Billy Joel Biography Video With Music

Joel, Billy [William] (Martin)

(b Bronx, NY, 9 May 1949). American rock singer, songwriter and pianist. In the early 1950s he moved with his family to Hicksville, New York, where he studied the piano. Between 1964 and 1971 he performed in several unsuccessful bands, turning to a solo career in 1971. His first album, Cold Spring Harbor (Family, 1972), failed to sell and he moved briefly to Los Angeles, where he performed as a lounge pianist. In 1973 he signed to Columbia Records and recorded the album Piano Man (Col., 1974). It sold moderately well, but his reputation was spread primarily by concert performances. Success finally came in 1977 with the single ‘Just the Way You Are’, a romantic ballad taken from the album The Stranger (Col., 1977). The album ultimately sold over 9 million copies while the single won two Grammy Awards. Joel continued to write and record songs that would become rock standards throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, among them My Life, You may be right and It's still rock and roll to me. He won another Grammy for his first number one album, 52nd Street (Col., 1978). An Innocent Man (Col., 1983) was a tribute to early rock and roll styles and three of its songs, ‘Tell her about it’, ‘Uptown Girl’ and ‘An Innocent Man’, became top ten hits. In 1987 he was one of the first major American rock stars to perform in the Soviet Union. He maintained his popular appeal into the late 1980s and 90s, when the albums Storm Front (Col., 1989) and River Of Dreams (Col., 1993) both reached number one in the USA.
Despite widespread popularity Joel never veered too far from his roots. Influenced by early rock and roll and rhythm and blues artists, including groups such as the Beatles, the Drifters and the Four Seasons, and eschewing overkill, he favoured tightly structured pop melodies and down-to-earth, unpretentious songwriting. The songs ‘Allentown’ and ‘Goodnight Saigon’ (from Nylon Curtain, Col., 1982) both spoke of politically controversial matters. Although his piano playing often exhibited showy flourishes, he kept arrangements and record production simple, reined in his vocals and backing musicians to avoid bombast, and was careful to craft each song and album so that it maintained its own identity.

Bibliography

D. Marsh: Billy Joel: the Miracle of 52nd Street’, Rolling Stone, no.280 (1978), 70–74
P. Gambaccini: Billy Joel (New York, 1979)
T. White: Billy Joel’, Musician, no.50 (1982), 58–70
J. Tamarkin: Billy Joel: from Hicksville to Hitsville (Port Chester, NY, 1984)
D. Geller and T. Hibbert: Billy Joel: an Illustrated Biography (London, 1985)
Jeff Tamarkin

Article courtesy of Oxford University Press

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