Billy Joel

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Sing us a song tonight.

I am the entertainer
And I know just where I stand
Another serenader
In another long-haired band

—"The Entertainer"

William Martin Joel, better known as Billy Joel or "Billy", is an American singer-songwriter, musician, and classical composer. He is the third best-selling solo artist in the United States with thirty-three top forty hits and six Grammy Awards to his name. As his 1973 breakout hit "Piano Man" implies, he is a quite skilled piano player, and many of his most famous songs have strong keyboard elements.

His discography has a wide range of styles include schmaltzy soft-rock love songs that perhaps reveal Too Much Information about his relationships (especially that with ex-wife Christie Brinkley), tributes to 1950s artists and stylings, attempts at working class rock comparable to Bruce Springsteen, jazzy ruminations on fame, religion, substance abuse (something he has experience in), or his hometown of New York City, bluesy piano numbers, and pure classical compositions. Said range contributed to the formation of Movin' Out, one of the first and best known examples of the Jukebox Musical. He is also known for voicing Dodger in the Disney animated film Oliver and Company.

Joel has mostly retired from pop songwriting and recording, but he still tours occasionally, sometimes with close friend Elton John.

References to his songs come up in pop culture quite a bit: among them a second season episode of American Idol had the contestants singing songs from his catalog, he's been the musical guest on four episodes of Saturday Night Live, an entire episode of Freaks and Geeks was dedicated to his music (and surprisingly, kept all of it for the DVD), and a classic Sesame Street skit has him serenading Oscar the Grouch along with Marlee Matlin.

Not to be confused with Billie Joe or Billy Idol.

  • Cold Spring Harbor (1971)
  • Piano Man (1973)
  • Streetlife Serenade (1974)
  • Turnstiles (1976)
  • The Stranger (1977)
  • 52nd Street (1978)
  • Glass Houses (1980)
  • The Nylon Curtain (1982)
  • An Innocent Man (1983)
  • The Bridge (1986)
  • Storm Front (1989)
  • River of Dreams (1993)

Classical Albums

  • Fantasies & Delusions (2001)

Billy Joel is the Trope Namer for:
Billy Joel provides examples of the following tropes:

Foreign debts, homeless vets,
AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz.

I was stranded in the combat zone,
I walked through Bedford Stuy alone,
Even rode my motorcycle in the rain.

  • Audience Participation Song: Joel's performances of "Piano Man" these days tend to consist of him pointing the microphone at the crowd and letting them sing the entire song.
  • Bald of Awesome: Starting in the early 2010s.
  • Ballad of X: "The Ballad Of Billy The Kid".
  • Berserk Button: Infamously, "STOP LIGHTING THE AUDIENCE!"
    • "I didn't throw a tantrum, I threw a piano."
  • Big Applesauce: In addition to being from the Bronx, his songs are sprinkled with geography references from New York City and the surrounding Tri-State Area metropolis.
  • Book Ends: The fade-out of "Where's the Orchestra?", the final song on The Nylon Curtain, contains an instrumental snippet of the main melody of "Allentown", the album's first song.
    • Similarly, the ending of The Stranger is entitled "Everybody Has A Dream/The Stranger (Reprise)" because that song ends with a repeat of the opening strains of "The Stranger".
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: In "You're My Home:"

"You're my castle, you're my cabin, and my instant pleasuredome"

  • Briefer Than They Think: Joel has been in the music business for nearly 50 years, yet has produced only 12 studio albums as a solo artist.
  • Brutal Honesty/"The Reason You Suck" Speech: "Big Shot" and "Pressure".
  • Call-and-Response Song: "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me."
  • Calling Your Attacks: In the song "A Room of Our Own" off The Nylon Curtain, following the second chorus, Billy calls out "Bridge!" just before the bridge begins.
  • Catholic School Girls Rule: "Only The Good Die Young"
  • Children Are Innocent: "Leningrad" shows that all children are innocent, and all suffer from conflict and violence, regardless of which side they're on.
  • Concept Album: An Innocent Man consists entirely of pastiches of the music Joel grew up listening to. The most notable singles are the Ben E. King-flavored title track, The Four Seasons-esque "Uptown Girl", the Marley-influenced "Keeping The Faith", the Motown-style "Tell Her About It", and the a cappella doowop "For The Longest Time".
  • Cool Shades: In the video for "Tell Her About It".
  • Dead Air: Billy Joel invoked a live-performance version of this trope during the 1994 Grammy Award Show. The director of the show cut short Frank Sinatra's acceptance speech for receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, and this pissed Joel off to the point that he stopped his performance of "The River of Dreams" in the middle (where it already had a brief moment of complete silence). He sat there, grinning at the audience, while pretending to check his watch, and quipped, "Valuable advertising time is passing by." After a couple of minutes, he resumed playing the song.
    • In concert, he still tends to extend the middle of the song (which had a natural pause in the first place) as a reminder of the stunt.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Billy is not fond of being called "William", and actually prefers "Bill" to "Billy".
  • Dying Town: "Allentown".
  • Echoing Acoustics: "Miami 2017 (Seen the Light Go Out on Broadway)" has a weird reverb effect added to it.
    • As he mentions in his live album Songs in the Attic, the song "demands the gothic reverberation of a vast railroad terminus, such as Madison Square Garden." Apparently this is what they were aiming for on the original, and landed in the aural Uncanny Valley instead.
  • Epic Rocking: "Goodnight Saigon" (7:04), "Captain Jack" (7:15), and "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" (7:37), which feature an opening of helicopters, a building crescendo, and an interlude across three distinct sections, respectively.
  • 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

  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "You Picked a Real Bad Time"
  • Heavy Meta: "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me"
  • Glass-Shattering Sound: He hit a lot of very high notes on An Innocent Man, recorded when he was arguably at the peak of his vocal powers. He later explained that he felt he'd never be able to get that high again, so he decided to go all out on this album. Indeed, by his next album, The Bridge, his voice was noticeably deeper.
  • Gratuitous French: The song "Don't Ask Me Why" inexplicably drops "parlez-vous français" ("Do you speak French?") for no other reason than it rhymes with the word "away".

Yesterday you were an only child
Now your ghosts have gone away
Oh, you can kill them in the classic style
Now you parlez-vous francais

  • Identical Stranger: Bore a surprising resemblance to Lou Reed in The Seventies.
    • After going bald and completely shaving his head, he bears an odd resemblance to both Bruce Willis and the late Jerry Doyle.
  • Intercourse with You: "Only the Good Die Young", although a subversion; as Joel himself has pointed out, the singer fails to convince Virginia.
    • Subverted; the singer fails to seduce Virginia.
  • Irony: "The Entertainer" is a song about how singers and songwriters tend to become obsolete and forgotten unless they make an effort to stay relevant, a problem that Joel himself does not seem to have, his songs managing to remain timeless over decades.
  • Life of the Party: "Big Shot" is based on the darker version of this trope.
  • List Song: "We Didn't Start The Fire"
  • Lonely Together: "Piano Man"
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Extremely frequent. Notable examples include "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)", "You're Only Human (Second Wind)", "The Entertainer", and "Allentown".
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Summer Highland Falls," "Goodnight Saigon," "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant." "Famous Last Words" is close, as the line is "These are the last words I have to say" (which was true, as it was the last song on his last studio album that had lyrics.)
  • Not So Different: "Leningrad" tries to paint citizens of the Soviet Union as folks with the same negative views of war as Americans do.
  • Obsession Song: "All For Leyna". The narrator has a one-night stand with the eponymous woman, and declares:

I don't wanna eat, I don't wanna sleep, I only want Leyna one more time.

  • Odd Couple: Joel and his former wife Christie Brinkley.
  • Precision F-Strike: "Laura", from the album The Nylon Curtain, is the only song in Joel's entire oeuvre to contain an F-bomb.
    • And it's really out of place, especially with the Lyrical Dissonance.
    • Billy swears quite a bit in interviews and concerts, however.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: "Piano Man". He was supporting himself by playing in a piano bar while waiting out a bad record deal and thought no one would believe his story, so he wrote a song about it. Everyone in the song is based on a real person.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: "My Life" for Bosom Buddies and "You May Be Right" for Dave's World
  • Refrain From Assuming: It's "River of Dreams" not "In The Middle Of The Night".
    • Similarly, it's "Summer, Highland Falls" not "Sadness or Euphoria".
  • Renaissance Man: Well, only in a musical sense, but Billy Joel's songs do span a wide range of genres and sounds. Plus he writes classical music.
  • Rock Me, Amadeus: "This Night" is based on the second movement of Beethoven's "Pathetique".
  • Rockstar Song: "The Entertainer", "Everybody Loves You Now".
  • School Is for Losers: "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me":

Should I try to be a straight 'A' student?
If you are then you think too much.

  • Self-Backing Vocalist: "The Longest Time", "Through the Long Night"
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: "We Didn't Start The Fire"
  • The Something Song: "Weekend Song"
  • Stop and Go: "River of Dreams"
  • Take That: Before he played a concert in St. Louis on the Stranger tour, Billy received a death threat from a Catholic group regarding the content of the song "Only The Good Die Young." He responded by playing it five times that night.
  • Take That, Critics!: Early in his career, Billy had a habit of tearing up newspapers that had given him bad reviews during his live concerts.
    • Billy called out a critic who had been polite when they met, yet went on to bash the artist's work in his article, believing it would not actually be read by Joel. Billy still invited the critic to attend his show, yet suggested he wear a hockey mask for his own protection.
    • He wrote "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" in response to critics who called his music described his music as adult contemporary, middle-of-the-road pop, as he felt modern (at the time) music was Not So Different than older styles
  • Tempting Fate: In "Modern Woman", the protagonist asks, "And after 1986, what else could be new?" three years before the start of The Great Politics Mess-Up. Then Billy penned "We Didn't Start the Fire" which, by his own description, was pretty much a chronicle of the Cold War (and included the line, "What else do I have to say?", albeit not meant literally). The imminent political upheavals in 1989 made Billy want to hurry up and release Storm Front ASAP, for risk of History Marches On.
  • Title-Only Chorus: PRESSURE
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: A mild example, but when during his marriage with Christie Brinkley, he was somewhat self-conscious about being married to a beautiful supermodel and wondered why she would be interested in someone like him.
  • Uptown Girl: The Trope Namer, or course. Joel began to write the song for his then-girlfriend Elle McPherson, but it ended up becoming a tribute to Christie Brinkley, who married Joel after starring in the song's video.
  • We Didn't Start the Billy Joel Parodies: A list of the innumerable parodies of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire".
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: The lyrics of "Pressure" are addressed to this kind of person.

I'm sure you have some cosmic rationale
But here you are with your faith
And your Peter Pan advice.
You have no scars on your face
And you cannot handle pressure.