Artist of the Month: Billy Joel
June 1, 2019
He just turned 70 but our Artist of the Month for June shows no sign of slowing down. With a series of massive shows this month, including a date at Wembley Stadium, it’s Mr Billy Joel.
It could’ve all turned out so differently for Billy Joel were it not for a broken nose and The Beatles’ epoch-defining appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the opening overs of 1964. Having fought 22 bouts as a welterweight, the Piano Man could’ve instead been known as Iron Jaw-Joel, but the Fab Four put him straight when, along with the rest of America, he saw the Fab Four perform that fateful February evening.
Indeed, it’s Billy Joel’s deep love of pop (rather than right and left) hooks that have carried him to the superstar status that he deservedly enjoys to this day. So while the mid-60s found him indulging his affection for the British invasion by playing in covers band The Echoes and cutting his teeth on demo sessions for the Shangri-Las, it was the move to LA in 1972 that turned the boy into a man.
Playing piano for six months at The Executive Room club under the name Bill Martin, he came to the attention of a number of record labels when his recording of ‘Captain Jack’ was championed by radio station WMMR in Philadelphia. Columbia Records secured his signature and the eponymous track from his 1973 album, ‘Piano Man’, inspired by his experiences as a lounge player, soon became his signature tune.
A draw in the US, he became a star on both sides of the Atlantic with the release of 1977’s ‘The Stranger’. Driven by the hit, ‘Just The Way You Are’, Billy Joel cracked the UK Top 20 and the album soon went Silver. His international success was cemented the following year with the release of his next album, ‘52nd Street’. The single, ‘My Life’, became his biggest UK hit to date when it climbed to No. 12 in the singles charts.
Displaying his versatility as a songwriter and performer, Joel’s next album, ‘Glass Houses’, found Billy Joel moving with the times. And yet, as evidenced by his next UK hit, ‘It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me’, the fundamentals of what constitutes classic songwriting still held true whatever the vogue.
And it’s precisely that approach that saw him turn to the musical styles of his youth to underscore the globe-trotting success of 1983’s ‘An Innocent Man’. Here was doo-wop, soul and R’n’B, all brought up-to-date as it yielded a run of international hits that included the evergreen UK chart-topper, ‘Uptown Girl’.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Billy Joel is held in such high regard. In addition to his five Grammys, he also holds numerous honorary doctorates from a variety of establishments including Berklee College of Music, Syracuse University and the Manhattan School of Music. And let’s not forget that star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
And while his recorded output has slowed down over the years, Billy Joel remains a considerable live performer. Such is his popularity that he’s played New York’s 20,000-capacity Madison Square more than any other artist. In 2015, he set the record for the most shows there by a single artist when he played the celebrated venue for the 65th time.
All of which adds up to a night of top quality music and performance when Billy Joel – undoubtedly our favourite piano man and so much more – casts his magic over Wembley Stadium at the height of mid-summer. We can’t wait!
Buy Wembley tickets here.
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