Tonawanda News

December 2, 2013

MUSIC NOTES: Hoping the Piano Man will sing us a song

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Billy Joel recently announced two additional shows at Madison Square Garden, sparking rumors that the piano man will be touring again, this time without his piano partner Elton John. Joel is one of the best live performers in the modern era.

Seeing Joel’s name in the news brought back some fond musical memories from my childhood, especially how I was first introduced to the music of Billy Joel.

I didn’t grow up in a musical family, my father usually listened to talk radio or radio dramas and my mother just listened to what my father did. When Dad did listen to music, it was usually big band, and occasionally The Beatles.

I had two older sisters with distinct musical tastes, and as much as I professed my disdain for them and relished the role of “annoying little brother,” I still held a respect and admiration for both of them and paid attention to their musical tastes to some degree.

My sister Karen listened to Queen, and Barry Manilow and my sister Kathy listened to Billy Joel. My first album was “Abbey Road” by The Beatles, but I did get caught up in the Bee Gees hype. The funny thing is that my dad refused to get me a Bee Gees album for Christmas because he hated them so much so he introduced me to The Beatles after we saw the “Sgt. Pepper” movie.

It wasn’t until my sisters went to college that I picked up on some of their musical tastes. I eventually owned every Queen album, and a good chunk of Billy Joel’s albums (I never acquired a taste for Barry Manilow).

I distinctly remember my sister Kathy attending a Billy Joel concert in 1977. I was 11 years old and totally resented my sister being able to attend a rock concert (she was 15). After she told me about how great the show was I became bound and determined to see a concert, which happened two years later.

I didn’t wind up seeing Billy Joel in concert until Oct. 2, 1986 as part of his tour supporting “The Bridge,” an amazing album and the third compact disc I ever owned. He opened the show with a stellar version of “Running on Ice” and performed with amazing intensity all evening.

Even though “The Bridge” is an excellent album, Joel had a run of three masterpieces, “The Stranger,” “52nd Street” and “Glass Houses.” All three of those albums are simply amazing, containing no filler, and provided me hours of listening pleasure.

The songs from those three albums include “Just the Way You Are,” “You May Be Right” and “Big Shot.” Of course, no discussion of Billy Joel’s work is complete without mentioning “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” an epic song that encapsulates everything that makes Billy Joel such a great musician.

After the three-album run, Joel continued to produce great music, including songs with important social commentary like “Goodnight Saigon” and “Allentown.”  

Sadly, the last time Joel has released an album of new pop material was “River of Dreams” in 1993. Billy Joel now has more compilation albums than he has studio albums.

Even though he is not recording new material, it’s good to know he hasn’t completely retired from performing. We will keep our fingers crossed he comes back to Western New York.

Thom Jennings writes a weekly column on the music scene for Sunday Lifestyle. Email him at