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"Good Times Roll For Billy Joel"
By: Larry Rodgers
(April 3rd, 2006)

Billy Joel's fans worry about his car crashes and alcohol rehab, and his record company is frustrated by his semiretirement.

Critics call him a musical lightweight, and gossip columnists had a field day when his third wife turned out to be less than half his age.

Still, the 56 year-old singer's outlook is generally positive.

"I feel great," he says. "A few years back, I was probably drinking too much, but I wasn't all that much different than I am now. Now, I'm just not drinking."

But don't think the man who wrote such caustic social commentary as "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" and "We Didn't Start The Fire" is viewing the world completely through rose-colored glasses.

He received rave reviews after selling out 12 nights at New York's Madison Square Garden (breaking Bruce Springsteen's record) but fears baby boomer fans' nostalgia clouds their perspective.

Joel comes to Phoenix, Arizona's US Airways Center today, a make-up date for a canceled March 2005 show here.

"They come and see me, and we're doing OK and they think, 'Wow, he's great, better than he ever was.' I have to disagree," he says. "My voice has thickened out a good deal; I have a lot more going on in the lower register."

And don't expect antics from the performer who once did handstands on the keyboard.

"I used to climb the speaker cables all the way up to the roof of these coliseums...I was nuts," he says.

It seemed that Joel might be driving himself nuts the past several years as he searched for an anchor in his life after the end of his second marriage in 1994 to model Christie Brinkley. That same year he entered alcohol rehab for the first time. He wrecked three cars from 2002 through 2004.

Since then, he has married Katie Lee, a 24 year-old graduate of Ohio's Miami University who hosts the Bravo Channel's new "Top Chef" reality show. His new wife stood by him when he canceled concerts in Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada last year to again enter alcohol rehabilitation.

Through it all, he has continued to compose.

"I always like classical music, and when I was done with "River of Dreams," (1993) I started listening again to Beethoven's symphonies," Joel says.

"It reminded me of the first time I heard Led Zeppelin. I felt puny and insignificant."

Inspired, he composed songs for his "Fantasies & Delusions" album of 2001. A collection of solo piano pieces, mainly sonatas, written by Joel and performed by Richard Joo, the album received favorable reviews.

These days, Joel says, "I'm just allowing myself to write music without any parameters, without it being in song form or tailored to be recorded by a rock and roll band.

"It's just pure music. There's no lyrics, although there could be lyrics."

He dipped back into pop music in 2005 for the first anniversary of his marriage. He wrote and recorded the song "It's A Good Life" as a duet with Tony Bennett on Bennett's duets album.

His record company would like him to do more.

"The record company's going, 'Billy, why don't you do something for us? Come on, don't you want to be relevant? Don't you want to be contemporary?' Not really," he says. "I just want to be productive."

"'Piano Man' Has Phoenix Crowd Feeling All Right"
By: Larry Rodgers
(April 4th, 2006)

It took Billy Joel a year to deliver a concert to Phoenix, but it was clearly worth the wait for the sold-out crowd at US Airways Center on Monday night.

"I want to thank you for waiting a year," the 56 year-old member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said early in his two-hour concert. "I want to apologize."

Joel canceled a Phoenix date last year to undergo his second stint in alcohol rehabilitation. He recently told The Arizona Republic that after having an occasional glass of wine following his first try at rehab, he's not drinking at all this time around.

Remarried for a third time, to Katie Lee Joel of the Bravo TV network's "Top Chef" program, Joel was in good spirits Monday as he wound down his first solo tour since 1998.

With no fancy introduction and a stage set that featured few of the bells and whistles used by many current touring acts, Joel got right down to business, with a rocking version of "Prelude/Angry Young Man" followed quickly by one of his many mega-hits, "My Life."

Backed by an eight-piece band that included a soulful brass section, Joel mostly played a grand piano on a rotating floor that allowed all his fans a peek at the keyboard mastery that has won multiple Grammy awards and helped sell 100 million albums.

He spiced his set with the hits that many of the baby boomers in attendance had grown up on, including "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," "She's Always A Woman," "Big Shot," and "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me." Having lost much of his hair and gained a few pounds since the early '70s, Joel kept the audience smiling by not taking himself too seriously. He joked about playing Phoenix's Celebrity Theatre in 1975, recalling that "we all got nauseous" on that venue's small revolving stage.

Joel hasn't released an album of new pop music since 1993's "River of Dreams," but that was of no consequence to the appreciative crowd, which also included fans in their 20s and 30s. The singer had to know different as he belted out, "And I won't be here in another year if I don't stay on the charts" during a spirited version of another classic, "The Entertainer." As he had promised, Joel also reached into some "album cuts" such as" Everybody Loves You Now," "Zanzibar," and "The Ballad of Billy The Kid." The New York-born superstar explained that he wrote "The Ballad of Billy The Kid" after he moved to the West Coast in the mid-'70s and decided to create a song that might work in the soundtrack of a Western movie. After completing a rocking version of the tune, he admitted, "That song was complete bullshit. I've got him being hung. I think he was shot. I've got him buried on Boot Hill, I don't know where the hell the guy was buried."

Joel's music has touches of rock, soul, jazz, gospel, and Broadway, and some of Monday's high points came courtesy of his brass section, which was adept at old-school sounds. Longtime collaborator Richie Cannata's sax solo on "New York State of Mind" was brilliant. Cannata was joined by Mark Rivera and Crystal Taliefero for a three-way sax jam on yet another rock classic, "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," which is the title of a touring dance production based on Joel's music. Cannata and Rivera also dueled on a poignant version of "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant."

Joel picked up an electric guitar for a few tunes and brought out a guitar tech and Phoenix resident called Chainsaw for a fun cover of AC/DC's "Highway To Hell." The one complaint about the evening was that Joel's beautiful storytelling lyrics were often muddled. Longtime fans, of course, knew the words, but younger members of the audience probably had a tough time grasping the rapid-fire history lesson of "We Didn't Start The Fire" and the coming-of-age song "Only The Good Die Young."

But everyone seemed to know the words to the jukebox favorite "Piano Man," which closed the show.

Joel got ready to belt out the song's bittersweet chorus, but then smiled and let 16,000 fans sing, "Were all in the mood for a melody, and you've got us feeling all right."

That sing-along line summed up this performance by an American musical treasure.

"Billy Joel - He Won't Go Changin'"
Relevant? Schmelevant. Visiting LA, The Singer/Songwriter Is Content To Stick With His Hits From The '70s & '80s

By: Richard Cromelin
(April 7th, 2006)

It's been 13 years since Billy Joel has had a new pop album on the charts and seven since he's headlined his own Los Angeles, California concert. Those factors created a blend of nostalgia and anticipation when the "Piano Man" came to Staples Center on Wednesday.

That's a fairly standard formula for Joel and other semi-active stars of the '70s and '80s who periodically arouse themselves from slumber to tour, relying on the strength of fans' fond memories to sell tickets and T-shirts.

But most of them feel compelled to offer at least a suggestion that they still have some contemporary relevance. The Eagles play a couple of new songs in their oldies-laden show, and Fleetwood Mac made a whole new album when the group hit the road again a few years ago.

Not Joel. He stuck entirely to songs from his two prime, distant decades Wednesday, and while that perspective didn't say much for his creative juices, there was something refreshing and typically blunt about his acceptance of the reality.

But it didn't leave much room for revelation or food for discussion. People's opinions on Joel are pretty much set, and a program of old favorites isn't likely to change many minds or stir the kind of debate among fans that enlivens the pop experience.

On the question of bang for buck, the 56 year-old singer delivered strongly, playing for more than two hours and treating the music and the audience with reasonable intelligence and respect. Up to a point. He did turn a road crew member loose near the end of the night to perform AC/DC's "Highway To Hell," and he became more anonymous himself when he switched from piano to guitar.

The early portion of the sold-out show was actually engaging, as Joel took time between songs to talk about the compositions. Some, including "The Entertainer" and "The Ballad of Billy The Kid," were written during his early-'70s Los Angeles sojourn, and Joel reminisced good-naturedly about his time among the locals way back when. He also poked fun at himself and his recent string of traffic mishaps, mentioning that he welcomes the income from his concert ticket sales. "You wouldn't believe my car insurance," he quipped, prompting a rim shot from drummer Chuck Burgi.

These more lighthearted, personable aspects gradually faded, though, as Joel clammed up and focused on playing and singing, and the hits and fan favorites started rolling and rolling - "We Didn't Start The Fire," "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me," "My Life," "New York State of Mind," et al.

All the old virtues - the feverish urgency, the engaging pop craft - were intact, as were the features that used to keep the critics' claws out. Joel's music usually struggles, unsuccessfully, to restrain its florid, grandiose urges, and his facility with a range of styles can make him seem dilettantish. And though he's carved out a niche of his own, as an originator he'll always take a back seat to the three contemporaries he most resembles: Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, and Elton John.

If we didn't know all that before, it should be pretty clear now. That's just the way he is.

"Joel's Got It, Even As Angry Older Man"
By: Paul Saitowitz
(April 7th, 2006)

In a day and age where the only singer/songwriters comfortable at the top of the charts are sappy crooners a la James Blunt or pedantic rhythm and blues characters such as R. Kelly, it's a wonder someone like Billy Joel ever made it so big.

Thankfully, he did, and on Wednesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, the Long Island-reared troubadour ran through what seemed like an endless catalogue of hits.

He opened the show with a scorching rendition of "Prelude/Angry Young Man." The song's lyrics capture the essence of reckless youth, and Joel's fingers blazing across his piano showed that, even at 56, there is plenty of that spirit still burning in him.

From "My Life" to "Everybody Loves You Now," from "The Entertainer" to "The Ballad of Billy The Kid," Billy Joel's songs sound as vibrant today as they did when they were recorded 30 years ago.

"New York State of Mind," which featured the singer alone at the piano, made you feel like you were listening in a smoky bar and showcased Joel's still-ample vocal range.

However, the night wasn't flawless, as was evidenced by "Pressure," a synthesizer-driven tune that was dull at the best of times.

A helicopter sound effect blared through the arena as a preamble to the Vietnam War memoir "Goodnight Saigon." Joel was joined on stage by a group of what appeared to be current soldiers who, in a powerful moment, locked arms and swayed along to the chorus.

He followed that one up with "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," the song that inspired a Broadway musical.

After 23 songs, Joel left the stage and returned for an encore that featured an inspired "Only The Good Die Young," a somewhat clumsy "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" and, of course, "Piano Man."

Joel's signature tune had every one of the 20,000 plus in attendance singing along because, after all, "it was he they were coming to see to forget about life for a while."

"Joel's Wife Falls For His Pug"
(April 10th, 2006)

Billy Joel's young bride Katie Lee found the best way to the rocker's heart - falling for his pet pug, Fionoula. The dog-loving chef impressed her husband-to-be when his beloved pooch became a doting companion to Lee after she cooked up peanut butter dog biscuits. Lee explains, "When my husband and I started dating, he already had Fionoula and she was the apple of his eye. And then I came along and she knew before I did that I was going to be her mommy. "Fionoula immediately took to me and we bonded right away. She kind of became my dog." Lee has become such a fan of Fionoula's that she recently staged a St. Valentine's Day birthday for the pug. She adds, "My husband had a concert in Philadelphia so I had everyone backstage sing her happy birthday.

"Blue-Collar Performer: Joel Is All Work So Fans Can Play"
Excess of Instrumentation Distraction at MGM Show

By: Jason Bracelin
(April 10th, 2006)

Only beer makes people dance worse than Billy Joel.

This is not an insult.

Nor is it meant to belittle the crowd that packed the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday, where the ladies stomped their feet and pumped their arms like they were jogging through wet cement, and the fellas rolled their shoulders and swished their hips haphazardly, as if they were dodging invisible bullets.

After all, Joel's primary aim these days is to clear any inhibitions from the room, to loosen joints while tightening your grip on your drink.

He's a bucket of Budweiser come to life, playing the piano with his butt.

If it all looks a little silly, well, that's because it is - and that's the whole point.

Joel has always fancied himself a blue-collar performer: His songs are populated by working-class heroes and zeroes who aspire to something greater: a bigger life, a better lover, a stronger buzz. You see it in the hard-luck denizens of "Allentown" and the recalcitrant young man in "My Life."

But mostly they're just out for a good time, and Joel seems intent on giving it to them - and to us as well.

He frequently makes fun of himself, and you find yourself chuckling along more than you probably should.

Upon thanking the folks in the nosebleed section for showing up, he lampooned his much-publicized fender benders. "I need the money now," he quipped, "my car insurance is nuts."

He later winced upon catching his husky, greying visage on one of the giant video screens that buttressed the stage. "Geez, I look like Lenin," he sighed, then rolled his eyes at the ladies loudly professing their lust for him. "You need to get out more," he chortled.

Joel's entire set was similarly loose and high-spirited, filled with enough hits to stock several jukeboxes. He did come through with a few curveballs though, most notably the overlooked gem "Everybody Loves You Now."

"Nothing lasts forever, and it's all been done before," he sang. The tune scrutinizes the fleeting, disembodied nature of fame. With the song, Joel articulated the sentiment that's long defined him: He's never valued anything so much as perseverance - and not its innovation, but the actual hard labor that has kept him around all these years.

Joel certainly worked hard on Saturday night, boxing the mike stand, leaping atop his piano, pounding the keys like they owed him money.

Backed by an eight-piece band, Joel frequently fattened his tunes with more robust arrangements.

Occasionally, his songs got a little too thick in the waist though, smothered in an excess of instrumentation - flutes, maracas, triangles, oh my! - and way too many brass solos. No less than three saxophonists honked their way through "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," which sounded like dueling marching bands engaged in an alley fight.

The best songs were the most stripped down numbers, such as a growling "A Matter of Trust," where Joel strapped on a guitar and let the riffs do the talking, and a similarly overheated "Big Shot," where Joel shouted through the tune until his face turned red.

But for all the arch gestures, things ended simply enough, with Joel plinking through the requisite "Piano Man," letting the audience carry much of the tune.

"You've got us feeling all right," the crowd bellowed, finishing the song's chorus.

And with that, Joel left the stage. His only job was done.

"His Number's Up - at Madison Square Garden"
By: Glenn Gamboa
(April 20th, 2006)

OK, so "Billy Joel Day" - which Senator Chuck Schumer declared to commemorate Joel's record-breaking 11th consecutive sold-out show at Madison Square Garden last night - didn't exactly go as the honoree would have wanted.

"'Billy Joel Day' to Billy Joel? He's on his motorcycle on the way to his boat with my wife on the back with her arms around me," Joel said, during a news conference at the Garden. "Billy Joel's gotta work on 'Billy Joel Day?' I'm here at my office."

That said, the Hicksville native still had a pretty good time. He became the first entertainer in Madison Square Garden's 125-year history to get his "number" - in Joel's case, "12," for the number of sold-out shows on his current run there - retired by the Garden. The banner will be raised during Joel's 12th concert on Monday and will remain there for all entertainment events.

In accepting the honor, Joel recalled one of his most memorable Garden performances, at "The Concert for New York City" in October 2001, where he sang "New York State of Mind" a month after the terrorist attacks. "That was tough," he said. "I wanted to do it really slow and bluesy. But I was singing the lyrics and I started to lose it. It was a battle to get through the song."

Joel confirmed that Columbia Records will release "12 Gardens Live" on June 13th, 2006, a CD gathering the best performances of his current run. He'll also launch a one-month European tour on June 26th, 2006 that will include a July 31st, 2006 performance in front of the Colosseum in Rome, expected to draw 400,000 fans.

"Billy Joel's music embodies New York, and New York stays loyal in return," said Schumer, adding that he was glad the Garden record-holder was now a New Yorker instead of New Jersey's Bruce Springsteen, who sold out 10 consecutive shows in 2000.

"I love Bruce Springsteen, but I'm happy to see the record cross the Hudson," Schumer said, adding, "The score is now Long Island 1, New Jersey 0."

"'Piano Man' Billy Joel Is Honored By Madison Square Garden"
(April 20th, 2006)

Billy Joel has joined the ranks of Madison Square Garden’s best players.

The Garden retired the Piano Man's "number" Wednesday night, putting him in a category with hockey legend Mark Messier, and basketball stars Patrick Ewing and Willis Reed. The number is 12, but it’s not Joel's jersey number. It's the Garden record for most sold-out shows in one year and Monday night, Joel will hit that mark.

"It's been a great run here," said Joel. "It's always been a thrill to play at Madison Square Garden. It's just got an aura to it, since I was a little kid."

Joel breaks the record of 10 shows held by Bruce Springsteen.

"Billy Joel Makes History"
(April 21st, 2006)

Billy Joel made history in New York on Wednesday when he became the first celebrity to have his jersey retired at Madison Square Garden. The rocker recently shattered Bruce Springsteen's record of 10 successive sell-outs at the world famous sports arena when he announced 12 concerts at the Garden. And Madison Square Garden officials decided to mark the occasion by hoisting a hockey shirt with 'JOEL' and the number 12 on the back up to the rafters of the venue, where it will hang for posterity. Such an honour is usually reserved for sporting heroes. Joel admits he's thrilled but insisted he didn't want fans to forget Springsteen set the amazing record. Using sporting terms, Joel says, "When Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record, it didn't make Babe Ruth chopped liver." Joel will perform his 12th successive sell-out show at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, April 24th, 2006.

"Billy Joel Concerto To Debut In June"
(April 25th, 2006)

A concerto drawn from Billy Joel's 2001 classical album, "Fantasies & Delusions," will debut in June at the Eastern Music Festival.

Jeffrey Biegel, who arranged the piano section at Joel's request, will perform the "Concerto For Piano & Orchestra" on June 24th, 2006 with the EMF faculty orchestra.

Stuart Malina, who shared a 2003 Tony Award with Joel for the hit Broadway musical Movin' Out, will conduct. Malina, who leads the symphony in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is the former music director of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra.

"With a piece like this and an artist like this, it is a huge deal for us," said EMF President and CEO Tom Philion.

Philion said he and Biegel discussed the concerto months ago, but he expected the piece to premiere somewhere else.

"As the months wore on, it became apparent that we were going to be first," Philion said.

"It's Still Rock and Joel To Them"
By: Sarah Garland
(April 26th, 2006)

Crammed into a Long Island Rail Road car after Billy Joel's record-setting 12th successive sold-out show at Madison Square Garden, Zach Goodman was hoarse from singing along: He'd attended six of those shows, and (gasp!) sold his iPod to help raise the dough for the tickets.

"Everybody has a strong connection to Billy Joel," Goodman, 17, of Dix Hills, said late Monday night, adding he even met his idol last week at a press event. "He's like a neighbor - he's Long Island's neighbor."

In a riff on a famous Joel tune, call it "Scenes From The Long Island Rail Road."

The train eastbound from Penn Station to Ronkonkoma was loud with giddy fans who themselves were worthy of Joel's Long-Island-centric lyrics: the 40-something who's been listening to the singer's stuff for 30-something years; the woman whose cousin palled around with him before his star rose; the parents with children, handing off their "Piano Man" to another generation.

As with many post-Garden-event trains, this one had its share of rowdy, beer-soaked revelers. For the most part, though, it seemed a more PG-rated affair, with some families squeezing in a final fling at the end of schools' spring break.

Many interviewed said it wasn't only their love of Joel's music that brought them out. They were drawn by their connection to a man who, for all his phenomenal success, they often see around the Island, seemingly living an ordinary life - just like them.

"He's from Long Island, and he still lives on Long Island. What more could you ask for?" said Debbie Kennedy, 46, of Bethpage. She and her husband, Tom, had brought their son Ryan, who is autistic, to his first-ever concert. Ryan, 17, loves to play Joel's "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" on the piano.

"'Piano Man' was a great song," a grinning Ryan said as he hugged his mom.

Lauren Miller, 9, who was wearing an oversized Joel T-shirt, and her brother, Connor, 11, were bleary-eyed yet excited after the three-hour concert they attended with their parents, Denise and Keith Miller. Both children also play Joel's songs on the piano, and Connor is learning about him at his school in Oyster Bay, New York.

Joel's success "shows anything is possible, even if you come from a small town," Connor said.

Mary Ellen Madden, 50, from Hicksville, agreed. She grew up with Joel - he used to hang with one of her cousins, she said - and brought her son, Chris Madden, 22, to Monday night's concert. "It's just nice to see a hometown boy make something of himself," she said.

Declared Cheryl Loiacano, an Albertson resident in her 40s who said she's been a Billy Joel fan since his rock and roll beginnings, more than 30 years ago: "He's a legend. There's just nothing like him."

"Billy Joel: Sometimes A Fantasy Bike"
By: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
(April 27th, 2006)

Usually when a reclusive rock superstar returns to primetime TV, it's a ballyhooed appearance on a newsmagazine, or it's with an exclusive concert that very few people ever watch. This week, Billy Joel, who slipped out of the public eye roughly ten years ago, returned to television as part of a special two-hour edition of the Discovery Channel's runaway smash hit show "American Chopper." If you didn't know this, well, you're not alone. Unless you happen to be a devoted fan of "American Chopper" or unless you, like Vito Spatafore in exile, happen to make a habit of watching "The Deadliest Catch" on a regular basis, this fact might have slipped right by you, and truth be told, this is not earth-shattering news, nor was it an especially riveting two hours of television. But for anybody who has been curious about why Billy Joel hasn't released any new pop material since 1993, the show did provide some genuine insight into his quasi-retirement.

For those unfamiliar with "American Chopper," the show focuses on a New York-based family-run motorcycle chop shop called Orange County Choppers. There's a clearly defined cast of characters, headed by an old patriarch with a walrus moustache, Paul Teutul, who has a couple of kids, including one who looks a lot like a relatively athletic Harry Knowles. Plus there are a few other guys who do specific tasks around the shop, like Nub the graphic guy. This is a perfect reality show setup: crystal-clear characters you know inside out the second you see them, the kind who are too good to be invented, but not too good to play up for the camera when the situation calls on it. It's enough to sustain a successful reality show, and into this mix walks Billy Joel, who has called on the Orange County Choppers to help him construct a bike patterned after the classic Indian bobber, which is apparently almost like an early incarnation of a modern-day chopper, at least according to what Joel and the "American Chopper" gang said at the beginning of the show. (Please don't write with corrections. I do not claim to be an expert and haven't been on a motorcycle since I was six.)

Billy wants a bike that has "a '30s or '40s vintage, but was updated in the '50s," like it was hot-rodded out, which sounds exacting, and it is, but Billy knows his motorcycles. Like many rockers, particularly those who grew up in the '60s, the motorcycle has held a dangerous outlaw allure for Billy Joel, and there are references to bikes throughout his work, including "You May Be Right," where the fact that he rode his motorcycle in the rain is proof that he's insane. And, of course, there is the infamous 1982 accident that turned out to be a precursor to a series of auto accidents this decade, the very presence of which sparked rumors that perhaps Billy was no longer on the wagon. Any of those suspicions are pretty much wiped out early on in "American Chopper," as Billy appears - dressed like an everyday schlump in his jeans, hoodie, and cap - and starts laying out very detailed plans for his dream bike.

So far, so good - Billy just seems like a rich star excited about his new toy. Soon enough, it becomes clear that far from being a lighthearted lark, this is a deadly serious affair for Joel. He's been dreaming about this bike for years and has extremely specific plans for it. He pulls out a series of coffee table books about vintage cycles, particularly Indians, all bookmarked to pages detailing features that he wants to see on the bike. These are subtle changes to the basic Indian - when the rocker tells Paul, Sr. that he wants the gas tank larger and is questioned on what exactly he means by "larger," Billy says just larger all around - yet these changes mean a great deal to Joel. However, these changes don't necessarily amount to a creative task for a crew used to very complicated assignments. And when the guys try to push him toward something creative, when they ask if he wants any piano keys, any gaudy rock and roll accouterments at all, Joel reacts in utter disgust, as if he never wants to be reminded about being the "Piano Man."

Which means, of course, Mikey - the goofball Harry Knowles-looking guy - decides to make a joke bike featuring all the stuff that Billy Joel hates in a motorcycle. It makes sense: Billy's dream bike is the kind of vehicle that only excites other cycling fanatics, so it's good to have a joke cycle to liven up the show, which Mikey's project certainly does. Decked out with piano keys on the tank and rims, a cheap Casio keyboard glued onto the front, it looks a bit like Elvis' worst nightmare and it indeed is quite funny. When Billy comes by, sporting the same outfit he did several days earlier, to check on the progress of the bike, the Orange County Chopper gang unveils this bike to the rocker, who doesn't crack a smile at all. And that brings up the key point of this show: based on this program, Billy Joel takes motorcycles far more seriously than music. He'll joke about the set-list, but not about the bikes, which appear to be a consuming passion for the rocker.

The extent of his obsession comes clear halfway through the show, when the OCC gang is invited to Joel's Long Island estate to check out his collection of bikes. Not surprisingly for a millionaire, he has a garage devoted to motorcycles, which he lovingly shows off to all the visitors, but the real shocker is that many of these bikes have been reworked by his own shop, 20th Century Cycles. Billy's shop specializes in remaking new bikes to look like old bikes - because everybody loves the vintage look, but doesn't want to sacrifice modern performance (a point that he makes a couple of times over the course of the program). The very existence of the shop begs the question: if he has his own garage, why on earth does he need OCC to make a custom vehicle? Surely, the answer is publicity - and not to promote the recent rarities-driven boxed set "My Lives" (although that does provide a rather brilliant segment of the show when Mikey recounts Joel's career in detached, bewildered tones), but to promote 20th Century Cycles, which could probably use the plug, since as of Tuesday morning, they don't even seem to have a web-site. But Billy's appearance goes beyond shilling for his shop: the hard-headed passion he displays for motorcycles far eclipses any interest he's displayed in rock and roll over the last decade or so.

There are clips of Billy performing live in concert interspersed throughout the episode of "American Chopper," and they're the work of an old, accomplished pro: he still can put on a show, and a good one at that, but he's not doing anything unexpected; he's just keeping the customers satisfied. When he's talking about bikes, though, he is fully, completely engaged, challenging the experts and pushing them to deliver exactly what he wants. It's not just that he's meticulous; it's that he's consumed with a love for motorcycles - and while he may display no discernible sense of humor about these bikes, it's actually a bit of a relief to see a sharp, lucid Billy Joel display passion about something, since it dispels some of the nasty rumors that have circulated over the last few years. Plus it kicks away the cobwebs left by the sterile "Storm Front" and fussy, ill-begotten "River of Dreams," and presents a Billy Joel who has a direct connection to the "Angry Young Man" who was a superstar in the '70s and '80s. He's older now and, like many people in their fifties, rock and roll isn't the center of his life anymore, but this odd episode of "American Chopper" proves that just because Billy Joel isn't directly in the spotlight, it doesn't necessarily mean he's wallowing away in his mansion like Charles Foster Kane. In fact, by the end of the episode, it's hard not to respect Joel's decision to retire from active rock and roll duty and concentrate on bikes. It's better that he's found a different avenue for his creativity than rock and roll - he seems happier than he did over the last two decades, when he was making increasingly formulaic records. This episode provides more memorable Billy Joel moments than any album he's released since "The Bridge" in 1986 - something that may not matter much to anyone but hardcore fans, but for those of us out there, there is something comforting about seeing Billy in fighting form again, even if it's just to get a replica of an Indian bobber.

Now, if only there were a comparable program that featured Paul Weller demanding a custom model Vespa....