Lots of people play the keys, but Billy Joel might be the most famous Piano Man in contemporary music. It would seem his fate was sealed when, back in 1973, when he released his first single, appropriately named… wait for it… “Piano Man.” The nickname stuck and so did the string of successful singles that followed. Over the years, Joel has scored 33 Top 40 hits—including “It’s Still Rock ’N’ Roll To Me,” “Tell Her About It” and “We Didn’t Start The Fire”—and sold over 150 records, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time.
In January 2014, nearly five decades into his career, Joel set up an unprecedented monthly residency at Madison Square Garden. What can fans expect from the show? “We get kind of a mix with our audience, at a couple gigs we've played at this point, there's people that come that just want to hear the hits, and then there's people that just want to hear the deep cuts, so we've gotta mix it up all the time,” Joel explained to Billboard Magazine after the tour announcement. “I don't think we'll ever do the same show twice.” Billy Joel tickets from ScoreBig will get you inside a one of a kind experience.
Early Life & Influences
Born William Martin Joel to a Jewish family in Bronx, New York, Joel was raised on Long Island. Both of these places would go on to have a heavy influence on his music, which ironically, he wasn’t interested in till his mother forced him to take piano lessons.
Joel’s father was a classical pianist, who moved to Vienna, Austria, after he and Joel’s mother divorced. And while Joel reluctantly took up piano lessons, it was boxing he was really interested in. He successfully boxed as an amateur on the Golden Gloves circuit for a while, however his dreams of taking boxing any further were “knocked out” as the result of a broken nose in a boxing match.
His boxing dreams may have been dashed, but Joel proved to be a quick learner on another circuit, music. His music lessons paid off and he started playing at a local piano bar to assist his mother financially. His education suffered though and Joel did not graduate from high school, until 25 years later, when he had become a famous star. He famously once said,
"I told them, 'To hell with it. If I'm not going to Columbia University, I'm going to Columbia Records, and you don't need a high school diploma over there'.”
The Beatles first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show started the musical careers of many music icons, Joel being one of them. In addition, he was inspired by The Four Seasons, The Drifters and other rock and roll and R&B artists of the time.
Impressed by The Beatles, young Billy Joel became a member of the Echoes, a band that was in to British Invasion covers. He later quit them for the Hassles, a band from Long Island with a recording contract with United Artists Records. He left this band too and formed a duo with the Hassles’ band member Jon Small. The duo was called Attila, which later disbanded. Billy Joel then went solo afterwards, as a result of which his debut solo album Cold Spring Harbor was released.
Breakthrough & Recognition
Cold Spring Harbor was released in 1971 and could not get him the breakthrough that he had been looking for. The album remained unsuccessful due to technical issues, though it contained singles, which would later become Joel’s signature songs, namely “Everybody Loves You Now” and “She’s Got a Way.”
The breakthrough that Joel had been looking for came in 1973 when he released Piano Man, his second studio album. Though it was not an instant hit, the album would go on to sell over 4 million copies in the US alone, thereby getting 4×Platinum certification by RIAA. At the time of its release, it peaked at No.27 on the Billboard 200. The lead single from the album, “Piano Man” peaked at No.25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974. In 2016, the Library of Congress selected the song for preservation in the National Recording Registry for its “cultural, historic, or artistic significance.”
Notable Albums & Songs
Billy Joel’s extensive discography consists of 13 studio albums, 61 singles, 50 music videos, 10 video albums, 15 compilation albums and 5 live albums. With the exception of his debut album, Cold Spring Harbor and last studio album, Fantasies & Delusions, all of Joel’s studio albums have been certified Platinum or higher by the RIAA.
The Stranger remains his most commercially successful venture, which was certified Diamond. Released in 1977, it charted at No.2 on the Billboard 200. Selling in excess of 10 million records, the album was also critically acclaimed. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at No.70 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Considered to be Joel’s magnum opus, The Stranger spawned blockbuster hits such as “She’s Always a Woman,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “Just the Way You Are” and “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song).” “Just the Way You Are” won Grammys for both “Song of the Year” and “Record of the Year.”
Joel followed up The Stranger with 52nd Street and Glass Houses. Both debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200 and were certified 7×Platinum in the US. 52nd Street got Joel two Grammys (including one for Album of the Year) and three of its singles, namely “Honesty,” “Big Shot” and “My Life” reached the Top 40 in the US. Glass Houses that came out in 1980, earned Joel another Grammy for the “Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.” The album was released at a time when new wave and punk movements were at their peak and therefore featured Joel’s harder-edged sound. All in all, the album became the 41st bestselling album of the 1980s. “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” was the biggest hit from the album.
Billy Joel Tour Tickets
Though Billy Joel stopped writing and making new music after his 1993 album River of Dreams, he constantly tours all over the world to play songs from his earlier and less famous days, and of course his contemporary hits.
Starting in 1994, Joel toured extensively with Elton John. Known as “Face to Face’ tours, these set of concerts became the longest running and most successful concerts in pop music history. Over the years, Joel has performed with artists such as Paul McCartney, Garth Brooks, Steven Tyler, John Mayer, Don Henley, Tony Bennett and others.
In 2011, Joel celebrated the 40th anniversary of his debut album, Cold Spring Harbor. During the same year, his second album, Piano Man was re-released as a two-disc Legacy Edition. A collector’s item for Joel’s true fans, Piano Man marks a watershed moment in Bill Joel’s professional career. Writing for the Rolling Stone in 1974, Jack Breschard wrote: “… Piano Man reflects a new seriousness and musical flexibility. Its production is reminiscent of Elton John's, and his music has the show-tune ambience of David Ackles. But his ten new tunes also introduce a more mature, less frantic musician.”
Billy Joel has come a long way since. To be among his company and have the best rock experience of your life, get your Billy Joel tour tickets here.