Billy Joel has amassed enough record sales in his career to become the sixth best-selling recording artist in U.S. history. He was once married to arguably the most famous supermodel in the world. His music inspired a hit Broadway musical.
But was he ever “cool?” When Joel was regularly producing new music, those who were paid to critique it – or the artist creating it – never deemed Joel hip. He wasn’t a musical chameleon, like David Bowie. He drew from composers like Gershwin and Copland, unlike Bruce Springsteen, whose hero was hipster ragamuffin Woody Guthrie.
When Joel returns to Houston this Friday, his fans will pack Toyota Center. They’ll see the same Billy Joel they know and love. But they’ll also see the 2015 model, suddenly chic and most definitely happening. Here are just ten examples of why Billy Joel is fire right now:
10. He Sired a Baby At 65
That’s right, Billy Joel is once again a father, and at the same age that your father is thinking about retirement. He and his wife, Alexis, welcomed their infant daughter Della Rose home in the spring. All things being in working order alone scores Joel cool points, but having children late in life is some badassery that once was reserved for kings and scoundrels. Congrats, Papa Joel!
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9. He Plays Piano Better With Nine Fingers Than Most Do With Ten
According to the Internets, Joel’s left thumb is mostly fleshy matter with no bone, thanks to a motorcycle accident he had many years ago. This minutiae qualifies him in that rare breed of people who do extraordinary things with fewer tools than others can do with the entire kit. Thumbs are pretty important; ust ask any of the animal kingdom’s species without opposable ones. And they are certainly required for the sort of playing Joel does on songs that showcase his skills, like “Angry Young Man.”
8. Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer Love Billy Joel
Being attached in any way to this Hollywood power duo is pretty awesome. Having them come to your show, join you onstage and dance atop your piano is straight-up baller.
Acts that played the farm at this year’s Bonnaroo included Childish Gambino, Tycho, Bassnectar, Kendrick Lamar and Billy freakin’ Joel. In fact, Joel closed the festival out on the final night of the event, to a crowd eager for the hits. Be assured, just as there were middle-aged dads being dragged to the festival by their kids and getting hip to Florence & The Machine and Spoon; conversely, those kids were hearing and better appreciating vaguely familiar tunes like “The Longest Time” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” That’s how it worked at our household, anyway, when my musician kids gave Joel's "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" the ska-punk treatment 33 years from its original release.
6. Grimes Knows Billy Joel
According to this Stereogum piece, Grimes listened to a lot of Billy Joel to influence her latest work, dubbing Joel “Bro-Art” and lumping him in with other apparent artsy bros like The Boss. Maybe you can hear the Piano Man’s alleged influence on Grimes’ new single, “Scream.”
5. Billy Joel’s Songs Played All At Once
Described by listeners as “hell’s cocktail party” and “this is what it feels like to be from Long Island,” Joel’s greatest hits got the noise treatment a few years ago. Jokingly, the mega-mashup got comparisons to Xiu Xiu, but less funny — and way cool for the Piano Man — was the video had more hits than some by young, aspiring and worthy artists.
4. Billy Joel Quits Green Day
Presently, the only meshing of punk rock and mainstream better than the faux news that tripped up Billie Joe Armstrong fans this year is the trend to meme Bernie Sanders as all things punk. But, before that, there was this, apparently inspired by either a typo or someone’s actual belief that Billy Joel was the front man for Green Day. Either way, it caught traction and kept both rockers in the public eye, with neither having to lift a finger at all.
3. The Music
The following is a sample of artists who have sampled Billy Joel in their songs: Daft Punk, Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Das Racist, Action Bronson, Drake and Jay-Z. Consider the exercise of selecting what to sample. As a producer, you’d want something that fits sonically, but also has that “I’ve heard that before” appeal that attracts a listener’s ear. As the third bestselling solo artist in U.S. recording history, there’s a good chance even the most casual listener has heard and can recognize a Billy Joel song.
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2. He’s The King of One of the World’s Greatest Cities
Two years ago, Joel began his residency at the iconic Madison Square Garden, where he is invited to perform once a month “indefinitely.” Even before that, he defined himself as quintessentially New York with “New York State of Mind” and star-studded concert events at Yankee and Shea stadiums. More recently, he sang the national anthem at the Mets’ World Series appearance, which turned into a magical group singalong to “Piano Man,” which apparently amazed even the artist himself.
1. He Doesn’t Care If He’s Cool or Not
Famously, Joel is known to end his shows with the good and time-honored advice, “Don’t take any shit from anybody.” There’s nothing cooler in life than following your own advice.
Billy Joel performs Friday, November 5 at Toyota Center, 1510 Polk. Gates open at 7 p.m.