TODAY'S PAPER
Good Morning
Good Morning
EntertainmentMusicBilly Joel

Billy Joel celebrates 50 years with a vinyl box set

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of his solo career, singer/songwriter Billy Joel is taking his fans back to the beginning. His new box set, "The Vinyl Collection, Vol. 1," arrives Nov. 5 chronicling the Piano Man’s first six studio albums and some historic live recordings. This day will also mark Joel resuming his Madison Square Garden residency after 20 months off due to the pandemic.

The nine-record set, which runs $249.98, drops 50 years to the week that Joel’s debut album, "Cold Spring Harbor," was released. A 50-page booklet comes inside where Joel critiques his own studio work album-by-album. Here’s a taste of his comments:

"COLD SPRING HARBOR" (1971)

KEY TRACKS:

 

“She’s Got a Way”

 

“Everybody Loves You Now”

Joel’s debut album is not one that he has a comfortable relationship with because of how it was recorded.

" 'Cold Spring Harbor' is the embryonic Billy Joel, I suppose. It’s not one of my favorite albums at all," he says. "It was recorded at the wrong speed. I know they remastered it, but I still sound like a chipmunk."

"PIANO MAN" (1973)

KEY TRACKS:

 

“Piano Man”

 

“The Ballad of Billy The Kid”

 

“Captain Jack”

This album found Joel landing on a major label, Columbia Records, which became his home for the remainder of his career. Although he was being courted by Atlantic Records, he decided to go with Columbia for a specific reason.

"It was Bob Dylan’s label. That was the deciding factor," says Joel. "Bob Dylan was not your typical hit record artist. He was iconic for not being a hit single type of artist. It was a new kind of thing. He was an album artist. He was even a folk artist which in the day, in the pop music industry, was unheard of but Columbia Records was his record company. That was very important to me."

"STREETLIFE SERENADE" (1974)

KEY TRACKS:

 

“Streetlife Serenader”

 

“Los Angelenos”

 

“The Entertainer”

By 1974, Joel was a full-fledged touring act opening for bands like the Beach Boys as well as headlining theaters and clubs on his own. However, his busy performance schedule left him less time to compose.

"I didn’t really have a lot of time to write new material but there was a lot of pressure to put out another album after ‘Piano Man’ and I just didn’t have a lot of stuff," says Joel. "This album was written in a hurry. This is not the best album I’ve ever done. Half of it is okay."

"TURNSTILES" (1976)

KEY TRACKS:

 

“New York State of Mind”

 

“Miami 2017”

 

“Prelude/Angry Young Man”

After spending years on the west coast, Joel decided to head back east. He was inspired to return to New York after the federal government declined to help bail the city out.

"There’s a famous Daily News headline, ‘[Gerald] Ford to New York: Drop Dead.’ I was out in L.A. and I said, ‘I’m going back. I’m going home. If the city is going down, I’m going down with the city,’ " says Joel. "I moved back to New York and I put together a band of Long Island musicians who were local guys and I wanted them to be on this album."

"Turnstiles" marked the formation of the Billy Joel band featuring Liberty DeVitto (drums), Richie Cannata (saxophone), Russell Javors (guitar), Howie Emerson (guitar) and the late Doug Stegmeyer (bass).

"THE STRANGER" (1977)

KEY TRACKS:

“Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”

“Just the Way You Are”

“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”

“Only the Good Die Young”

“She’s Always a Woman”

All the pieces came together for this massive multi-platinum Grammy-winning album once Joel finally linked up with his longtime producer, the late Phil Ramone, who not only clicked with Joel but his band as well.

"He [Phil] saw us play at Carnegie Hall early in ’77 and said, ‘I love your band. I love what you’re doing. I love the energy. I want to produce the album.’ And it was a good move because he got it, and the band responded to him supporting them," says Joel. "There was a certain amount of gratification, I guess, to having a major label with a major, big-selling album at the time. But I have other albums that I’m much more fond of."

"52nd STREET" (1978)

KEY TRACKS:

 

“Big Shot”

 

“My Life”

 

“Honesty”

After the gargantuan success of "The Stranger," Joel was headlining arenas throughout the country and he became a major star in the music industry. Despite all the accolades, he didn’t rest on his laurels with his next album. In fact, Joel pushed himself in a new direction.

"Rather than trying to replicate ‘The Stranger,’ we went off into a different place," says Joel. "I went more towards the jazz influence…I didn’t really sit down and change how I thought about songwriting. I was just writing songs for me, as music that I wanted to hear."

LIVE ALBUMS

Included in the box set are two live albums: 1981’s "Songs in the Attic" as well as a previously unreleased recording called, "Live at The Great American Music Hall, 1975."

"Songs in the Attic" is a collection of live recordings of old tunes reinterpreted by Joel’s band. The record doesn’t focus on hits but rather album tracks like "You’re My Home," "Los Angelenos," "Captain Jack" and "She's Got a Way," which soon became fan favorites.

The "Live at The Great American Music Hall, 1975" album is an audio snapshot of Joel touring to support his "Streetlife Serenade" album in San Francisco. This recording features an early version of "New York State of Mind" before it was released, plus Joel’s interlude imitations of Joe Cocker on "You Are So Beautiful," Elton John on "Benny and the Jets" and Leon Russell on "Delta Lady."

JOEL ALTERNATIVE

While Billy Joel resumes his residency at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 5, Long Island native David Clark will be paying tribute to the Piano Man at the Patchogue Theatre on the same night. 

Clark, a former resident of Levittown and Lake Grove, will lead his tribute band, Songs in the Attic through an evening of Joel music.

“I play songs from his entire career from ‘Cold Spring Harbor’ to ‘River of Dreams,’” says Clark, 54. “I want to provide a fun, accurate, legitimate and credible Billy Joel simulation for people who don’t want to spend a couple of hundred bucks and go to the Garden.”

Clark even physically evokes Joel providing a matching visual to go with the music.

“I take advantage of the fact that I’m bald with a goatee,” he says “I just put on a black suit.”

Back in 1977 when Joel’s 5th studio album, “The Stranger” was released, lightning struck for Clark.

“I was 10 when ‘The Stranger’ came out and that changed everything for me,” he recalls. “It was a striking moment, like when Billy saw the Beatles. I said, ‘I want to do that!’ ”

Clark feels that although Joel hasn’t released a new album since 1993, he’s still very relevant because of the strength of his catalog.

“These songs are just timeless. They simply connect,” he says. “There’s a certain spirit and energy to this music that causes a euphoric reaction in people.”

LI IN THE LYRICS

Billy Joel has always been a proud Long Islander. Raised in Hicksville and currently residing on Centre Island, the Piano Man tends to pepper his songs with Long Island references. In his new box set, “The Vinyl Collection, Vol. 1,” he touches upon some familiar places. Here are some songs where LI gets a wink:

“Everybody Loves You Now”

From his debut album, “Cold Spring Harbor,” Joel drops the name of the North Shore village in the line: “You know that nothin’ lasts forever and it’s all been done before. Ah, but you ain’t got the time to go to Cold Spring Harbor no more.”

“The Ballad of Billy the Kid”

Joel grew up going to the beaches of Oyster Bay as a kid and today he has a motorcycle shop 20th Century Cycles downtown. At the end of this western-themed tune, Joel mentions the hamlet when he compares a young punk to the famous outlaw in the lyric: “From a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island. Rode, a boy with a six-pack in his hand and his daring life of crime made him a legend in his time east and west of the Rio Grande.”

“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”

In this 7-minute 36-second song off his multi-platinum album, “The Stranger,” Joel tells the story of a fictional suburban couple known as Brenda and Eddie. The lyric, “Nobody looked any finer or was more of a hit at the Parkway Diner” name checks a former restaurant which was located on the northwest corner of Jericho Turnpike and Guinea Woods Road in Old Westbury during the 1960’s.

“New York State of Mind”

This song is about the state of New York and Long Island is not mentioned specifically, however it is important to note that when he performs the song live, Joel has amended the lyrics a touch. When singing the line, “It was so easy living day by day. Out of touch with the rhythm and blues. But now I need a little give and take - The New York Times, The Daily News” Joel always adds in “and Newsday too.”

More Entertainment