Famous Like Me > Singer > J > Billy Joel
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Profile of Billy Joel
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||9th May 1949
|Place of Birth:
||Bronx, New York, USA
William Martin Joel (born May 9, 1949 in The Bronx, New York), better known as Billy Joel, is a globally-recognized pianist, singer and songwriter. He produced pop music hits from 1973 (beginning with the single "Piano Man") to his retirement from the genre in 1993. He has continued to tour occasionally (usually with Elton John) in addition to writing and recording classical music.
From an early age, Joel had an intense interest in music, especially classical music.
His influences include:
- Ray Charles
- Dave Brubeck
- Sam Cooke
- The Rolling Stones
- The Beatles
- Otis Redding
- Ludwig van Beethoven
Joel denies any influence of Elton John on his music, but there is still a similarity between his early music and Elton's. He joined his first band at age fourteen. In the late 1960s, he was in the band Attila and then The Hassles, and also played in piano bars under the name of "Bill Martin". His first solo album, Cold Spring Harbor (a reference to a Long Island town), was released in 1971.
Joel toured with Elton John; during the tours the two have played each other's songs and performed duets. Joel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.
Joel's songwriting cannot be separated from the life that inspired so much of his work. Joel "was born in '49, a Cold War kid in McCarthy time," as he wrote in his song "Leningrad". Joel first lived in the modern-day South Bronx, a ethnically white neighborhood at the time. His family then moved to Long Island, to Levittown and then to Hicksville, both working class towns in Nassau County . His father, Howard Joel, was a Jewish refugee from Germany and his mother, Rosalind Hyman, was born in England, to an agnostic Jewish family. Joel was not raised very religiously, and in fact attended Roman Catholic mass with his Catholic friends, inspiring some of his religion-themed lyrics. He has made many references in his lyrics to locations in the New York City metropolitan area, particularly the Island, in his songs. For example, the Miracle Mile line in "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me" refers to the affluent shopping district that's located on Northern Boulevard in the community of Manhasset. Also, in his early song Billy the Kid, he describes a certain "Billy" as being from the Town of Oyster Bay, the municipality in which the hamlet of Levittown is located.
Joel has always relied heavily on his own experiences in writing his songs; perhaps the best examples are "Piano Man", which he wrote out of his experience of regularly playing at a piano bar in the early 1970s, and "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," purportedly written about either the Syosset mainstay Christiano's or a similar eatery in New York City's Little Italy. His song "New York State of Mind"—a track from 1976's Turnstiles album that has since become a standard—also demonstrated his affinity for his home state.
Joel also is known for his depiction of life in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, which he paid tribute to in one of his most popular songs, "Allentown," released in 1982. The song depicts living in industrial Allentown, Pennsylvania in the early 1980s.
Joel's daughter Alexa has also been a motivation for lyrical content; he penned "Lullabye" for her. Similarly, his song "The Downeaster Alexa" combined his love for his daughter with a depiction of the plight of boat captains in the offshore fishing industry. "Uptown Girl" was a love song about the seemingly mismatched romance between himself and Christie Brinkley, Alexa's mother and his second wife.
Joel has always had a trusting, open attitude in both his business and personal relationships. This attitude was manifested as advice in the song "Tell Her About It", as well as in an expression of his own needs in "Honesty" and "And So It Goes". It can also be found in his description of the elements needed to make a relationship work in "A Matter of Trust".
The song "We Didn't Start the Fire" lists historical events from his birth in 1949 through the mid-1980's—the first thirty-five years of Joel's life, reflecting his fascination with culture and history. The song "Leningrad" shows Joel's appreciation for the history of the Soviet Union and his feelings about the Cold War in which he was raised. Before Joel went into the music business, he always wanted to become a history teacher; later in his career, he earned a New York state teaching license.
In addition, having attempted suicide earlier in his life, Joel composed a song on request called "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" specifically to strengthen those contemplating suicide to choose life instead.
Joel has recently been returning to his fascination with classical music and has been experimenting in that area. Fantasies and Delusions, his first album of classical pieces, got a tepid response from critics but went to #1 on the classical charts.
Joel married his business manager, Elizabeth Weber, in May of 1971. The marriage ended in divorce in July of 1982.
Joel went on to marry supermodel Christie Brinkley in March of 1985. Their marriage produced one child, daughter Alexa Ray Joel, in December of 1986. This marriage also ended with divorce in August of 1994.
In 2004, Joel married 23 year-old Katie Lee. Lee is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. At the time of the wedding, Joel was 54. Joel's daughter, Alexa Ray, 18, served as maid of honor. Joel's ex-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!.
Joel entered the Betty Ford Center in March of 2005 for treatment of alcohol abuse after what his publicist called "a recent bout of severe gastrointestinal distress". He checked out of the center in April of 2005. A friend who saw Joel after he checked out said that Joel has completely sworn off all alcohol. Joel was treated previously for alcohol abuse in 2002 when he spent two weeks at Silver Hill Hospital in Connecticut.
Driving problems and history of accidents
Joel has a history of car accidents, including several that occurred while he allegedly was under the influence of alcohol.
In the spring of 1982 Joel had already begun studio work on his next album, The Nylon Curtain, when he was involved in a motorcycle accident; a woman in a car ran a red light and hit Billy Joel on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. His left wrist was broken and his hand badly damaged. When Billy Joel tells the story he says that the police officer on the scene read his license as "William Joel," put 2 & 2 together, and said, "Hey lady, you just ran over Billy Joel!" After the woman learned who she hit, she asked for his autograph. He offered to use his bleeding wrists to write her an autograph. Due to surgery, to insert a temporary pin, and a month in the hospital, production of the album was temporarily shut down while Joel recovered.
An additional obstacle for the singer was the breakdown of his marriage to Weber, an event partially blamed on the stress created by Weber's management of her husband's career.
By the end of 1982 the couple divorced. When she left, Joel's wife took half of the singer's assets with her. Even with such personal tragedies, creating the music for the album proved to be difficult, "You're always in the desert looking for the oasis and all that's out there with you is the piano--this big black beast with 88 teeth . . . 50,000 packs of cigarettes later, you start getting it."
In 2003, Joel crashed his brand new 2003 Mercedes Benz Coupe into a tree. In 2004, he crashed his 1967 Citroën 2CV into a 90-year-old woman's house.
Like his appearance on James Lipton's "Inside the Actor's Studio," Billy Joel has been passing on his hard-learned experience with the music industry and as an artist to a new generation. Some of these have been recorded and are available, such as the fourth CD in his Box Set. He is reportedly a very funny speaker and the class is as entertaining as a Billy Joel concert.
- Cold Spring Harbor (1971) #158 US
- Piano Man (1973) #27 US, US sales: 4,000,000
- Streetlife Serenade (1974) #35 US, US sales: 1,000,000
- Turnstiles (1976) #122 US, US sales: 1,000,000
- The Stranger (1977) #2 US, #25 UK, US sales: 10,000,000
- 52nd Street (1978) #1 US, #10 UK, US sales: 7,000,000
- Glass Houses (1980) #1 US, #9 UK, US sales: 7,000,000
- Songs in the Attic (Live) (1981) #8 US, US sales: 3,000,000
- The Nylon Curtain (1982) #7 US, #27 UK, US sales: 2,000,000
- An Innocent Man (1983) #4 US, #2 UK, US sales: 7,000,000
- Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 & 2 (1973-1985) (1985) (compilation) #6 US, #7 UK, US sales: 21,000,000 (5th best selling album of all time)
- The Bridge (1986) #7 US, #38 UK, US sales: 1,000,000
- КОНЦЕРТ (Live) (1987) #38 US, US sales: 1,000,000
- Storm Front (1989) #1 US, #5 UK, US sales: 4,000,000
- River of Dreams (1993) #1 US, #3 UK, US sales: 5,000,000
- Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (1997) (compilation) #9 US, #23 UK, US sales: 1,000,000
- The Complete Hits Collection: 1973-1997 (1997) (compilation) US sales: 1,000,000
- 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert (Live) (2000) #40 US, US sales: 500,000
- Fantasies & Delusions (2001) (performed by Richard Joo) #83 US
- Ultimate Collection (2001) (compilation) #4 UK
- Essential Billy Joel (2001) (compilation) #29 US
- Movin' Out Original Broadway Cast Recording (2002) (performed by the cast of Movin' Out)
- Piano Man: The Very Best Of (2004) (compilation)
- from Piano Man
- from Streetlife Serenade
- 1975 "The Entertainer" #34 US
- from The Stranger
- 1978 "Just the Way You Are" #3 US, #19 UK
- 1978 "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" #17 US, #35 UK
- 1978 "Only the Good Die Young" #24 US
- 1978 "She's Always a Woman" #17 US
- from 52nd Street
- 1978 "My Life" #3 US (1979 release), #12 UK
- 1979 "Big Shot" #19 US
- 1979 "Honesty" #24 US
- from Glass Houses
- 1980 "All for Leyna" #40 UK
- 1980 "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" #1 US, #14 UK
- 1980 "Don't Ask Me Why" #19 US
- 1980 "Sometimes a Fantasy" #36 US
- 1980 "You May Be Right" #7 US
- from Songs in the Attic
- 1981 "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" #17 US
- 1982 "She's Got a Way" #23 US
- from The Nylon Curtain
- 1982 "Pressure" #20 US
- 1983 "Allentown" #17 US
- from An Innocent Man
- 1983 "Uptown Girl" #3 US, #1 UK
- 1983 "Tell Her about It" #1 US, #4 UK
- 1983 "An Innocent Man" #10 US, #8 UK (1984 release)
- 1984 "The Longest Time" #14 US, #25 UK
- 1984 "Leave a Tender Moment Alone" #27 US, #29 UK (double A-side with Goodnight Saigon in the UK)
- 1985 "Keeping the Faith" #18 US
- from Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 & 2 (1973-1985)
- 1985 "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" #9 US
- from The Bridge
- 1986 "Modern Woman" #10 US
- 1986 "This Is the Time" #18 US
- 1986 "A Matter of Trust" #10 US
- from Storm Front
- 1989 "We Didn't Start the Fire" #1 US, #7 UK
- 1990 "I Go to Extremes" #6 US
- 1990 "And So It Goes" #37 US
- from Honeymoon in Vegas soundtrack
- 1992 "All Shook Up" #27 UK
- from River of Dreams
- 1993 "The River of Dreams" #3 US, #3 UK
- 1993 "All About Soul" #29 US, #32 UK
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