Billy Joel On The Alec Baldwin Podcast


Come out Virginia, don’t let me wait
You Catholic girls start much too late

There was a real Virginia. Who never gave Billy the time of day… Until she saw him onstage performing. Not when he was “Billy Joel,” just the keyboardist in the local band.

Remember local bands? There used to be clubs, like the Action House, Bar Mitzvah parties, school dances. And there would always be a live band performing the hits of the day. No one had a deejay. You spun records at home! Nothing could replace the feel of live music.

But suddenly there was no place to play and no one was good enough to perform and the records were all made by machines anyway.

Billy’s taking piano lessons for years. Then he’s asked to join a band. He’s not quite a pariah, yet he’s anything but a hero.

Then he takes the stage.

That’s why so many musicians did it. For the babes.

And you might be a tech hero, a rich banker, but you can never compete with a successful musician, because he channels truth from his soul!

I figured Billy picked Virginia’s name out of a hat, but no, she was real!


There were the Echoes and the Hassles and record deals but very little traction. Sick and tired of bands, Billy formed a duo with his drummer entitled Attila, and it was dead on arrival. He moved to L.A. to escape.

Failure is not only de rigueur in Silicon Valley, but in music too. You think you’ve made it, you’ve got a record deal, you’re on late night TV…but you’re nowhere.


He only played in that piano bar for six months. And the record was a turntable hit. That’s what’s so fascinating, Billy’s a student of the business, like his old cohort Elton John. They learned how everything worked, they had managers, but truly, they were in charge of their own careers.


That’s where Billy lived in L.A. It’s gone now. But the hotel had a famous coffee shop attached, entitled Duke’s, and every time you went a rock star was there.

The Tropicana was a dive.

But the kids back in Hicksville didn’t know this. He’d send postcards. They thought he had it made in Los Angeles.

But Billy couldn’t wait to get back.

Because everybody in L.A. was full of shit.

That’s true.

Billy says how everybody in La La Land is “a producer.” Billy says we all produce something! But these people usually produced nothing.

But that’s what I love about L.A. It’s the anti-east coast. Where you went to college, who your parents are, that’s all irrelevant. What’s most important is what kind of car you drive…and that’s just phony enough for me!

In other words, you can move to L.A. and be whoever you want to.

But that does not mean you’re gonna be a success.


It was mastered at the wrong speed. You’ve got to hear Billy do an imitation. Can you imagine the first album under your own name being a disaster? Most people would quit. Actually, Billy did, that’s when he went underground and worked at the piano bar in the Wilshire District.


Billy had no material. Other than “The Entertainer,” which I believed stiffed because it sounded so much like “Piano Man.” The label forced him into the studio, to follow up “Piano Man.”

But having said that, all the songs Billy deplores, I like.


So Billy takes matters into his own hands. He produces himself. He gets total control, he gets to use his own band, but he doesn’t get it quite right.

Yet, “Turnstiles” contains “New York State Of Mind.” And when you hear Billy perform this at the piano, you’ll get chills.

Billy didn’t know it would become a standard. Sometimes you write from your gut, and you find out what you have to say is what everybody else is thinking.

“Say Goodbye To Hollywood” was just that… Screw L.A!

“Summer, Highland Falls”…that’s where he lived when he moved back, on the Hudson.

“Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)”… Do you know the version from “Songs In The Attic”? When Billy went back and rerecorded his early material, supposedly live, after he’d made it? God, listen to not only “Miami 2017,” but the aforementioned “Summer, Highland Falls,” “Streetlife Serenader” and “The Ballad Of Billy The Kid.” This is my favorite Billy Joel album. Because it’s not a victory lap, Billy sings like he’s got something to prove, that he’s more than the Piano Man, that he matters.

And he does.

Turns out “Billy The Kid” is riddled with inaccuracies. He went with what rhymed.

But the best is the story behind “Miami 2017.” New York was going broke. Billy wanted to move back to see it. This song was written for his heirs, to tell them what it once was like before the lights went out on Broadway… “Miami 2017” is not a sci-fi fantasy, it’s real, written when the President told New York…Drop Dead!


It all comes down to Phil Ramone. Billy had seen his name on many a record, but primarily as an engineer. Billy decided to give Phil his chance, as a producer.

And this is a bit of a rewrite of history, Phil had produced with Paul Simon, but not alone, he didn’t get sole credit. Phil was hungry and Billy was too.

You think you’re best off working with the name. But usually you’re better off working with the up and comer. Who needs it just as much as you. Who’ll put in the time, who cares.

Phil made the album. Literally.

He was the coach. Who said when to play and when to take a break and eat Chinese.

And since Phil was classically trained, he made suggestions, he rearranged entire songs… “Just The Way You Are” sounded nothing like you know it before Phil got his hands on it.


His hardest album to make and his favorite.

And it contains his favorite unsung track, “Surprises,” which Billy plays so well and is my favorite from that album too.


An homage to what was. To hear Billy detail how he ripped off Frankie Valli and Little Anthony and the Imperials is to detail how work is truly done. Truly, they were an inspiration.


This podcast is not as good as Billy’s appearance on Howard Stern. There’s not quite the passion, not quite the edge.

But Stern’s broadcast was spectacular!

And you wish Alec Baldwin would shut up. He knows too little of what Billy’s talking about and is constantly trying to draw conclusions which are oftentimes inaccurate and cut Billy short.

But one thing about Alec doing the interviewing that’s important, the focus on relationships, since Alec had such a bad one with his ex.

Billy’s been married three times.

And he’s not gonna go to the altar again.


Maybe he just didn’t give enough. Music is a “harsh mistress” according to Billy. He couldn’t turn it off. Even when he was with his exes, relaxing, oftentimes he was not…he was thinking about changes, he was working, music was number one.

And right now it is not. He’s not performing and he’s not writing. He’s sick of sharing, he’s living for himself.

But Billy shares so much of himself, so honestly in this podcast, that even if you’re not a fan you should check it out.

And if you are… You’ll swoon. Because this is the story from the guy who wrote the story.

Episode #21, Billy Joel

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