Born in the Bronx in 1949, Billy Joel started piano lessons at a young age at his mother's insistence. When he was a teenager Billy started boxing and was successful on the amateur Golden Gloves circuit, winning 22 bouts, but after receiving a broken nose he decided music was more his thing.
Billy didn't graduate high school because he had to work nights singing at a piano bar to help his mother make ends meet. He wouldn't receive his high school diploma until 25 years later at a special ceremony.
Greatly influenced by the Beatles, Joel joined a few bands specializing in British invasion covers starting in 1965, but by 1970 he recorded his first solo album, Cold Spring Harbor.
Despite having hits like "She's Got a Way", Cold Spring Harbor wasn't a commercial success. The master had been mixed at the wrong speed and it wasn't until the songs from that album were heard at live performances did they become underground hits.
After the botched recording of Cold Spring Harbor, Joel signed with Columbia and released Piano Man in 1973.
Though Joel still struggled commercially as a performer, his talent as a songwriter began to gain traction, but then in 1977 he switched producers and released The Stranger, which outsold Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge over Troubled Water.
After The Stranger, Joel knocked out hit after hit.
He's the sixth best-selling recording artist and the third best-selling solo artist of all time in the United States. His Top 40 hits (all of which he wrote himself) span three decades, he's a six-time Grammy winner who's been nominated 23 times, and he's been inducted into both the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
If you don't already have a few Billy Joel songs in your music library, your music library needs remodeling. Here are seven of our favorite songs from the Piano Man for your consideration.
SONG OF THE monDAY
From the 52nd Street album (1978), "My Life" is an awesome song. It's an upbeat and catchy call to arms for those tired of the judgmental types. A few taps of the piano keys and this song gets stuck in your head
Trivia: "My Life" was used as the theme song to the 1980s ABC TV show Bosom Buddies, starring Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari, which some of us at Vinyl weren't allowed to watch.
SONG OF THE tuesDAY
It's Still Rock and Roll To Me
From Glass Houses (1980), “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me” is a cynical look at the changing music industry that was, at the time, birthing genres like punk and new wave. For anyone who’s ever been confused by “today’s music” this song is perfect for you.
Trivia: Drake Bell covered "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" in 2014 on Ready Steady Go!
SONG OF THE wednesDAY
Only the Good Die Young
“Only the Good Die Young” is one of several great jams from The Stranger (1977) and a must-have Billy Joel classic.
Trivia: Though it seems harmless now, at the time the song was quite controversial since Joel is singing about trying to deflower a Catholic girl. Religious groups pressured radio stations to remove it from their playlists. The minute the song was banned, it skyrocketed up the charts.
SONG OF THE thursDAY
We Didn't Start the Fire
From Storm Front (1989), "We Didn't Start the Fire" is a history lesson in about five minutes. The song mentions more than 100 headline events between 1949 and 1989. Though Billy Joel isn't particularly fond of this song, we love it and singing it without messing up the lyrics is our goal every time we hear the song.
Trivia: Unlike most of his songs, the lyrics for "We Didn't Start the Fire" were written before melody.
SONG OF THE friDAY
She's Got a Way
One of the greatest love songs of all time, “She’s Got a Way” was originally recorded for Joel’s first solo album Cold Spring Harbor (1971), but the song didn’t gain popularity until 10 years later when it was featured as a single from the 1981 live album Songs in the Attic. We do not recommend the Cold Spring Harbor version of the song at all. It’s corny and the way he sings it is flat. The live version is so much better.
Trivia: In a 1981 interview Joel said he didn’t like the song because it was cheesy. It wasn’t until later that he embraced the cheese, which is why the live version is much better. There’s a ton of feeling behind those dang good lyrics because everyone has felt cheesy about love at some point in their lives.
SONG OF THE saturDAY
Joel's signature song and was released on his second solo album (the first with Columbia), Piano Man (1973). The song is based on a time when Joel played at a piano bar in L.A. under the name Billy Martin while he waited to be released from his contract with Family Productions. The song is a classic pick me up for those trying to forget about life for a while.
Trivia: Originally a single, "Piano Man" was deemed too long (5:38) by Columbia so for the release as a 45 the song was cut to 4:33. A promo 45 had an even shorter edit at 3 minutes. Joel wrote the song "The Entertainer" (Streetlife Serenade) about the editing of "Piano Man." His lyrics, "It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long / If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit / So they cut it down to 3:05" symbolize Joel's frustrations with Columbia for the edits.
SONG OF THE sunDAY
An Innocent Man
An Innocent Man (1983) was a concept album that paid tribute to the music styles of the 50s and early 60s, mostly doo-wop and soul. There are several awesome songs on the album such as "Tell Her About It", "Uptown Girl", and "The Longest Time" but "An Innocent Man" is one our favorites songs of all time.
Trivia: While recording An Innocent Man, Joel was newly divorced from his first wife and was single for the first time since achieving rock star status. This was when he started dating Christie Brinkley, among others. Joel admits he felt like a teenager during this time and wrote the material for the album in about six weeks.