Trivia / Billy Joel

  • Breakaway Pop Hit: "Why Should I Worry" from Oliver & Company. Bonus points because he didn't write it.
  • Breakthrough Hit: "Piano Man", which is also one of his best-known songs. In terms of Hot 100 performance, "Just The Way You Are" was his first top 10 hit.
  • Cowboy BeBop at His Computer: The Rolling Stone Album Guide write-up on Streetlife Serenade makes you wonder just how closely the author was listening to the album in question. "The Mexican Connection" is cited as an example of a "narrative vignette that strains too hard to be clever" the song in question is an instrumental which can in no way be considered a narrative vignette. It also cites the "rollicking, jazzy piano" on "Last of the Big Time Spenders"; there is a piano on that song, but the song is a slow ballad with nothing rollicking or jazzy about it. Perhaps the author was thinking of "Root Beer Rag"?
  • Creator Backlash: Joel got sick of "Piano Man" for a time and refused to sing it in concert. He got over it, though the audience tends to save him the trouble of singing it when he plays it nowadays. And reportedly, he's not any too fond of "Just the Way You Are", either, because it's a love song to someone he ended up divorcing. Joel also retired "Uptown Girl" (another love song to an ex-wife) from his stage show for a long time, but he eventually reintroduced it.
    • He doesn't necessarily hate "We Didn't Start The Fire", but he does consider it a "novelty song" and technically not one of his best melodies. He's also claimed it's one of the more difficult songs for him to perform, as he feels if he makes one mistake singing the lyrics, "the whole thing falls apart". His hesitance to perform "Uptown Girl" has had, by Word of God, more to do with the fact that he considers the Frankie Valli-like vocal style and the key it's written in to be hard on his voice (he usually places the song near the end of his setlists when he does perform it, for similar reasons), and nothing to do with him "being mad at Christie"; they are great friends.
    • He's also admitted that he's not all that fond of "Tell Her About It", saying that it was an attempt to do a song In the Style of... The Supremes, but the finished product didn't really work the way he'd wanted it to.
    • He seems embarrassed by the Glass Houses album track, "C'Était Toi (You Were the One)", at least due to his poor use of Gratuitous French lyrics through the song. He often relates a story of his performance of the song in France to a puzzled audience as a major reason he no longer tackled foreign languages in song or performs the song any longer.
  • Creator Recovery: Billy Joel's very upbeat and poppy An Innocent Man, a tribute to Joel's musical influences from The '60s, followed the cynical, sociopolitically charged The Nylon Curtain. While The Nylon Curtain was recorded during Billy's divorce from his first wife, An Innocent Man was a product of then-single Billy enjoying life as a bachelor and dating a number of supermodels, most notably his future second wife Christie Brinkley.
  • Executive Meddling: Referenced in several songs. The lyrics from "The Entertainer", for example, refers to executive meddling which required him to reduce the length of "Piano Man":
    It took me years to write it
    They were the best years of my life.
    It was a beautiful song but it ran too long,
    If you're gonna have a hit then you gotta make it fit
    So they cut it down to 3:05
  • Greatest Hits: Several since 1985, especially after his "retirement" from releasing pop music in 1994. 1985's double-length "Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 & 2" sold 23x multi-platinum according to the RIAA, as of 2011, at least according to The Other Wiki.
  • Magnum Opus Dissonance: Though The Stranger is often considered as his masterpiece, Billy has often claimed his favorite album, and the one he is most proud of, aside from Fantasies And Delusions is The Nylon Curtain.
  • Name's the Same: "Code of Silence" came out the same year as the Chuck Norris film. No relation.
    • Joel's "Getting Closer" is not a cover of the 1979 Wings hit.
    • A metalcore band from Atlanta named Attila bears no relation to Joel's duo.
    • "Vienna" from The Stranger bears no relation to the Ultravox hit.
  • Old Shame: Before launching his solo career, Joel was part of a hard rock duo called Attila. They released exactly one album, Attila which was critically savaged and which Joel to this day is thoroughly embarrassed by.
    • At least on a technical note, Cold Spring Harbor, his debut, counts too. Not so much due to the material, but to the mastering, which was accidentally done at too high a speed. Even with the remastered/corrected version currently out, he feels it still sounds weird to him.
  • Throw It In!: There's a brief studder and chuckle during a verse in "You're Only Human (Second Wind)". Christie Brinkley and Paul Simon convinced him to keep it in, as it accentuated the song's message of recognizing and accepting personal fallibility.
  • Trope Namer: "We Didn't Start the Fire" gives us We Didn't Start the Billy Joel Parodies.
  • Unintentional Period Piece
    • "Big Shot" sings about attending hot spots like Elaine's (it closed in 2011) and wearing Halston original dresses (Halston died in 1990).
    • "Sleeping With The Television On" makes reference to the time when TV broadcasts ended and began at certain hours, as opposed to now, when most broadcasts run 24/7, making the line about waking up to the white noise irrelevant.
    • "We Didn't Start the Fire" mentions Tiananmen Square but not the collapse of the Berlin Wall, placing it squarely at a specific point in 1989.
  • What Could Have Been: According to Joel's account, he first wrote "Only The Good Die Young" as a Reggae song. When he brought it into the studio and first played it, his drummer Liberty DeVitto threw his sticks at him, yelled "I fucking hate reggae!" and said "the closest you ever got to Jamaica is when you change trains in Queens!". DeVitto then demanded that the song be changed to a shuffle beat instead of a reggae beat, resulting in the version we know today. Joel also mentions that initially the single stiffed on the charts, and only began selling tons of copies after it was banned for being "anti-Catholic", and claims that he wrote a letter to the Archbishop of St. Louis saying "Thank you very much, please ban my next album as well."
    • Unsuccessful attempts to record Turnstiles would have seen Billy produced by Beatles producer George Martin, while at another point Elton John's classic band (Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson) would have been his studio backing band as his label wanted Billy to have more of an Elton-like sound. Joel rebelled, moving from Los Angeles to New York City, producing the album himself and using his touring band.
    • "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" was supposed to be more melancholy, as he had written it after a bout of depression during which he contemplated suicide. He decided to make the music more upbeat.
  • Writer Revolt: "The Entertainer", written in protest of "Piano Man" being edited from 5:38 to 3:05 by his record company for single release.