Very few artists ever release an album that sells a million copies. Too sell more than that is extraordinary. Greatest Hits – Volume I & Volume II by Billy Joel has sold 21 million copies in The United States raking it at number 7 all time and that my friends are a lot of albums.
During a three year hiatus between studio releases The Columbia Label did what many labels have done in the past to fill the gap: issue a greatest hits album, but it is doubtful that even the most ardent Billy Joel fan expected this type of commercial success. He was already a star but this re-packaging of his best and most popular material from 1974-1985 would propel him into the upper echelon of music superstars.
This review is of the original release which was on vinyl and early CD. Subsequent reissues have added songs and changed some of the tracks substituting live for studio and lengthening and shortening some of the songs but the basic strengths of the album remain intact.
Joel’s studio albums during this time period ranged from very good to brilliant and always provide an interesting listen when explored as a whole. These songs may have been removed from their original context but they are so good that it does not matter. Also while Joel sold tens of millions of studio albums he was also known as a singles artist at a time when that mattered and had a large number of hits that received massive radio airplay.
The 21 tracks are, for the most part, presented in chronological order. This is always a good idea as it shows the development of an artist’s music and vision.
Most of the songs need no introduction even for the most casual music fan. “Piano Man” (1973), “Just The Way You Are” (1977), “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me” (1980), “Pressure” (1982), and “Uptown Girls” (1983) are only a sampling of his prodigious output. Throw in such classics as “Only The Good Die Young,” “Tell Her About It,” “My Life”, and “Don’t Ask Me Why” and you have an album with not only no weak tracks but of one highlight after another.
The original album concluded with two songs that were new in 1985. “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” and the under the radar but beautiful “The Night Is Still Young” were fine additions and strong album closers.
Given its huge commercial appeal one can ask whether it is one of the top ten best albums of all time. The answer is no, but it can be said it is one of the more enjoyable listens. 21 million people can attest to that fact.
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