Billy Joel: 'I'm amazed they're still playing this stuff'
Honored with six Grammy Awards, the "Piano Man" will see his 40-year recording career celebrated with the release of the CD box set "Billy Joel: The Complete Albums Collection" Tuesday, Nov. 8. The same day, a "Legacy Edition" of Joel's "Piano Man" album debuts with a companion disc of his April 1972 Philadelphia studio session ... including "Captain Jack," which received radio airplay that led to Joel's contract with Columbia Records.
"I've wanted them to put together all the original albums in a set for a long time," Joel tells Zap2it. "They've been kind of spoon-feeding people a drip of an album here, a remixed or remastered album there, live stuff, greatest-hits packages and so on. To me, the state of the art is the original album I made. That goes from 'Cold Spring Harbor,' which I can't stand, all the way up to 'River of Dreams.'
"That's the definitive art form I created, and it's taken quite a long time to reach this point. It's a tough economy to sell something like this, and I've been sitting here signing cartons of albums. I don't know if that's going to help, but I've wanted this to be disseminated for a long time without it being diluted into just the hits or just the live material. The albums themselves were really the labor."
Despite his huge roster of standards -- from "She's Always a Woman," "Just the Way You Are" and "New York State of Mind" to "My Life," "Only the Good Die Young" and "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" -- favorite Long Island, N.Y., son Joel is surprised still to be such a playlist staple.
"I'm amazed they're still playing this stuff. I didn't know the classic-rock format would last this long, but it's even crossed over to other formats. I don't even know how radio works anymore. The college students I speak to now in master classes somehow found my stuff."
Joel performs a bounty of his classics in "The Last Play at Shea," a documentary about the two 2008 concerts he staged to help close New York's Shea Stadium. Though his frequent touring partner Sir Elton John isn't present, the film also features Sir Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett and has its Showtime premiere Friday, Nov. 11.
Rendering such tunes as "Uptown Girl" made Joel recognize "I was no spring chicken when I did those shows. Here I am now, realizing I'm getting very close to the end of my physicality to be able to sing a lot of this stuff. Some of the songs are in very high keys.
"Also, the vocal technique of some of them is difficult. Trying to sing like Frankie Valli wrecks your throat ... unless you're Frankie Valli, I guess. It's the same trying to sing like Ray Charles [on 'Baby Grand']. When we were at the point we were going to do the Shea shows, I realized, 'This may be the last time I may be able to do some of these things.' In a way, it was saying goodbye to a couple of those songs."