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Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Nite Retro

Welcome once again to Friday Nite Retro here at Left in Aboite; your weekly escape from the problems of today. . .at least for an hour or two! Tonight's featured artist has FAR too lengthy of a career to cover in one edition of FNR, so I present to you: William Martin Joel - The early years! (1973-1982)

Billy Joel was born in (surprise) the Bronx in 1949. From an early age, Joel had an intense interest in music; especially European classical music. He reluctantly began piano lessons at an early age at his mother's insistence. His interest in music instead of sports was the source of teasing and bullying in his early years. (He has said in interviews that his piano instructor also taught ballet. This led neighborhood bullies to mistakenly think he was learning to dance.) As a teenager, Joel took up boxing so that he would be able to defend himself. He boxed successfully on the amateur Golden Gloves circuit for a short time (winning twenty-two bouts), but abandoned the sport shortly after having his nose broken in his twenty-fourth boxing match.

In 1971, Joel signed a very bad contract with the Family Productions label. In order to get out of it, he moved to L.A. and spent six months of the following year playing in the Executive Lounge piano bar under the name Bill Martin. This experience is what gave him the material for his first breakout hit:

The Piano Man

Disenchanted with the L.A. music scene, Joel returned to New York in 1975. There he recorded what many fans and critics consider one of his best albums, Turnstiles. On Turnstiles, Joel used his own hand-picked musicians in the studio for the first time, and took a more hands-on role. This album produced his stirring New York anthem:

New York State of Mind

For his album The Stranger, Columbia Records united Joel with producer Phil Ramone. The album yielded four Top 40 hits on the Billboard charts in the US, "Just the Way You Are" (# 3), "Movin' Out(Anthony's Song)" (# 17), "Only the Good Die Young" (# 2), and "She's Always a Woman" (# 17). Album sales exceeded Columbia's previous top album,Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, and was certified multi-platinum. It was Joel's first Top Ten album, as it rose to # 2 on the charts. Phil Ramone eventually produced every Billy Joel studio release until 1989's Storm Front.

The Stranger netted Joel Grammy nominations, for Album of the Year and Song of the Year for Just the Way You Are, which was written as a gift to his wife Elizabeth.

Just the Way You Are

Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)

Only the Good Die Young

Joel faced high expectations on his next album. 52nd Street was conceived as a day in Manhattan, and was named after the street of the same name which hosted many of the world's premier jazz venues and performers throughout the 1930s, 40's, and 50's. Fans purchased over seven million copies on the strength of the hits "My Life" (# 3), "Big Shot" (# 14), and "Honesty" (# 24). This helped 52nd Street become Joel's first # 1 album. "My Life" eventually became the theme song for a new US television sitcom, Bosom Buddies, which featured actor Tom Hanks
in one of his earliest roles.

My Life


Big Shot

The success of his piano-driven ballads like "Just the Way You Are" and "Honesty" never sat well with him. With Glass Houses, Joel attacked the new wave popularity with aplomb. The album spent 6 weeks at # 1 on the Billboard chart and yielded such classics as "You May Be Right" (# 7, May 1980), "Close To The Borderline"(flipside of the "You May Be Right" single), "Don't Ask Me Why" (# 19, September 1980), "Sometimes A Fantasy" (# 36, November 1980) and "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me," which became Joel's first Billboard # 1 song in July, 1980. Glass Houses won the Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male. It would also win the American Music Award for Favorite Album, Pop/Rock category.

You May Be Right

Don't Ask Me Why

Sometimes a Fantasy

It's Still Rock & Roll to Me

The next wave of Joel's career commenced with the recording of The Nylon Curtain. Considered his most audacious and ambitious album, Joel took more than a page or two from the Lennon-McCartney songwriting style on this heavily Beatles-influenced album.

Work began on The Nylon Curtain in the spring of 1982. However, Joel was sidelined when he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. At about 5:40 P.M. on April 5th,1982,Cornelia Bynum made a right turn at the intersection of New York Avenue and West 9th Street in Huntington. She then ran a red light and collided with Joel, who was going straight through a green light, on his 1978 Harley. After the crash, he flew right over her car and landed on his back. Both his left wrist and hand were broken and badly damaged. Joel, lucky to be alive, managed to get up and take inventory of his gear until a police officer arrived.

Joel was med-evaced by Helicopter to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. Due to the ensuing surgery, which included the temporary insertion of five pins into his wrist, hand, and a month in the hospital, production of the album was shut down temporarily while Joel recovered.

Once The Nylon Curtain was finished, Joel embarked on a brief tour in support of the album, during which his first video special, Live from Long Island, was recorded.

The Nylon Curtain went to #7 on the charts, supported by the popular singles Allentown, Goodnight Saigon , and "Pressure." "Allentown" rose to #17 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it one of the most-played radio songs of 1982 and the most successful song from The Nylon Curtain album, surpassing "Pressure", which peaked at #19.



Joel's marriage began to suffer as his success rose, and he and wife Elizabeth divorced (this is when it became official, although the couple had separated in July 1982). In accordance with the divorce agreement, Elizabeth took half of the singer's assets.

Following The Nylon Curtain tour, Joel retreated to the island of St.Bart's in February of 1983 for some rest and relaxation. At the bar of the hotel in which he was staying, Joel met supermodel Christie Brinkley, who had recently divorced her husband Jean-François Allaux. They eventually became a couple, and married on March 23,1985.

And that concludes our journey into roughly the first half of Billy Joel's long-spanning career! I truly hope you enjoyed the trip, and possibly discovered some old favorites again, or encountered some new ones. . .


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Blogger Robert Rouse said...

I was never into the 'piano man' persona of BJ. I did like "Big Shot", "A Matter of Trust", "You May Be Right", etc. But I can't keep myself in the correct "state of mind" for continuous piano bar music.

title="comment permalink">June 15, 2007 9:21 PM  
Blogger John Good said...

Joel always seemed to have an appropriate song out for every life event I was going through at the moment.

As far as the "piano man" personna, it's sort of a journey. Much like Fleetwood Mac's early work, it reminds me of good times spent in smokey bars in the company of good friends. Suddenly I want a cigarette! Nah. . .it's been over 5 years, I'm good. ;)

title="comment permalink">June 15, 2007 9:37 PM  
Blogger Parson said...

Great FNR, I can't believe people are smoking in that Piano Man video. Shameful, their city goverment must not care about their health.

title="comment permalink">June 15, 2007 10:01 PM  
Blogger John Good said...

Parson - What else can I say. . .

ATTICA!!!!! ;)

title="comment permalink">June 15, 2007 10:13 PM  
Blogger Robert Rouse said...

Actually John, it's because one summer I visited a great number of piano bars - all in search of the right guy for a new band. It was overload central that summer. Not that the music isn't good - it is actually great - it's just a little too much been there, done that.

title="comment permalink">June 16, 2007 1:04 AM  
Blogger Parson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

title="comment permalink">June 16, 2007 3:40 AM  
Blogger John Good said...

Parson - Ya WIMP! That comment was funny! =)

title="comment permalink">June 16, 2007 11:10 PM  
Blogger Parson said...

It was pretty good, but I wasn't sure how Robert would feel about my selective quoting.

title="comment permalink">June 17, 2007 6:22 AM  
Blogger Hill said...

I didn't make it over here Sunday, but I did thoroughly enjoy FNR today.
I know it's corny as all get-out, but my fave, bar none, is "Just the Way You Are."

Love it!

PERFECT FNR, Good Man. Even if it is Monday afternoon right now.


title="comment permalink">June 18, 2007 6:30 PM  

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