Billy Joel is one of the most popular singers in the U.S., coming in sixth of all-time in album sales, but he didn’t do it the stereotypical “American Way.” The Piano Man is actually a bit camera shy (“I'm not a big TV actor type of guy. I'm a piano player”) and he certainly hasn’t moved to L.A. (he resides on more low-key Long Island instead), yet he’s managed to become one of the most popular songwriters of his time.
From “We Didn’t Start the Fire” to “Uptown Girl,” “Just the Way You Are,” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” Joel is the voice of a generation. You might not even know that some of your favorite songs were sung by the doe-eyed crooner: His ex-wife Christie Brinkley didn’t know that “The Stranger” and “New York State of Mind” were his hits upon meeting her future husband.
When Joel entered the business with his first album, Cold Spring Harbor, in 1971, he may not have “started the fire,” but he’s definitely kept the rock-and-roll spirit going: The star has a residency at Madison Square Garden and holds the record for the most performances at the arena, putting him in a perpetual “New York State of Mind.”
In honor of this Big Shot’s 67th birthday, we’ve round up 9 times Joel was America’s favorite crooner.
1. When he formed a 2-man doo-wop group with Jimmy Fallon.
The star appeared on an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and gave an a cappella performance of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in 4-part harmony. The video got a staggering 13.7 million views, proving that we can’t get enough of this incredible singer.
2. When Jimmy Fallon returned the favor at a N.Y.C. concert.
When Joel stopped by The Tonight Show earlier this year, he proposed that Fallon join him on stage at his next concert, and he was certainly a man of his word. The late night host joined the Piano Man for a few duets, even rocking a New York Rangers jersey that said “Joel” on the back.
3. When the amount of references to him on The Office was worthy of a Reddit thread.
Joel surely had a fan in the writer’s room of The Office, as he was mentioned countless times throughout the show and his music was played at pivotal moments like Roy’s wedding. Some enthusiastic fans even started a thread to gather all of the references to the iconic singer they could remember.
4. When his song became the opening credit for Bosom Buddies.
Joel’s 1978 hit, “My Life,” opened the hit TV show “for the longest time,” but it wasn’t sung by the star himself—until Adult Swim parodied the show. In this hilarious video, Joel returns to sing his hit. “It is really gratifying to know that they’re going to actually use my voice singing my song on the TV show, Bosom Buddies,” he says in the video below, around the 4:50 mark, taking it in stride when he’s jokingly asked to “sound more like the guy from the show.”
5. When he outsold Michael Jackson.
According to the RIAA, Joel’s U.S. album sales come in sixth of all time, behind only The Beatles, Garth Brooks, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, and the Eagles. The star comes in ahead of Michael Jackson, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and The Rolling Stones.
6. When thousands of fans chose to ring in the New Year with him.
7. When The Mindy Project called Madison Square Garden his home.
“I did not know they held sporting events at Madison Square Garden,” Mindy said in an episode from Season 4. “I thought that’s just where Billy Joel lived.” She has a point: Holding the record for the most performances ever at the Garden, Joel sings there about once a month to a typically sold-out crowd.
8. When Pink processed to his song at her wedding.
Joel has written countless romantic ballads, including “She’s Always a Woman,” to which the pop star walked down the aisle at her 2006 nuptials.
9. When he wrote this legendary hit.
For Joel, the first time was the charm: His very first single, Piano Man, debuted in 1973, and lives on as one of the century’s most popular songs. Happy birthday, Billy!