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Billy Joel - It's Still Rock and Roll to Me

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I was totally and utterly shocked to discover that Billy Joel was not on the schedule. I checked it over and over, but his name wasn’t anywhere. I couldn’t believe it. To my surprise, I actually began to get angry. Right now as I am writing this I am listening to Billy Joel’s Songs in the Attic, and I am becoming more and more furious as I think about it, which can only mean that I am really passionate about music, and Billy Joel in particular. In my opinion, Billy Joel is one of the greatest rock stars that has ever existed. While some people may disagree that he is a rock musician or say that he does not fit into a definite category, I think this is a lot of what does make him a rock and roll artist. You could classify him as mainstream rock or classic rock if you wanted to, but I simply classify him as Billy Joel. There is no other.

Billy Joel was born in 1949, in the Bronx, which is obviously very influential in his music. He grew up just scratching by, living with his divorced mother, working long hours to help make ends meet. He subsequently did not graduate high school, as a result of his excessive absences. He also spent a lot time boxing and spent a noteworthy amount of time in the Long-island bar scene, which further influenced his music. He started piano at age four, and by age sixteen he had already been in three bands. In the 70s, working at this point as a solo artist, Joel released his first recording Cold Spring Harbor, and unfortunately signed a contract with his producer, Artie Ripp, which gave away most of his rights and his royalties for a time period of fifteen years. The album did not do well anyway, and a dispirited Joel began to work in LA as a lounge pianist. Joel’s first top 40 song, “Piano Man,” describes this experience: “It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday and the Manager gives me a smile/ вЂ?cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been comin’ to see, to forget about life for a while/ And the piano, it sounds like a carnival, and the microphone smells like a beer/ And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar and say: вЂ?Man, what are you doin’ here?вЂ™Ð²Ð‚Ñœ He describes the scene and all the regulars, in particular how they all have aspirations, but cannot seem to break out of their current traps. Billy Joel notes that they are “sharing a drink that’s called loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone.” As is evident through this song, Billy Joel really focuses on his life experiences, and paints a vivid picture, which, coupled with his outstanding musical talent, is what makes him such a fabulous performer and rock artist.

Before “Piano Man” was released, however, Billy Joel was scouted by Clive Davis, who had heard him perform “Captain Jack,” a song from his first album. Davis realized that Billy Joel had incredible potential and signed him to Columbia Records in May of 1973, which is the label he remains on to this day. After considerable difficultly, Davis released Joel of his contract with Ripp, but not before Ripp obtained a large amount of Joel’s royalties and profits. Once freed from his old record deal and successfully signed onto Columbia Records, Billy Joel’s luck began to change. He began touring and opened up for bands such as the Doobie Brothers and the J. Geils Band. He released Streetlife Serenade and Turnstiles a year or two afterwards, but his musical career really took off four years later with The Stranger in 1977, which featured many hits including his first top ten hit “Just the Way You Are,” as well as “Anthony’s Song (Moving Out)” and “Only the Good Die Young.” Following it up with another round of hits was 52nd Street, which featured “My Life” and “Big Shot,” both major hits, each in more of a hard rock style.

It was clear that Billy Joel was headed in a slightly harder direction, and sure enough, in 1980, he released Glass Houses, which included hits such as “You May Be Right,” “Don’t Ask Me Why,” “Sometimes a Fantasy,” and the number one hit, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” This album especially reflected the times in that it was a counter-response to the new wave and punk movement that had begun to surface. Glass Houses was followed by Songs in the Attic, its highlights being “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” “She’s Got a Way,” and a personal favorite, “I’ve Loved These Days.” Billy Joel worked for a while on a contemporary masterpiece called The Nylon Curtain, which encompassed the current era of time and growing up during the age of the baby boomers, with songs such as “Allentown,” and “Pressure.” After completing The Nylon Curtain (which was a considerably challenging project considering that Joel had to have reconstructive surgery on his hand in the middle of it, due to a motorcycle accident), Billy Joel moved on to An Innocent Man, which contained more “oldies” influences, and was a big success. It included hit songs such as “Tell Her About It,” “An Innocent Man,” and “Uptown Girl.”

In 1987, Joel took advantage of the new “Glasnost” policy in the USSR, and became the first American rock star to tour in Soviet Union. As a result of this trip, Billy Joel created a live album and video. This marked a definite change in his life, as his music became more mature and fine tuned, such as The Bridge, in 1986, and Storm Front of 1989. Storm Front reached number one on the charts and confirmed his status as a superstar during that time period. Also, his marriage and subsequent divorce to celebrity Christie Brinkley, and some business related lawsuits involving large quantities of money around the same time contributed to fame and his growing legend. After a long gap of time, Joel released River of Dreams in 1993, which was also very successful and entered the charts at number one. However, Joel has since turned to more of his classical roots, and has been composing piano pieces, as he has finally lost the inspiration to write lyrics and create any more pop songs (Associated Press, 2001, Times Union, 1997). Joel related his frustration of being limited to the “pop song formula” as “writing in a box” and claims that he got



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