Why is Billy Joel so famous?

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Written By Drew Gomez






Billy Joel is one of the most successful and influential singers, pianists, and songwriters of all time. He has sold over 160 million records worldwide, won six Grammy Awards, and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is best known for his hit songs such as “Piano Man”, “Just the Way You Are”, “Uptown Girl”, and “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.

How did Billy Joel start his music career?

Billy Joel was born in 1949 in the Bronx, New York, to a German Jewish immigrant father and an English mother. He grew up in Hicksville, Long Island, where he learned to play the piano at his mother’s insistence.

He developed a passion for rock and soul music, and started playing in bands when he was 14 years old. He dropped out of high school to pursue a music career, and joined the rock and blue-eyed soul group The Hassles in the late 1960s. He also formed a heavy metal duo called Attila, but both projects were short-lived and unsuccessful.

In 1971, Joel signed a solo record deal with Family Productions, and released his debut album Cold Spring Harbor. However, the album was poorly produced and did not gain much attention. Joel moved to Los Angeles, where he performed under a pseudonym in a local piano bar.

There, he caught the attention of Columbia Records, who offered him a new contract and helped him get out of his previous deal. Joel’s second album, Piano Man, was released in 1973, and featured the title track, which became his signature song and his first hit single.

What are some of Billy Joel’s most popular albums and songs?

Joel’s career took off in the 1970s and 1980s, when he released a series of critically and commercially acclaimed albums that showcased his diverse musical styles and influences. Some of his most popular albums and songs include:

  • The Stranger (1977): This album was Joel’s breakthrough, selling over 10 million copies and spawning several hit singles, such as “Just the Way You Are”, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, “Only the Good Die Young”, and “She’s Always a Woman”. The album also featured “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, a seven-minute epic that is considered one of Joel’s masterpieces.
  • 52nd Street (1978): This album was Joel’s first to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. It contained the hits “My Life”, “Big Shot”, and “Honesty”.
  • Glass Houses (1980): This album was Joel’s attempt to establish himself as a rock artist, and featured the songs “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”, “You May Be Right”, “Don’t Ask Me Why”, and “Sometimes a Fantasy”.
  • The Nylon Curtain (1982): This album was Joel’s most ambitious and personal work, dealing with themes such as the American dream, the Vietnam War, and the assassination of John Lennon. It included the songs “Allentown”, “Goodnight Saigon”, and “Pressure”.
  • An Innocent Man (1983): This album was a tribute to the music of Joel’s youth, such as doo-wop, soul, and Motown. It produced the hits “Uptown Girl”, “Tell Her About It”, “The Longest Time”, and “An Innocent Man”.
  • The Bridge (1986): This album was a transition from Joel’s pop-rock sound to a more sophisticated and diverse style. It featured the songs “A Matter of Trust”, “Modern Woman”, “This Is the Time”, and “Baby Grand”, a duet with Ray Charles.
  • Storm Front (1989): This album was Joel’s last to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and contained the songs “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, a historical summary of the events from 1949 to 1989, “I Go to Extremes”, “Leningrad”, and “The Downeaster Alexa”.
  • River of Dreams (1993): This album was Joel’s last studio album of pop music, and included the songs “The River of Dreams”, “All About Soul”, “No Man’s Land”, and “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)”, a lullaby for his daughter Alexa Ray.

What else has Billy Joel done in his music career?

Besides his pop music albums, Joel has also explored other genres and projects in his music career. Some of them are:

  • Fantasies & Delusions (2001): This album was Joel’s first and only album of classical music compositions, performed by pianist Richard Joo. The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard Classical chart, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album.
  • Movin’ Out (2002): This was a Broadway musical based on Joel’s songs, with choreography by Twyla Tharp. The musical won two Tony Awards, and Joel received a special Tony Award for his contribution to the show.
  • 12 Gardens Live (2006): This was a live album recorded during Joel’s 12 sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden in 2006, which set a record for the longest run of a single artist at the venue.
  • The Last Play at Shea (2010): This was a documentary film and live album that captured Joel’s final concerts at Shea Stadium in 2008, before the stadium was demolished. The film featured guest appearances by Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks, and others.
  • Billy Joel in Concert (2014–present): This is an ongoing concert residency by Joel at Madison Square Garden, where he performs one show per month. The residency began in January 2014, and has been extended indefinitely due to popular demand.


Billy Joel is a legendary musician who has left a lasting mark on the music industry and culture. He has written and performed some of the most memorable and beloved songs of all time, and has won numerous awards and honors for his achievements. He has also experimented with different musical genres and formats, and has continued to perform live for his loyal fans. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest songwriters and performers of his generation, and a true icon of American music.

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