I didn’t know back in 1993 when I bought Billy Joel’s River of Dreams that it would be the last album of pop songs he’d ever release. Maybe Joel has a surprise in store 27 years later, but it sure seems like this was his swan song.
This is far from my favorite Billy Joel album — a quick glance at his discography suggests I’d rank it at #11 of 12 — but it’s plenty good enough to be my #8 album of 1993.
An Innocent Man, Billy Joel’s tribute to the R&P, soul and doo wop music of his youth, is my #7 album of 1983.
A Innocent Man was Joel’s follow-up to the excellent, but under-performing (by his standards), The Nylon Curtain. While Nylon went “only” double-Platinum, this album went 7x Platinum and ties with 52nd Street and Glass Houses as his second most successful album, behind the Diamond-level The Stranger.
Yes, Billy Joel was a freaking juggernaut.
My final pick for the upcoming Billy Joel anthology series is ‘Big Man on Mulberry Street,’ the epic, jazzy centerpiece of Joel’s 1986 album The Bridge. This is one of Joel’s best songs, so different than so much of what preceded it, yet still quintessentially him.
The song features one of Joel’s great characters, a small-time New Yorker with big-time dreams. This guy, with the right writing and acting, could be an incredibly rich character.
Our next Billy Joel anthology song comes from 1978’s 52nd Street, and this one is not about a person but a place.
‘Zanzibar’ wasn’t a hit at the time but it became a staple of Joel’s concerts and is a fan favorite. It’s a perfect representation of the jazz style Joel introduced to his pop rock for this album. Just check out those horn solos.
My next candidate for the Billy Joel anthology series comes from his 1976 album Turnstiles, and — like ‘Roberta’ yesterday — it’s another lesser-known track with a title that’s somebody’s first name.
The James in this song is reportedly based on a friend of Joel’s named James Bosse, who played with him in a band when they were teenagers. In some interviews, Joel has denied that the song is about a specific person and suggested the name just sounded right with the melody.