When people discuss the musical greats the same names always rear their head. Mostly they are names that deserve to be on the list. Elvis, The Beatles, of course, these are musical luminaries. Their unchecked respect is fully deserved.
We also have the likes of Jim Morrison, Nirvana, Dylan the list goes on. But you know who is often missing from that list? Billy Joel. No seriously. Hear me out.
Credit where it is due. Billy is a Stalwart. He has been in the music business for more than 50 years. You could count on not many hands how many commercially successful acts have had a 50-year career. In fact, it’s pretty rare for anyone to do anything for fifty years, isn’t it? But simply sticking at something, while admirable, isn’t a reason to be classed as a great is it? So let’s take a look at his successes.
Hits, hits, and a few flops
Well, looking at albums he has had four number ones in the US as well as a host of top 10’s. Worldwide he has gone platinum more than 100 times for his album sales. Two of them have even gone diamond (That’s when they hit platinum ten times) that is a lot of sales. That is without even looking at his singles career. Which while less stellar, still contains swatches of charting songs punctuated by occasional number ones, but that takes credit away from the song themselves which are iconic. This brings me nicely to my next point.
When you hear a Beatles song it is uniquely them. Same with Mr Presley. Billy Joel is as diverse as they come. Take for instance “We didn’t start the fire” that is supremely uptempo, bordering on rap, tapping into his New York roots. Compare this to the Waltzing “Pianoman” and it’s remarkable that they are performed by the same artist. That’s without delving into the retro 60’s sound of Uptown Girl. Or the barbershop sound accomplished in “Longest Time”. Also, did you know he is a classical composer? Yep. The guy has many talents.
Dating, Doctorates and Depression
Joel has lived a full life. His musical talents have been acknowledged with multiple doctorates. More than half a dozen actually, form various universities. Perhaps in honour of the fact that he composes all of his pieces as well as being a great singer. Did I mention the piano playing? Admittedly his first song was entitled “The Pianoman” but the nickname stuck for a reason. Joel is a fantastic pianist.
Also, his personal life has been well documented. It is any surprise he was a hit with the ladies? From Christina Brinkley to Elle Macpherson. The man has surrounded himself and been involved with some beautiful women. Obviously drawn to his typical “Bronx-boy” look and his musical talents.
As is the case with anyone in the limelight, those stresses can come at a price. For Joel, that price was depression and anxiety which he used substances to try and combat. A drink addiction saw him spend time in the Betty Fords centre. He also attempted suicide drinking furniture polish to try and end his life and later quipping “It looked tastier than bleach” but like all troubled artists he put that pain into his music.
Still going strong
The chances are he probably isn’t going to be dropping any chart-topping material soon. The music world has changed dramatically. But his influence is long lasting, it’s just a shame he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. As not just a talented performer but a writer that wasn’t afraid to be different.