Billy Joel critiques himself -- The artist shares his thoughts on his past albums

By EW Staff
Updated September 10, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

Cold Spring Harbor (1971) Can’t listen to it. Horribly recorded and my voice was speeded up.

Piano Man (1973) This is based on working in a piano bar on Wilshire Boulevard in L.A. in 1972 under the name Bill Martin I was surprised the title song was a hit. In a way that’s the story of any hit record I’ve had — they’re all bizarre, strange, novelty numbers, and not particularly definitive of my work. I’ve never intentionally written a hit. I write albums as if they were Broadway musicals — the label picks the single after I’m done. My problem is that people tend to define me in terms of my hits and may not know the substantive elements of my composition.

Streetlife Serenade (1974) Interesting musical ideas, but nothing to say lyrically. I was trying to be Debussy in the title track — it didn’t work.

Turnstiles (1976) Self-produced, good material. God bless Streisand for covering ”New York State of Mind” — suddenly everyone was paying attention.

The Stranger (1977) I’m tired of ”Just the Way You Are” — it’s become a cliché. But the album made me understand that critics don’t always know what they’re talking about, since most said it was a dismal album and there were no hits. [It went on to become the biggest-seller in CBS’ history until Michael Jackson’s Thriller.]

Glass Houses (1980) Just a blast to do — everything was fun. I think there was a perception that I was trying to pose as a new-wave guy, and that wasn’t in any way my intention. My intention was to write bigger stuff we could play in arenas.

Songs in the Attic (1981) It’s a live album of obscure songs from the old days. I’d had three successful records and wanted to show that I was better live than in a studio.

The Nylon Curtain (1982) The album of which I’m most proud. Not as fun as Glass Houses because it was so difficult. It was an ambitious undertaking — I wanted to create a masterpiece. I remember listening to ”Allentown” and thinking, ‘This is good,’ and that I had somehow created the feelings I had when I listened to Beatles albums.

An Innocent Man (1983) It’s basically a valentine to Christie. The essence of it was being newly single and becoming reacquainted with romance. It’s pretty much based around the song ”Uptown Girl.” The other single off it is ”Tell Her About It,” which I cannot stand! It works within the context of the album, but not on its own. There was one other thing about this album: I knew it was gonna be the last time I’d be able to hit certain notes. I was losing my tenor falsetto — I was waving goodbye to the boy voice.

Greatest Hits Volumes I & II (1985) I wasn’t a big fan of greatest-hits albums. I thought they were, not a rip-off, but somehow a time-stalling technique — in fact, I wanted to call it Killing Time. I also wanted to do two albums for the price of one, and the record company said, ”Sure, Billy,” then charged for a double album.

The Bridge (1986) Not a happy album. I wasn’t simpatico with the musicians, some of whom I’d been working with a long time. I don’t think the material was good; I was pressured by management to put it out too fast. By the end, I sort of gave up caring, which for me was unusual. I remember reading bad reviews and agreeing with them.

Storm Front (1989) I love it. I worked with women musicians for the first time and enjoyed that. The title song isn’t as well known as others, but I think it’s one of the most fun pieces of music I’ve ever written.

River of Dreams (1993) Like all my albums, you hear the songs in the sequence they were written. But this one’s the most personal. When I wrote ”No Man’s Land,” I was feeling like an Old Testament prophet, shaking my fist at the sky, saying, ”The whole thing’s corrupt! We’re all damned!”