Billy Joel moves in to Madison Square Garden: how we got here

We honour the Bronx-born musician's New York City residency – and applaud him for skipping the detour to Las Vegas

Billy Joel has reached that moment in his career when it's time to take up a residency. But unlike Meat Loaf, Barry Manilow and Britney Spears, the Bronx native has decided to eschew the trek to Las Vegas.

Joel was named the first entertainment “franchise” at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, joining a clutch of sports teams that call MSG home with a deal that requires him to perform one show a month until people stop buying tickets. Also, he gets his own logo

It's actually more a formalization of an existing arrangement: Joel has performed at the venue 46 times and has sold-out dates lined up from January to April. Tuesday's announcement included a new date: a 65th birthday show on May 9. 

“Since my first show in 1978, I’ve always looked forward to the energy of the crowd,” Joel said. “I’m honored to be joining the Madison Square Garden family and look forward to taking the stage of the newly transformed Garden to create many more memorable nights.”

For other rock stars who hope to one day grace the Garden monthly here’s a list of career dos-and-don'ts inspired by Joel himself:

DO … pepper your songs with topical references. The more nonsensical proper nouns the better, as long as it all rhymes:

Foreign debts, homeless vets, Aids, crack, Bernie Goetz, Hypodermics on the shore, China's under martial law, Rock and roller cola wars, I can't take it anymore.

DON’T … make cracks about Elton John.

As piano-playing rockers of a certain age, Joel and John have been matched up as rivals for most of their careers. After a wildly successful co-headlining tour in 2010, though, it's believed they had a falling out. In a July New York Times interview – in which he said Sir John has "mom hair" – Joel said he isn’t too bothered by the pair's less-than-cordial relationship with John and that he would work with him again. (Hey, Billy? The line about Elton's might be why the phone didn't ring.) 

They should both agree that years of drugs, booze and rock’n’roll wasn’t good for either of them in the looks department and instead get together and do more beautiful things like this:

DON’T ... be afraid to walk away from pop music

Joel says he doesn’t write pop songs anymore – and he's not apologetic about it. He explained to the Times why he doesn’t miss writing pop music:

No, no, no, it’s not because of the effort. I got tired of it. I got bored with it. I wanted something more abstract, I wanted to write something other than the three-minute pop tune even though that’s an art form unto itself. Gershwin was incredible, Cole Porter was incredible, Richard Rodgers, great stuff, Hoagy Carmichael and John Lennon, the three-minute symphony. For me, it was a box. I want to get out of the box. I never liked being put in a box.

This is a thing more rock stars should be brave enough to do, including Rod Stewart 20 years ago.

DON'T ... forget to write a song early in your career with such a memorable chorus that for the next 30 years no matter where you are in the western world – at a frat party, alone on a late-night subway train, sitting with tens of thousands of people in an arena, alone at a bar at 9 o'clock on a Saturday, wherever – it feels like the most appropriate song to sing.

See: Piano Man video, above. 

DO … keep it young

When Glee needed some moving-to-New-York music for its graduated cast members, we like to picture whoever manages Joel’s licensing deals smiling, with arms wide open.

(It wasn’t even the first time Glee went there.)

DO … make it a family affair.

Uptown Girl is about ex-wife Christie Brinkley. Downeaster Alexa is named for, but has nothing to do with, daughter Alexa Ray Joel. Fans like to know a little bit about you.

DO… make music videos without any self-respect.

A conversation that happened in 1983:

Executive: “Hey Billy, what if the background dancers for the Uptown Girl video are barbershop quartet members working as gas station attendants in their spare time?”

Joel: “Sounds great, as long as I can have a solo, Riverdance-style dance in front of two revving motorcycles at the gas station.”

Executive: “Deal. Also, we’re going to have some young male teens dance in crop-tops – at the gas station.”

That’s how history was made. And The Longest Time music video.

DO … have a favourite haunt.

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant was allegedly written about Fontana di Trevi, which Joel said he frequented while performing a series of shows in New York in the summer of 1977. We hope you’re getting this gig catered, Billy, because the options near Madison Square Garden are pretty slim.


Amanda Holpuch and Erin McCann

The GuardianTramp

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