Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Joel got an early start in the music business, and his first album, Cold Spring Harbor, was released in 1971. However, Joel was unhappy with its production, and album sales languished. (The album has since been remastered, and the production mistakes fixed.) While he tried to get out of his recording contract so he could sign with another label, he went incognito, taking a job playing at a piano bar in Los Angeles. He used his experiences there as the inspiration for the song “Piano Man,” a song that would become his first hit and his signature tune.
He was successful in switching labels, signing with Columbia Records, and his second album, Piano Man (bearing the eponymous single), was released in 1973. He followed it up the next year with Streetlife Serenade, and in 1976 with Turnstiles. Although these three albums contained notable Joel tracks like “Captain Jack,” “The Entertainer,” and “New York State of Mind,” they did not initially reach the level of commercial success Joel would come to enjoy (although they were all eventually certified platinum by the RIAA, Piano Man four times over).
That success came with 1977’s The Stranger. Produced by Phil Ramone, the song jumped to #2 on the Billboard chart (kept out of the top spot primarily by Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours), and four of its nine songs charted as singles. It also earned Joel the first two of his six Grammy Awards, Song and Record of the Year for the song “Just the Way You Are.” In 1978, Joel released the album 52nd Street. Propelled by hits like “My Life” and “Big Shot,” it became Joel’s first #1 album, and also garnered him two more Grammy Awards (Best Pop Vocal Performance and Album of the Year). Interestingly, in 1982, 52nd Street became the first album to be released on the compact disc format.
The partnership with Ramone was obviously working, and the pair would work together on four more albums: 1980’s Glass Houses, 1982’s The Nylon Curtain, 1983’s An Innocent Man, and 1986’s The Bridge. They contained a string of hits, and all have been certified multiplatinum. In October of 1986, after the release of The Bridge, Joel made a series of performances in the Soviet Union, one of the first American rockers to do so. A recording of his Leningrad performance was eventually released on CD as KOHUEPT (Russian for “concert”); next week an expanded collection of his performances comes out as A Matter of Trust, in a standard 2-disc version (that includes KOHUEPT) and a deluxe edition that also includes a Blu-ray featuring concert footage and a documentary on the trip.
In 1989, Joel released the album Storm Front, his first album to reach #1 since Glass Houses. It contained the smash-hit single “We Didn’t Start the Fire” as well as the song “Shameless,” perhaps more popular as a hit for country superstar Garth Brooks. It was followed in 1993 by River of Dreams, which also reached #1, and is the last album Joel has released.
Still, more than twenty years later, Joel continues to sell out stadiums and arenas filled with legions of fans who come to hear him perform his hits for hours. In addition to touring, he also has a residency at Madison Square Garden in New York City, performing one show there per month. So, despite such a length of time with no new material, interest in Billy Joel’s music remains strong. SmartBrowse his name on our website for all of these albums, as well as plenty of compilation and live albums, concert and video collections, and the biography from Fred Schruers scheduled for release in November.