On this day in music history: November 9, 1973 – “Piano Man”, the second album by Billy Joel is released. Produced by Michael Stewart, it is recorded at The Record Plant and Devonshire Studios in Los Angeles, CA in September 1973. Joel’s debut album for Columbia Records, it is his first release after experiencing legal problems with former manager Artie Ripp and his label Family Productions following the botched release of his debut album “Cold Spring Harbor”. Part of the legal settlement after separating from Ripp requires that Joel’s albums to carry the Family Productions logo until 1986, as well as pay Ripp a percentage of royalties from his record sales. The title track (#25 Pop, #4 AC) is inspired by the year and a half Joel spends working in a piano bar in Los Angeles. The song and album proves to be his breakthrough and also includes the classics “Captain Jack” and “The Ballad Of Billy The Kid”. The album is remastered and reissued in 1998 as an Enhanced CD with a live performance clip of the title track included as a bonus. In 2011, audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab remasters and reissues the album as a hybrid SACD and as a 180 gram vinyl LP. “Piano Man” peaks at number twenty seven on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 4x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 13, 1978 – “52nd Street”, the sixth album by Billy Joel is released. Produced by Phil Ramone, it is recorded at A&R Studios in New York City from July – August 1978. Buoyed by the huge critical and commercial success of his fifth album “The Stranger”, Billy Joel is ambitious to build on his new found success with an even more musically expansive work. The album takes its title from the street in New York City where producer Phil Ramone’s recording studio is located, and near the headquarters of CBS Records, also known as “Black Rock”. “52nd Street” features a number of prominent guest musicians including Peter Cetera and Donnie Dacus from Chicago (background vocals), Freddie Hubbard (flugelhorn and trumpet), Ralph MacDonald (percussion), Eric Gale, Steve Khan, and David Spinozza (guitars). The album is another artistic and commercial tour de force for the prolific singer/songwriter from Hicksville, Long Island, NY, yielding several of Billy Joel’s most popular and loved songs. It spins off three hit singles including “My Life” (#3 Pop), “Honesty” (#24 Pop) and “Big Shot” (#14 Pop), winning Joel two Grammy Awards including Album Of The Year in 1980. “My Life” is also used as the theme song for the sitcom “Bosom Buddies”, starring Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari. The album track “Stiletto” also becomes a favored sample in hip hop, being used by De La Soul (“Plug Tunin’”), Nas (“Disciple”), Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo (“Road To The Riches”) and The Cold Crush Brothers (“Freestylin’”). In 1982, it is the very first album released commercially on Compact Disc by CBS Records. Remastered and reissued on CD (with enhanced content including the promo videos for “My Life”, “Big Shot” and “Honesty”), it is also reissued as a hybrid SACD by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab in 2012. It is also released as a limited edition double vinyl LP set by Mobile Fidelity in 2013, mastered at 45 RPM. The classic title is also issued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Music On Vinyl. “52nd Street” spends eight weeks (non-consecutive) at number one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 7x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: August 10, 1993 – “River Of Dreams”, the twelfth album by Billy Joel is released. Produced by Billy Joel, Danny Kortchmar, Joe Nicolo and David Thoener, it is recorded at The Boathouse At The Island Boatyard in Shelter Island, NY, Cove City Sound Studios in Cove City, NY, and the Record Plant in New York City from Late 1992 – Early 1993. Issued nearly four years after his last studio album “Storm Front”, a number of the songs center around issues of trust and betrayal, inspired after Joel discovers that his former brother in law and business manager has embezzled millions of dollars from him over the years. The inspiration for the title track actually comes to the musician in a dream, which he initially disregards, believing that with its gospel overtones and biblical references, that he could not do it proper justice. It’s only when he cannot shake the catchy melody for several days afterward that he finishes writing it. To date, it is also the last full length pop album that Billy Joel has written and recorded, outside of a handful of songs (recorded for compilations) and his classical piano pieces set “Fantasies & Delusions” (written by Joel and performed by pianist Richard Joo) in 2001. The album cover for “Dreams” features a painting of Joel by his then wife, model Christie Brinkley (they divorce one year later in August of 1994). The album spins off three singles including “All About Soul” (#29 Pop) and the title track (#3 Pop, #1 AC). The album is a critical and commercial success upon its release, receiving four Grammy nominations including Record, Song, and Album Of The Year. Joel performs the song on the 36th Annual Grammy Awards in 1994, creating one of the evenings most memorable, and literally show stopping moments. Upset at the producers cutting off vocal legend Frank Sinatra’s speech while accepting the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Joel avenges his hero on live television. During the pause in “Dreams”, Joel does not begin singing again right away, instead stopping and looking at his watch and saying “valuable advertising time going by…” and “…dollars, dollars, dollars…” a number of times to the audiences amusement. The pause lasts so long that the director nearly cuts to a commercial when Billy abruptly picks up where he left off. The album is remastered and reissued on CD in 1998. Originally released in US on only CD and cassette, the title is finally reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Friday Music in 2014. “River Of Dreams” enters the Billboard Top 200 at number one(on August 28, 1993), spending three weeks at the top of chart, and is certified 5x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: August 9, 1983 – “An Innocent Man”, the ninth album by Billy Joel is released. Produced by Phil Ramone, it is recorded at Chelsea Sound and A&R Studios in New York City from March – June 1983. Coming off of the critically acclaimed “The Nylon Curtain”, musician Billy Joel turns his creative interests to lighter fare after the more serious and darker themes explored on the previous album. Recorded as a tribute to the music of his youth, many of the albums songs are inspired by his relationships with supermodels Elle Macpherson and Christie Brinkley, the latter of whom he marries in 1985. Feeling creatively inspired by the new romance, Joel writes all of the albums songs within a period of six weeks. It spins off six top 40 singles including “Tell Her About It” (#1 Pop), “Uptown Girl” (#3 Pop), “Leave A Tender Moment Alone” (#27 Pop) and the title track (#10 Pop). The record makes Billboard chart history as as being one of only a small group, to chart hit singles in three separate calendar years (1983, 1984 and 1985). Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Janet Jackson, are the only other artists in the rock era to have pulled off this feat. A huge critical and commercial success, “Innocent” becomes one of the four largest selling studio albums of Billy Joel’s career (tying with “52nd Street” and “Glass Houses”). The album also receives two Grammy nominations including one for Album Of The Year in 1984. Originally released on CD in the early 80’s, the album remastered and reissued in 1998 as an enhanced CD, featuring the music videos for “Tell Her About It”, “Keeping The Faith”, “The Longest Time” and “Leave A Tender Moment Alone”. Out of print on vinyl since 1989, it is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP by Music On Vinyl in 2012. It is also released as a single layer SACD, with Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab reissuing the title as a hybrid SACD and as a 180 gram double vinyl LP (mastered at 45 RPM) in 2013. “An Innocent Man” peaks at number four on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 7x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: July 19, 1980 – “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me” by Billy Joel hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks. Written by Billy Joel, it is the first chart topping single for the singer, songwriter and musician from Hicksville, Long Island, NY. The song is inspired by a conversation that Joel has with his publicist and manager over his image, and his unwillingness to change or conform to current trends. All of this is influential in the stylistic turn that Billy Joel takes with his seventh album “Glass Houses”. Featuring a more straight ahead rock sound than his previous work, it becomes one of his most successful and acclaimed works. Issued as the follow up to the albums first single “You May Be Right” (#7 Pop) in early May of 1980, “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me” is a smash right out of the gate. Entering the Hot 100 at #38 on May 24, 1980, it climbs to the top the charts eight weeks later. The success of the single drives the “Glass Houses” album to over 5x Platinum status (as certified by the RIAA) in the US alone. The music video for the song, a performance clip features Joel singing a live vocal to the original track. “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: July 16, 2008 – Billy Joel plays the first of two concerts at Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens, New York. The legendary sports venue which has been the home of the New York Mets since opening in 1964, is scheduled to be demolished before years end to make way for its replacement Citi Field. Joel plays to over 110,000 fans over two nights (July 16-18), and features him with a number of guest musicians including Tony Bennett, Don Henley, John Mayer, John Mellencamp, Steven Tyler, Roger Daltrey, Garth Brooks, and Paul McCartney. The concerts are released as the documentary film “Last Play At Shea” in 2010, and as the album and concert video “Live At Shea Stadium” in March of 2011.
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On this day in music history: March 12, 1980 – “Glass Houses”, the seventh album by Billy Joel is released. Produced by Phil Ramone, it is recorded at A&R Studios in New York City from May – August 1979. With the huge back to back commercial and Grammy winning triumphs of “The Stranger” and “52nd Street”, Billy Joel is one of the biggest pop stars in the world by 1979. Even with all of this success, rock critics remain the musician’s biggest detractors. Chiding him as “a balladeer” and a “soft rocker”, Joel takes offense to the criticism, feeling he’s being unfairly pigeonholed as being musically one dimensional. Having a grown up with a great passion for rock & roll, Billy is determined to prove there is another side to him. Influenced both by the music he grew up on, and by punk and new wave music that changed the face of rock & roll in the late 70’s, Joel begins writing songs with a harder edge. Working once again with producer Phil Ramone, and recording with his touring band which include Liberty DeVitto (drums), Doug Stegmeyer (bass), Russell Javors (rhythm guitar), David Brown (lead guitar) and Richie Cannata (saxophone, flute, organ), the album is recorded during a four month break between the international and US legs of the “52nd Street” tour. Led by the rocker “You May Be Right” (#7 Pop) as the album is released, fans and critics are both surprised and impressed by the harder rocking sound of the song and several other tracks. The album spins off a total of four singles including Joel’s first chart topper “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me (#1 Pop), "Don’t Ask Me Why” (#19 Pop) and “Sometimes A Fantasy” (#36 Pop). The albums now iconic cover photo, featuring a shot of Billy about to throw a rock through the front facade of a glass house, is taken in front of his waterfront home in Oyster Bay on Long Island. The album is nominated for two Grammy Awards including Album Of The Year, winning for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance in 1981. One of the earliest titles to be issued on CD in 1983, the album is remastered and reissued in 1998, as an Enhanced CD featuring the music videos for “All For Leyna”, “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” and “Sometimes A Fantasy”. It is also reissued on vinyl by Friday Music in 2010, with audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab releasing a hybrid SACD and a double vinyl 180 gram LP set mastered at 45 RPM in 2012 and 2013 respectively. “Glass Houses” spends six weeks at number one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 7x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.