Howard Stern doesn’t leave his SiriusXM studio all that often, so if you happen to spot the self-confessed “agoraphobe” out in the open, it’s a big deal.
But there he was, hosting a live Town Hall from New York’s Cutting Room club. And all it took was his good friend Billy Joel to get him there.
For three hours, Stern presided over a lively interview with the media-shy Joel.
During their chat, Joel also revealed the stories behind some of his best-known songs, joked about the multitude of different paths his career could have taken, and let it be know that he has absolutely no plans of making another album.
Howard said that he was up half the night thinking about what he waned to talk to him about. He said he was reading in the paper that someone wrote a book about Billy and he says that ”Uptown Girl” isn’t about Christie Brinkley. Billy said that story has been around since that song came out. He said he was actually dating Elle McPherson around that time. He said that he couldn’t believe that he was in this situation where he was dating this woman. He said that Christie, Elle and Whitney Houston were all there for him. Howard said that’s not the kind of girls that he got to meet when he was growing up out on Long Island. Billy said that’s true.
Howard asked Billy if he ever went out and performed at school since he had this talent. Billy said he was more of a wallflower until he joined a band. He said that’s when people knew what he was doing. Howard asked Billy about why he left the band and how he knew to do that. Billy said he still feels like he’s in a band. He said when he plays live it’s like a band effort.
Howard said he thinks that Billy is a solo act now and that’s why he stopped writing new music. Howard said he thinks that he didn’t want to keep doing the impossible by coming up with new albums. He said that would drive him crazy. Billy said that’s not what happened.
Billy got back to the Uptown Girl thing. He said he wasn’t even dating Christie at the time. He said that he started writing the lyric and it was written like a classical piece. He played some of that on the piano in a classical way. Howard said Billy hears the music first but with only one other song he came up with the lyrics first. That song was ”We Didn’t Start The Fire.” Howard said he heard that he hates the song. Billy said he doesn’t hate it. He said that he still performs it in concert. He said sometimes he has to go to the audience and see them mouthing the words.
They got back to the ”Uptown Girl” song thing and Billy talked about how he and Elle dated for a while back then. She was only 19 at the time. Howard said at that age he would probably finish as soon as he saw her nude in bed. Howard said the pressure must be on. Billy said he doesn’t kiss and tell so he’s not going there. Howard said it must have been tough to leave her too. Billy said he didn’t leave her. He said she went off to Europe. Billy said that he met Christie around that time and then he finished that ”Uptown Girl” song and it was about her. Howard said that story in the book is wrong then. Billy said he thinks that Christie knows the story behind the song. He said he did start writing it when he was with Elle but he finished it for Christie.
Howard asked Billy to play a little bit of ”Uptown Girl” but Billy said he wasn’t sure he could hit the key. He had to drop it a little bit. He said it was too early in the morning for that song. He sang some of another song and that led to Howard talking about ”Just The Way You Are.”’ Howard said he has a theory about why he wrote that song. Howard asked Billy if he would go nuts if he couldn’t sing. Billy said he wanted to be a song writer and not sing. He said he’s really not that good of a singer. He said they make him sound good in a studio.
Howard asked Billy if he’s close to other rock and roll guys. Billy said they’re friends but they don’t sit down and talk about music in a deep way. Howard asked Billy if he has ever gotten together with other guys and jammed with them. Billy said that he got together with Paul McCartney once and they were both dabbling in classical music. He said Paul was going to come over to his house and he kind of knew him from seeing him over the years. He said Paul is the reason he got into music. Billy said that Paul was going to come over and he was excited about that. He said he wondered if he’d want something cold to drink. He had some cold cuts in the fridge and Paul doesn’t eat meat. He said he had turkey breast and things like that in there. He said it was like Jeffrey Dahmer’s fridge. Billy said he was going to hide the meat somewhere so he was hiding it in drawers in the house. He said he had to put it somewhere so he just threw it all over the place.
Billy said they had a nice day talking about music and things like that. Billy said that they didn’t really have any awkward silences or anything. Howard asked if they talked about girls they banged and stuff. He said they did do that. He said Paul is a good family man and just a nice guy. Howard said he thinks that he had a great relationship with Linda. Billy said he really is a great guy and a good dad.
Howard asked if he whipped out the instruments. Billy said that Paul played some tapes and he played some for him. He said they’d talk about how to change things. He said Paul left a few hours later and he never did ask for a drink or go into the fridge. Billy said they got closer from that.
Billy said that he called people to tell them what happened. Then he was walking around his house wondering what the smell was. He said he had the meats in the drawers and pantry so he had to go on a meat hunt to find it all.
Howard said Billy tours with Elton John and he gets the sense that they have nothing to do with each other, other than the business arrangement. Howard asked if he’s right. Billy said that he is. He said that Elton never stops working. He said Elton will go do another gig on his day off. Billy said that Elton loves to perform. Billy likes to take a day off. Billy said he doesn’t ache for the road or anything. He said he opened a motorcycle shop so he spends his time there.
Howard asked Billy why he doesn’t build a piano instead of motorcycles. Billy said that’s a real art. He said he can’t compete with the families that have been making them for years.
Howard said he was comparing Billy to Bobby Fisher earlier in the morning. He asked Billy if he looks at the piano and gets bored with it. Billy said he doesn’t get bored. He said the piano brought him some great things. He said he likes what he’s hearing and he loves playing. He said he hates it when he’s trying to write something and he can’t get it. He said it’s like a big beast that he just can’t tame. Billy broke into a song as he was talking about that. Billy said it was too high to sing that song though. He said it’s just too early to get up that high.
Howard said he gets goose bumps hearing that music. He asked Billy to keep going. Billy would play a little bit on the piano but he wasn’t singing much. He went through his thought process on how he comes up with a song. He said that he can sometimes hate trying to figure out a song and the piano can be the thing that’s keeping him from getting there.
Howard said he saw the Howard TV guys had his hands on the monitor and he would have loved to have been able to play like that when he was a kid playing piano. Howard asked at what age people noticed that he was a prodigy or a genius.
Billy said his parents had a piano in the house and it was always out of tune. He said when he was a little boy he would go over and play the rain song on it. He said that he’d play the rain on the high keys and the thunder on the low keys. He said his mother hated that so she dragged him to a piano teacher, Miss Francis, and had him take lessons. Howard asked if he wanted to be there. Billy said he did like the lessons as a young kid. Billy remembered the song in one of the song books he learned on. He actually sang the song and played it. Howard said he didn’t remember that one.
Howard asked if the teacher knew that he had talent. He said he thinks that she did think he had something going on so she did spend time with him. Billy said that he would make up his own music as a kid. He said they’d give him a Mozart song to perform and he’d change it. He played some Mozart and said he would get bored with that. Then he’d just make up his own stuff and play that instead. Billy said his mother would ask what it was and he’d tell her it was the second movement. Billy played what he would create and it was just his own stuff. He played some more and said that he was around 6 years old at the time. He said his mother thought he was playing the music he was supposed to be playing. He said he would be all over the place playing different stuff that he was making up. His mom would say that he was great and he wasn’t really learning anything.
Billy said that his mother would ask him to play the Mozart and he’d forget how to play it. Then the teacher would say she was wasting her money. He said he didn’t play his own stuff for the teacher. He said that wasn’t the deal so that’s not what he was doing.
Howard said that some kids see rock stars and they want to do that. He asked Billy if his songs are variations on classical music. Billy said that music lasts and people will be listening to it hundreds of years from now. He said people will listen to the Beatles hundreds of years from now because it translates.
Billy said sometimes writing lyrics to songs is like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa. He said that when you hear a song you really like you don’t care what the lyrics are. He said that’s kind of how he writes his songs. He said that he just writes that stuff the way you hear a rock song and don’t care what the lyrics are.
Howard asked Billy what song he had in his head now. Billy said he had an anthem in there so he played that on the piano. Howard said he got the goose bumps from that again. He asked why he wouldn’t put lyrics to that. Billy said that it could kill the song if he didn’t have the exact right lyrics. Billy said it has to be fun and he has to want to do it. He said if it’s not fun anymore then he can’t do it.
Howard asked Billy to sing ”Just the Way You Are” for them. He spent a minute talking to him about the song and then had him play. Billy sang some of the song for them. He said that was all he was going to play this morning after cutting it off after a minute or so.
Billy told Howard about how he used to be a rock critic. He said he once saw a band that he didn’t think was that good and wrote it up. He said it was Supersession and he gave them a bad review. Billy said it looks worse on paper than it does in his note book. He said that he had to give up that job after seeing it in print. He wanted to apologize to Al Kooper for writing that article.
Howard asked who his music heroes are. Billy said that Steve Winwood is his hero. He said he has a great voice and he plays the keyboard really well. He played some of a song he likes but he knew he’d screw it up. He said it was too early to be singing too. He sang ”Dear Mr. Fantasy” and said he loved his voice and keyboard playing. He sang a little bit of that and some of Steve’s other stuff.
Hoard said that Billy was inspired by the Beatles a lot. He was inspired to group 3 songs together like they did. Howard said he sat down and thought about that. Billy said he just had 3 or 4 unfished songs and he did that on one of his albums. Billy ended up playing some bits and pieces of their stuff too. He said they had unfinished songs and they would just mix them together. He said he thought it was brilliant that they did that. He said that laziness can be brilliant ingenuity.
Howard asked Billy if he would ever just sit down and play the Beatles stuff the way he just did. Billy said he’s not sure if he would do that.
Howard asked Billy to play some of Miami 2017. Billy said he needed a bathroom break first. Howard said he only has about 23 requests so once he’s done with that he’ll be all good. Billy was trying to kill time because it was still so early in the morning. Howard said he was having a great time talking to him. Billy asked if this is better than the porn stars. Howard said ”Uh, no…”
Howard said that Billy has a new motorcycle shop. He was going to give him a plug for that but talked about how he could screw up his career if he crashed one of those things. Billy said he’s just living his life the way he wants to. Billy quoted Jimi Hendrix after that. He said he never did get to meet Jimi though.
Howard said he was going to take a break but he asked Billy to please not leave. Billy said he wouldn’t leave. Howard told Gary to lock all of the exits. He gave Billy a plug for his motorcycle shop 20th Century Cycle Shop and said you can find out more at BillyJoel.com. They went to break after that.
After the break Howard came right back with Billy and asked him what he’s doing for the holidays. Billy said he’s going to cook. Howard said he lives a regular life. Billy said he does. He said he likes to shop for his own food and things like that. He said he’s good as long as he doesn’t stop. He said if he stops and someone sees him then he gets stuck.
Howard asked Billy if he wrote a new song to that music he played earlier, would he write about current events like he used to. Billy said that Howard doesn’t know that ”Allentown” used to have the lyrics ”Living here in Levittown…” He sang some of that song like it was about Levittown.
Howard asked Billy if other guys are trying to solve the world’s problems with their songs. Howard mentioned Bruce Springsteen as one of them. Billy said he doesn’t think that’s what he’s trying to do. He said that Bruce is a great lyricist and a great singer too. He said they both grew up around the same time and they’d go see each other’s concerts. Howard asked Billy if he would call Bruce and hang out with him. He said they have done that. He said they ride motorcycles together too. Howard said they have to stop doing that. Billy said he’s going to keep riding. Howard said he can’t be doing that when he has so much talent in those hands of his.
Howard asked Billy about the record companies and if they have ever asked him to do crazy things for them. Billy said he hasn’t given them a new album since 1993 so they keep cutting out the greatest hits stuff. He said he hates that too. He said he’d prefer that they just leave the albums intact.
Howard had Billy play and sing some more. Billy sang some of ”And So It Goes” for Howard. Howard asked Billy if it’s hard to stay in one relationship and if that has been tough on him. Billy said it has been tough. Howard said people must think that he has it all together when they hear his songs. Billy said he understands being in it and it just hasn’t worked out the way he’s wanted it to. Howard said it must have been heart breaking for him and that must inspire tunes. Billy said that’s true.
Howard asked Billy about his father running off to Vienna and if his song is about his father. Billy said that it might be but he’s never analyzed that. Howard had him perform a little bit of that song but Billy said it’s really high for this time of morning. Billy gave it a try though.
Howard asked Billy if he doesn’t like telling people about what the songs are about. Billy said that sometimes he doesn’t like to do that. He said songs might mean something different to different people. He said he did write that song after he went to see his father in Vienna. He said the song was more about the way things are over in Vienna than about his father leaving.
Howard asked Billy to do some Downeaster Alexa. Billy said that was an impossible one to do at this time of morning. He tried doing it but he wasn’t able to hit the note. Billy dropped it a note and tried it again. Billy did a little bit of the song and Howard said he swoons and wants to blow him when he hears that song. Billy tried doing some more of the song as Gordon Lightfoot. Howard asked if he likes to hear his songs covered by other people. Billy said he really does.
Howard asked Billy about some of the concerts he’s performed. Billy talked about going to Russia and performing and what that was like.
Howard asked Billy what ”Big Shot” was about. Billy said he was out with Mick and Bianca Jagger once and he was thinking of him singing a song he was writing to Bianca. He said it wasn’t about him singing it to Bianca or anything like that. He said he was thinking about the way Mick would sing the song to Bianca. Billy played a little bit of the song and sang it like Mick would sing it.
Howard asked Billy to perform some more but Billy was playing and saw his hands on the monitor. He said his hands look really fat. He stopped playing for a few seconds and then got back to ”Miami 2017” since Howard had asked him to play that. Billy’s voice was sounding pretty good by then. Billy said he needed drums in one part so he just stopped playing.
Gary came in and asked what song he wrote the quickest. Billy said that ”Just the Way You Are” was probably the quickest. He said that he had thought about a song and he was in the middle of a meeting and had to run off to write it. Billy said that ”New York State of Mind” was also written in about 15 minutes. He said it was the day he moved back from California to New York when he wrote that. He said he was on his way to Highland Falls on a bus and he started scribbling in a note book. He said he had to write the song as soon as he got home. Howard asked if he’s ever forgotten a song. Billy said he has. Billy said he dreams music a lot and he has to get them out as soon as he can.
Howard asked him to do a little bit of ”New York State Of Mind.” Billy said he had to lower the key in that one too. It was still way too early for him. Billy did a minute of that song.
Howard gave Billy another plug for his motorcycle shop. Billy asked them not to bring loud pipes. He said that they’re going to get kicked out of there if they do that. Billy said they have all kinds of people show up to the shop. Billy said he’s going to lose money on the shop. He said it’s like a man cave for him. Billy said he spends all day there. Howard asked if he gets to see Billy there. Billy said they’re open to the public on the weekends but during the week they’re just working on bikes. That’s when he’s there.
Howard asked why he’d want to run a business like that. Billy said he’s ahead of the game so he doesn’t care if he loses a little. Howard said he likes to help people too. He said he’ll go out and help fishermen and stuff like that. Billy said he’s having a good year so he will go out and help because they’d do the same for him if he was having a tough time.
Howard asked Billy about captain Jack and if he thinks that the guy heard the song. Billy said he probably did. He said he’s gotten mail from a lot of Captain Jack’s over the years. He said he can’t do the song with just the piano. He said it’s like playing Whole Lotta Love on the piano. Howard said he wants to hear that.
Billy said that most songs don’t work on just the piano. That’s why he has the band. Howard said he has seen him playing guitar. Billy said he’s not sure they even put him into the mix when he’s playing.
Howard said this is just too much sitting there with Billy. Billy asked if this was a piano bar or something. Howard said it is. Robin said that she was wondering about where the music comes from with some of the songs. He talked about how so many of them come from his dreams.
Gary asked about a song and Billy said it was just too high for him. Howard asked Gary to squeeze Billy’s balls to get him up higher. Howard asked Billy what song was the first one he ever wrote. Billy sang some of that one. It was ”My Journey’s End.” Billy said that the song sucks and it’s just so stereotypical. He said the poem was a stretch. He said he thought it was great when he wrote it. He said he was only about 15 when he did that song. He said he had a recording contract at 15. Howard said that must have been great. Billy said it was a lot of fun.
Howard asked Billy if he has ever apologized to people in school that he was mean to. Billy said that he has tried to reach out to people. He said that it still bothers him to this day that he would have a fling and never contact them again.
Howard asked Billy if he’s a religious guy. Billy said he’s an atheist. He said he tried church as a kid. He said he likes the sound and the acoustics in churches. He said they know what they’re doing when it comes to that.
Howard asked Billy if he could ever get married again. Howard thought he wanted to have more kids. Billy said he’s happy now and he’s not going to get married again.
Howard asked Billy to play a song that he wanted to play. Billy sang ”One Last Song” and made it up as he was going along. Howard asked if he ever consulted an image consultant when he was going along. Billy said that they told him to change his clothes but he didn’t hire anyone to do that. Howard asked if he laughed at guys like Elton John and David Bowie who had to create those costumes. Billy said he likes that stuff and they’re having fun doing it. He said that Lady Gaga wearing all of those outfits doesn’t bother him at all. He kind of likes that stuff.
Howard asked Billy if he would ever write a song for someone again. Billy said he will never close the door on that. He said that he’s really enjoying what he’s doing now though.
Howard asked Billy who he has had discussions with about writing songs and it didn’t work out. Billy said he’s had discussions with a lot of guys but it’s just never worked out. He said he wanted to work with Sting but that didn’t’ work out.
Gary asked Billy if he played piano on ”Leader of the Pack.” Billy said he played on a demo of the song. He said he’s not sure if that made it to the album. Billy said he was only 15 at the time and he’s not sure if they used his track.
Howard asked Billy if he’s played piano on other songs that he didn’t write. He said he has. He said he played for a Bob Dylan song.
Howard asked Billy to do one more song for him. He wanted to know what he could play. Billy didn’t want to do a lot because they don’t sound good with just the piano. Billy said all he could think was ”please don’t make me sing anymore.”
They asked Billy to try some ”Angry Young Man” but Billy was just having fun banging on the piano. Howard asked why he doesn’t score a movie. Billy said he’d love to. He said he wanted to do ”The Perfect Storm.” Howard said he should do Aquaman. Billy said he didn’t know there was one.
Howard asked him to do ”Goodnight Saigon” for his last song. Billy said he couldn’t do that one. It’s too big of a production. Howard asked Billy to do ”Summer Highland Falls” so Billy did some of that as they were wrapping up the interview.
Howard said he loves Billy and thanked them from the bottom of his heart for coming in there. He said he knows his audience must have loved it. He said that it was a great interview and he never wanted to ask him to do this because he didn’t want to take advantage of their friendship. Billy said the next time they do this they have to do it after 5 in the afternoon.