Billy Joel

Pop-rocker Billy Joel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by the

legendary Ray Charles in March. Over the past two decades and more, Joel has

been a worldwide hit maker and concert attraction.

Billy Joel was born 50 years ago today in Hicksville, N.Y. He learned classical

piano as a youth and joined his first band, the Echoes, in 1964. After four

years, Joel quit to join the Long Island, N.Y., band the Hassels, who had a

contract with United Artists Records. Joel recorded two LPs with the group

before forming Attila with Hassels' drummer Jon Small.

After making one LP, Attila split and Joel began working on his own songs as a

solo artist. He issued Cold Spring Harbor on Ripp Records in 1972, but

the album flopped. A Columbia Records executive heard Joel's song "Captain Jack"

on the radio and was impressed enough to sign the budding songwriter.

The cut was included on Joel's 1973 Columbia debut, Piano Man, which

spawned the top-30 title track. The follow-up, Streetlife Serenade, sold

moderately well due to FM-radio airplay for "The Entertainer."

Turnstiles, despite its being one of the most critically praised LPs of

Joel's career, only made #122 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Though

it included some of Joel's strongest material, such as "Summer, Highland Falls"

and "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" (RealAudio

excerpt), the album's commercial failure put Joel's career at risk.

But he rebounded with his popular breakthrough, the following year's The

Stranger, which made him a star with its bouncy, Beatles-esque pop-rock. The

album spawned massive hits in "Just the Way You Are," "Movin' Out (Anthony's

Song)," "She's Always a Woman" and "Only the Good Die Young." In 1978 Joel

released 52nd Street, which spent eight weeks at #1 in the U.S., selling

more than 2 million copies within the first month of its release. Hit singles

included "My Life," "Big Shot" and "Honesty."

Influenced by the then-hot punk rock movement, Joel brought a tougher edge to

1980's #1 Glass Houses, which spawned the smashes "You May Be Right,"

"It's Still Rock 'n' Roll to Me," "Don't Ask Me Why" and "Sometimes a Fantasy."

Most critics were unimpressed with Joel the punk rocker. Songs in the

Attic, a live 1981 LP, showcased the more folk-oriented material he had

written prior to his stardom.

The Nylon Curtain (1982), Joel's bid to gain critical respect as a

composer, sold relatively poorly but earned him some positive reviews. But the

critics came after him again when he released the rock oldies-influenced An

Innocent Man (1983).

In 1987 Joel embarked on a major tour of the Soviet Union, during which his

Leningrad concert was recorded for the live Kohuept. He enjoyed a #1

smash two years later with "We Didn't Start the Fire," from the chart-topping

Storm Front. River of Dreams -- which Joel said would be his last pop LP

before he would launch a classical music career -- debuted at #1 in 1993 and

included the top-10 title track.

Following the breakup of his marriage to supermodel Christie Brinkley, Joel

spent a good deal of the late '90s touring, sometimes with Elton John. After

being erroneously announced as an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

last year, Joel was inducted this year along with such artists as Bruce

Springsteen and Paul McCartney.

In April, Joel sang versions of Frank Sinatra hits at New York's Carnegie Hall

during the annual Rainforest Benefit organized by Sting and Trudie Styler.

Other birthdays: Hank Snow, 85; Pete Birrell (Freddie and the Dreamers), 58;

Tommy Roe, 57; Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield/Poco), 55; Clint Holmes, 53;

Steve Katz (Blood, Sweat and Tears), 54; Tom Petersson (Cheap Trick), 49; John

Edwards (Status Quo), 46; Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode), 37; Paul Heaton

(Housemartins, The Beautiful South, Beats International), 37; Dan Regan (Reel

Big Fish), 22; Tamia, 24 ... Dave Prater (Sam and Dave), 1937-1988.