The Piano Man, indeed. Billy Joel came onto the scene in the early 70’s with two strikes against him: an indifferent critical reception, and having to compete with newly crowned keyboard king Elton John. Fortunately, his big hit single gave him the momentum to hold his own until he got his footing, which involved getting out of L.A. and back in a New York state of mind.
Once returned to the urban Northeastern milieu that had spawned him, Joel seemed to erupt volcanically, hit songs spilling out of him like musical magma. Just the Way You Are, Only the Good Die Young, She’s Always A Woman, My Life, Honesty… the man’s songwriting swung, on golden chords, in some cathedral-like space between The Beatles and the Brill Building. Steadily, inexorably, one song at a time, he proved his critics wrong. One album at a time, he dealt with themes of romance, loss, personal change, social issues, politics, fads, fashions, the music of his youth, the music of the day, and in his good-humored, affable way he became in the end not just a songsmith, but a spokesman.
Joel’s career arc peaked in the mid-80’s, but he has continued working steadily, up to the present day. A recent highlight was his concert tour with Sir Elton John. A summit meeting of modern pop masters, it brought both of the piano men of the 1970’s together, at last.