Billy Joel's Incredible Career in Photos
With one of the best singing voices on the planet and a huge body of adored work, Billy Joel is one of the best performers of all time and practically inseparable from his home state of New York. Joel has had 33 top 40 hits, won 6 Grammys and recorded 13 amazing albums over his long career. Even though he hasn't released a full album since 2001, Joel still tours to this day and puts on a great show.
1970: A New Yorker through and through
Joel was born to Jewish parents in The Bronx, New York in 1949 and moved to Long Island a year later where he spent his childhood. He began piano lessons at the age of 4, and had an interest in boxing as a teenager, even competing on amateur circuits in New York.
He was initially reluctant to take on music, but came to love it and would miss school for piano gigs. The young Joel decided not to finish high school to focus on music. Early musical influences for him were The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles, with their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show leaving a lasting impression on him.
1970: Joel & Jon Small of the band Attila
Joel is most known for his work as a solo artist, but he has played in several bands as well. The first band he joined was a British Invasion cover group called the Echoes at the age of 16. He then joined the Long Island band The Hassles in 1967, before leaving the group with drummer Jon Small to make the duo band Attila.
Attila only lasted about a year, and ended in 1970 soon after releasing a self-titled debut album because Joel had an affair with Small's wife Elizabeth. Joel and Elizabeth later got married in 1973 and divorced later in 1982.
1971: Early Portrait
Joel looking incredibly '70s in a mullet and mustache in this riverside portrait. He released his first album Cold Spring Harbor through the Family Productions record label. The album wasn't a smash-hit but some of Joe's live shows to promote it in Fall of 1971 were very well-received, including his performance at the Mar y Sol Pop Festival in Puerto Rico.
1972: The year he wrote "Piano Man"
Joel had a radio break in 1972 when his single "Captain Jack" gained attention, and subsequently got him signed to Columbia Records. After moving to Los Angeles, he played piano for a few months at the bar The Executive Room on Wilshire Blvd, and composed one of his most lasting songs "Piano Man" about its staff and regulars.
1973: Breaking from Family Productions
While Joel had a new Columbia contract, the release of his new album was getting made difficult by his old label Family Productions. Eventually, Joel was fully bought out, and then-President of Columbia Walter Yenkitoff even bought back the rights to Joel's old songs with Family Productions and gave them to the singer as a birthday gift.
Joel's next two album Piano Man and Streetlife Serenade weren't national smash hits like what would follo, and received some mixed critical reviews upon first release, but these still contain songs that are essential listening for any fan.
1976: Return to New York
Joel performing at nightclub The Bottom Line in NYC's Greenwich Village neighborhood. The singer eventually tired of L.A. life and made his way back to New York City in 1975. He recorded the album Turnstiles soon after returning home, which contains the hit pop song "New York State of Mind" which has been covered by some of the best singers of all time including Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Elton John.
1977: With his bandmates
Joel has had several rotating bands over the years, but worked extensively with (L-R) Liberty DeVito, Doug Stegmeyer and Richie Cannata to produce his early music and accompany him on tour. Several of these past band members reunited when they were inducted into the 2014 Long Island Music Hall of Fame, besides Stegmeyer, who passed away in 1995.
1977: Joel breaks out with "The Stranger"
Joel's 1977 album definitely put him on the map in a major way after several great but less-successful projects. It was the first record produced by Phil Ramone, who he would collaborate with five more times on incredible albums, and contained massive Joel hits like "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant", "Only The Good Die Young" and "Vienna". Its song "Just The Way You Are" won Joel his first two Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year as well.
1978: Joel at Home
Joel poses with some of his gold-certified records at home in New York. He followed up The Stranger with 52nd Street in 1978. This album was notable for going in a different musical direction from his previous ballads with inspiration from jazz in particular. Joel even brought in famous musicians from the genre to help with recording including jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and guitarist Steve Khan.
1978: Performing on Saturday Night Live
Joel gave his first SNL musical performance for the third season of the variety show. He has done this iconic gig three other times, in 1981, 1989, and 1993.
1979: Singing the National Anthem at Madison Square Garden
Look, he's performed at the Super Bowl too, but getting to sing the National Anthem before a Stanley Cup game in Madison Square Garden with the New York Rangers watching is a Long Islander's dream.
1980: Rocking out on tour
Saying Joel has an energetic stage presence is the understatement of the century. He gives 110% in live performances, but Joel has admitted that he has retired certain high-register songs because performing them properly "shreds" his v0cal chords.
1983: Filming "Uptown Girl" with Christie Brinkley
Joel wrote the song "Uptown Girl" about girlfriend Elle MacPhearson, and he had begun dating model Christie Brinkley when they filmed a music video for the hit single. Joel and Brinkley would be married from 1985 to 1994 and have one daughter, the musician Alexa Ray Joel.
1984: Riding a motorcycle in L.A.
That's right, Joel wasn't just sitting on a motorcycle for show in that music video. The star has been an avid motorbike rider since a young age. Even though he had suffered a serious accident in 1982 that badly injured his hands and delayed production of his album The Nylon Curtain, Joel still loves riding to this day.
1984: Performing as a fan is removed
Security hauls a screaming Billy Joel fan offstage as the singer continues to croon for his San Francisco show.
1987: Joel in Red Square
Joel wasn't the first pop artist to tour Russia, but it was certainly one of the biggest concert productions in the history of the Soviet Union. He was also being filmed by a video crew for the entire tour to offset its huge costs. The stress of this tour and production led to some outbursts by Joel during a Moscow concert, including in frustration from the camera crew shining lights in the crowd, and the fact that some concertgoers did not seem initially enthusiastic.
1988: At the Oliver & Company Premiere
Joel had a rare acting role as the voice of Dodger, a main role in Oliver & Company, the animated musical retelling of the classic novel Oliver Twist. You can hear Joel's pipes clear as day in Dodger's signature song "Why Should I Worry?"
1990: Live in Rotterdam
Joel's 1989 album Storm Front was recorded during a period of emotional and financial upheaval for the artist, including having to fire and sue his former manager Frank Weber and an ex-lawyer for fraud related to discrepancies in accounting for Joel's finances. Joel was awarded $2 million in a partial judgement against Weber.
At the very least, Joel was able to turn these tough periods into excellent music, and his projects Storm Front and his final rock album River of Dreams were huge hits and explored more serious personal themes for the rocker.
1992: Joel receives his Hicksville High School diploma
Joel decided to go back and finish up the paperwork and become a high school graduate in 1992. Here he is at Hicksville High in a gown. He was only one English credit shy of the diploma, but just simply hadn't been showing up for classes or exams because of his music commitments.
1993: With Ray Charles at the Songwriter's Hall of Fame induction
Joel had just been inducted into this Hall of Fame the year before, and Charles was being honored with the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award. Joel considered Charles a personal hero and musical idol of his, and his oldest daughter's middle name is Ray in honor of Charles.
1994: Legendary duo tour with Elton John
The two pop rock titans joined forces for their first "Face to Face" tour in 1994, where they shared the stage, playing and covering each other's songs along with several duets. Their tours have been some of the most successful tandem concert tours ever put on, and they most recently played from fall 2009 to spring 2010.
1997: Receiving an Honorary Doctorate at Hofstra
Joel was granted an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Hofstra University. He has also received honorary degrees from Long Island University, Stony Brook University, Berklee College of Music and The Manhattan College of Music for his contributions to music.
1999: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Joel performs with Paul McCartney at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 1999. Other stars in Joel's class this year included McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Dusty Springfield, Curtis Mayfield and George Martin.
2000: Goofing off with Sting for charity
Joel and Sting donned these wigs as part of the 10th Annual Rainforest Foundation Benefit at Carnegie Hall, which raised $2.5 million dollars that year.
2000: With Bill Clinton for Save The Music
Joel alongside former President Bill Clinton at PS 96 in Harlem to present a donation with Time Warner Cable and VH1's Save The Music program to donate $5 million in musical instruments to New York public schools.
2001: Billy & Elton do The Tonight Show together
The pop stars even appeared on Jay Leno's Tonight Show as a package deal while promoting the "Face to Face" tours.
2001: Performing for "A Tribute to Heroes"
Joel performs "New York State of Mind" here for a televised benefit called "A Tribute to Heroes," meant to raise funds in the wake of the September 11th attacks.
2001: A Classical Album
Joel's thirteenth and so far final album came in 2001, titled Fantasies & Delusions. Joel departed entirely from his rock and pop roots here, instead creating a collection of twelve classical piano songs. The songs were all composed by Billy Joel, and the piano on this record was not performed by him, but instead by his friend Richard Hyung-ki Joo.
2002: With Tony Bennett at the Grammys
Joel's most recent Grammy nom was for a duet cover of "New York State of Mind" alongside music legend Tony Bennett in 2002.
2003: Winning a Tony Award
Joel's music became the basis for the jukebox musical Movin' Out which first played in Chicago in 2002. The production, first conceived by Twyla Tharp, ran at the Richard Rodgers theatre on Broadway from October 2002 to December 2005. The show was a success, with Tharp winning a Tony for Best Choreography, and Joel winning for Best Orchestration along with Stuart Malina.
2004: Hollywood Walk-of-Fame ceremony
Everyone was basically lining up to give Joel an award in this period! He was honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004 for his significant accomplishments as a songwriter and performer.
2006: King of Madison Square Garden
As of February 2023, Joel has performed 134 concerts at the legendary venue and currently holds the record for most shows at Madison Square Garden.
2007: The Piano Man on guitar
While it isn't his main instrument, Joel still does bust out a guitar for some of his songs. The star really keeps it moving on stage, and his infectious energy along with an incredible body of past work is probably why he's such a successful touring musician.
2009: Billy & Bruce sharing the stage
Joel performs with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band for the 25th anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concert. The two artists have had a friendship, and in a concert years later Joel reflected humorously that he had a kinship with Springsteen because "We were both on the same record label and got dumped by the same label."
2010: Premiering The Last Play at Shea
Joel starred in this 2010 documentary that chronicled his 2008 concerts at Shea Stadium, which were the last shows to play there before it was demolished and reopened as Citi Field in 2009. The documentary, which was written by Mark Monroe and directed by Paul Crowder, also went into a broader history of the stadium through archival footage and animated sequences.
2010: Joel founds 20th Century Cycles
Joel turned his passion for motorcycles into a gallery and shop in Oyster Bay called 20th Century Cycles. It houses his extensive collection of classic motorbike, and they also work to customize newer bikes to bring them back to a more classic look.
2012: Playing for "12-12-12 The Concert For Sandy Relief"
Joel lent his talents to this televised benefit to support victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
2013: Joel at Friends of the Bay Cleanup
Joel is helping cleanup Theodore Roosevelt Park in his hometown of Oyster Bay, New York as part of an annual cleanup event. It's great to see a huge star working directly to support an environment and community that means a lot to him.
2015: A huge touring year
Even though he hasn't recorded a new album in over a decade, that doesn't mean Joel hasn't been working hard touring and perfecting his act. In 2015 alone, Joel played 21 shows for his "Billy Joel in Concert" in addition to performing a monthly residency at Madison Square Garden which he kicked off in 2014.
2017: With Kevin James & Leah Remini
Joel was the first artist to play at the newly-renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and was joined by The King of Queens stars Kevin James & Leah Remini for a hilarious sendoff to New York.
2017: Playing with Paul Simon
Joel's list of incredible collaborations only gets longer! He teamed up with the incredible singer Paul Simon for some shows at, you guessed it, Madison Square Garden.
2018: Celebrating 100 MSG shows
Joel was honored in New York when he crossed the stunning 100 show-threshold at Madison Square Garden. The achievement was made a Guinness World Record in 2019. Other music acts that have racked up a ton of MSG shows include Elton John at over 70, the Grateful Dead at around 50, and Bruce Springsteen at over 40.
2019: Daughter Duet
Alexa Ray Joel has been following in her father's footsteps as a singer-songwriter and has joined him for a few shows of his Madison Square Garden residency.
2020: Joel & Jon Bon Jovi at MSG
This is one of Joel's final Madison Square Garden residency shows in January of 2020 before COVID-19 quarantines came in effect, and he was joined by Jersey legend Jon Bon Jovi for two songs.
2021: Return to Touring
Joel finally returned to the live circuit in August of 2021 when he played at Fenway Park in Boston.
2023: Still got it in L.A.
Joel performing a huge show at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, and is still touring relentlessly. He was joined by the legendary Stevie Nicks for this show.
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