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The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
A Decade in the Life
of
Billy Joel

The son of a German immigrant, William Martin Joel was born 5.9.49 in Hicksville, Long Island, NY. His interests as a youth were studying piano and boxing -- he broke his nose on the way to becoming the local welterweight champion. In 1964 he joined the Echoes, a band that became a popular local draw; they would become the Emeralds, and then the Lost Souls. The next year he was a sessions player (piano) in a studio at Levittown. In 1967, Joel joined the Hassles, who had recently signed a record deal with United Artists; the band would release two albums and four singles before splitting up in 1969.  With Hassles drummer Jon Small, Joel formed Attila, an organ-drums hard-rock duo. Epic Records released their debut album in 1970. When it bombed, Joel and Small went their separate ways. Following a bout of severe depression that landed him in a psychiatric hospital, Joel signed as a solo artist with Artie Ripp's Family Productions, which released  Cold Spring Harbor; a mixing/mastering error resulted in the album sounding too fast -- a mistake not remedied until its 1984 re-release. Embarrassed by the album, Hoel headed to California with girlfriend Elizabeth Weber (Jon Small's ex-wife). He played in a piano bar at the Eexecutive Room on Wilshire Boulevard, using the pseudonym Bill Martin.
In 1973, Joel married Elizabeth, and was signed by Columbia Records after his song "Captain Jack" was played incessantly by radio station WMMR. The following year saw the release of his debut Columbia platter, Piano Man. The title track peaked at US# 25. The album would climb to US# 27 and, two years later, be certified gold. Joel put together a stage band that included Don Evans (guitar), Pat McDonald (bass), Tom Whitehorse (steel guitar, banjo) and Rhys Clark (drums), and went on the road. Joel had another Top 40 hit in 1975 with "The Entertainer" (US# 34), and the album Streetlife Serenade climbed to US# 35. His third album, Turnstiles (1976), stalled at US# 122. But in 1977 Joel played "Just The Way You Are" during an appearance on Saturday Night Live and a few month's later the song's parent album, The Stranger, reached US# 2 and would become Columbia Record's second-biggest album of all time. "Just The Way You Are" would peak at US# 3 in February of 1978; subsequent singles would also fare well, with "Movin' On (Anthony's Song" going to US# 17 and UK# 35, and "Only The Good Die Young" climbing to US# 24 (even though it was banned by Catholic radio stations.) "She's Always A Woman" went to US# 17, and in November of 1978 the album 52nd Street spent eight weeks as a chart-topper. Billy Joel had made it, and in 1979 he won Grammies for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
Joel was already a certified star when the '80s opened; what was most remarkable was the fact that he attained superstar status while remaining consistent in his music during a musically turbulent decade.


February 1980
At the 22nd Annual Grammy Awards, Joel wins Best Pop Vocal Performance (Male) and Album of the Year for 52nd Street.
May 1980
"You May Be Right" peaks at US# 7.
June 1980
Produced by Phil Ramone, Glass Houses reaches the top spot on the US album chart; it will remain there for six weeks. (It had already reached its UK peak -- # 9 -- in March.) The album features David Brown and Russell James (guitars), Richie Cannata (organ), Liberty DeVito (drums) and Doug Stegmeyer (bass). On the 25th, Joel plays to over 100,000 fans at New York's Madison Square Garden.
July 1980
"It's Still Rock 'n' Roll To Me" hits US# 1; it will sell over one million units.
September 1980
"It's Still Rock' n' Roll To Me" climbs to UK# 14 while "Don't Ask Me Why" reaches US# 19.
January 1981
Joel wins Favorite Album (Pop/Rock) at the 8th Annual American Music Awards.
February 1981
Joel wins Best Rock Vocal Performance (Male) for Glass Houses at the 23rd Annual Grammy Awards.
October 1981
Songs In The Attic, a live album of earlier songs, has the distinction of being the first digitally-recorded live album. It will peak at US# 8.
April 1982
Joel breaks a wrist when a car collides with his motorcycle on Long Island.
July 1982
Joel and wife Elizabeth are divorced.
November 1982
The Nylon Curtain reaches US# 7, having peaked at UK# 27 the previous month. The single "Pressure" makes it to US# 20. On vacation in the Caribbean (St. Barthlemy), Joel meets supermodel Christie Brinkley.
December 1982
A benefit concert in Uniondale, NY raises $125,000 for Joel's own Charity Begins At Home organization.
February 1983
"Allentown", a blue-collar anthem, peaks at US# 17.
September 1983
"Tell Her About It", the first release from a forthcoming album, soars to US# 1; it will become a million seller.
October 1983
An Innocent Man, produced by Phil Ramone, reaches US# 4 and UK# 2; it will sell over two million units.
November 1983
"Uptown Girl" sells over a million copies and climbs to US# 3. It will top the UK singles chart for five weeks beginning on the 5th of this month. The song's video features Joel's fiancee, Christie Brinkley.
February 1984
"An Innocent Man" peaks at US# 10 and UK# 8. A remixed Cold Spring Harbor is re-issued.
May 1984
"The Longest Time", the fourth single from An Innocent Man, climbs to US# 14 and UK# 25.
August 1984
Joel goes to Britain for a concert tour. He has five albums in the UK Top 100. "Leave A Tender Moment Alone", featuring a harmonica solo by Toots Thielesman, makes it to US# 27 and UK# 29.
January 1985
Joel participates in recording USA for Africa's "We Are The World".
March 1985
"Keeping The Faith" climbs to US# 18. On the 23rd, Joel and Brinkley are married aboard a yacht in New York Harbor.
August 1985
"You're Only Human (Second Wind)," one of two new tracks on the compilation album entitled Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2 (US# 6, UK# 7)  reaches US# 9.
January 1986
Joel's daughter, Alexa Ray, is born.
July 1986
"Modern Woman," from the soundtrack for Ruthless People, makes it to US# 10.
August 1986
Enhanced by guest appearances by Ray Charles, Cyndi Lauper and Steve Winwood, The Bridge hits US# 7 and UK# 38.
October 1986
" A Matter Of Trust" peaks at US# 10.
April 1987
Joel plays a series of dates in the Soviet Union; the Leningrad performance is recorded for album release. That album, entitled Kohuept, is released in November and will reach US# 38.
November 1988
Joel appears on the soundtrack for the Disney movie Oliver and Company, performing "Why Should I Worry?"
January 1989
Joel performs the national anthem at Super Bowl XXIII in Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium.
August 1989
After an audit uncovers discrepancies, Joelfires manager (and former brother-in-law) Frank Weber; he will later sue Weber for $900 million, starting a protracted legal battle.
September 1989
Joel is hospitalized in New York with severe intestinal pain caused by kidney stones. An operation is undertaken to remove the stones at New York University Medical Center.
October 1989
"We Didn't Start The Fire" reaches UK# 7.
November 1989
Stormfront, co-produced with Foreigner's Mick Jones, makes it to UK# 5; Joel rehearses for a new world tour at the Suffolk County Police Academy on Long Island with his new band, consisting of drummer Liberty DeVito, guitarist David Brown, sax player Mark Rivera, bass player Schuyler Deale, keyboardist Jeff Jacobs and Crystal Taliefero and Mindy Jostyn.
December 1989
Storm Front climbs to the top of the US album chart; "We Didn't Start The Fire" peaks at #1 on the US singles chart.


Glass Houses (Columbia,1980)
You May Be Right
Sometimes A Fantasy
Don't Ask Me Why
It's Still Rock And Roll To Me
All For Leyna
I Don't Want To Be Alone
Sleeping With The Television On
C'Etait Toi (You Were The One)
Close To The Borderline
Through The Long Night

Maybe Joel just ought to 'fess up, forget about being a rock & roller and settle down in the middle of the road. His piano playing's lively, his band is dogged and his kind of music as the sales figures prove makes plenty of people happy. Billy Joel writes smooth and cunning melodies, and what many of his defenders say is true: his material's catchy. But then, so's the flu."
Paul Nelson, Rolling Stone (316)

"Fresh-faced pop with a touch of class in the lyric and a boot in the belly, though Joel's beginning to sound a bit too contrived."
Cole Irwin, The Rock Year Book, 1981

Songs In The Attic (Columbia, 1981)
Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)
Summer, Highland Falls
Streetlife Serenader
Los Angelenos
She's Got A Way
Everybody Loves You Now
Say Goodbye To Hollywood
Captain Jack
You're My Home
The Ballad Of Billy The Kid
I've Loved These Days

"Just as veteran rock & roller Bob Seger once attempted (successfully) to add a crisp new edge and some fiery freshness to a chunk of his time-honored repertoire with 1976's Live Bullet, so Billy Joel has brought forth a number of dusty gems from his less-heralded years (1971-1976) and given them an appealing live showcase on Songs in the Attic."
Timothy White, Rolling Stone (356)

"A product, bursting at the seams with irrelevant information."
New Musical Express

The Nylon Curtain (Columbia, 1982)
Allentown
Laura
Pressure
Goodnight Siagon
She's Right On Time
A Room Of Our Own
Surprises
Scandinavian Skies
Where's The Orchestra?

"Coming after the frolicsome but forgettable Glass Houses, The Nylon Curtain finds Billy Joel on higher artistic ground than ever before..... On The Nylon Curtain. "Goodnight Saigon" and "Allentown" find Joel tackling subjects farther from home and larger than his own neighborhood, and they bring out the painterly side of him that has always identified with that master of American light, Edward Hopper."
Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone (380)

An Innocent Man (Columbia, 1983)
Easy Money
An Innocent Man
Uptown Girl
This Night
Tell Her About It
The Longest Time
Careless Talk
Christie Lee
Leave A Tender Moment Alone
Keeping The Faith

"As Joel strolls through the archives of soul, his writerly eye hones in on one style after another until An Innocent Man becomes a panoramic overview of what it must have been like to be a Long Island kid with an ear glued to the radio during the golden dawn of rock and soul and doo-wop."
Parke Puterbaugh, Rolling Stone (402)

Greatest Hits, Volumes 1 & 2 (Columbia, 1985)
Piano Man
Captain Jack
The Entertainer
Say Goodbye To Hollywood
New York State Of Mind
The Stranger
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
Just The Way You Are
Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
Only The Good Die Young
She's Always A Woman
My Life
Big Shot
You May Be Right | It's Still Rock And Roll To Me
Don't Ask Me Why
She's Got A Way
Pressure
Allentown
Goodnight Saigon
Tell Her About It
Uptown Girl
The Longest Time
You're Only Human (Second Wind)
The Night Is Still Young

The Bridge (Columbia, 1986)
Running On Ice
This Is The Time
A Matter Of Trust
Modern Woman
Baby Grand
Big Man On Mulberry Street
Temptation
Code Of Silence
Getting Closer

"On The Bridge, his first LP of new material in three years, Billy Joel gracefully rounds off the latest and richest phase of his tempestuous career. The album essentially forms a trilogy with 1982's outward-looking The Nylon Curtain and 1983's backward-looking An Innocent Man, offering a modest yet moving portrait of a mature man battling the urban strains of the Eighties in search of both a separate peace and a sense of connection."
Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone (482)

Kohuept - Live in Leningrad (Columbia, 1987)
Odoya
Angry Young Man
Honesty
Goodnight Saigon
Stiletto
Big Man on Mulberry Steet
Baby Grand | Innocent Man
Allentown
A Matter of Trust
Only The Good Die Young
Sometimes a Fantasy
Uptown Girl
Big Shot
Back In The U.S.S.R.
The Times They Are a Changin'

Not many rock artists had been allowed to visit the USSR, so Billy Joel's 1987 tour was a big deal. Joel took his task very seriously, embracing his role as musical and cultural ambassador from the West and acting solemnly throughout the tour. Besides the temper tantrum where he pushed his piano off stage, of course, but even that could be seen as a rock & roller taking his message to the people. If you're charitable, that is."
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, AMG

 Storm Front (Columbia, 1989)
That's Not Her Style
We Didn't Start The Fire
The Downeaster "Alexa"
I Go To Extremes
Shameless
Storm Front
Leningrad
State Of Grace
When In Rome
And So It Goes

"On Storm Front, his first studio album since The Bridge in 1986, Billy Joel throws off pop complacency for an angry, committed and often moving exploration of life in modern America. Defining the album's theme of lost innocence is a core of songs that evokes the desperate disorientation that has suffused American consciousness over the past decade."
John McCalley, Rolling Stone (566)


In 1990, Billy Joel won a $2 million partial summary judgment against Frank Weber in the New York Supreme Court. A Richmond, VA judge dismissed Weber's $30 million counter-suit. In 1992, Joel filed a $90 million lawsuit against former attorney Allen Grubman and Grubman's law firm, alleging, among other things, malpractice and fraud. The following year, the New York Supreme Court awarded Joel over $675 million (plus interest) in his ongoing suit against Weber.
In 1993, Gary Zimmerman filed a $10 million lawsuit against Joel, claiming "River Of Dreams", "No Man's Land" and "We Didn't Start The Fire" were based on a song he wrote. That year, Joel's "River Of Dreams" climbed to the #3 spot in both the U.S. and the UK.
That same year, The Stranger was certified multi-platinum by the RIAA, with sales of 7 million units. (That number would increase to 9 million by 1994.) Joel broke house records at the Miami Arena, Target Center (Minneapolis) and Knickerbocker Arena (Albany, NY) while becoming the first rock act to perform in New York's Yankee Stadium.
NARAS honored Joel as a Grammy Living Legend in 1990, along with Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin and Quincy Jones.
On August 25, 1994, Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley were divorced.
Billy Joel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Ray Charles at the 14th annual induction dinner (1999).