Multiple Grammy Award winning American musician, singer and songwriter Billy Joel first came to fame with his second album “Piano Man” (1973), which scored went multi platinum in the U.S. It is notable for spawning his signature song “Piano Man.” Joel, however, did not enjoy a huge breakthrough until he released of his fifth album, “The Stranger” (1977), which went diamond in the U.S. and 5X platinum in Canada. The album produced the Grammy Award winning song “Just the Way You Are.” Joel further gained commercial success with “52nd Street” (1978), the winner of the 1979 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, “Glass Houses” (1980), in which he won a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, “The Nylon Curtain” (1982), ”An Innocent Man” (1983), “The Bridge” (1986), “Storm Front” (1989) and “River of Dreams” (1993). With sales of over 100 million records worldwide, Joel is one of six best selling recording artists and one of the three best selling solo artists in the United States. Joel stopped recording in 1993 after “River of Dreams,” but has continued to tour. In 2001, he returned to his studio to launch the classical composition album “Fantasies & Delusions.” It was followed by two singles in 2007 titled “All My Life” and “Christmas in Fallujah.”
Joel was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1992, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006. In 1981, he was handed a Grammy Living Legend Award. He picked up a 2003 Tony for Best Orchestration for “Movin' Out.”
Joel has been married three times and is currently separated from his third wife, Katie Lee Joel, whom he married in 2004 when she was only 23 years old while Joel was 55. He has one daughter, Alexa Ray Joel (born in 1985), from his marriage to second wife Christie Brinkley (together from 1985 to 1994). In between his divorce to first wife Elizabeth Weber (together from 1973 to 1982) and his second marriage, Joel was romantically involved with Elle Macpherson. The romance was chronicled in his songs “This Night” and “And So It Goes.” He was also once linked to Trish Bergin.
Childhood and Family:
Born William Martin Joel on May 9, 1949, in the Bronx, New York, Billy Joel was raised in the Long Island suburb of Hicksville by parents Howard Joel, a German Jewish Holocaust survivor, and Rosalind Nyman, a Jewish British woman. When he was 11 years old, his parents divorced and his father moved to Vienna, Austria, leaving Billy under the guidance of his mother. Billy also has a sister named Judith Joel and a half brother named Alexander Joel, who is a classical conductor in Europe. Despite his family's Jewish background, Billy was raised as Roman Catholic.
The son of an accomplished classical pianist, Billy began taking piano lessons at age 4 and trained under noted teachers Morton Estrin and Timothy Ford. He also participated in boxing as a teenager and was on the amateur Golden Gloves circuit. He left the sport after a nose injury. After watching the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964, the then 15 year old Billy decided to chase a professional music career. His early success in music with his band Echoes and quit Hicksville High School without a diploma in 1967. Billy would gain his diploma 25 five years later after he submitted essays to the school board.
On September 5, 1973, Joel married his business manager Elizabeth Weber, but they later divorced on July 20, 1982. He then married model Christie Brinkley on March 23, 1985. The couple had a daughter they named Alexa Ray Joel on December 29, 1985. She was named in part after one of Billy's musical idols, piano icon Ray Charles. Billy and his second wife divorced on August 25, 1994. On October 2, 2004, Billy married Katie Lee Joel (born on September 14, 1981), who is 32 years his junior. Despite the age gap, they lived happily as a couple until they announced their separation in June 2009. Lee published a book titled “The Comfort Table” in 2008. She also provides weekly columns to Hamptons Magazine and once served as a host of Bravo's “Top Chef” (2006).
Just the Way You Are
14 year old Billy Joel formed the group Echoes. The group soon emerged as a popular act in New York, a promising start that convinced Joel to leave high school in 1967 to focus on music. In 1965, while still a member of the Echoes, 16 year old Joel began working as a session musician and recorded for Shadow Morton and Kama Sutra Productions. About the same time, the Echoes morphed into the Emeralds and then the Lost Souls. Joel continued to divide his time between the Lost Souls and working as a session pianist for the next two years before leaving the group in 1967. He then joined the Hassles, a local Long Island band that were signed to United Artists Records. The group released a self titled album in 1967 and another album titled “Hour of the Wolf” in 1968, not to mention four failed singles, before disbanding. In 1969, Joel founded a duo with drummer Jon Small called Attila. After releasing their debut album, “Attila,” in July 1970, the group broke up in October. Rumors have said that the breakup was caused by Joel's affair with Small's wife, Elizabeth, whom Joel married in 1973.
After Attila disbanded, Joel briefly became a rock music critic and played advertisement jingles. It was not long before the talented musician suffered from a terrible bout of depression, which included a failure suicide attempt by drinking a bottle of furniture polish. After getting psychiatric treatment for his depression, Joel resumed his music career in 1971 and scored a recording deal with Family Productions. His debut solo album, “Cold Spring Harbor,” was released later that same year in November. The album, however, had some problems and the songs played somewhat too fast. It was later re-released in 1983 on Columbia Records and rose to No. 158 on the Billboard 200.
Following the album's release, Joel embarked on a small, well received tour but lost his manager and could not record his follow up album after his label had fiscal problems. In 1972, he left New York for Los Angeles and adopted the stage name Bill Martin. Once in L.A., he became a lounge pianist and played various nightclubs across the U.S. until the end of the year. During this period, Joel's new song “Captain Jack,” taken from a live concert, received heavy airplay on a Philadelphia radio station and became an underground hit. The song eventually caught the attention of Columbia Records executive Herb Gordon, who then signed Joel to the label.
“Piano Man,” Joel second studio album and his first with Columbia, was released on November 2, 1973. Despite legal troubles with his former label, the album marked a breakthrough record for Joel. It went to No. 27 on the Billboard 200 and sold over four million copies in the U.S. alone. The album also earned double platinum in Canada. The title track, “Piano Man,” rose to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 4 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Track and became Joel's first major hit. The album also spawned two more popular singles with “Travelin' Prayer” and “Worse Comes To Worst,” which peaked at No. 77 and No. 80 on the Pop Singles chart, respectively. In 1974, Joel extensively toured the U.S. and Canada and served as an opening act for the likes of the J. Geils Band and the Doobie Brothers, among others.
The follow up, “Streetlife Serenade,” was launched on October 11, 1974, with Michael Stewart producing. The album peaked at No. 35 on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum by RIAA. The album only produced one single with the song “The Entertainer” (1975), which went to No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 33 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks. After releasing two albums with Columbia, he signed to Caribou, a management company led by James William Guercio and Larry Fitzgerald. Joel returned to New York in 1975.
The album “Turnstiles” was released in May 1976 with Joel also solely taking on the producing duty. Made in part to celebrate his return to New York City, the album rose to No. 122 on the Billboard 200 and sold over one million copies in the U.S., giving Joel another platinum record.
Joel gained momentum in his career with the release of “The Stranger” (September 1977). Produced by Phil Ramone, the album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and stayed on the chart for nearly 140 weeks. It eventually went diamond with sales of over 10 million units in the U.S. alone. The album was also a hit in Australia (#2), Japan (#3), the U.K. (#26) and Canada, where it received 5X platinum. Written as a birthday gift to Joel's first wife, Elizabeth Weber, the love song “Just the Way You Are” charted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks, No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went to No. 19 on the U.K. Singles Chart. The song won Joel Grammys for Song of the Year and Record of the Year and became his first gold single in the U.S. Other successful singles spawned from the album included “Movin' Out (Anthony's Song),” “Only the Good Die Young,” “She's Always a Woman” and “The Stranger.”
Joel enjoyed additional victory the following year with the album “52nd Street,” which was released on October 13, 1978. The album became his first No. 1 record on the Billboard 200 and sold over two million pieces in the first months of release. It has since earned 7X multi platinum in the U.S., plus 4X platinum in Canada. It also went to No. 1 in Australia and New Zealand and made the Top 10 in the U.K., Japan, Austria and Norway. “52nd Street” won a 1979 Grammy for Album of the Year. The first single, “My Life,” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the follow ups “Big Shot” and “Honesty” rose to No. 14 and No. 24 on the chart, respectively. The fourth and last single from the album, “Until the Night” charted at No. 50 in the U.K.
In March 1980, Joel resurfaced with his No. 1 hit album “Glass Houses.” The album produced the No. 1 pop hit single “It's Still Rock and Roll to Me,” which remained on the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 from July 19 to August 1, 1980. The album also spawned the Top 40 singles “You May Be Right” (#7), “Don't Ask Me Why” (#19) and “Sometimes a Fantasy” (#36). “Glass Houses” won a 1980 Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male.
On September 10, 1981, Joel launched “Songs in the Attic,” his first live album. The live version of “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” rose to No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 35 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary and No. 11 on the Billboard Top Tracks. “She's Got a Way,” taken from Joel's album “Cold Spring Harbor,” went to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 4 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. The album peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard 200.
Joel released the album “The Nylon Curtain” on September 23, 1982. It peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and sold over 2 million copies in the U.S. The album generated two Top 40 hits with the songs “Pressure” (#20) and “Allentown” (#17). The last single, “Goodnight Saigon,” peaked at No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100. It fared better in the U.K., where it charted at No. 29. In the Netherlands, it rose to No. 1.
“An Innocent Man” followed on August 9, 1983. The album rose to No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and went 7X multi platinum in the U.S. In the U.K., the album peaked at No. 2 and eventually went triple platinum. Successful singles released from the album included “Tell Her About It,” “Uptown Girl,” “An Innocent Man,” “The Longest Time,” “Leave a Tender Moment Alone,” “Keeping the Faith” and “This Night.” Two years later, Joel launched the compilation album “Greatest Hits Volume I and II” on September 2, 1985. Two new songs added to the album called “You're Only Human (Second Wind)” and “The Night Is Still Young,” peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 9 and No. 34, respectively. The album rose to No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and has been certified double diamond in the U.S. by selling over 21 million units.
In July 1986, Joel released the album “The Bridge,” which peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200. Thanks to the popular singles “A Matter of Trust,” “Modern Woman,” which was featured on the soundtrack of the motion picture “Ruthless People,” and “This is the Time,” the album was a success and earned multi platinum certification in the U.S. Joel followed it up with the live album “КОНЦЕРТ” (1987), which went platinum in the U.S., and the uncertified compilation albums “Starbox” (1988) and “Souvenir: The Ultimate Collection” (1989). The follow up to “The Bridge,” “Storm Front,” hit the music stores on October 31, 1989. The album became Joel's third No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold over four million copies in the U.S. It also earned platinum certification in the U.K. and gold in Japan. Some singles produced from the album included “We Didn't Start the Fire,” “I Go to Extremes,” “And So It Goes,” “That's Not Her Style” and “The Downeaster 'Alexa.'”
Joel toured extensively throughout 1990 to 1991 in support of “Storm Front.” He returned to his studio for the album “River of Dreams,” which was released on August 10, 1993. The album rose to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold over five million copies in the U.S. alone. It was also a success in Canada, Japan and Switzerland. The title track, “River of Dreams,” went to No. 3 in the U.K. and the U.S. in 1993. He went on to release the compilation albums “Greatest Hits Volume III” and “The Complete Hits Collection: 1973-1997 Limited Edition” (both 1997) and “Greatest Hits Volume I, II and III” (1998). The first two albums were certified platinum by RIAA. “Greatest Hits Volume III” spawned the two singles “To Make You Feel My Love” and “Hey Girl.”
2000 saw the release of the live album “2000 Years: The Millennium Concert,” which peaked at No. 40 in the U.S. It was eventually certified gold by RIAA. The compilation album “The Ultimate Collection” was also released that year. The following year, Joel released “Fantasies & Delusions,” an album of classical compositions, under Sony Records. The album rose to No. 83 in the U.S. It was followed by the successful compilation album “The Essential Billy Joel” (2001), which was released under Sony BMG. The album peaked at No. 29 on the Billboard 200 and went multi platinum.
Joel released “Piano Man: The Very Best of Billy Joel” in 2004 and “My Lives” in 2005. A live album titled “12 Gardens Live” followed in 2006. The album peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard 200. In 2007, Joel released the single “All My Life,” which was written in honor of the second anniversary of Joel and his wife Katie Lee. The song rose to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Singles chart. Later that same year, he wrote the single “Christmas in Fallujah.”
Tony: Best Orchestration, “Movin' Out,” 2003
Grammy: Living Legend, 1991
Grammy: Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, “Glass Houses,” 1980
Grammy: Album of the Year, “The Stranger,” 1979
Grammy: Record of the Year and Song of the Year,” Just the Way You Are,” 1978