote the song in 1971 as he looked at a housing project across the street from his Long Island apartment. Teenagers were buying heroin from a drug dealer named Captain Jack. He wrote the tune from the perspective of a lost, depressed kid. It may well be the greatest pop song in history to use the word "masturbate." 

4. 'Only the Good Die Young'

"Only the Good Die Young" has one of the all-time great opening lines in history: "Come out, Virginia, don't let me wait/ You Catholic girls start much too late." That alone was enough to get some radio stations to ban the song back in 1977. The song was inspired by Billy's real-life crush on a Catholic girl named Virginia. As usual, the controversy around the song only helped sell more copies of it (on The Stranger).  In many ways, the song is a nice companion piece to Bruce Springsteen's 1973 classic "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight.)" In both cases, bad boys are trying to get a young woman out of her house against the will of her strict parents.

3. 'New York State of Mind'

Billy Joel is one of the most famous Long Islanders of all time but, in the mid 1970s, he spent three years in Los Angeles. His time there inspired one of his most famous songs ("Piano Man"), but he never really felt at home. Many of the songs on Turnstiles detail his joy to be leaving Los Angeles. He began writing "New York State of Mind" on an actual Greyhound bus on the Hudson River Line. It's since become an unofficial anthem for the city – or at least, it was until Jay-Z released "Empire State of Mind."

2. 'Scenes From an Italian Restaurant'

"Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" is one of Billy Joel's longest songs and one of his most beloved – even though it was never a single. The song tells the tale of high school sweethearts Brenda and Eddie. It's a familiar story of a couple that couldn't survive the pressures of the real world, but Joel makes it very vivid by describing their "deep pile carpets" and their "couple of paintings from Sears." They were the kind of people everybody knew.  For years, fans wondered which exact Italian restaurant he was singing about, and he recently revealed it as Fontana di Trevi in New York. A waiter there said, "A bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps a bottle of rosé instead?" It set off a spark in Billy's mind.

1. 'Piano Man'

In late 1972, a new piano player calling himself Bill Martin began playing regularly at the Executive Room bar in Los Angeles. Few people there knew he was a New Yorker named Billy Joel who had released his debut album, Cold Spring Harbor, the previous year. He only stayed around the bar for a few months, but it was enough time to find the inspiration for the song "Piano Man." He says the characters were drawn from real life, but Davy from the navy and Paul the real estate novelist have yet to step forward.  The song became his first hit, and he's closed out countless concerts with it over the years. In 2006, he tried to flip things around and open the show with it. It didn't work, and the next night, it was back in his standard slot.


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