I first came across the music of Billy Joel while on holiday in America. We were driving along the highway, and over the radio Piano Man, possibly Joel’s most successful hit is played. I was a teenager at the time, and I was listening to the usual pop played on UK radio stations. However, it was refreshing to hear smooth and relaxing music that helps you unwind. It was from this moment forward that my love Joel’s music began.
The Early Years
Joel’s father, a German classical pianist, did influence Joel’s music. However, it was, in fact, his mother who insisted he learned to play. He practised the piano alongside Morton Estrin albeit Joel admitted that he was a better organist than a pianist.
The Piano Man
Ironically, despite Joel’s adamance that his future lay with the organ, his first major hit was Piano Man. This song explains the lives of the Saturday night customers in a piano bar in Los Angeles. Although the lyrics are very impressive, it was the intro that caught my attention. I would argue that the intro to Piano Man is one of the most recognisable of all time due to its unique blend of instruments. The intro provides fifteen seconds of complete relaxation, which continues throughout the piece.
The easy listening feel of Piano Man has made it one of the old ‘classics’ played by radio stations. However, it’s not the only one of Joel’s songs to have the same effect. ‘She’s Always a Woman’ follows suit and has become a favourite on Smooth Radio, appearing regularly on air and, to be honest, you can understand why. A romantic story, where Joel spends the entirety of the piece picking out the faults of the lady, but instead of letting these annoy him, he responds with the fact that ‘She’s Always a Woman’ in his eyes.
A Man of Many Talents
Billy Joel isn’t only known for relaxing pieces and, in fact, my favourite Joel songs are more upbeat toe-tappers. ‘The Longest Time’, is enjoyable because of the almost barbershop quartet feel. This song is less well-known than some of Joel’s other singles however it did gain some popularity by featuring in American comedy How I Met Your Mother. I enjoy the different vocals on the track, and it is, again, another song which will get you singing.
“Only the Good Die Young,” tells the story of one of Joel’s high school crushes, a Catholic girl called Virginia. The song was highly controversial on its release, with many feeling the song was anti-catholic, however, I disagree. I feel Joel is merely lamenting the fact that he cannot be involved girl whom he is fascinated with, which is something many people can relate to.
Billy Joel is now, sadly, coming to the end of his long and illustrious musical career. At the age of 68, the New Yorker’s tour this year could well be his last. He won’t be visiting Edinburgh on this tour, unlike in 1979 when he played the Usher Hall, and his only UK gig will be at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, in June. His gig in Manchester will undoubtedly be a brilliant night as we listen to the greatest hits of a true music legend.
For more information: Billy Joel Website