William Martin Joel was born on May 9, 1949, in the Bronx, New York, and was raised in Hicksville, Long Island. He was enrolled in classical piano lessons at an early age and later took up boxing as a teenager.
Joel fought over twenty boxing matches and even broke his nose in one of them. After seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, Billy Joel decided to focus on his music career instead of boxing.
He joined two different bands, “The Echoes” and “The Hassles”, while attending Hicksville High School in the late 1960’s and made several recordings with his band mates. However, success would not come early for the young Joel.
In 1971, a determined Billy Joel singed his first solo contract with a small record label named “Family Productions”. Apparently the record company was so small that they released Joel’s first solo LP (which was called Cold Spring Harbor) with a critical mastering flaw on it!
This made the singer/songwriter’s voice sound like a “chipmunk” on the album, and unfortunately the record did very poorly.
In 1972, Joel moved to Los Angeles, California with his girlfriend Elizabeth, and began playing piano in an Executive Lounge under the name “Bill Martin”.
After six months, Joel finally got his big break when a Columbia Records executive heard a live recording of his song “Captain Jack”.
Joel was offered a lucrative recording contract with Columbia records that would also exonerate his responsibilities to his prior record label (Family Productions).
In 1973, Billy Joel released The Piano Man, an album largely based on his experience playing at that fateful Los Angeles piano bar. “Piano Man” single slowly worked its’ way up the music charts, and would eventually go on to sell over 4 million copies.
Interestingly enough, In a May 2007 interview on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, Billy Joel's daughter...
Alexa Ray Joel, admitted that her father is actually a bit bored of performing “Piano Man”...
... and prefers playing it at the very end of his concerts (while thinking about dinner).
Another song I really enjoyed off The Stranger album is
"Scenes From An Italian Restaurant".
Although it wasn't a Top 40 hit, this colorful piece of music begins as a classic Billy Joel ballad, telling the sweet tale of a young man and woman enjoying an evening dinner.
Then it breaks out into a bluesy piano-driven rock and roll song! Joel outdoes himself in this performance, giving you the best of his piano playing abilities.
Joel’s 1978 album, 52nd Street was named after the famous street in Manhattan, New York where many of the world’s best jazz musicians had performed during the mid 20th century.
Upon release, it sold over two million copies the first month, with hits like “My Life”, “Big Shot”, and “Honesty”.
The 52nd Street LP remained a number one record in the US for eight weeks, and earned Joel another Grammy Award in 1979 for best album of the year.
Joels' 1981 album, Songs in the Attic, released a lesser-known tune from earlier in his career, "Captain Jack", which was the song he'd been discovered for during his Los Angeles days playing at the executive piano bar.
The Songs in the Attic LP also produced the hit singles "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" and "She's Got a Way".
In 1983, Billy Joel’s album, An Innocent Man would go on to sell another seven million copies with the help of his number one hit “Tell Her About It”, and also “Uptown Girl”, which many believe was written about his then girlfriend and future (first) wife, Christie Brinkley.
Yes, of course "Uptown Girl" and "Tell Her About It" were the two biggest hits on the album, and were played repeatedly on the radio and MTV in 1983.
But two of my personal favorite tunes off the An Innocent Man LP are "Longest Time" and "This Night".
These two tracks are very different from other songs on the album. With their cool “doo-wop” rhythm, lively melodies and backing vocals, they add a colorful mix of musical styles to the album.
Add in some Boogie-woogie rock n’ roll with the “Christie Lee” track (yeah!), and you can’t deny that Joel made one heck of an album!
In 1987, Joel went on a tour in the (then) U.S.S.R. and later a embarked on a major tour of the United States in 1990. Joel decided to put his recording career on hold in 1993 to focus more on his concerts. On occasion, legendary Rock n’ Roll pianist, Elton John, joined Joel in his performances.
In 2007, Billy Joel returned to the recording studio and released his CD single entitled "All My Life" on February 23, 2007.
"I have a theory that the only original things we ever do are mistakes."
"I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music."
- Billy Joel
Even without a piano, Billy Joel
shows he can still rock an audience!
Check out this acapella tune he rocked
at his Syracuse commencement speech: