William Martin "Billy" Joel (born May 9, 1949) is an American rock musician, singer-songwriter, and classical composer. He released his first hit song, "Piano Man", in 1973. According to the RIAA, Billy Joel is the sixth best-selling recording artist in the United States.
Joel had Top 10 hits in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s and has 33 Top 40 hits in the United States, all of which he wrote single handedly. He is also a five-time Grammy Award winner, a 23-time Grammy nominee and has sold over 100 million records worldwide. He was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame (1992), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1999), and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (2006). Joel "retired" from recording pop music in 1993 but continued to tour (sometimes with Elton John). In 2001, he released Fantasies & Delusions, a CD of classical compositions for piano. In 2007, he briefly returned to pop songwriting and recording with a single entitled "All My Life"?written for his third wife Katie Lee Joel. Joel returned to touring in 2006 after a three-year hiatus from the road and has toured extensively ever since, covering many major world cities. In March 2009, Joel resumed his popular Face to Face tour with fellow piano man Elton John. Concerts are scheduled to be held sporadically over two years and travel around the world. The two artists first paired up in 1994, but had not toured together since May 2003.
Billy Joel was born in the Bronx and raised in the Levittown section of Hicksville, New York. His father, Howard (born Helmut), was born in Germany as the son of Jewish merchant and manufacturer Karl Amson Joel who emigrated to Switzerland and later to the United States, because of Nazi antisemitism. Billy Joel's mother, Rosalind Nyman, was born in England to a Jewish family (Philip and Rebecca Nyman). His parents divorced in 1960, and his father moved to Vienna, Austria. Billy has a sister, Judith Joel, and a half-brother, Alexander Joel, who is an acclaimed classical conductor in Europe, currently chief musical director of the Staatstheater Braunschweig.
Joel's father was an accomplished classical pianist. Billy reluctantly began piano lessons at an early age, at his mother's insistence; his teachers included the noted American pianist Morton Estrin and musician/songwriter Timothy Ford. His interest in music, rather than sports, was a source of teasing and bullying in his early years. (He has said in interviews that his piano instructor also taught ballet. Her name was Frances Neiman, and she was a Juilliard trained musician. She gave both classic piano and ballet lessons in the studio attached to the rear of her house, leading neighborhood bullies to mistakenly think he was learning to dance.) As a teenager, Joel took up boxing so that he would be able to defend himself. He boxed successfully on the amateur Golden Gloves circuit for a short time, winning twenty-two bouts, but abandoned the sport shortly after having his nose broken in his twenty-fourth boxing match.
Joel attended Hicksville High School, and was expected to graduate in 1967. However, due to playing at a piano bar, he was one English credit short of the graduation requirement; he overslept on the day of an important exam, owing to his late-night musician's lifestyle. Faced with a summer at school to complete this requirement, he decided not to continue. He left high school without a diploma to begin a career in music, later telling an interviewer he'd told the Hicksville Board of Education, "I'm not going to Columbia University, I'm going to Columbia Records." Columbia did, in fact, become the label that eventually signed him. In 1992, however, the English credit requirement was waived by the Hicksville School Board, and he received his diploma at Hicksville High's graduation ceremony 25 years after he had left.
Despite the Vietnam War and the draft, Joel performed no military service ? because he was the sole provider for his mother and sister, the selective service gave him a draft exemption.
Upon seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, Joel decided to pursue a full-time musical career, and set about finding a local Long Island band to join. Eventually he found the Echoes, a group that specialized in British Invasion covers. The Echoes became a popular New York attraction, convincing him to leave high school to become a professional musician. He began playing for the Echoes when he was 14 years old.
Joel began playing recording sessions with the Echoes in 1965, when he was 16 years old. Joel played piano on several recordings produced by Shadow Morton, including (as claimed by Joel, but denied by songwriter Ellie Greenwich) the Shangri-Las' Leader of the Pack, as well as several records released through Kama Sutra Productions. During this time, the Echoes started to play numerous late-night shows.
Later, in 1965, the Echoes changed their name to the Emeralds and then to the Lost Souls. For two years, Joel played sessions and performed with the Lost Souls. In 1967, he left that band to join the Hassles, a Long Island band that had signed a contract with United Artists Records. Over the next year and a half, they released The Hassles in 1967, Hour of the Wolf in 1968, and four singles, all of which failed commercially. Following The Hassles' demise in 1969, he formed the duo Attila with Hassles drummer Jon Small. Attila released their eponymous debut album in July 1970, and disbanded the following October. The reason for the group's break-up has been attributed to Joel's affair with Small's wife, Elizabeth, whom Joel eventually married.
In late 1975, he played piano and organ on several tracks on Bo Diddley's The 20th Anniversary of Rock 'n' Roll all-star album.
Cold Spring Harbor
Joel signed his first solo record contract with Family Productions, and subsequently recorded his first solo album. Cold Spring Harbor (a reference to the Long Island town of the same name), was released in 1971. However, the album was mastered at the wrong speed, and the album was initially released with this error, resulting in Joel's sounding a semitone too high. The onerous terms of the Family Productions contract also guaranteed him very little money from the sales of his albums.
Popular cuts such as "She's Got a Way" and "Everybody Loves You Now" were originally released on this album, although they did not gain much attention until released as live performances in 1981 on Songs in the Attic. Since then, they have become favorite concert numbers. Cold Spring Harbor gained a second chance on the charts in 1984, when Columbia reissued the album after slowing it down to the correct speed. The album reached #158 in the US and #95 in the UK nearly a year later. Cold Spring Harbor caught the attention of Merrilee Rush ("Angel of the Morning") and she recorded a femme version of "She?s Got a Way (He?s Got a Way)" for Scepter Records in 1971.
Joel gigged locally in New York City in the Fall of 1971, and subsequently toured with his band members (Rhys Clark on drums, Al Hertzberg on guitar and Larry Russell on bass) until the end of June 1972 throughout the US and Puerto Rico, opening for headliners such as J. Geils Band, The Beach Boys and Taj Mahal. At the Mar y sol festival in Puerto Rico, he electrified the crowd and got a big boost for his career. In addition, a Philadelphia radio station, WMMR-FM, started playing a tape of a new song of Joel's, "Captain Jack", taken from a live concert. It became an underground hit on the East Coast. Herb Gordon, an executive of Columbia Records, heard Joel's music and made his company aware of Joel's talent. Joel signed a recording contract with Columbia in 1972 and moved to Los Angeles. He lived there for three years (and has since declared that those three years were a big mistake), returning to New York City in 1975. While in California, he had a paid job in a piano bar, The Executive Room on Wilshire Boulevard (using the name "Bill Martin"), where he composed his signature hit "Piano Man".
Columbia years: 1973?1976
Joel's experiences in Los Angeles connected him with record company executives, who bought out his contract with Ripp under the condition that the "Family Productions" logo be displayed alongside the Columbia logo for the next ten albums. There was a stipulation that Family Productions would receive a 25-cent royalty for every album Joel sold?a stipulation which would come back to haunt him when he hit it big. The stand-out track for Piano Man was the title track, which, despite only making it to #25 on the Billboard Hot 100, still stands as one of Joel's anthems.
The touring band changed as well, Don Evans replacing Al Hertzberg on guitar, and Patrick McDonald taking over the bass position, to be replaced in 1974 by Doug Stegmeyer, who remained with Billy until 1989. Tom Whitehorse on banjo and pedal steel and then Johnny Almond on sax and keyboards rounded out the band. Billy's infectious spirit and talent galvanized the band into a tight performing unit, touring the U.S. and Canada extensively and appearing on the popular music shows of the day. Joel remained in Los Angeles to write Streetlife Serenade, his second album on the Columbia label. It was around this time that Jon Troy, an old friend from Bed-Stuy, acted as Joel's manager although he would soon be replaced by Joel's wife Elizabeth. References to both suburbia and the inner city pepper the album. The stand-out track on the album is "The Entertainer," a U.S. #34 hit which picks up thematically where "Piano Man" left off. Joel was upset that "Piano Man" had been significantly edited down to make it more radio-friendly, and in "The Entertainer," he refers to the edit with sarcastic lines such as "If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit, so they cut it down to 3:05", alluding to shortening of singles for radio play, as compared with the longer versions that appear on albums. Although Streetlife Serenade is often considered one of Joel's weaker albums (Joel has confirmed his distaste for the album), it nevertheless contains some notable tracks, including the title track, "Los Angelenos" and the instrumental "Root Beer Rag," which was a staple of his live set in the '70s and was resurrected frequently in 2007 and 2008. Streetlife Serenade also marks the beginning of a more confident vocal style on Joel's part.
Disenchanted with the L.A. music scene, Joel returned to New York in 1976. There he recorded Turnstiles, for which he used his own hand-picked musicians in the studio for the first time, and also adopted a more hands-on role. Songs were initially recorded at Caribou Ranch with members of Elton John's band, and produced by famed Chicago producer James William Guercio, but Joel was dissatisfied with the results. The songs were re-recorded in New York, and Joel took over, producing the album himself. The minor hit "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" echoed the Phil Spector sound, and was covered by Ronnie Spector (in a 2008 radio interview, Joel said he does not perform "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" in his live shows anymore because it is in too high a key and "shreds" his vocal cords.) The album also featured the song "New York State of Mind," a bluesy, jazzy epic that has become one of Joel's signature songs, and which was later covered by fellow Columbia labelmates Barbra Streisand, on her 1977 Streisand Superman album, and as a duet with Tony Bennett, on his 2001 "Playing with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues" album. Other songs on the album include "Summer, Highland Falls," and "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)". Songs such as "Prelude/Angry Young Man" would become a mainstay of his concerts for years.
The Stranger and fame
For The Stranger, Columbia Records united Joel with producer Phil Ramone. The album yielded four Top-25 hits on the Billboard Charts in the US: "Just the Way You Are" (#3), "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" (#17), "Only the Good Die Young" (#24), and "She's Always a Woman" (#17). Album sales exceeded Columbia's previous top-selling album, Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, and was certified multi-platinum. His first-ever Top Ten album, it reached #2 on the charts. Ramone subsequently produced every Billy Joel studio release up to Storm Front, initially released in 1989. This album also featured "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant", an album-oriented rock classic, which has become one of his most well known songs. The song references the days when he would visit a popular restaurant in New York's Little Italy area.
The Stranger netted Joel Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, for "Just the Way You Are," which was written as a gift to his wife Elizabeth. He received a late night phonecall to his hotel room in Paris (he was on tour) in February 1979, letting him know he had won in both categories.
Joel faced high expectations on his next album. 52nd Street was conceived as a day in Manhattan, and was named after the famous street of same name which hosted many of the world's premier jazz venues and performers throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Fans purchased over seven million copies on the strength of the hits "My Life" (#3), "Big Shot" (#14), and "Honesty" (#24). This helped 52nd Street become Joel's first #1 album. "My Life" eventually became the theme song for a new US television sitcom, Bosom Buddies, which featured actor Tom Hanks in one of his earliest roles. 52nd Street was the first album to be released on Compact Disc in Japan (1982). The album won Grammys for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male and Album of the Year.
Despite the publicity photos and album cover showing Joel holding a trumpet, he does not play the instrument on the album, though two tracks on the album do feature trumpets. Freddie Hubbard plays two solos in "Zanzibar". Jon Faddis joins Michael Brecker and Randy Brecker in the horn section for "Half a Mile Away".
Early 1980 and The Nylon Curtain
The success of his piano-driven ballads like "Just the Way You Are," "She's Always a Woman" and "Honesty" never sat well with Joel, as many critics were quick to slap the "balladeer" tag on him. With Glass Houses, he attacked the new wave popularity with aplomb and delivered several harder-edged songs custom made for the live shows in arenas and stadiums he was now playing almost exclusively. The front cover consisted of Joel's real-life modern glass house. The album spent 6 weeks at #1 on the Billboard chart and yielded such hits as "You May Be Right" (used as the theme song, covered by Southside Johnny, for the CBS mid-90s sitcom Dave's World) (#7, May 1980), "Close To The Borderline" (B-side of the "You May Be Right" single), "Don't Ask Me Why" (#19, September 1980), "Sometimes a Fantasy" (#36, November 1980) and "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me", which became Joel's first Billboard #1 song in July, 1980. Glass Houses won the Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male. It would also win the American Music Award for Favorite Album, Pop/Rock category. The album's closing song, "Through The Long Night," (B-side of the "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me" single) was a lullaby that featured Joel harmonizing with himself in a song he says was inspired by The Beatles' "Yes It Is".
His next release, Songs in the Attic, was composed of live performances of less well-known songs from the beginning of his career. It was recorded during larger US arenas and intimate night club shows in June and July 1980. This release introduced many fans, who discovered Joel when The Stranger became a smash in 1977, to many of his earlier compositions. The album reached #8 on the Billboard chart and produced two hit singles: "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" (#17), and "She's Got a Way" (#23). It sold over 3 million copies. Though not as successful as some of his previous albums, the album was still considered a success by Joel.
The next wave of Joel's career commenced with the recording of The Nylon Curtain. Considered his most audacious and ambitious album, Joel took more than a page or two from the Lennon-McCartney songwriting style on this heavily Beatles-influenced album.
Work began on The Nylon Curtain in the spring of 1982. However, Joel was sidelined when he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. Because of the ensuing surgery, production of the album was shut down temporarily while Joel recovered. Once The Nylon Curtain was finished, Joel embarked on a brief tour in support of the album, during which his first video special, Live from Long Island, was recorded at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, on December 30, 1982.
The Nylon Curtain went to #7 on the charts, partially due to heavy airplay on MTV for the videos of "Allentown" and "Pressure", supported by the popular singles "Allentown," "Goodnight Saigon," and "Pressure." "Allentown" spent six weeks at a peak position of #17 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it one of the most-played radio songs of 1982, pushing it into 1983's year-end Top 70, and making it the most successful song from The Nylon Curtain album, besting "Pressure," which peaked at #20 (where it resided for three weeks) and "Goodnight Saigon" which reached #56.
Christie Brinkley and An Innocent Man
The song "Uptown Girl" was one of the first songs written when Joel returned from vacation. "Uptown Girl" is widely considered to be about supermodel Christie Brinkley, whom he started dating during the song's creation (the music video also included Brinkley). The song became a worldwide hit upon its release, #3 in the U.S. and Joel's sole #1 in the United Kingdom. The resulting album, An Innocent Man, was compiled as a tribute to the rock and roll music of the 1950s and 1960s, and also resulted in Joel's second Billboard #1 hit, "Tell Her About It," which was the first single off the album in the summer of 1983. The album itself reached #4 on the charts and #2 in UK. It also boasted 6 top-30 singles, the most of any album in Joel's catalog. At the time the album came out that summer, WCBS-FM began playing "The Longest Time" both in regular rotation and on the "Doo Wop Shop." Many fans wanted this to be the next single released in the fall, but that October, "Uptown Girl" would be released, peaking at #3 and ranking at #20 on Billboard's 1983 Hot 100 year-end chart. In December the title song, "An Innocent Man," would be released as a single and would peak at #10 in the U.S. and #8 in the UK, early in 1984. That March "The Longest Time" would finally be released as a single, peaking at #14 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. That summer, "Leave A Tender Moment Alone" would be released and hit #27 while "Keeping the Faith" would peak at #18 in January 1985. In the video for "Keeping the Faith", Christie Brinkley also plays the "redhead girl in a Chevrolet". An Innocent Man was also nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy, but lost to Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Following the success of An Innocent Man, Joel had been approached to release an album of his most successful singles. This was not the first time this topic had come up, but Joel had initially considered "Greatest Hits" albums as marking the end of one's career. This time, he agreed, and Greatest Hits Vol. 1 and 2 was released as a 4-sided album and 2-CD set, with the songs in sequence of when they were released. The new songs "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" and "The Night is Still Young" were recorded and released as singles to support the album; both reached the top 40, peaking at #9 and #34, respectively.
Billy Joel live on November 7, 2006..
Greatest Hits was highly successful and has since been certified double diamond by the RIAA for over 10.5 million copies (21 million units) sold. To date it is the 6th best selling album in American music history according to the RIAA.
Coinciding with the Greatest Hits album release, Joel released a 2-volume Video Album that was a compilation of the promotional videos he had recorded from 1977 to the present time. Along with videos for the new singles off the Greatest Hits album, Joel also recorded a video for his first hit, "Piano Man," for this project.
Though it broke into the Top Ten, The Bridge was not a success in relation to some of Joel's other albums, but it yielded the hits "A Matter of Trust" and "Modern Woman" from the film Ruthless People, a dark comedy from the directors of Airplane! (both #10). In a departure from his "piano man" persona, Joel is shown in its video playing a Les Paul-autographed Gibson guitar. The ballad "This is the Time" also charted, peaking at #18, and has been a favorite on the prom circuit ever since. The reason "Modern Woman" has been left off many of Joel's compilation sets (the exception appears to be My Lives) is that he has since said in interviews he doesn't care for the song.
On November 18, 1986, an extended version of the song "Big Man On Mulberry Street" was used on a season three episode of Moonlighting. The episode itself was also titled "Big Man on Mulberry Street". In a dream sequence, Maddie Hayes envisions David Addison with his ex-wife. An extra horn solo was added to the song. The Bridge was also Joel's last album to carry the "Family Productions" logo, finally severing his ties with Artie Ripp.
At around this time, Joel completed voice work on Disney's Oliver & Company, released in 1988, a loose adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. Joel brought both his acting and musical talents to the film as Dodger. For the film, Joel recorded a song titled "Why Should I Worry?" Critics were generally positive toward the film, and pointed to Billy's acting contribution as one of its highlights, despite it being his first acting job. In interviews, Billy explained that he took the job due to his love of Disney cartoons as a child.
Joel has also stated in many interviews, most recently in a 2008 interview in Performing Songwriter magazine, that he does not think The Bridge is a good album.
The Russia period
Throughout his tour supporting The Bridge, Joel and his handlers started planning a trip to the Soviet Union. He would be one of the first American rock acts to play there since the Berlin Wall went up, a fact not lost on history buff Joel. There would be six live performances, three each at indoor arenas in Moscow and Leningrad. Joel and his family (including young daughter Alexa) and his full touring band made the trip in June 1987. The entourage was filmed for television and video to eventually offset the cost of the trip, and the concerts were simulcast on radio around the world.
The audience in at least the first Moscow shows was filled with members of the Communist Party, who received tickets from the government as a perk. Most of that audience took a long while to warm up to Joel's energetic show, something that never had happened in other countries he had performed in. As a result, a minor international incident occurred when he famously flipped over an electric keyboard during the second Moscow show as a show of frustration that the lighting engineers would not turn down the house lights. The lighting engineers were more concerned with the amount of light being adequate for filming, as a documentary film crew was filming the concert. According to Joel, each time the fans were hit with the bright lights, anybody who seemed to be enjoying themselves froze. In addition, people who were "overreacting" were removed by security.
The album ??????? (Russian for "Concert") was released in October 1987. Singer Peter Hewlitt was brought in to hit the high notes on his most vocally challenging songs, like "An Innocent Man." Joel also did versions of The Beatles classic "Back In The U.S.S.R." and Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changin'". It has been estimated that Joel lost more than $1 million of his own money on the trip and concerts, but he has said the goodwill he was shown there was well worth it.
Changing band members and Storm Front
The first single from the album Storm Front, "We Didn't Start the Fire," was released in September 1989. The song became Joel's third and most recent US #1 hit, spending two weeks at the top; it was also Billboard's next-to-last #1 single of the 1980s.
Storm Front was released in October, and it eventually became Joel's first #1 album since Glass Houses, 9 years earlier. Storm Front was Joel's first album since Turnstiles to be recorded without Phil Ramone as producer. For this album, he wanted a new sound, and worked with Mick Jones of Foreigner fame. Joel also revamped his backing band, firing everyone, save drummer Liberty DeVitto, guitarist David Brown, and saxophone player Mark Rivera; and bringing in new faces, including talented multi-instrumentalist Crystal Taliefero, who would go on to become Joel's musical director and architect of his live sound. Storm Front's second single, "I Go To Extremes" made it to #6 in early 1990. The album was also notable for its song "Leningrad," written after Joel met a clown in the Soviet city of that name during his tour in 1987, and "The Downeaster Alexa," written to underscore the plight of fishermen on Long Island who are barely able to make ends meet. Another well-known single from the album is the ballad "And So It Goes" (#37 in late 1990). The song was originally written in 1983, around the time Joel was writing songs for An Innocent Man; but "And So It Goes" did not fit that album's retro theme, so it was held back until Storm Front.
Joel started work on River of Dreams in early 1993. Its cover art was a colorful painting by Christie Brinkley that was a series of scenes from each of the songs on the album. The eponymous first single was the last top 10 hit Joel has penned to date, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 & ranking at #21 on Billboard's 1993 year-end Hot 100 chart. In addition to the title track, the album includes the hits "All About Soul" (with Color Me Badd on backing vocals) and "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)," written for his daughter, Alexa. A radio remix version of "All About Soul" can be found on The Essential Billy Joel (2001), and a demo version appears on "My Lives" (2005). The song "The Great Wall of China" was written about his ex-manager Frank Weber and was a regular in the setlist for Joel's 2006 tour. "2000 Years" was prominent in the millennium concert at Madison Square Garden, December 31, 1999, and "Famous Last Words" closed the book on Joel's pop songwriting for more than a decade.
On August 25, 1994, Joel and second wife Christie Brinkley divorced. On December 31, 1999, Joel performed at New York's Madison Square Garden, which at the time was considered to be Joel's last solo concert. The concert (dubbed The Night of the 2000 Years) ran for close to four hours and was later released as 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert.
1997's "To Make You Feel My Love" and "Hey Girl" both charted from Joel's Greatest Hits Volume III album.
In 2001, Joel released Fantasies & Delusions, a collection of classical piano pieces. All were composed by Joel and performed by Richard Joo. Joel often uses bits of these songs as interludes in live performances, and some of them are part of the score for the hit show Movin' Out. The album topped the classical charts at #1. Joel performed "New York State of Mind" live on September 21, 2001, as part of the America: A Tribute to Heroes benefit concert, and on October 20, 2001, along with "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)", at the Concert for New York City in Madison Square Garden. That night, he also performed "Your Song" with Elton John.
In 2005, Columbia released a box set, My Lives, which is largely a compilation of demos, b-sides, live/alternate versions and even a few Top 40 hits. The compilation also includes the Umixit software, in which people can remix "Zanzibar", "Only the Good Die Young", "Keepin' The Faith", and live versions of "I Go to Extremes" and "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" with their PC. Also, a DVD of a show from the River of Dreams tour is included.
On January 7, 2006, Joel began a tour across the United States. Having not written, or at least released, any new songs in 13 years, he featured a sampling of songs from throughout his career, including major hits as well as obscure tunes like "Zanzibar" and "All for Leyna." His tour included an unprecedented 12 sold-out concerts over several months at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The singer's stint of 12 shows at Madison Square Garden broke a previous record set by New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen, who played 10 sold-out shows at the same arena. The record earned Joel the first retired number (12) in the arena owned by a non-athlete. This honor has also been given to Joel at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia where a banner in the colors of the Philadelphia Flyers is hung honoring Joel's 46 Philadelphia sold-out shows. He also had a banner raised in his honor for being the highest grossing act in the history of the Times Union Center (formerly the Knickerbocker Arena and Pepsi Arena) in Albany, New York. This honor was given to him as part of the April 17, 2007 show he did there. On June 13, 2006, Columbia released 12 Gardens Live, a double album containing 32 live recordings from a collection of the 12 different shows at Madison Square Garden during Joel's 2006 tour.
2006 also saw Billy Joel visit the United Kingdom and Ireland (as part of the European leg of his 2006 tour) for the first time in many years. On July 31, 2006, Joel performed a free concert in Rome, Italy with the Colosseum as the backdrop. Organizers estimated 500,000 people turned out for the concert, which was opened by Bryan Adams.
Joel toured South Africa, Australia, Japan, and Hawaii in late 2006, and subsequently toured the Southeastern United States in February and March 2007 before hitting the Midwest in the spring of 2007. On January 3 of that year, news was leaked to the New York Post that Billy had recorded a new song with lyrics?this being the first new song with lyrics he'd written in almost 14 years. The song, entitled "All My Life", was Joel's newest single (with second track "You're My Home", live from Madison Square Garden 2006 tour) and was released into stores on February 27, 2007. On February 4, Joel sang the national anthem for Super Bowl XLI, and was the first to sing the national anthem twice at a Super Bowl, and on April 17, 2007, Joel was honored in Albany, New York, for his 9th concert at Times Union Center]. He is now holding the highest box office attendance of any artist to play at the arena. A banner was raised in his honor marking this achievement.
On December 1, 2007, Joel premiered his new song "Christmas in Fallujah". The song was performed by Cass Dillon, a new Long Island based musician, as Joel felt it should be sung by someone in a soldier's age range. The track was dedicated to servicemen based in Iraq. Joel wrote it in September 2007 after reading numerous letters sent to him from American soldiers in Iraq. "Christmas in Fallujah" is only the second pop/rock song released by Joel since 1993's River of Dreams. Proceeds from the song benefitted the Homes For Our Troops foundation.
On January 26, 2008, Joel performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra celebrating the 151st anniversary of the Academy of Music. Joel premiered his new classical piece entitled, "Waltz No. 2 (Steinway Hall)", whilst playing many of his more obscure pieces with full orchestral backing. Highlights of this were the rarely performed Nylon Curtain songs "Scandinavian Skies" and "Where's the Orchestra?".
On March 10, Joel inducted his friend John Mellencamp into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. During his induction speech, Joel said:
Don?t let this club membership change you, John. Stay ornery, stay mean. We need you to be pissed off, and restless, because no matter what they tell us?we know, this country is going to hell in a handcart. This country?s been hijacked. You know it and I know it. People are worried. People are scared, and people are angry. People need to hear a voice like yours that?s out there to echo the discontent that?s out there in the heartland. They need to hear stories about it. They need to hear stories about frustration, alienation and desperation. They need to know that somewhere out there somebody feels the way that they do, in the small towns and in the big cities. They need to hear it. And it doesn?t matter if they hear it on a jukebox, in the local gin mill, or in a goddamn truck commercial, because they ain?t gonna hear it on the radio anymore. They don?t care how they hear it, as long as they hear it good and loud and clear the way you?ve always been saying it all along. You?re right, John, this is still our country.
Joel's staying power as a touring act continues to prove itself. He sold out 10 concerts at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut from May to July. Mohegan Sun honored him with a banner displaying his name and the number ten to hang in the arena. On June 19, 2008, he played a concert at the grand re-opening of Caesars Windsor (formerly Casino Windsor) in Windsor, Ontario, Canada to an invite-only crowd for Casino VIPs. His mood was light, and joke-filled, even introducing himself as "Billy Joel's dad" and stating "you guys overpaid to see a fat bald guy." He also kiddingly admitted that Canadian folk-pop musician Gordon Lightfoot was the inspiration for "She's Always A Woman".
On July 16 and July 18, Joel played the final concerts at Shea Stadium before its demolition. His guests included Tony Bennett, Don Henley, John Mayer, John Mellencamp, Steven Tyler, Roger Daltrey, Garth Brooks, and Paul McCartney. McCartney ended the show with a reference to his own performance there with the Beatles in 1965, the first major stadium concert of the rock and roll industry. These shows were performed to nearly 125,000 people over the two nights.
On December 11, 2008, Joel recorded his own rendition of "Christmas in Fallujah" during a concert at Acer Arena in Sydney, Australia and released it as a live single in Australia only. It is the only official release of Joel performing "Christmas in Fallujah", as Cass Dillon sang on the 2007 studio recording and the handful of times the song was played live in 2007. Joel sang the song throughout his December 2008 tour of Australia.
On May 19, 2009, Joel's former drummer, Liberty DeVitto, filed a lawsuit in NYC claiming Joel and Sony Music owed DeVitto over 10 years of royalty payments. DeVitto has never been given songwriting credit on any of Joel's songs, but he claims that he helped write some of them.
Beginning in 1994, Joel toured extensively with Elton John on a series of "Face to Face" tours, making them the longest running and most successful concert tandem in pop music history. During these shows, the two have played their own songs, each other's songs and performed duets. They grossed over US $46 million in just 24 dates in their sold out 2003 tour. Joel and John resumed the Face to Face tour in March 2009 and it will continue on-and-off for at least two years. The concerts begin with the artists on twin pianos, performing duets; followed by each headliner performing a set with their respective bands; ending with an encore of both headliners and their bands.
Joel performing in 2007 in Florida.
Joel mentioned in a television interview on the UK's Channel Five that he had dated Elle Macpherson in the 1980s prior to his marriage to Christie Brinkley. Joel has also said that the songs "This Night", and "And So It Goes" were written about his relationship with Macpherson.
Joel married his business manager, Elizabeth Weber Small, on September 5, 1973. She was the former wife of his music partner, Jon Small, in the short-lived band Attila. They divorced on July 20, 1982, though he kept her on as his business manager, a move that would prove to be a mistake, according to his Behind the Music interview, as her brother, Frank Weber, embezzled almost all of Joel's savings.
Joel married Christie Brinkley on March 23, 1985. Their daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, was born December 29, 1985. Alexa was given the middle name of Ray after Ray Charles, one of Joel's musical idols. Joel and Brinkley divorced on August 25, 1994, although the couple remain friendly.
On October 2, 2004, Joel married 23-year-old Katie Lee. At the time of the wedding, Joel was 55. Joel's daughter, Alexa Ray, then 18, served as maid-of-honor. Joel's second wife, Christie Brinkley, attended the union and gave the couple her blessing. Lee works as a restaurant correspondent for the PBS show, George Hirsch: Living it Up!. In 2006, Katie Lee hosted Bravo's Top Chef. She did not return for a second season, instead going on tour with her husband. She now has a weekly column in Hamptons Magazine, and is a field correspondent for the entertainment television show Extra. On June 17, 2009, both confirmed that they have split after five years of marriage.
In 1996, Joel merged his long-held love of boating with his desire for a second career. He formed, with Long Island boating businessman Peter Needham, the Long Island Boat Company.
Joel battled many years with depression. In 1970, Joel's discouraged career and personal life aggravated his condition. He left a suicide note (which became the lyrics to "Tomorrow Is Today") and attempted to commit suicide by drinking furniture polish, saying later, "I drank furniture polish. It looked tastier than bleach." His drummer, Jon Small, rushed him to the hospital. Joel checked into Meadowbrook Hospital, where he was put on suicide watch and received treatment for depression. Joel later recorded "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" as a message to help prevent teen suicide.
Substance abuse treatment
In 2002, Joel entered Silver Hill Hospital, a substance abuse and psychiatric center in New Canaan, Connecticut. In March 2005 he checked into the Betty Ford Center, where he spent 30 days.
Joel is a long-time supporter of the Democratic Party and has supported Bill Clinton for president, Hillary Clinton for the Senate, and most recently Barack Obama for president. In 2008, Joel played a fundraising concert with Bruce Springsteen in support of Barack Obama.
Joel's lyrics have made many references to locations in the New York City metropolitan area, particularly Long Island. For example, the "Miracle Mile" line in 1980s "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me" refers to the affluent shopping district located on Northern Boulevard in the community of Manhasset and 1980's "You May Be Right" references walking through the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn alone as proof of craziness. In his 1973 song "The Ballad of Billy the Kid," he describes a certain "Billy" as being from the town of Oyster Bay, the municipality in which the hamlet of Hicksville is located. He has since stated, in the liner notes from his album Songs in the Attic, that this "Billy" is not himself, but rather an Oyster Bay bartender. In concert, Joel often performs a paean to New York, "New York State of Mind," in which he substitutes the names of Long Island towns for urban locations, such as Oceanside, New York for Riverside Drive in Manhattan. Additionally, Joel's song "The Downeaster 'Alexa'" mentions several Long Island/New England locations and ports, such as Block Island Sound, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Montauk and Gardiners Bay. In "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," Joel sings "Do you remember those days hanging out at the village green?" referring to a park adjacent to a shopping center close to his childhood home in Hicksville. That song also references a "Parkway Diner," which is located on the border of Levittown and East Meadow, Long Island, although it is now the Empress Diner. And, in "Leningrad," Joel drew comparison between US and USSR cold war experiences when he sang "children lived in Levittown and hid in the shelters underground" referring to Levittown, the hamlet next to Hicksville that was famously developed after World War II and known as "America's first suburb."
Several of Joel's songs have grown out of specific personal experiences, including "Piano Man," which he wrote describing his regular job playing at a Los Angeles piano bar in the early 1970s, and "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," was written in part due to seeing some of his old classmates from high school and seeing that the once popular icons of his school had "peaked too early" in life. The song was set in Angelo's, an eatery on Mulberry Street in New York City's Little Italy. However, in a documentary that was released as part of the 30th anniversary special box set for The Stranger, Joel says that the restaurant that inspired the song is called Fontana di Trevi (a segment showing Joel explaining this can be found on his official YouTube channel). Joel goes on to say that Fontana di Trevi was across the street from Carnegie Hall (Joel also says that the restaurant is no longer there). He adds that Fontana's proprietor recognized Joel from a poster related to his appearance at Carnegie Hall on June 2, 1977. "There was a line around the block. The owner looks at the poster and then he looks at me and says, 'ey! You're that-a guy!' From then on, I never had trouble getting a good spot. People wonder where 'Scenes From An Italian Restaurant' was. Well, that was the place." His song "Vienna" was supposedly written about a visit to his father in Europe during which he watched an old lady sweeping the street. At first he was shocked that people had this little respect for the elderly, until his father explained that allowing them to stay useful to society was the greatest show of respect. Knowing that "Vienna waits for you" calmed many of his fears about aging.
In a Playboy interview, Joel indicated that "Rosalinda's Eyes" was penned for his mother, Rosalind, as the song his father should have written for her.
"Only the Good Die Young" created a bit of a stir within the religious community when it was first released in 1977. Some radio stations even refused to give the song any airtime. Joel has said about the song that "the point of the song wasn't so much anti-Catholic as pro-lust."
As a songwriter, Joel tapped into his working-class roots even though his success carried him far away from them. "That's something that people have difficulty with?retaining one's connection to commonality," he said in a 1994 interview. "For all the money I've made, and for all the success that I'm perceived to have had, I'm still a working guy. I work. I work very hard. And if people think that it's not a lot of work, they ought to try this job for awhile. It's got a lot of fringe benefits, and it pays good, but there's a lot of effort that goes into a lot of aspects of it. So I feel like I'm a working person anyway. I never lost that. I'm not resting on my laurels. I don't have inherited money. I started out poor. In fact, for most of my life I was poor. Even in the '80s when I thought I was rich, I wasn't?I was being ripped off. I don't really feel like I have to make believe that I'm Joe in the factory. I had that job. I know what it's like. But I think it would be pretentious and hypocritical for me to hang out in back alleys with bums for me to get in touch with that commonaility. It comes from the heart. I have a family, and I have an extended family, friends, business relations?just like everybody else."
Joel's music reflects influences from many different genres, including: classical music, 1950s doo wop, Broadway/Tin Pan Alley, jazz, blues, gospel, pop music, and rock & roll. Ray Charles has also had a large impact on Billy Joel's music and personal life.
These various influences have in part led to his broad success over a long period of time but have also made him difficult to categorize in popular music today.
Among many of Joel's influences are: Beethoven, The Beatles, Ray Charles, Paul Simon, Elvis Presley, Elton John, Phil Spector, Ben E. King, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and Carole King.