Billy Joel: The Life & Times Of An Angry Young Man (continued)

part five

Billy and Christie effectively announced their relationship with the release of the second single from the album, "Uptown Girl." "'Uptown Girl' is a joke song," Billy says. "It's a tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons ... It's a joke, but if you listen to it in the context of the album, you get it."

In the promotional video for the song, the titular "Uptown Girl" turned out to be Christie. At the end of the clip, she waltzed into the garage where "downtown" Billy and the band plied their blue-collar trade. Wearing fuck-me pumps and a bouncy skirt, she left the shop with Billy, the overalled mechanic. Thus, to the incredulity of many, Billie Joel and Christie Brinkley became a "public item."

As exuberantly in love as its creator was, much of the album actually was written for the joy of the music. Where The Nylon Curtain was rife with Copeland and the Beatles, An Innocent Man celebrated the simple pleasures of rock and roll from the time before it lost the "and roll" and simply became "rock," the days of Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, the Coasters, and (in a more New York state of mind) the Four Seasons. This was the innocence in the title, and it radiated from the title track outward.

"'An Innocent Man' was written to evoke the same kind of feelings that I got when I heard Ben E. King and the Drifters," Billy said. "There's a high note in that recording—this was done in 1983—and I had a suspicion that was going to be the last time I was going to be able to hit those notes, so why not go out in a blaze of glory?"

It also celebrates his past. In a musical way, it was the path back to the green that even Brenda and Eddie, the alpha male and female of his high school days, couldn't spiritually make. Billy could, and he rejoiced in it through "Keeping the Faith."

"The song says I'm not living in the past, I'm celebrating today. I'd never have had the fire if I'd never hung out with the wild boys and heard the old music."

• • •

There's more to being a recording artist than just playing music. There are all the business aspects, the annoying details of meetings and contracts, and, the worst for Billy, photo shoots. Once again, Columbia wanted a picture of the artist on the cover, and this time Billy acquiesced. However, despite the fact that he was going out with a woman who had her picture taken for a living, Billy still did not like the way he looked on film.

"Billy never thought of himself as good-looking at all," Howard Bloom recalls, "so we had a problem with photos. We had an Annie Liebowitz photo shoot, and basically I said, 'If we're going to have a photo shoot, it has to reflect who Billy is. Billy loves his motorcycles, so we're going to do it with the motorcycles. It has to reflect the rebellious aspect of Billy, so we're going to do it with the motorcycles. So we got Annie Liebowitz out, we got the motorcycles out of the garage, we put Billy—not against the house—because I didn't want Billy portrayed as a rich person—that would turn people off. Billy had to be somebody who is like you, so you can get where Billy is, too. Billy has to be a figure that empowers you, not overwhelms you. Not that threatens you. Not that threatens to be the force of your parents putting you back down again. So, the house, no. The motorcycles, yes.

"I got to see Annie's technique. She waited until sunset, when the colors are really, really rich, and the colors are changing, literally, every second. She must have shot sixteen rolls of film of Billy to capture every instant of that sunset and every possible facial contortion that Billy would go through."

The album cover itself was shot on the stoop of a house in New York City, the kind of entranceway that his parents' first apartment in the Bronx might have had. It was the kind of place where doo-wop was born, where Frankie Valli or Dion might have started singing with their friends. The album came out in July 1983.

In January 1984—with the album having peaked at #4 and An Innocent Man nominated for Grammy Album of the Year, with "Uptown Girl" nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male (it had reached # 3 on the Hot 100 and gone gold), and with the title track of the album commencing its climb to the Top 10 and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart—Billy hit the road with the band for a serious world tour for the first time since his accident. It kept them traveling from January through July, from Orlando to Osaka, with three days at Wembley Stadium in London and finishing off with seven shows at Madison Square Garden.

"When Billy did his week at the Garden, I called up his tour manager, Harry Sandler," says Bruce Gentile. "I told him I was a longtime friend and asked if there were any last-minute gigs available. I ended up on 'cookie duty,' keeping track of all the limos that were to enter the Garden. Coke was the in drug and the band was using heavily. Billy won an award for selling out the Garden the most nights in a row. I carried the award to the limo that was leaving with Roz and her guest. Billy himself never looked better. When I finally got to greet the piano man, Christie was a bit taken by how long I've really known her man."

When all was said and done, An Innocent Man sold 7 million copies. The album generated six Top 40 singles, including three that reached the Top 10.

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