There's a good reason why Billy Joel is called "The Piano Man." Have you heard the compelling evidence?
Billy Joel has been composing and performing since the '60s, when rock and roll was coming of age. His musical prowess can be heard in the way he plays the piano. His varied musical influences can also be detected in the rhythms, harmonies, and melodies he includes in his compositions.
And what great compositions they are! The '70s saw rock and roll mature, and Billy Joel matured along with it. This maturity can be heard in the heartfelt songs he wrote about love, the many facets of relationships both good and bad, and of course the wistful/wishful thinking he does when he ponders on broken hearts, disaffected beings, and shattered souls. From personal turmoil to economic and even political turmoil, he lets us hear the whys and hows of being human while suggesting ways of how to be more humane.
With more than a dozen albums (the live ones and the studio ones) and more than 60 singles released in his career so far, the Piano Man is definitely one of America's formidable and prolific musicians of all time.
You know his music. Now let's have fun with his lyrics. Let's play!
Billy Joel penned many songs that championed working class folks. In "Uptown Girl," he narrates how a working class guy, namely a mechanic, is pining for a woman from the rich side of town. Supermodel Christie Brinkley appeared in the music video, and the singer eventually married her.
Billy Joel won several Grammy Awards throughout the years. In 1979, he won two: Record of the Year for "Just the Way You Are" (where these lyrics are featured) as well as Song of the Year for this same song. This winner also garnered him a gold record certification, meaning it sold 500,000 copies.
Billy Joel's musical career started in the late '60s during the rock and roll era, which became a huge influence in his life during that time. So he reacted when the '70s rolled in with new music genres. That's the reason why his 1980 song "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" echoed those sentiments.
Billy Joel's musical styles may vary from song to song, but a chunk of them fall within the adult contemporary categorization. One such example is "My Life," his 1978 hit. Another popular singer, Chicago vocalist Peter Cetera, sang back-up vocals for him in this song.
Aside from writing about working class folk's concerns, Billy Joel also captures his observations about women and womanhood. Often, he revealed in interviews that his own relationships inspired such observations. One such example is his 1977 hit "She's Always A Woman," inspired by his first wife.
These gospel-influenced lyrics (and music as well) are from his 1993 song called "The River of Dreams." It's part of his 1993 album also entitled "River of Dreams." Its album cover features the artwork of his former wife, Christie Brinkley.
Billy Joel released an album in 1989 called "Storm Front" which contains the song "I Go To Extremes." The song was released as a single in 1990, and these are the words of that Billboard Hot 100 hit.
"Honesty" is Billy Joel's 1979 hit song, which was included in his 1978 album called "52nd Street." In 2008, Beyoncé recorded her own cover version of the song, and that one was included in her album called "I Am ... Sasha Fierce."
Before video chatting was invented, people had to make do with long distance phone calls to communicate with loved ones. This is the sentiment in his 1980 song called "Sometimes A Fantasy." However, in the music video, the ending leaves the impression that the call was only a fantasy.
These words are from "You May Be Right," his 1980 song from the album called "Glass Houses." The song is included in his "Greatest Hits—Volume I & Volume II" collection. A live rendition of the song can be found in "Live at Shea Stadium: The Concert" album.
The upbeat 1983 hit song "Tell Her About It" narrates Billy Joel's observations about women. This time, they are dished out in the form of advice to a young man who's obviously having girl troubles. But the music video focused more on Joel singing on a '60s TV show spoof.
Billy Joel wrote many songs about personal struggles, and his 1985 hit single called "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" was one of them. This upbeat number encouraged teens to hang on despite having bouts of depression. The music video showed him preventing a teen from committing suicide.
"The Longest Time" is Billy Joel's 1984 hit song which featured harmonies that hark back to the doo-wop era of the '50s and '60s. Even though the music video shows him singing lead vocals while having back-up singers, all of those vocalizations were done by Joel one by one, then mixed in the studio.
"New York State of Mind" is Billy Joel's 1976 song contribution to the growing list of songs penned as a form of ode to (being in) The Big Apple. Aside from Sinatra's legendary "New York, New York," this list includes "The Only Living Boy in New York" and "Englishman in New York," to name a few.
"Piano Man" is Billy Joel's musical title ever since he showed the world his talent in playing this musical instrument. This is also the title of his 1973 song which is part of the album with the same title as well.
These words are from "A Matter of Trust," his 1986 song that has the Piano Man playing the guitar more in this song. The music video features a cameo appearance of his former supermodel wife, Christie Brinkley. But unlike her appearance in Uptown Girl, this one has her carrying their baby Alexa.
Billy Joel sometimes collaborates with other notable artists to enhance the quality of his songs. This is what he did with "Leave A Tender Moment Alone," his 1984 hit song. The cool harmonica sound heard in this record was performed by renowned jazz musician Toots Thielemans.
"The Downeaster Alexa" is a 1990 song that narrates the plight of yet another working class population: the fisherfolk. The lyrics narrate the changing status of fisherfolk's lives as "modern-day developments" encroach into their livelihood, edging them out of a decent living.
"Miami 2017 (Seen the Light Go Out on Broadway)" is a song that Billy Joel wrote back in 1976. He said the song narrates a sci-fi tale about how New York gets destroyed. When 9/11 happened, this is ironically what he performed in a benefit concert for the city, a month after the event happened.
Even this great singer-composer sometimes performed cover versions of famous songs. One of those songs is "Back in the U.S.S.R." originally sung by the Beatles in 1968. Billy Joel did a cover of this tune in 1987.
Being a performer who came into the height of popularity during the '70s, Billy Joel was very much exposed and affected by news and updates coming out of the Vietnam War during that era. He wrote "Goodnight Saigon" in 1983 reflecting on the aspects of this war and how it affected soldiers.
Billy Joel gave us a lyrical rundown of world history facts and figures in his 1989 hit "We Didn't Start The Fire." He picked controversial and popular personalities from the 1940s to the 1980s. Also included are notable innovations, both popular and flukes, plus political headlines and movements.
"Say Goodbye to Hollywood" is Billy Joel's 1981 single, a part of his album "Songs in the Attic." It was written during the time he relocated back to New York City after living in Los Angeles for a while.
Billy Joel teamed up with another legendary piano man, Ray Charles, to record the song called "Baby Grand." The 1986 song's music video featured the two performers having fun while in the process of recording the song in a studio.
"Leningrad" is Billy Joel's 1989 song about a real-life Russian clown he met during his concert tour in the former U.S.S.R. years prior. The song narrates how the clown had a tough childhood growing up in a place mired in decades of political strife.
Billy Joel has had his fair share of controversy connected to the music he creates. An example of that is the flak he got for his 1978 song "Only The Good Die Young." Since the song implies the story of a boy who wants to "get it on" with a Catholic girl, religious groups called for its boycott.
If you want to sample Billy Joel's early style, listen to the track called "She's Got A Way." The song narrates how a particular woman profoundly affects and influences the singing persona. The song was released in 1972, and it was included in his very first solo album called "Cold Spring Harbor."
The jazz-rock fusion sounding "Zanzibar" song, released back in 1978, is part of the "52nd Street" album. Contrary to its travel-oriented title, the song doesn't refer to the eastern African region. Rather, it narrates of the singing persona's experiences inside a bar called Zanzibar.
Billy Joel's 1982 song called "Pressure" opens its music video with a kind of homage to the 1971 film "A Clockwork Orange." As he sings of dealing with various kinds of pressure in life, he is shown sitting on a chair in front of a huge screen that flashes scenes of these pressure points.
These words are from the song called "And So It Goes" which was released in 1990. Mostly a melancholic song about heartache, it's reportedly about an earlier relationship Billy Joel had with another model, Elle Macpherson, prior to marrying model Christie Brinkley.
Billy Joel sang of various working class professions in other songs, and it's not different in his 1982 song called "Allentown." This time, he sings of the steel workers and their families affected by the shutdown of industrial factories near their communities.
"The Stranger" is a song that opens slowly, with Billy Joel making whistling sounds of the song's opening notes. But right before he sings the words, the rhythm picks up, with influences of '70s groove all over it. The song analyzes how people can show various personas to their lovers.
"An Innocent Man" is Billy Joel's 1983 album which contains many of his popular hits. These include "Uptown Girl," "Tell Her About It," "Leave A Tender Moment Alone," and "The Longest Time." This song called "An Innocent Man" is also included here.
"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" is Billy Joel's 1977 song about how working class people are having bourgeois dreams of making it big. The song was performed in an episode of "Glee" by Blaine Anderson, played by Darren Criss. This whole "Glee" episode featured Billy Joel's songs.
Billy Joel performed his 1986 song "This is the Time" with John Mayer during his live concert at the Shea Stadium in 2008. This concert was the last performance done inside the legendary stadium before it was scheduled for demolition. This venue was the former home stadium of the New York Mets.