Happy Birthday to the “Piano Man” (Video)
Billy Joel will celebrate his 65th birthday next Friday. In his honor, it’s a Billy Joel weekend on New Jersey 101.5.
It would take a book as thick as “War and Peace” to contain the adjectives for Billy Joel. These are terms I don’t throw around too often. The first two off the top of my head include legend and genius.
Personally, three of my favorite solo artists of all time are Billy, Elton John, and Marvin Gaye. For me, life would not have been complete without seeing the J and J boys, Billy and Elton performing together at Madison Square Garden.
I’m sure there’s lots of stuff you know about the Long Island native. I’ve dug up some tidbits that you may not know.
If anyone was born with music in their genes it was Billy. Joel’s dad, Howard, was an accomplished classical pianist. His half brother, Charles Alexander Joel, is a British pianist and conductor.
When he was a teenager Billy preferred music to sports. Because of his preference, his peers gave him a lot of grief. He was often knocked around by bullies.
Billy fixed that bump in the road. The solution was boxing lessons. Long story short, “Billy the Bruiser” a name I made up, eventually won 22 Gold Glove boxing matches. When his nose was broken during a match, he decided to end his prize fighting career. For crying out loud, we know he’s a lover not a fighter.
The year was 1964. That’s when 14 year old Billy watched The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. That did it. After watching the historic telecast Joel decided that’s what he wanted to do.
During the very early years Billy was a member of several bands. He also found gigs as a session musician. During an interview Joel said that he played the piano in The Shangri-Las’ 1965 hit, “Leader of the Pack”. Joel added that he was only 15 at the time, so he’s not sure if that’s him on the actual recording or just on the demo.
In November of 1973 (Crazy, 41 years ago!) the world was introduced to William Martin Joel when his first single, “Piano Man” was released. When the song was originally issued, Columbia Records thought the song was too long. It was five minutes-thirty eight seconds. In those days any record with a running time of more than three minutes didn’t get much radio air play. To shorten the song, Columbia cut two verses in half and spliced them together.
Here are some additional factoids I think you may enjoy about this classically trained pianist.
Billy’s inspiration for writing “Just the Way You Are” came from the last line in The Four Seasons’ hit, “Rag Doll”. By the way, The Four Seasons also inspired Billy to pen “Uptown Girl”.
I mean, really, isn’t Frankie Valli great? Frankie is also one of my all time favorites. And, yes, he’s a Jersey boy. They should make a Broadway show and a movie about him. You know I’m kidding. A belated happy and healthy birthday to Mr. Vallie who turned 80 yesterday.
Back to Billy.
A couple of his favorite things.
His favorite of his compositions is “Just the Way You Are”.
The “Piano Man’s” favorite piano man is Steve Winwood. Billy says that Winwood hits all the right notes on the ivories like Eric Clapton does on the guitar.
Billy’s very talented daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, got her middle name from Ray Charles. Billy adored Ray Charles. Alexa, another example of the family’s musical genes.
Billy Joel is third in music sales of all time behind Garth Brooks and Elvis.
He’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Grammy awards. Yeah, he’s got boatloads.
And lets not forget that Billy is the only Madison Square Garden musical franchise. He performs every month at the legendary venue.
To you, Billy Joel, have a very happy birthday and never change. We love you just the way you are.
I have so many favorite Billy Joel songs. Here’s one of them. Enjoy!