After a wildly successful two decades which saw him become the third bestselling solo artist of all time in the U.S. (behind Garth Brooks and sometimes-concert partner Elton John), Billy Joel announced in the late 1990s that he had no future plans to do pop recordings. He began the new millennium blending homages to the past (2000 Years: The Millennium Concert) with his first venture into the classical realm. 2001's Fantasies & Delusions features solo piano pieces (mostly sonatas), written by Joel and performed by Richard Joos.
It's entirely possible that Joel shifted gears because there was simply no way to top his incredible string of pop achievements.
The Bronx born singer-songwriter discovered classical music at age four before digging into the music of chief influences Ray Charles (whom he collaborated with on 1986's "Baby Grand"), The Beatles, Dave Brubeck, the Rolling Stones and Otis Redding. In his later teens, he joined the Long Island band The Hassles, who recorded for United Artists, and then Attila, signed to Epic. Joel signed a solo recording contract in 1972 and released Cold Spring Harbor, named after a village on Long Island's north shore. A Philly radio station, WMMR-FM, began playing his song "Captain Jack," which became an underground hit.
His later hits "Piano Man" and "My Life" chronicle his move West in 1973 to play in piano bars as "Bill Martin." The success of "Captain Jack" earned him a longterm deal with Columbia, and "Piano Man" became his first Top 20 single. He enjoyed hits with Street Life Serenade and Turnstiles, and 1977's The Stranger made him a superstar. The album eventually surpassed Simon And Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water as Columbia's bestselling of all time.
Its best-known track, "Just The Way You Are," later won two Grammy Awards for Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year. Joel's 1979 album, 52nd Street, spawned another smash single, "My Life," and 1980's Glass Houses included his first U.S. #1 hit, "It's Still Rock 'N' Roll To Me." Glass Houses earned Joel his fifth Grammy in three years.
His image as a popular, uncontroversial figure was shaken with The Nylon Curtain, which featured two notable "protest" compositions, "Allentown" and "Goodnight Saigon." He followed that in 1983 with the old fashioned rock vibe of An Innocent Man, which included the effervescent bestseller "Uptown Girl", a tribute to his then-wife, model Christie Brinkley.
In 1985, Greatest Hits Volume I and Volume II became Joel's seventh consecutive Top 10 album. That year, he joined fellow musicians John Mellencamp and Randy Newman for Farm Aid I, and also participated in USA For Africa. After the success of 1986's The Bridge, 1987 marked a personal and professional triumph for Joel as he became the first U.S. pop star to bring a fully-staged rock production to the Soviet Union. In 1989, after splitting with his longtime manager, he released the Grammy nominated #1 album Storm Front, which spawned the #1 single "We Didn't Start The Fire." 1993's River of Dreams album debuted at #1, where it stayed for 3 weeks. The first single, "The River of Dreams," spent 12 weeks at #1 on the Adult Contemporary Chart, setting a new record. The album received four Grammy nominations.
In 1994, he began the first of several successful tours with fellow piano man Elton John. In February 1999, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2001, he was honored by the Songwriter's Hall of Fame with the Johnny Mercer Award, the organization's highest honor.