COLD SPRING HARBOR
RELEASED 1971, No. 158
BIGGEST HIT "She's Got a Way" (a rerecorded version hit No. 23 in 1982)
LEGACY Joel's debut is one of the music industry's most famous horror stories. Through a mastering error, the entire album was released at the wrong speed, which Joel has jokingly said made him sound like one of The Chipmunks. The error wasn't fixed until 1983, when the album was remastered properly and rereleased. Despite the sound problems, the album includes some of his most enduring work, including "She's Got a Way" and "Everybody Loves You Now."
RELEASED 1973, No. 27
BIGGEST HIT "Piano Man" (No. 25)
LEGACY Joel establishes himself as a storyteller, as well as an impressive piano player and writer of memorable melodies. "Piano Man," his fictionalized account of playing in Los Angeles piano bars, has become his signature. However, "Captain Jack," his frank depiction of apathetic, teenage suburban life, hits far harder.
RELEASED 1974, No. 35
BIGGEST HIT "The Entertainer" (No. 34)
LEGACY The strain of his new life was starting to show. Between his distaste for California in "Los Angelenos" and his worry about returning home in "The Great Suburban Showdown," Joel sounded unhappy, even as his career started to take off. It's "The Entertainer," his brutally honest summary of life in the music industry, that shows how Joel is a different kind of rock star, one willing to show some vulnerability.
RELEASED 1976, No. 122
BIGGEST HIT "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" (the live version reached No. 17 in 1981)
LEGACY While Joel's early albums all had their moments, this was his first legitimate masterpiece, the first where all his skills came together. Recorded in Hempstead with his touring band, after leaving Los Angeles, "Turnstiles" reflected the return home with "New York State of Mind" and "Miami 2017 (I've Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" -- which have both become anthems of recovery for the area after 9/11 and superstorm Sandy.
RELEASED 1977, No. 2
BIGGEST HIT "Just the Way You Are" (No. 3)
LEGACY This is the album that made Joel a superstar -- a Grammy-winning superstar, in fact, as "Just the Way You Are" won both record and song of the year. It was also the start of his partnership with producer Phil Ramone. "The Stranger" showed Joel could write hits -- "Movin' Out" and "Only the Good Die Young" -- and more substantial pieces like the masterful "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" and the poignant "Vienna."
RELEASED 1978, No. 1 for 8 weeks
BIGGEST HIT "My Life" (No. 3)
LEGACY Following the success of "The Stranger," Joel was able to broaden the scope of his music. He rocks hard on "Big Shot," keeps up the piano pop on "My Life" and still touches the heart on the ballad "Honesty." He also shows his skill at jazz with "Zanzibar" and R&B with "Stiletto," while "Until the Night" channels the best of the Brill Building writers. Because it was a top seller and critically acclaimed, "52nd Street" became the first compact disc ever sold in 1982.
RELEASED 1980, No. 1 for 6 weeks
BIGGEST HIT "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" (No. 1, 2 weeks)
LEGACY Joel found inspiration in the punk movement growing on the Lower East Side and in the new wave of England. Punk attitude worked its way into "You May Be Right." New wave edginess became a part of "Sometimes a Fantasy." And with "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," Joel landed a hit while making an argument for inclusion.
THE NYLON CURTAIN
RELEASED 1982, No. 7
BIGGEST HIT "Allentown" (No. 17)
LEGACY Joel's most political album arrived in the middle of Ronald Reagan's first term, putting him at the leading edge of issues that are still timely today. "Allentown" tunefully showed what happened to American cities after the death of manufacturing. "Goodnight Saigon" questioned the treatment of American war veterans. And "Pressure" captures the building intensity of work life in the go-go '80s. To balance all that angst, Joel turned to the work of the Beatles for some soothing sounds, even if the lyrics, such as the ones in "Laura," were still cutting.
AN INNOCENT MAN
RELEASED 1983, No. 4
BIGGEST HIT "Tell Her About It" (No. 1, 1 week)
LEGACY This was all about love. Much of the album was a combination of his love for then-wife Christie Brinkley and his love of doo-wop groups, resulting in a string of memorable hits -- "Tell Her About It," "Uptown Girl," "An Innocent Man," "Keeping the Faith" and "The Longest Time" -- that solidified his standing as rock's leading singer-songwriter of the time. It would have been even more impressive if it wasn't for a little album called "Thriller."
RELEASED 1986, No. 7
BIGGEST HIT "A Matter of Trust" (No. 10)
LEGACY One of the few albums where Joel clearly turns to others for inspiration. He has duets with Ray Charles ("Baby Grand") and Cyndi Lauper ("Code of Silence"). He draws from the work of Sting ("Running on Ice") and any number of new wavers ("Modern Woman"). Of course, the most lasting songs are the ones that sound most Joel-like -- the rocking "A Matter of Trust" and big-band-influenced "Big Man on Mulberry Street."
RELEASED 1989, No. 1 for 1 week
BIGGEST HIT "We Didn't Start the Fire" (No. 1, 2 weeks)
LEGACY The lyrical achievement of "We Didn't Start the Fire," condensing five decades of world history into less than five minutes of rhyming couplets, overshadowed everything else on the album and (along with R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World") led to a string of listing songs that continue today. However, the country-tinged "Shameless," the lovely piano ballad "And So It Goes," the Long Island-centric anthem "The Downeaster 'Alexa' " and the rocker "I Go to Extremes" all deserve to also be remembered.
RIVER OF DREAMS
RELEASED 1993, No. 1 for three weeks
BIGGEST HIT "The River of Dreams" (No. 3)
LEGACY "These are the last words I have to say, that's why it took so long to write," Joel sings in "Famous Last Words," which closed out what has been his final pop album, released when he was only 44. It turned out to be a strong final statement that has held up well, especially in concert where the title track has become nearly as indispensable as "Piano Man."
LEGACY An album of Billy Joel's classical compositions, performed by Richard Joo.