It’s the forty-fifth anniversary of the monstrously popular album entitled 52nd Street from Billy Joel. Running the numbers on Billy Joel’s 1978 Grammy Award Album of the Year 52nd Street is breathtaking: his sixth studio album, and the first after The Piano Man’s breakthrough The Stranger; Joel’s first #1-seller, with over 7,000,000 sold just in the US; winner of two Grammy Awards; the #1 seller of the entire following year, 1979; and #354 on Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Albums of All Time.William Martin Billy Joel has sold more albums in the U.S. than any pop/rock singer except for Elvis Presley. Superstar musicians in that rarefied league ( and many more only pretenders to it ) always surround themselves with gaggles of managers, “minders”, assistants, agents, and promoters , and the size of the entourage doubles when they’re on tour. So imagine my surprise when Billy Joel arrived for our scheduled interview at my Orlando hotel room door at the decidedly unhip hour of 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning – completely alone.
Billy had played to a sold-out audience of 15,000 only 12 hours earlier, but now here he stood before me without security guard or tour manager, dressed in an old navy-blue t-shirt, matching shorts, and well-worn canvas deck shoes, just another schlep tourist whose kid wanted to meet a real celebrity. Like Mickey Mouse, for instance.
What ensued was a delightful conversation with Billy Joel by two guys who had never met, from different parts of America, just shooting the breeze about mutual loves. Sure, we talked rock’n’roll, from Billy seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show to British Invasion bands that followed; garage rock, and the New York City punk scene that influenced his approach after the1978 52nd Street album. But we also talked at length about baseball (he was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan until they moved to L.A. in 1958, when he switched to the Yankees); about why he signed with Columbia Records, and in spite of revisionist history to the contrary, how 1973’s “Piano Man” fifty years ago was only a turntable hit single that never made any money for the long-suffering label until after The Stranger rewrote the record books almost five years later; and about his long creative collaboration with the late producer Phil Ramone. ( Billy Joel with superstar producer Phil Ramone, right, who passed away in 2013)
Find out why 52nd Street , containing “Big Shot”, “My Life”, “Stiletto”,”Honesty”,”Half a Mile Away”, and “Until the Night” sold over 7 million copies, stayed at #1 for eight consecutive weeks, and won Billy Joel a Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1978. – Redbeard