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Billy Joel, “The Piano Man,” is a famous American singer-songwriter, composer and pianist. Known as one of the best-selling music artists of all time, Billy Joel has led a successful music career as a solo artist since the 1970s, selling over 150 million records across thirteen studio albums from 1971 to 2001. His compilation album titled Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2 is currently one of the best-selling albums in the US with over 11,500,000 sales.
Billy Joel’s Early Life
Born in 1949 in New York, Billy Joel was raised in both The Bronx and Long Island, two incredibly influential places that began to shape his musical career.
As Joel grew up, he reluctantly began to take piano lessons at his mother’s request from the age of four. During high school, Joel played at piano bars to help support himself and his mother and sister, meaning he had little time to attend classes and focus on his studies. Though he was a strong student, he didn’t have enough credits to graduate at the end of the year. So instead of attending summer school to earn a diploma, Joel decided to kickstart a musical career.
In his own words, if Joel could not go to Columbia University, he would go to Columbia Records. This helped him to develop a passion for music and eventually led to him dropping out of school to pursue a musical career. Joel would eventually submit his essays to the school board in 1992, gaining his diploma at Hicksville High’s annual graduation ceremony 25 years after he left.
Billy Joel, The Beginnings of a Musical Career
Joel started to define his musical tastes very early on. He was heavily influenced by early rock-and-all and rhythm-and-blues artists such as The Beatles, The Four Seasons and The Drifters. After seeing The Beatles play on The Ed Sullivan Show, Joel set his sights on pursuing a career in music
As a result of this, Joel took part in several short-lived bands such as the Echoes, The Hassles, and Attila. However, it was his solo career with Family Productions that really kicked off his career as a solo musician. It wasn’t until 1972 that Joel really stole the limelight with his live radio performance of Captain Jack. His popularity surged in Philadelphia, giving him the opportunity to sign new record deals and release his second album, Piano Man, in 1973. From here, he continued to release commercial successes, such as Streetlife Serenade and Turnstiles in 1974 and 1976 respectively, and The Stranger in 1977.
Joel continued to impress the American people, releasing multiple new albums from 1977 to 1993. River of Dreams was set to be his final studio album, but he later returned in 2001 with Fantasies and Delusions, an album that featured classical compositions composed by Joel and performed by British-Korean pianist Richard Hyung-ki Joo.
Aside from his incredibly successful musical career, Joel has also taken an interest in voiceover work with his 1988 appearance as Dodger in the animated Disney film, Oliver & Company. He’s also contributed to soundtracks for several films like Honeymoon in Vegas and Ruthless People.
Since 1994, Joel toured extensively with Elton John on several “Face to Face” tours, making them the longest-running and also most-successful concert tandem in the history of pop music. They were able to play their own songs, cover each other’s songs and perform timeless duets. The duo stopped briefly in 2003, only to resurface their Face to Face tours in March 2009 till March 2010.
To this day, Joel continues to tour the world, including stops to South Africa, Australia, Japan and Hawaii in late 2006. More recently, Joel played the final concert at Nassau Coliseum before the arena was closed for renovation. He also played the very first opening concert at the newly-renovated arena. In 2019, Joel announced that he would be playing at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles, making it his first concert to take place in a baseball stadium.
Joel has battled depression since 1970, spurred by personal tragedies and career decline. This led the singer to contemplate and attempt suicide but was luckily saved by his drummer and bandmate, Jon Small. However, in 1971, Joel released his debut album and later recorded the song “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” which contained a message to help prevent teen suicide. Joel has also been admitted to hospital in 2002 for substance abuse and in 2005 for alcohol abuse. However, he has since recovered and there have been no concerning personal health issues.